“Birth Models That Work” review

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“Birth Models That Work” review

Jordan Levinson is a graduate student, writer, musician, and aspiring doula. She is completing a Masters in Public Health at New York University with a focus on international community development and maternal mortality reduction. She lives in New York City and you can contact her at jord.levinson@gmail.com.  

At first glance, “Birth Models That Work” (edited by Robbie E. Davis-Floyd, Lesley Barclay, Betty-Anne Daviss, and Jan Tritten) looks like a hefty academic volume, but don’t let the charts and endnotes throw you: this is an inspiring, highly readable collection of cutting-edge research. Published in 2009 by editors Robbie Davis-Floyd, Lesley Barclay, Betty-Anne Davis, and Jan Tritten, “Birth Models” is a holistic take on what mother-baby wellness can look like in a variety of settings, from an advanced Dutch midwifery practice to a tiny Samoan birth center. 

Here in the U.S., laboring women suffer as they are subordinated to technology. In the developing world, laboring women suffer because they cannot access this technology. Women and babies become casualties of broken systems. But these authors have proved it: there are systems that work, all over the world. This is why “Birth Models” is a crucial book, right now.

The authors, all highly accomplished academics and clinicians, spanned the globe researching and interviewing a panoply of sources. Because of their attention—obviously a labor of love, so to speak—each chapter is rich with a variety of voices: midwives, doctors, policymakers, and, of course, mothers and families themselves. Some of the stories come from wealthy countries, some from the poorest corners of the globe, but all are impeccably studied and vividly told.

There is the maternity home in Japan where women get exams, give birth, and come back for cooking classes – and the midwife lives upstairs. There is the freestanding birthing center in Lichfield, U.K., where the atmosphere is so warm that midwives themselves liken their work environment to “their favorite chocolate bar,” because they just can’t get enough. Then there is the unstoppable team in Porto Alegre, Brazil: a midwife, doula, and “awakened” obstetrician, attending births wherever women choose. With this type of innovation happening all over the world, none of us can dismiss the situation as impossible.

“Birth Models that Work” is a celebration of successes, but also a plea for change. The idea behind the book is simple: show us small worlds where women come first, where real science and compassion to take the place of fear, and we can start to ask for more. We can replicate these systems, adapt them to new contexts, and begin to right the wrongs that birthing women bear.

Overwhelmingly, upon reading each chapter, this goal just seems so attainable. Women all over the world can have safe, healthy, and positive births, today. The editors of “Birth Models that Work” realize that airtight research can be a powerful tool of protest, and these authors did theirs mindfully and with great heart. But you don’t need to be an academic or an activist to appreciate this work; you just need to share a reverence for birth, a passion for other cultures, and an inkling that things could be better for women in this world.

–Jordan Levinson

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