Where the Heart Is: Stories of Home Birth in New Zealand
Carla Sargent, published by Birth Rite, Hamilton, New Zealand.
Reviewed by Tess Trotter
It is with an obvious unbridled passion that midwife, mother and author Carla Sargent has compiled ‘Where the Heart Is’. I’m sure Carla could have just as, perhaps even more easily, written a fantastic book on her personal perspectives on birth. However, if her goal was as she states “ …to address the widespread fears and misconceptions that society has around birth in general, and home birth in particular” then the fact that she could think of no better way to do this than to share other’s inspirational stories speaks to her depth of understanding that birth is a deeply personal journey that differs for everyone.
Many women spend pregnancies, as Carla did herself, snuggled up reading birth stories that help them to share, process and plan their own experiences. And many find, as some of the women who tell their stories here; that their births aren’t at all like they imagine them to be. None the less, our culture shrouds us in distrust and fear of our intuition and potential power as women, burying us in narratives of intervention and fear based birth practices. Sharing a variety of inspirational and real experiences is an excellent balancing tool, equally for first time mothers and those who already have one, two or more births.
This is a collection of New Zealand stories that ground us in our society – bringing with them a taste of familiarity and real homeliness. Told from a range of perspectives, each story is a glimpse into the experience of a woman giving birth and a baby coming earth side, in those precious first moments. Mothers, fathers, midwives and children all tell stories, and this range of eyes is refreshing and exciting as you move through the book. Covering a range of experiences and outcomes for each family, some ecstatic and joyful others devastatingly raw, the book is a series of journeys, individually brilliant and different, collectively awe inspiring. Two things struck me as particularly awe inspiring. First, the stories lay out representations of people choosing to exercise their innate capacity to make informed choices for themselves, informed through their own instincts and through partnership with each other, families, friends and midwives. Secondly, they illustrate the healing possible for families. Be this the processing and healing needed from a violent or traumatic birth, to dealing with the unexpected or death or merely the humanizing impact of becoming a parent.
The stories told are split into five sections, covering a variety of experiences.
“Home Birth From the Start” is a collection of ten stories (including three of Carla’s own) sharing uncomplicated first and subsequent births at home. Chapter two, ‘Healing Birth’ demonstrates the healing power of home birth experiences following previous trauma from birth. These are triumphant stories of strength and hold a message of hope. ‘Facing the Unexpected’ contains stories of unexpected challenges in birth, and the empowered way in which the women have chosen to tackle them. Chapter four, ‘Birth and Death’ holds two heart wrenching perspectives on death, a stillbirth and a newborn loss at just two and a half hours old. Tears flow throughout the book, however here I cried not only for the loss, but also with admiration for those families coping with such grace. I strongly recommend reading Carla’s own blog post on this, which can be found here. Lastly, chapter five, ‘Māori Birth’ provides an insight to traditional birthing practices, the reclaiming of ceremony and the meaning of birth to the wider whānau.
Carla also weaves her own perspectives and experiences into the book, outlining fundamental issues with our birthing culture and an excellent synopsis of where we can and should be heading, clearly a strong argument for homebirth. It’s more than a location though, isn’t it? It’s a frame of mind, and way of behaving, an ownership of our bodies and our experience. Thank you so much to those who shared their stories for this book, and share their stories in other places. The sharing of stories is a powerful medium, and one that Carla Sargent has captured eloquently.