Birth Formations: What Multiple Home Births Teach about Living, Laboring and Mothering in the Now (New Moms, New Families Book 2)
by Gloria Ng (Author) $2.99
I was given a free copy in exchange for a fair and honest review of this independently published work.
This 74 page volume is the third book in healing arts practitioner, writer and mother of three children Gloria Ng’s “New Moms, New Families” series. As the author describes her book, it is “a nuts-and-bolts approach on how to actualize the New Age concept of living in the present moment before conception, during pregnancy, throughout delivery and in the midst of postpartum motherhood for the busy woman who desires to do and have it all.”
The author brings all three of her identities—healer, writer, mother—to every page of her book with passion, intelligence and eloquence. She is a clear and articulate writer, and the book is well edited and well-formatted. She begins by recounting some of her healing background before heading into the heart of her discussion, the labor, delivery and mothering experiences and ideas she wishes to share with other mothers-to-be. She ends with an open call to live a fulfilling life in each moment, integrating mothering with all the rest that life has to offer. She also generously shares her poetry and smaller essays with the reader through links embedded in her book and on her website.
I struggled a bit to review this book, not due to any jarring defect, but rather due to its unclassifiable nature. It is part memoir of her years birthing and mothering her three children, laced with insights into her struggles and joys in that role and her personal discoveries about her own cultural background, growth and history. It is a bit like a “The Mother’s Way,” a la Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way,” a structured book of exercises for probing one’s life through meditations, writing exercises and daily practices in order to unleash the blocks that hold us back as writers or mothers. Every now and then it is a practical guide to the modern first world woman’s birth experience, with the hospital five minutes away, the midwife on speed-dial, the birthing tub fired up and ready, hubby well-trained on where to massage and when. Then there are the New Age incense-scented passages that glide in and out of the text. My tension over how to classify the work eased somewhat when she used the word “experimental” to describe her writing. “Aha!” I thought. “So this is what ‘experimental’ writing is.”
The label does not help me much though, as I still grapple with how to evaluate the work. As mentioned above, it is well-written, lucid and intelligent. As a reader, and perhaps one who is overly fond of knowing what I am reading and what to expect, I found myself confused and caught off balance at times by the shift from memoir to breathing exercises to in-depth practical discussions of when is labor going badly enough that you must bail and head for the hospital. I believe Ms. Ng is capable of writing an excellent memoir, an excellent New Age guide to labor and birthing exercises and practices for body and soul, and a practical “what to do when you are expecting”-type guide. I’m just not entirely sure that all these things belong in the same volume.
One other concern is the possibly polarizing way Ms. Ng chose to open her book, spending several chapters on the New Age ideas and practices of rebirthing to resolve past traumas, the importance of affirmations and other New Age ideas. She boldly outlines core premises like the idea that we must resolve past birth trauma in order to live free of the shadows it casts on our lives. Some readers who do not accept that premise and others in the same vein may be turned away at the gates of her book before it really gets rolling. On the other hand, those who do hold to such ideas will feel very comfortable and press forward.
The author then in her own words negates the need to resolve past trauma through these practices by discovering that such practices are irrelevant to the mission at hand, that of actually birthing a baby. “In other words, I can choose how I deliver my baby no matter whether I needed to complete birth traumas or not…the act of birthing seemed to be completely independent of one’s psychosocial and emotional past. Everything started from now, as if the past didn’t matter at all. Only the future mattered.” This I find to be an eminently sensible observation, and an excellent place to begin the book without running the risk of driving off the non-New Age adherents who might otherwise get a lot out of the rest of the book. This is of course the author’s choice, to be more or less inclusive and approachable versus quite clear in her viewpoint, but I found her choice to risk excluding the non-New Age reader interesting as she dwells somewhat in the memoir sections on her own struggles with cultural inclusion/exclusion.
Review: I believe the book will connect best with first time mothers-to-be who are open to New Age thinking and who wish to know vicariously as much as they can about the realities of laboring, birthing and new mothering. Ms. Ng is generous and open with her struggles and setbacks and inspirational and caring in how she shares the path forward that worked for her. The book shines brightest for me in the memoir-like sections where she shares these struggles and joys.
A star score is an irrelevant measure applied to a highly personal multi-faceted account of an individual’s felt experience. But a score I must give, and so I offer a blended score of 4, attempting to capture the experience of admiring the writing, the intelligence, the passion and the honesty (5); feeling confused at the kaleidoscope of genres vying for my attention (3); and finding much sensible and inspirational advice in the mix useful to new mothers (4).