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Publication Date: 
March, 1995
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During a break between teaching quarters at Georgia College I've had the opportunity to read several books which may be of interest to readers of the PPPANA Journal. Thomas Verny very kindly sent me a copy of Laura Kaplan Shanley's book Unassisted Childbirth which includes quotes from works by Robbie Davis-Floyd, Jeannine Parvati Baker, Gayle Peterson, Michael Odent, and Lewis Mehl, all of whom have contributed extensively to the field of pre- and perinatal knowledge, often within the pages of this Journal. Shanley's book includes an excellent discussion of the dangers of medical intervention and the psychological effects of a traumatic birth on both the baby and the family. The book also includes anecdotes of unassisted births and some evidence supporting such autonomous births. The following quote is a typical response to the experience of natural childbirth: To me now, there is no other way to have a baby. I only pray that more people will come to know the joy that I have known by having a home birth. (Shanley 1994:101 as quoted from Moran 1981:192).

Other positive aspects of the book, such as a conclusion which lists some valuable ideas to follow during pregnancy, while in labor and after the birth, are in my opinion marred by several limitations. The narratives were not collected by the author, which would have offered additional useful data, but instead are generally excerpted from Marilyn Moran's book Birth and the Dialogue of Love or from a newsletter begun by the same author. In nearly every case the unassisted births described were also not first pregnancies. Shanley's own first unassisted birth led to some traumatic complications, most, I hasten to add, societal and not of her own making (Shanley 1994:126). Later Shanley also lost a baby. With that pregnancy she had considered an abortion and later visualized a miscarriage. When shortly after an unassisted birth, the baby died of prematurity and congenital complications, she maintains that: {S}ome people blamed me for my baby's death. . . . {I}n time, however we came to look on the baby's death as a blessing. We weren't ready for another baby. As cruel as it may sound to some people, for us his death was the manifestation of my desire to miscarry. It was just slow in coming. (Shanley 1994:138).

My own conclusion after reading Unassisted Childbirth, is that having a baby at home, in a natural, loving environment would be ideal. I am sorry that the circumstances surrounding my son's birth were less rewarding. Yet certainly after Shanley's description of her own experiences, the presence of an experienced midwife, even if just on call outside the birthing room, would seem to be prudent for a first time Mother and perhaps in other cases as well. Indeed, Shanley herself agrees for example that: . . . without emotional support, breast feeding is often difficult, if not impossible and that some of the difficulties she experienced with her first child could have been avoided with such help. (Shanley 1994:126). Does unassisted or natural childbirth, which does often seem to be an exhilarating and wonderful experience, require that the Mother also be unattended?

Certainly Laura Shanley has been courageous in her own obstetrical history and stalwart in presenting her story in such a detailed and honest fashion. Although ultimately I was reminded of a story about Margot Asquith (the second wife of Herbert Henry Asquith the Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1908-1916) who was described by a woman friend as being unnecessarily inclined to describe in exhaustive and sweeping detail every pang of childbirth. Nevertheless, Unassisted Childbirth is often moving and always provocative. I would welcome articles, letters or previously unpublished anecdotes for the sharing space on this topic. (Please note a review of this same book and others by Jeannine Parvati Baker in this issue of the Journal.)

Carol Neiman and Emily Goldman have compiled After Life: The Complete Guide to Life after Death a beautifully illustrated and unusual work which reminds me of a line from a song by Bob Dylan: He who is not busy being born is busy dying. Of particular interest are the conclusions reached by Neiman and Goldman that: The occurrence of near-death experience is not determined by factors like age, religious beliefs or the manner of death. Some people have even retained memories of experiences that they had as infants. The authors quote a book by Melvin Morse, Transformed by the Light, which offers numerous anecdotes of near death experiences in infants. As those infants have grown older their memories have stayed with them. Certainly all of the world's great religions view birth and death as part of a seamless whole and the alleged experiences of near-death by those so recently emerging into life make fascinating reading (Neiman & Goldman 1994:171).

The articles in this issue include Part I: Case Examples of Dr. John Sonne's study entitled The Relevance of the Dread of Being Aborted to Models of Therapy and Models of the Mind, and a paper jointly authored by Kathleen M. Kalil, Ph.D., James E. Gruber, Ph.D., Joyce Conley, Ph.D. and Richard LaGrandeur, M.D. on Relationships Among Stress, Anxiety, Type A, and Pregnancy-Related Complications. In the Sharing Space Ronald L. Cole, M.D. presents An Enlightened Obstetrician's Dilemma; Combining Medical and Spiritual Understanding.

Finally, I'd like to remind you again of the APPPAH Conference on Birth and Violence: The Societal Impact September 28 through October 1, 1995 in San Francisco. I join the other members of the APPPAH Board in looking forward to seeing you at the Seventh International Congress.


Neiman, Carol and Goldman, Emily (1994). After Life: The Complete Guide to Life After Death. New York: Viking Studio Books.

Shanley, Laura Kaplan (1994). Unassisted Childbirth. Westport Connecticut: Bergin & Garvey.

Ruth J. Carter, Ph.D.


Georgia College

Milledgeville, Georgia