01 Jun

Book review: The Secrets of Birth, by Kicki Hansard

The Secrets of Birth is a book born out of Kicki Hansard‘s extensive experience of supporting birthing women. This book is intended for pregnant women, and aims to reveal five secrets that will help them during birth and the transition to motherhood.

The five secrets can be sorted into two main themes: the first three tell us that childbirth is a normal physiological process, and the last two that becoming a mother is a major personal transformation. This is useful and interesting information, and Hansard covers important topics including straightforward birth, hormones, skin to skin, and the benefits of a calm, safe environment, very effectively.

She goes on to discuss the transformational process of birth, a time when women have “nowhere to hide,” (p72) and a great opportunity for growth. I would have liked to read about this in greater detail, as few books (Naomi Stadlen excepted) seem to focus on this except in the most superficial way.

Hansard obviously has a wealth of experience with women in the birthplace, however this comes across as being a fairly small section of society, since the first chapter discusses at some length the pros and cons of engaging a private obstetrician; and of course the majority of her experience refers to her own clientele, a self-selecting group of people who hired a doula. There are several parts of the book which read like a manifesto about the state of birth in the UK, which may not be generally useful for expectant parents. The language and concepts discussed are more appropriate for birth professionals. One could argue that this subject matter needs to be more widely talked about (but one cannot then argue, for example, that the NCT is “too academic” (p16) in their approach).

I am always wary of birth professionals who appear to set themselves up in opposition to other birth professionals, and some of Hansard’s secrets seem to imply distrust of obstetricians (p12), midwives (p15), hypnobirthing (p38), and even the father as birth partner (p32). While much of the book is based in the author’s experience and personal opinion, there are some well-referenced and useful points, and good signposting to a range of sources. The short section on natural caesarean is one of the book’s highlights. The final chapters consist mostly of birth stories, supporting the various points made earlier in the book.

While The Secrets of Birth is probably not the first book I would offer a pregnant woman, I think it would be a very interesting read for doulas in training, or anyone supporting a birth or a new mother.

[Disclosure: Kicki sent me a review copy of her book – thanks!]