Birth and postpartum are profoundly transformative experiences. Yet, many childbirth preparation books focus on the mechanics of the process: the physical signs that it may be happening, ways to cope with the sensations, and information on how to navigate the medical aspects. Transformed by Birth: Cultivating Openness, Resilience, and Strength for the Life-Changing Journey from Pregnancy to Parenthood, by Britta Bushnell, PhD, shifts the focus from the details and minutia of birth to its meaning-making potential. In so doing, it provides you with a framework in which to explore what will likely happen to your identity as you move through the profound journey from pregnancy to parenthood.
Throughout the book, Britta draws upon her knowledge as a Doctor of Philosophy in Mythological Studies. She uses the timeless tools of stories, mythological motifs, and metaphors to exemplify concepts in a way that inherently connects with the more primal pregnant brain, providing better recall to these concepts during labor. This is a unique and refreshing approach.
Structurally, the book echoes the elements of a rite of passage, as presented by Bruce Lincoln (via Britta Bushnell). The first part, “Preparing for the Journey,” can be considered the “enclosure.” The “metamorphosis” then takes place during the second part: “Birth and Culture––Eight Cultural Ideals.” The book closes with the “emergence” from that rite of passage, when the birthing parents find themselves “On the Other Side of Birth.”
That second part – the identification of eight cultural ideals and how they impact birth – is one of the most powerful aspects of this book. By identifying these ideals, Britta brings cultural context to the challenges that you may face as you become parents. These ideals are:
- The need for control and certainty
- The veneration of intellectual knowledge and technology
- The reverence for order over wild
- The vilification of pain
- The glorification of independence and the go-it-alone mindset
- The adherence to innocence
- The denial of death
- The quest for perfection and exceptionalism
In the book, Britta dedicates a chapter to each ideal. She first defines it; then, she presents examples of how that ideal manifests in our societal approach to birth. For example, the cultural ideal of “the need for control and certainty” is present in the construct of a due date, or the creation of a birth plan. Britta then moves the reader to reconsider these practices by suggesting a different approach.
The book is peppered with “Try This” exercises to help you explore stepping out of these cultural ideals. These exercises provide the tools for building the openness, resilience, and strength that the book proposes are necessary for you to embrace your identity shift into parenthood.
Transformed by Birth is a book for pregnant parents, and especially couples, interested in facing birth and parenthood with a growth-mindset. It is for those who recognize that they are on the precipice of a transformative event and who wish to dive deeply into what the transformation entails.
This isn’t to say that the book ignores the medical aspect of birth altogether. Britta is a veteran childbirth mentor of over 18 years, who very capably explains the concepts of stages, labor progression, pain scales and medication options, common interventions, and the like, but these concepts don’t hold center stage. The focus of this book is always on the transformation, with the possible steps of the journey playing a secondary role.
Needless to say, this is not the book for expectant parents who consider birth solely the process of a baby exiting a body, as guided and directed by the societal norms of a technocratic medical system, without giving much consideration to its profound identity-shifting effects.
The tone in which this book was written also deserves mentioning. Britta uses inclusive language throughout, acknowledging that “parents come in many forms and arrive at the point of parenthood down different paths.” Similarly, there is acceptance toward all birth and parenting experiences. It is a compassionate book, and its author understands that all experiences are transformative.
As a doula and educator, this book is one that I can wholeheartedly recommend to my clients, as it resonates with my own view of birth as an opportunity for growth.
I often comment that giving birth by definition needs to be an intense physical experience to provide a tangible representation of the immense shifts that happen to the tectonic plates of our identity when we go through the experience of having a child. This book not only acknowledges this idea, but it also provides you with concrete and straightforward tools to embrace these changes, so that you can come out on the other side of birth more confident and resilient than you went in. It is a book that addresses how pregnancy and birth can be a preparation for the far longer journey of parenthood.
Editor's note: This book will be released on January 28. 2020 and is available now for pre-order.
About Adriana Lozada
Adriana Lozada’s background is multi-layered and multi-cultural. A former print and online editor from Venezuela, the birth of her daughter sparked her passion for being a birth advocate.
With over 13 years of experience, Adriana is a certified advanced birth doula, postpartum educator, healthy sleep consultant, and bestselling author. Adriana is also the host of the Birthful Podcast, where she talks to amazing, knowledgeable, and passionate birth professionals every week, to help new and expectant parents inform their intuition. This is part of her quest to help expectant parents everywhere get birth and postpartum ready. You can learn more about Adriana on her website, Birthful.com