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Book Review : The Birth Map

Birth Preparation

The Birth Map… Boldly going where no birth plan has gone before

Written by Catherine Bell, Birth Cartographer

I’d heard of birth plans but I’d never heard of a birth map or birth cartography until I was listening to episode six of The Calmbirth Conversation podcast featuring Catherine Bell, author of “The Birth Map”.  I was inspired and intrigued and I knew I wanted to know more so I read the book and I am so glad I did.  I love seeing birth plans in my patients files but reading this book has changed the way I talk to couples about how to document their informed decisions for their care and what they need to know when navigating the hospital system.

So why a birth map? No one answers this better than Catherine herself.

“You have probably been told ‘birth plans get thrown out the window’. You have probably been told not to bother, as your care provider won’t honor it anyway.  The main issue with the birth plan seems to be the word: plan.  Most people hear “plan” and think of something set in stone, something that has to be followed to the letter. Something that is inflexible, rigid and ultimately impossible to achieve. 

This kind of plan has no room for error. 

Many people and care providers simply cannot get past the word ‘plan’.

It can help to think of this process not as planning but as mapping.

A map has many pathways, intersections and features.  There are several possibilities to get from the starting point to the destination.  When working out the route you intend to take you become familiar with the detours and alternative routes.  If you come across an unexpected obstacle along your way, you will know the ways around it”. pg 43

“The Birth Map” is a very easy read, it takes a huge amount of information and breaks it down into manageable bites that educate and inform without overwhelming the reader but also provides plenty of resources if they want to take their knowledge to a deeper level.

The layout of the book makes it a pleasure to read. Dispersed through the pages are simple pencil drawings, and words that accentuate the message of the book.  Phrases are kept simple such as “your birth your way”, “no one way”, “informed, supported, confident” and, my personal favorite, “boldly go where no birth plan has gone before”  (read in Star Trek captain’s voice in my head).  My favorite feature of this book is the space left throughout the book for making notes, journaling, drawing,  mapping and specific pages at the back to write your own birth story.

The content of the book is broken down into three main sections…

The insights

This section discusses the different maternity care providers available and what standard care you can expect from your choice, making informed decisions, the pathways of birth, the impact of what language is used (both by the care providers and by the parents), and the difference between a birth map and a birth plan.

The questions

This is where the nitty gritty gets discussed and is further broken down into the following subsections

  • General considerations: the why, where, who, how, and when and includes information about induction.
  • The fast birth pathway: and why it’s important to prepare for this possibility
  • The Expected and the contingency pathways: this reviews the first two stages of labour and what routine care you may be offered including vaginal exams, fetal monitoring, augmentation (speeding up labour) and caesarean birth
  • Post birth: discusses options during the third stage of labour eg delayed cord clamping, skin to skin, birthing the placenta and also discusses routine care of the newborn and considerations for your hospital stay (if you choose to go to or stay in hospital).

The section ends with a “summary of informed decisions” which list the questions asked in previous pages and an example of a birth map.

Beyond birth 

This section covers preparing for the early weeks, the importance of support, what to expect from parenthood, what is normal, and what is really needed for a baby (it’s probably less than you think!).

The book concludes with a list of recommended resources from Catherine that is not exhaustive but offers a range of biologically based, informative, well researched and context based books, articles and websites.

This book gets even better as it is so very available.  If you, like me, love a book you can hold (and in this case write and draw in) you can purchase the book direct from The Birth Map website https://birthmap.life/the-book/ You can also purchase a PDF version of the book on the website or a kindle version from amazon.  However you can read this book for free by creating an account and entering the members area of the website.  This will also give you access to a web based “birth atlas” – copies of real birth maps and also birth stories, access to “the game of birth” (which can also be purchased in hard copy from the website) as well as a list of resources and a discussion forum.

I think this book is a must read for pregnant couples.  Even better if they can get their hands on this book when planning their pregnancy.

It gets five stars from me.

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