Not Oprah’s Book Club: Birth Matters

Cover of book Birth Matters: A Midwives Manifesta with a picture of a young Ina May Gaskin with a newborn

Ina May Gaskin is a legend in the birth activist community. A practicing midwife for decades as well as a respected author, Ina May has made an incredible impact on the rebirth of the US midwifery movement. Some call her the “mother” of the movement.

Birth Matters: A Midwife’s Manifesta, released this month by Seven Stories Press, is a good primer to understanding how birth happens in the US today, how we got here and what might improve our situation. Gaskin lays out the history of the medical establishment, it’s campaign to eradicate midwives at the beginning of the 20th century and what can be done to improve our own disappointing maternal mortality statistics.

She peppers the text with birth stories from her practice on the “The Farm” in rural Virginia Tennessee where she and a team of midwives have been providing care for hundreds of women over the last few decades. The birth stories are a delight to read, and frequently gave me chills. She also shares statistics (maternal and fetal mortality, rates of c-sections and other interventions) from that practice that shed light on how different things might be if more babies were born under the midwifery model.

Gaskin’s profession of midwifery was indeed an almost dead profession by the 1970s, primarily eradicated by the push for hospital-based birth attended by obstetricians and nurses. Gaskin and a number of other pioneering midwives have succeeded in since reviving the profession. 9% of births in the US are now attended by midwives–mostly in hospital settings, but a few percentages at home or in birthing centers.

My main critique of the book is that I think this text needs to reach beyond the birth activist community, beyond midwives and doulas and folks who already appreciate the work of midwives to improve maternity care. I’m afraid the title (and subtitle) of the book don’t do enough to reach beyond “the choir” and grab those who may not already understand why midwifery care is so important.

There are other books out there that try to reach such an audience (Pushed, for example) but Gaskin speaks with such an authority built from her decades of experience. It’s a shame for that wisdom to be lost on the broader community.

I also interviewed Gaskin for my recent feature at about women of color and birth. I posted the entire interview, in which Gaskin has some really important insights, at Radical Doula.

You can purchase the book here.

Note: Books reviewed as part of the Not Oprah’s Book Club series are frequently sent to Feministing Editors & Contributors by publishing houses. We receive no financial compensation for the reviews and make no promises to the publishers about review content.

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