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

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

  1. While I absolutely empathize with any woman who wants recognition that their birth experience is OK regardless of if they birthed at home, at hospital, c-section, epidural e.t.c e.t.c. I can’t help wondering, why go after Gaskin? I’ve read all her books. It’s the most inclusive birth literature out there. Gaskin consistently recognizes that hospital, doctors, and C-sections are sometimes necessary. The message she sends is not, “If you don’t have natural birth you failed”, it’s “Hey, this is what’s possible. There are options out there.”

    I really feel that the interviewer never read Gaskin’s books, or watched her video, and was likely just taking other people’s words and opinions as Gaskin’s which is a real shame. I also can’t help but wonder if the midwife should maybe join the discussion. While midwives will often recognize Ina May as a good read, they will also caution that it’s important to steel yourself against any possibility. It’s their role to explore every option with their clients, and that can include what happens if things go sideways.

    I really wouldn’t want Gaskin to change her books. She writes from her experience, and that’s what makes her stories so heartfelt. Obviously her stories aren’t going to be every mama’s story. Doesn’t that go without saying?

    1. Kathleen, I can assure you that I read Gaskin’s books in depth and watched the video. I believe I explained pretty clearly to Ina May what my issue was with her writing. And I also think it was clear that she took the critique to heart. I agree that what she’s saying is, “This is what’s possible,” but I feel that she could go one step further and reassure those of us who don’t achieve what’s “possible” that we are strong women too.

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