The Missing Chapter to Ina May's Guide


The Missing Chapter to Ina May's Guide

When I was pregnant, I was terrified of childbirth. I told that to my midwife, and she suggested that I read Ina May Gaskin’s manifestoes on natural birth: Spiritual Midwifery and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth.

I loved Ina May’s story—a hippie living on a caravan of school buses, who learned to be a midwife by delivering other hippies’ babies on those school buses. I loved her message—that we do not have to be fearful of childbirth, and that laughter and kissing and politeness can help reduce pain. And I loved her statistics—there is an incredibly low rate of medical interventions for births at the Farm Midwifery Center, which Ina May founded on the Tennessee commune, where the aforementioned caravan of school buses landed. After a good dose of Ina May, I was confident that I could give birth naturally. It was going to be a challenge, but I was prepared.

Ina May led the midwives at the Farm

Ina May led the midwives at the Farm

Her husband, Stephen Gaskin, was the commune's spiritual leader

Her husband, Stephen Gaskin, was the commune’s spiritual leader

And then I actually gave birth. And it was nothing like what Ina May said it would be. I felt like I had failed. But I also felt mad at Ina May. And the whole natural birth industry, actually. For making me believe that natural birth was not only possible, but that it had the potential to be an ecstatic experience. And for not telling me what you were supposed to think if you didn’t get to have it.

Ina May with a fetuscope in the 70s

Ina May with a fetuscope in the 70s

Ina May with a fetuscope now

Ina May with a fetuscope now

In this episode, I tell Ina May how I felt betrayed by her. And her answer is truly stunning. I’ll let you listen to what she says, but once you’ve heard the episode, please come back to this page. If you wound up feeling like I did after having a baby, Ina May wants to hear from you. Tell your story in the comments below, or just let her know what you think is missing from her book. She will be watching!


More on Ina May Gaskin

Here is Ina May’s TEDx Talk, which I excerpt in the story:

And this movie about Ina May’s life has great footage of the Farm, past and present, including a scene of a 10-pound baby being born to an unmedicated mother. I could see my own reflection in my computer screen as I watched this, and my jaw was literally dropped. The film also shows in action an example of the Gaskin Maneuver, an obstetrical procedure named after Ina May.


All photos except blue/green portrait: David Frohman; Blue/green portrait: Sara Lamm

306 thoughts on “PODCAST #28: The Missing Chapter to Ina May’s Guide

  1. Planned a Homebirth; labored at home for 26 hours; midwives recommended hospital. We went, baby popped out within the hour– no drugs. But baby aspirated meconium and had seizures so we were separated for really 4 days before being able to hold her and try nursing. Feeling separated made me more fierce about protecting her. In the aftermath, I feel very bonded to my baby, but raging mad at the system that separated us for so long.

  2. I’ve wanted a natural birth for as long as I’ve wanted kids — maybe 10 years — and just learned that the only way I can likely carry a pregnancy to term is to have uterine surgery that will later require me to have a c-section. I’m crushed and tying to figure out how to proceed. This podcast helped me feel a bit better and I am so glad it was here when I needed to hear it.

    1. There are still many things you can do to get a lot of the experiences you want. Investigate and find supportive practitioners. You can still nurse immediately, delay cord clamping, and depending on your medical situation, you can wait until you go into labor– you do not have to have a “scheduled” C-section even if you know that is the eventual outcome. This way, the baby is still the one determining when he/she is “fully cooked.” I have had a C-section and a vaginal delivery. A C-section can certainly still be fulfilling even when it is not what you had envisioned. Best of luck!

      1. Thanks so much for your response, Colleen — these are the exact types of stories and recommendations that I really need to hear. Ina May, if you really are watching this space, then please consider adding a full list of recommendations like this to a future book you write.

  3. Planned for a natural hospital birth and had my OB on board. Arrived 3 cm dilated with about 3 minutes between contractions. After 15 hours natural labor (just counting the hospital time) and increasingly intense contractions, my daughter’s head hitting my cervix had caused inflammation such that I was now only dilated cm! She was also sunny-side up and starting to go into distress so I was restricted to the bed so she could be monitored and I allowed Dr to administer pitocin and epidural in hopes of avoiding a c-section. After 3 more hours, my cervix was even more swollen and baby’s heart rate elevated.…ended up with an emergency C-section where it became clear that my daughter was wedged into my pelvis in a posterior position with her chin tucked…The doctor tried to let us do skin to skin right away but I reacted poorly to the anesthesia and was shaking so much I was afraid I’d drop her so I passed her to my husband. Not sure that any of this was avoidable, but I’ll always wonder if I got tricked into the interventions and robbed us of my dream birth experience.

  4. I prepared for child birth by reading Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth and watching documentaries about giving birth naturally. I am a farmer and am no stranger to long term discomfort and needing to get in the right mindset to endure some exhausting, at times painful, experiences. Going in to labor I felt strong and ready but was quickly unable to get a handle on my labor. Having no break between contractions and stalling at 6cm changed everything. Sitting or laying down was to painful, and just brought on another contraction, so I remained on my feet with my head buried in my husbands waste for just about the whole time, no more than 2 minutes between each contraction. I was not prepared for having no time to recuperate between intense contractions, and after 18hours, I waved my white flag and asked, cried really, for an epidural. Delivery still took an extremely long time and I wound up on my back, with an episiotomy, having to eventually laugh about how we did pretty much the exact opposite of every single thing on our birth plan!

    I felt disappointed in myself, and embarrassed. I found myself needing to be reassured, even months after my birth, that I had made the right decision for me and my baby. 5 months in I have learned that motherhood is full of pitfalls and second guessing. I am sad that I had to begin motherhood feeling that way, when I should have felt empowered, no matter how my birth went! I look forward to my next childbirth experience, being able to approach it with realistic expectations, to be kind to myself and feel strong no matter how it goes.

  5. I had always planned on a no-drugs labor experience, but at 32 weeks I was diagnosed with eclampsia and they had to take my baby early in order to save me from organ failure and her from death. Obviously, a c-section is a small price to pay for the giggling, inquisitive, awe-inspiring toddler I have today, and most of the time I don’t think about it anymore. But when I do, I still feel so inadequate and disappointed that I couldn’t do it the “right way”; it feels like pregnancy and childbirth are rites of passage and something we women were built to do, and I never once considered that there might be a scenario where that wouldn’t happen for me. I did get to see her in the delivery room, but because of the c-section I couldn’t leave my room for the first day and she was in the NICU, so her dad spent all day with her, holding her, comforting her, etc. I felt abandoned and let down and inadequate, and that day is something I can never get back. It would have been wonderful for someone to have advised me in the beginning to hope for the preferred outcome, but plan for other options because childbirth just isn’t always that predictable.

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