The profoundly wise and groundbreaking contributions of these pioneers in the field of childbirth have given women in the 20th and 21st century immeasurable wisdom about the challenges, realities, and deep truths of this experience.
Their core concepts have informed my own teaching, as well as all professionals in the field of childbirth education, labor support, and women’s health throughout the world.
1942 Childbirth Without Fear – Grantley Dick Read (1933 Natural Childbirth)
1965 Thank You Dr. Lamaze – Marjorie Karmel (Fernand Lamaze 1951, France)
1965 Husband-Coached Childbirth – Robert Bradley (1984 Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way – Susan McCutcheon)
1976 Birth Without Violence – Frederick Leboyer
Suzanne Arms; 1975, Immaculate Deception
Suzanne Arms “blew the whistle” on medical intervention and interference with normal birth with this groundbreaking treatise in 1975. The sequel Immaculate Deception II was published in1994. A leading advocate for holistic health policies, her expose on how the medicalization of childbirth was leading to a deep dehumanization, was a bestseller and had an enormous impact.
Ina May Gaskin, Midwife; 1976, Spiritual Midwifery
Considered “the Mother of modern direct-entry Midwifery,” Ina May Gaskin probably changed the course of birth history, beginning with births en route from San Francisco to Tennessee in a hippie caravan, to founding The Farm Community, in which women started by studying with a local OB and eventually became The Farm Midwifery Center, an internationally respected and renowned professional & educational center, with outstanding birth outcomes. Ina May’s first book Spiritual Midwifery marks that era, with its earthy photos and descriptions of The Farm births. She has written and spoken extensively and is considered a seminal influence in the field.
Sheila Kitzinger; 1980, The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth
Sheila Kitzinger has written too many comprehensive childbirth books to count. In her adorable British accent, she broke barriers by doing workshops where she acted out the sounds and moves of laboring women, smashing through inhibitions and myths about birth. As a social anthropologist and activist, she wrote and lectured on homebirth, breastfeeding, birth as a political issue within the power of the medical system, PTSD after birth, birth, and sexuality. Her work is considered “influential in changing the culture in which women give birth.”
Nancy Wainer-Cohen, Midwife: 1983, Silent Knife: Cesarean Prevention and Vaginal Birth after Cesarean
The effect of a traumatic birth on “conscious” women has been the passion of Nancy Wainer-Cohen, and she wrote this treatise after cesarean birth in the U.S. rose from 5-6% to 23-24% within a 15 year period – with no improvements in maternal or fetal outcomes. The rates have continued to rise to almost 33% nationwide (still with no improvements in maternal or fetal outcomes). Followed by the sequel Open Season (on Cesarean and VBAC), 1991, she exposed the physiologic risks of cesarean birth to mothers and babies, as well as the psychological costs to women and society.
Dr. Michel Odent; 1984, Birth Reborn
Famously moving from his surgical unit in a French hospital to developing his own wing of birthing rooms, birthing pools, and dark, private, peaceful settings, Odent championed the concepts of “undisturbed” birth and creating environments that allow the woman to let go of inhibitions and let the primal process take over (reduced neocortical activity). He introduced the Needs of the Laboring Woman, as other mammals, of privacy, quiet, darkness, movement, safety, and lack of disturbance. Odent even later came to believe that doulas could potentially be a form of “interference.” He realized that the Obstetrics goal was to “control” and that what women truly needed was to be “undisturbed” and allowed to let the brain go into another level of consciousness. A prolific author and lecturer.
Penny Simkin, PT; 1989, The Birth Partner (1984 Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn)
Physical Therapist Penny Simkin pioneered the profession of the doula and was one of the five founders of Doulas of North America (now DONA Intl.) in 1992. Beloved in the field, Penny also specialized in Trauma Survivors giving birth, as well as movement and positioning during labor. A prolific writer, lecturer, and researcher, she invented the hospital squat bar and made several educational films for birth professionals.
Dr. Robbie David-Floyd; 1992, Birth as an American Rite of Passage
Perhaps not as widely known as the others, nonetheless cultural anthropologist Robbie Davis-Floyd addressed issues of standardized routine medical procedures in childbirth as controversial and even harmful in her 1992 treatise, as well as exploring why women submit themselves to these practices without question or agency. Her book became a classic study in medical anthropology, the medical/technological model of birth, and the abuse/overuse of technology.
Dr. Marshall Klaus, Phyllis Klaus LMFT, Dr. John Kennell; 1993 Mothering the Mother: How a Doula Can Help You Have a Shorter, Easier Birth (re-named The Doula Book, 2012)
The authors’ groundbreaking clinical research trials in Guatemala, So. Africa, and Texas (which have since been expanded and improved upon) on the benefits for women, couples, and babies of having a trained labor support companion, were the basis for the continued championing of this new [at the time] “profession,” which changed the quality of the modern birth experience.
Pam England, Midwife; 1998, Birthing From Within
I always introduced this book to my students as “a psychological preparation for dealing with pain.” Pam England added to the discourse at the time with meditative exercises, artistic exploration, and new thoughts on “birth plans,” expectations, and partners, by exploring the transformative journey of birth for every woman. She introduced the concepts of “modern knowing” vs. “inner knowing” as intricately connected for holistic birth preparation. She encourages visual, tactile, and experiential rituals to help navigate the inner “labyrinth” of Laborland, as a woman prepares for her new Self.
Dr. Sarah Buckley; 2005, Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering (Australia; 2008 published in U.S.)
Her first book was lauded as “an exceptional book that gives families the confidence they need to follow their own instincts” but Sarah Buckley went on to become the leading researcher in the Hormones and Physiology of labor and birth. She has written extensively on the “Four Hormones of Undisturbed Birth” (oxytocin, beta-endorphins, epinephrin/adrenaline, prolactin), consequently establishing the physiologic basis for the argument against the Induction of labor on an unready body. As the current Induction epidemic rises, hopefully, her work will become prominent enough to reverse the trend.
Gail Tully, Midwife; 2004, begins publishing articles. Workbooks: Spinning Babies / Belly Mapping. Book: Changing Birth on Earth, 2020
Gail has brought physiological techniques for optimizing a baby’s position back into the labor room. Using her Three Principles: balance, gravity, movement, her techniques are all about helping the mother’s body to “release” the baby. She advocates a return to the paradigm of “Where’s the Baby?” vs. the paradigm of “What’s the dilation?” I personally wish that the system would change so that L & D nurses would be trained in Spinning Babies and given the time to spend with laboring women, rather than the burden placed upon doulas, who then deservedly request much higher fees and are really doing the labor management and letting our obstetrical system off the hook. Better yet, if women would have midwife-attended births. I know that many of my students (the pregnant moms) get overwhelmed when they attempt to apply Spinning Babies principles during pregnancy. However, Gail has reminded all of us that labor is about the position, rotation, and descent of the baby, and requires a knowledgeable, hands-on care provider, and not an absent doctor.
Rhea Dempsey, Midwife; 2016, Birth With Confidence: Savvy Choices for Normal Birth (Australia)
I was thrilled to discover Rhea’s book after almost 3 decades of teaching and feeling that I had heard it all. She introduces in a creative new way the concepts of: birth as a peak physical performance, predictable “crises in confidence” moments during birth (not just at transition), Creativity and Pain (wanting to give up or “crisis in confidence” during all intense creative endeavors), and the Facilitating Holding Circle or “circle of influence.” The way she pulls these together was so refreshing for me that I am including her in my homage, albeit she is not famous like the other luminaries!
Henci Goer; Obstetric Myths vs. Research Realities, The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth
Rebekkah Decker RN; Evidence Based Birth