The Missing Chapter to Ina May's Guide

This is Part 2 of a three-part series on Natural Birth. Click here for Part 1 and Part 3.

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

377 thoughts on “EPISODE #28: The Missing Chapter to Ina May’s Guide

  1. I was very educated about pain management, interventions, and ways to do natural birth. I had a 10-hour labor from start to finish, but received an epidural a little over half-way through because of the one thing that nobody warned me about–Almost the entire labor I had a horrible feeling of having to pee! It was maddening, worse than the contractions. It made trying to relax very difficult, and I kept running to the bathroom but had pain getting into position to empty my bladder. If I had known to expect this, I could have planned for it better, and either delayed the epidural, or maybe not gotten it at all.

  2. I gave birth almost four months ago, and I had also prepared by reading Ina May Gaskins and other natural childbirth and orgasmic birth books. While I didn’t think I’d get an actual pain-free birth, I think I did have different expectations going in. I thought it wouldn’t be as painful as it was. At my 40-week appointment the day before the due date, I was told my baby was still facing towards my side — not sunny side up, but not ideal. My midwife told me I needed to spend some time in hands-and-knees in hopes of turning her, and to do reboso that night if possible. Well, it didn’t help and when I went into labor the next day, she was still in the side-facing position, which resulted in painful back labor. It was also irregular — about every three minutes, then one minute apart, and so on, so I was quite exhausted. I pushed for three hours before she came. I was so afraid of tearing that I was probably not pushing that hard until my midwife told me after 2 1/2 hours of pushing that if I didn’t make an progress soon she would be recommending something. My fewar of interventions forced me to really push through the ring of fire and my daughter was born within that next half hour. I did tear pretty badly. I didn’t get any interventions, and I had my water birth that I have wanted since I was a teenage and first heard of them. But I still felt let down because it was so painful and I hadn’t been able to relax enough to ease the pain. Imagining myself widening hadn’t helped me dilate. I hadn’t been able to achieve mind over body, and somehow I thought I would have. I did feel misled by Ina May Gaskins — somehow I felt she had promised me an easier time if only I would have been able to relax and not be afraid. For the next month or two, I cried every time I thought about my birth experience. Listening to LST these past few months has been so healing for me. I’ve gone back to the beginning and finally got to this episode that I’ve been so excitedly waiting to hear. Thank you, Hilary! And thank you Ina May for agreeing to be on the show. It is so lovely to hear from you that a painful experience is normal and that it isn’t a failure.

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