Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born


Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born

REVIEWS

Joanna Pitman (The Sunday Times of London)
Birth: A History, turns out to be a marvel...Cassidy tackles many of the serious controversies surrounding childbirth that have raged through the centuries, right up to issues of the present day such as the elective caesareans favoured by the "too posh to push" crowd. And her anecdotal range is splendid. She tells us about the German belief in garlic-clove suppositories, the French 17th-century obstetrics teacher who used a basket-weave mannequin, wrapped in flesh- coloured silk, and dead foetuses to show his students the various presentations at birth, and the most recent known case of a self- administered caesarian section, performed, apparently, by a 40- year-old Mexican woman in 2002.... The illustrations — old and new — are fabulously gruesome; and there's even a recipe for placenta pizza topping.

Sheila Kitzinger (The Lancet)
Cassidy is a dynamic journalist: her book is written at a cracking pace, and makes an exciting read. She knows exactly when to provide anecdotes that intrigue along with statistics...Engaging.

Deirdre Veldon (The Irish Times)
In this engaging history of childbirth...Cassidy delves into many of the fads and fashions that dominated the delivery suite.

Viv Groskop (Sunday Express of London)
This is a must for every pregnant woman's book shelf…brave, inspiring and, occasionally laugh-out-loud funny – a bit like childbirth itself.

Alexandra Jacobs (New York Times Book Review)
Cassidy's natal narrative hews closely to real-life events; a few literary examples ("Lawdy, Miz Scarlett!") might have enriched it even further. And maybe it wasn't strictly necessary to include a recipe for placenta pizza topping (from a 1983 issue of Mothering magazine). Still, there's a collective, willful amnesia about birth — as if it's an alien visitation, rather than the normal order of things — that has been begging for her clear-headed dissipation. We want it to be meaningful and we want it to be mercifully brief. This book is both.

Sara Sklaroff (Washington Post)
In this breezy popular history, Cassidy, a former Boston Globe reporter and editor, surveys centuries of terrible childbirths around the world, attended by doctors, nurses and midwives with strange theories and, in more than a few cases, deeply sadistic streaks. Tirelessly wide-eyed, Cassidy details how laboring women have been strapped down and shackled, drugged into oblivion and ripped open with a macabre array of tools more suited to taxidermy than obstetrics. It's amazing anyone got out of the womb alive.

Karen Campbell (Boston Globe)
"Birth" is a power-packed book, based on information from interviews and exhaustive research. Cassidy's scholarship shows. However, despite the bounty of information, "Birth" is also a lively, engaging, and often witty read, a quirky, eye-opening account of one of life's most elemental experiences.

Abby West (Entertainment Weekly)
Though Cassidy's well-researched and engaging account is not for the faint of heart (craniotomies and placenta cocktails, anyone?), it's a clever, almost reverent look at an enduring everyday miracle. [Given a grade of A-]

Alexandra Bowie (New York Sun)
Ms. Cassidy offers several helpful chapters, including an exploration of the evolving role of fathers in the delivery room, and a sprightly survey of postpartum issues. Her book has real value for women who want to understand why the reality of giving birth didn't match their careful plans and expectations.

New York Magazine
Birth is gorily fascinating. As anyone familiar with the term "ring of fire" may be aware, the history of baby production is defiantly uncuddly: We're talking experiments with rudimentary forceps, witch burnings, and do-it-yourself Cesareans. Cassidy has written a darkly witty guide through the birthing hut (or barn or hospital ward, depending on the time period), and she lucidly sorts the facts and the fads, from the eternal battle between male doctors and female midwives to the politics of pain relief.

Publishers Weekly
Anyone who has taken a prenatal education class in the last decade can detail much of what Boston Globe reporter Cassidy documents about birthing battles in her enjoyable new book. What she so cogently adds is a history of Western practices and attitudes surrounding birth, from the "God-sibs" (or "gossips") who sat by a woman's bed in Europe and early America to the scheduled cesarean of today. The book is well written and will be an important eye-opener to many.

Erica Jorgensen (FitPregnancy)
This book isn't a feminist diatribe; rather it's a startling journalistic take on birth practices over the centuries...Fascinating.

Mopsy Strange Kennedy (Improper Bostonian)
Tina Cassidy takes a lively look at this universal event, describing the many paths that lead to the "grinding pirouette" a baby's head makes while approaching the apocolyptic "Tada!"...Cassidy's explorations of the anthropology (New Guinea tribesmen bathed in aromatic oils to "purify and anoint entry into fatherhood"), medicine and philosophies of birth are fascinating.

Library Journal
Not What To Expect but how expecting has changed over the millennia--and how it hasn't.

Sainsbury's Magazine (London)
"A riveting read."

Kirkus Reviews
Former Boston Globe editor Cassidy explores the way childbirth has changed, from pre-history to the present. Women have always borne children, but how people have thought about the process is far from static. Cassidy got interested in the topic after realizing that three generations of women in her family had completely different expectations about what childbirth should be like. Here she considers the development of the epidural, the relationship between midwifery and obstetrics, the current trend toward conveniently scheduled C-sections and shifting ideas about the father's appropriate place: by the laboring woman's bedside, or in the waiting room? One of the more amusing sections here details the attempts of cultures around the world to induce labor. The Egyptian Siwa tried to scare tardy babies into entering the world by shooting two rifles near the expectant mother. Midwives in France's Auvergne region placed a chicken on the stomach of a pregnant woman, hoping the bird's claws would prompt labor. Other cultures have shaken pregnant women on blankets or hung them from trees. Cassidy doesn't limit herself to sociological or cultural changes. In her captivating first chapter, she addresses how evolution has affected childbirth. Most mammals have a much easier time giving birth than do humans, because their birth canals are roomier. Walking upright, as people do, requires a compact pelvis, and humans have bigger brains than any other mammal. In other words, the very combination of features that allow people their place at the top of the evolutionary heap, large heads and small pelvises, combine to make birth terrifically difficult. "If we had just one more inch of pelvic width," Cassidy explains, "there might be no need for cesareans, forceps, vacuums, extraction hooks, and episiotomies." Fascinating, funny and occasionally shocking-should be at the top of every pregnant woman's reading list.