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Book Review: Unassisted Childbirth by Laura Kaplan Shanley

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Laura Kaplan Shanley’s book Unassisted Childbirth (1994) was not what I had expected to read when I bought it. I had set out thinking I would be reading a guide to unassisted childbirth, but found something entirely different.

Instead, the book raises awareness about a little known topic and tries to open your mind to the power of nature and the human body. It questions the cultural, technocratic beliefs about births and urges a fresh look on birth and its surrounding practices.

Shanley takes an anthropological and historical tour of birth to show us how it can be done differently, and how many women before us have gone through birth without the seemingly prevalent fear and pain. She discusses the power of the mind to control the body and reality, and steer the outcome of events. She takes the writings of the likes of Grantly Dick-Read to the next level, and hands the birthing woman the tool to overcome culture and the way we envision birth.

“I contend that panting, pushing, and pain are not natural at all. There is another way of giving birth. One has only to observe the average house cat in labor to see true natural childbirth in action.”

Even though it was not what I had set out to read, the book was an eye-opener, which refreshed and strengthened ideas that were already lingering in my head, but had never been pronounced fully. Childbirth isn’t meant to be painful; instead it should be a joyous, transcendent experience. We make of childbirth what our culture and our preprogrammed mindset determines it to be.

I am really happy to have read this book and have gained new insights doing so. Yet there was a moment in the book where the author goes too far over to the God/creator side for an atheist like me. Birth is indeed about spirituality, but when one writes a book for a larger public, one must at least leave the sort of spirituality for the reader to fill in. When reading about childbirth, I am not seeking a lesson about the Bible or creationism.

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About Laura Schuerwegen

  • mary aspinwall

    This sounds like a fascinating book. Using hypnotherapy is one way to harness our power to birth painlessly. Another is homeopathy. I used a homeopathic childbirth kit for both my labors and the remedies were a huge support.