Book review by: AUT University Professor Liz Smythe and AUT University Senior Lecturer Andrea Gilkison
In a world of midwifery literature which is seemingly dominated with topics such as ‘evidence based practice’, it is refreshing to come across a book with a focus on the spiritual side of birth. In this edited book Susan Crowther and Jenny Hall have brought together authors from a range of backgrounds. Midwives, obstetricians, nurses, a public health specialist and a philosopher author chapters which explore different issues around meaning and care at the start of life.
Why would you want to read a book on spirituality and childbirth, and what is spirituality anyway? That is the intriguing pull of this book. No one pretends to know the answer to that question in any defining sort of manner. The editors begin with some possible meanings and then acknowledge that the quest of capturing ‘spirituality’ is akin to gathering snowflakes. Each chapter takes you out into the beauty and mystery of fresh falling snow, as the ideas, the stories and the deeply thoughtful discussion plays with your own thoughts.
In some chapters you are ‘right there’ in the sacred moment of birth. Then you step back, to be intrigued by captivating art work depicting representation of birth through time and across cultures.
We are then taken back to the beginning, to the unborn child within. Have you ever pondered at what point a baby has its own soul? How can the midwife journey with a woman through her birth experience in a manner that addresses the spiritual? What about when there is pregnancy loss? What can a midwife do to hold the sacred space in labour and birth? How is it for a couple to be drawn into their own sacred space? Is spirituality under the domain of midwifery, or do obstetricians also work in this space? Why is it important to consider the experience for a woman who has a traumatic birth? What happens, of a spiritual nature, when the newborn is unwell?
There is a chapter towards the end of the book written by a medical doctor and his wife who work in community health in Boliva. They have a deep passion for early infant development and child protection. Drawing on neurological evidence they show the power of the paternal/maternal-foetus/infant relationship in shaping the plasticity of the infant’s brain. They say: “The overcoming of violence will start when infants experience peaceful births and loving families in the initial period of their lives. If we change the beginning, the whole story will be different for that child, her family and community” (p.183). The way to do that is through what they call immersion in “the romantic dance of tenderness” (p.177).
This is not just about home birth or other alternatives. Attending to the spiritual needs to happen wherever and however a baby is born; something which sometimes gets forgotten amidst the interventions around birth. Changing lives, impacting community, is the compelling reason to read this book. It is about much more than giving a woman/family a ‘moment’ that feels sacred. It is rather to invest in the essence of what underpins all that makes a difference, all that brings hope and trust, all that nourishes and sustains, for ‘now’ and into the future.
I congratulate Susan and Jenny on calling our attention to such significant issues. This book is a ‘must read’ for all who are involved in birth; women, midwives, obstetricians and paediatricians, and for students coming into the profession. This book provides a refreshing reminder for anyone who has perhaps forgotten ‘what matters’ amidst the technocratic, busy, clinical context of practice.
Buy the book here.
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