The Pull of the Stars, Emma Donoghue. 2020. (Lebanon, Indiana: Little, Brown and Co., $28, 304 pages, hardcover.)
A friend recommended that I read this book, and in return I recommend that you do the same. The book is set in Dublin in 1918 during the “flu” pandemic that swept through the country.
True life, historical facts, midwifery tips, and even a short love story are all beautifully intertwined in this book. The analogies between the 1918 pandemic and today are amazing: unknown illness, spread, and treatment. Throughout the book are stories of women giving birth, often isolated with just midwives and helpers to provide clinical and psychological support. Where I work, we have “Dartford doers,” who do not provide psychological support, except to bring a smile and bags of goodies to the clinical areas.
The book addresses aspects of pain relief used by midwives—perineal hot compresses and acupuncture are used then as now. Thankfully the use of whiskey and chloroform have vanished from today’s midwifery care. Interestingly, Donaghue writes about waiting for an hour for the placenta before intervening. I’ve always wondered where the concept of one hour for a physiological third stage came from—was it really a 100 years ago? In today’s evidence-based practice, maybe it’s time for at least an article about the one-hour timeline, since it’s written in so many local and national guidelines.
Another midwifery tip is to undertake vaginal examination in the left lateral position, with the mother’s buttocks slightly overhanging the bed. It’s another skill that appears to have been lost worldwide, with vaginal examination now routinely performed with the mother placed semi-recumbent.
The development and loss of midwifery skills is always of interest to me as a midwife with 40 years’ experience. It’s not just about evidence-based practice, but our knowledge of physiological labour and birth from those midwives who went before us.
The Wise Woman’s Guide to Your Healthiest Pregnancy and Birth: From Preconception to Postpartum, by Patricia Ladis, PT, CBBA, and Anita Sadaty, MD. 2021. (Boca Raton, Florida: Health Communications, Inc., $17.95, 438 pages, softcover.)
Written by a holistic obstetrician/gynecologist and a physical therapist, this detailed book explicates a six-step holistic protocol to support optimal wellness in the mother and baby, starting before pregnancy. Areas covered include nutrition, breathing techniques, reduction of inflammation, and strengthening of the body to prevent injuries and maintain a good activity level throughout and after a pregnancy. The book relies on photos and step-by-step instructions for physical techniques that can be used by anyone. It is written in a way to include partners, which can help insure good health and support for the budding family.
The Midwife Matrix, reclaiming our bodies, our births, our lives, by Geraldine Simkins, APRN, CNM, MSN. 2020. (Maple City, Michigan: Triple Spiral Press, $19.95, 269 pages, softcover.)
Midwifery Today has been dedicated throughout its existence to bringing better birth to the world, especially the United States. Those of us with this goal have seen many ups and downs, as the for-profit health care system has exercised its slow and inexorable control over reproductive health. The Midwife Matrix, which came out of the author’s experience and thinking about this struggle, describes 12 essential qualities to be considered in creating a system that addresses racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities; leads to cost reduction; and creates greater satisfaction among participants, among other factors. Simkins discusses how we can embrace these 12 qualities—which include courage, activism, nature, relationship, and more—to reach our goal of providing a positive system of care for newborns and mothers. This book is a great template for working toward that goal in this 21st century.
—Cheryl K. Smith