Granting ratings to Childbirth Without Fear is nearly impossible unless I first determine the precise audience for whom those ratings apply. For this review, I chose women or their partners preparing for birth. If the audience in mind were instead OB’s, midwives, sociologists, students or professors of women’s studies, anthropologists, or historians the book would be a 5/5 must read.
Childbirth Without Fear illuminates so many of the patronizing, inaccurate, and destructive attitudes and practices of an earlier era. In fact, it was so transformative that Dick-Read was ostracized for writing it and practicing his ideas. The ideas Dick-Read promoted emphasized a new approach to obstetrics. They include the importance of the following:
- Words of encouragement
- Confidence instilled by professionals through their affirmation and reassurance
- Increasing health in mind and body
- Investing in mothers and preventative health
- Practicing medicine from a place of service and sacrifice rather than for fame and fortune.
- Passion, intelligence, spiritual knowing of the body, love
- Care for the emotions and hopes
In short, Dick-Read advocated for obstetrical practice that honored and cared for women in mind, body, and spirit, and aimed to decrease fear. He ascertains that the cause of pain in childbirth, and possibly of complications, is fear. His book is about ways to practice obstetrics that will decrease fear and prepare women to confidently give birth.
For caregivers, the ideas presented in Childbirth Without Fear are reminders of the best practice for which to aim, reminders of how far we’ve come in the culture of birth, and reminders that we still have room for improvement. For academics, the language and attitudes of the book itself, as well as the response of the obstetrical community, are a fascinating display of Dick-Read’s era. As an expectant parent preparing for your own birth, you may or may not come away from the book with practical gains.
Childbirth Without Fear is lengthy, technical, and written in language which makes it difficult to skim. Some readers will appreciate the technical descriptions of birth anatomy and the physiology of pain, whereas others will find them irrelevant as they don’t address personal preparation, concerns, feelings, or what labor will be like. Some will enjoy the poetic language of an era past, while others will baulk at the patriarchal tone.
Dick-Read highly praises motherhood as the highest accomplishment of a woman’s life. Some will find it a refreshing reverence and recognition due, while others will feel it limits women’s value to their reproductive role. Some readers will pick up techniques from Childbirth Without Fear, such as slow breathing and relaxation of the pelvic floor muscles, and many readers will miss these tips because they are randomly included within long discourses of more philosophical writings rather than being written in an instructional format.
All readers will come away with a much greater understanding of the horrific history that is unfortunately part of the evolution of our modern obstetrical culture. As in all things, obstetrical history still has an influence in current obstetrical culture and practice. Childbirth Without Fear will help you appreciate the many incredible improvements, and to the savvy reader may also illuminate the negative attitudes that are still imbued in some practices today. In this regard it can be helpful for finding an empowering provider rather than one who continues to work from these destructive underpinnings.
As an expectant parent, choose to read Childbirth Without Fear if you are a lover of history. Choose it if you learn from stories. Choose it if it fascinates you. You will learn a wealth of information that in a roundabout way will help you in your upcoming birth. If that’s not you – if you prefer clear descriptions immediately relevant to your situation – choose another book, Childbirth Without Fear won’t be for you.
For all readers, remember that this is an old book. Do not turn to it for evidence-based information or decision-making. Though the natural and timeless aspects of birth are well articulated, the practices and science in Childbirth Without Fear are outdated.
Childbirth Without Fear’s Author, Grantly Dick-Read
Grantly Dick-Read was a British obstetrician who specialized in childbirth and early parenthood starting in the early 1910s. He published Revelation of Childbirth in 1942 which was later retitled Childbirth without Fear. He gave lecture tours around the world and was the first president of what is now called the National Childbirth Trust, a UK charity focusing on birth and early parenthood. A father of four children, Dick-Read died in 1959 at the age of 69.