Milli Hill. HarperCollins, 2019. 304 pages. £14.99 (pbk). ISBN: 978-0008313104
Book review by Independent Midwifery Educator and Researcher Dr Jenny Hall.
MIDIRS Midwifery Digest, December 2019, volume 29, number 4.
A few years ago, I stood in a university room talking about the political nature of being a midwife. A disgruntled student retorted that she had come into midwifery to care, not to be political. This book highlights to me again that I was right, that birth and midwifery are political and clearly a feminist issue.
The book is aimed at women thinking about pregnancy or who are pregnant. But I also suggest that every birth professional should read it and discuss the contents. Primarily, we should be reading anything that is popular with birthing women so that we can have awareness of the content, but this should also challenge our thinking around the language we are using and the way our services are responding to women. Services, after all the history of change over the past 50 years, are still paying lip service to women being the most important person in their care. Student midwives will find this useful as an early reader on feminism related to birth in the UK, but be aware it is not meant to be ‘academic’ as such, though sources are provided. Depth on feminist principles will need to be obtained from other more theoretical texts.
The book provides a modern-day approach to aspects that have been discussed and debated for over 40 years. The author does provide an overview of some of the classic historical texts, which demonstrates that it is not the first book to explore this subject. I come from a time in the 1970s, when there were high induction rates, women were forced to lie on beds to birth and high levels of drugs were the norm (let’s have women birth between 9–5 and not at weekends — no joke). Then, in the UK, NCT and Sheila Kitzinger challenged us and things appeared to improve for a short while. Yet now, the author starkly reveals again the same battles globally of increasing induction rates, birth in stirrups along with high caesarean rates and lack of respect for women’s choices around birth. Human rights is a key focus throughout. It saddens me that this book has to exist.
The book is very readable and it is easy to skip through without absorbing the messages within. From birth choice, to human rights and #MeToo in the birth room, the author successfully exposes what is not right in many areas. Stopping to realise that the things we say and do during pregnancy and birth may be undermining the experience for women is challenging to any health carer. There were times when I wondered whether the contents would produce anxiety for some women who had not experienced birth or might potentially undermine the relationship that should develop with health professionals through expectations of negative care. In a perfect world, this would not be needed but I recognise that many women will not realise that they have the autonomy to make choices, and health carers do not always make this clear. Again, in a perfect world all health professionals would provide the appropriate care that the author describes for women to be central and autonomous in their choices. A strength lies in the additional pages in the text providing women pointers to what these choices may be and how they can be in control and navigate some aspects of maternity care. The pages also advise on how to find evidence to back up choices, to create a positive birth environment and even how to complain.
This is an important book, and at £14.99, affordable. I believe it should be essential reading for all maternity professionals and courses; inwardly digested and used to transform the care women receive. Thanks Milli.
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