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Reviewed Publisher: 
Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing. 213 pp. ISBN: 1-55561-282-2.
Reviewed Title: 
A Holistic Guide To Embracing Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood: Wisdom and Advice by a Doula (2003)
Reviewed Author: 
Publication Date: 
October, 2004
Starting Page: 
Page Count: 

In this book, doula Karen Salt offers an abundance of suggestions, practical applications, tools, exercises, resources and information for any pregnant mother to prepare in mind, body and spirit for the birth of her baby. Partners and doulas can also benefit from reading this book. The information is well-organized and in a number of different styles, such as numbered lists, tables, and narratives chock-full of explicit examples and imagery. This book can serve as an ongoing reference guide throughout pregnancy by use of the index to look up key areas of interest. As well, it is a good read from beginning to end.

A Holistic Guide begins with the premise that many mothers are engaged in a "mental game of uncertainty" during pregnancy and then offers help for women to embrace pregnancy by finding "the beauty and blessings." The first step she suggests is "helping your mind connect you to the baby you are creating."

Salt gently encourages deep relaxation throughout pregnancy, teaching that stress reduces blood flow to the baby and subjects baby's developing body to stress hormones. She begins with easy-to-follow descriptions of exercises, then suggests mindfulness during pregnancy, slowing down and noticing one's environment, journaling, meditating, and visualizing one's baby. She writes that it is most important to surround oneself with love and nurturing.

Salt approaches with thoroughness each aspect-pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood-including excellent detail in her descriptions of the stages of labor and birth. She seeks to empower women through her choice of words, using positive affirmations and words that inspire and motivate. As if in the same breath, Salt acknowledges the hard work of labor immediately followed by honoring a woman's capacity to give birth naturally. She also describes numerous strategies for a woman to strengthen her resolve to courageously face the unknown. Salt supports partners with the reassurance and encouragement that being present with a laboring woman's pain is enough, but also describes specific practical support, such as body positions for women and partners during active labor.

A Holistic Guide maintains the integrity of its holistic model through controversial topics such as medical pain relief. Salt presents two sides of the issue, ultimately supporting an informed-consent medical system in which families can obtain accurate information about risks and benefits and then choose the type of care they want.

In the final third, A Holistic Guide demystifies the postpartum period by emphasizing the incredibly rapid changes that are occurring in a woman's body, mind, baby and family for days, weeks and months following birth. Salt describes mood oscillations, feelings of inadequacies, moments of exhaustion and crying as normal experiences for many women as the body finds its way to physiologic balance. She proposes that support, rest and assistance are key factors to help a woman reduce the effects of postpartum blues.

As she discusses "embracing motherhood", Salt encourages a thorough examination of and reflection on one's own parenting models, as a rich resource for discovering how one's parenting style may be unconsciously affected or undermined by unresolved familial relationships. She suggest that women and partners considering parenthood actively weed through their personal family histories, including their own birth stories, in preparation for a conscious conception. She includes sections on "Your Pregnant Spirit" and on embracing motherhood via "Your Spiritual Connection."

Salt writes sensitively of the mother-infant relationship as one of discovery and exploration. She emphasizes listening and following the baby's cues, and she disparages as harmful the myth of the efficient mother. She writes that newborns who are given a safe container of love, and support to find their own way, develop trust in themselves and the world around them. She encourages trust of the infant's inherent intelligence and offers the example of breast self-attachment when a newborn is placed on the mother's belly after birth.

Salt's is the voice of mentor, nurturer, friend and mother to mother. Her voice can be distinctly heard throughout her writing as present and caring, which speaks both of her passion for her work and full participation in mind, body and spirit. We can hope that Salt will next offer us a holistic guide to embracing pregnancy, childbirth and fatherhood!