A Poemic Review.

By Jana Loorparg
Dec 2015
Iam going to jump straight in and say that no matter how many books on home birth you’ve read, you’ve got to read this one. Why? Because it is different. Bold. As bold as a book on home birth can be. And unexpected, in both form and content.

I found ‘Home/birth: a poemic’ by typing in “home birth poetry”. Not that I expected to uncover volumes with that search. But I certainly did not expect to find this: a ‘cross-genre hybrid text troubling the waters of genre, gender, motherhood and the politics & poetics of birthing’. And a cross-genre text it is, no doubt. It is not a thesis/evidence book. Nor is it poetry, non-fiction, a lyrical essay. Most likely it doesn’t have a label, or need a label, because it is (much like birth itself) a reading experience beyond words, powerful and changing.

‘The pain of what we’re losing is so much greater than the pain of labour.’ (Greenberg & Zucker)

Authors Arielle Greenberg and Rachel Zucker have known each other for almost twenty years now. Both poets, writers and teachers of their craft, their friendship spans across many literary projects – from starting a poetry peer group to co-teaching a poetry master class – yet before writing this book, they never found a way of writing anything together.

In 2004, Arielle got pregnant for the first time. She was planning a homebirth and asked Rachel to be present at the birth. Rachel, who had had two children born in hospital, was sceptic. Home birth, as some of us may know, is actively prosecuted in more than ten States in the U.S., and even in those States where it is legal, it can be difficult to find a midwife. The desire to support Arielle at her birth however, led Rachel to research home birth for herself. She quickly became convinced that it was an excellent choice and went on to become a certified doula.

‘Home/birth: a poemic’ organically interweaves Arielle and Rachel’s experiences as consumers of the U.S. maternity system, (and in the case of Rachel, as a professional doula) with their personal thoughts, research, quotes from movies and books, midwives, even birth affirmations. They make it very clear that the current U.S. obstetric system is nothing but violence against women. ‘Women believe they have a choice, when really, they are only given two choices: poor labour management or major surgery.’ In doing so, they also point towards an inverted type of feminism. ‘Enraged. Why isn’t every woman absolutely enraged?’ They advocate shamelessly for home birth and natural stillbirth. For example, Arielle planned moving States to have a home birth with her second baby. The baby however died at 31 weeks. Arielle waited. She waited for almost four weeks to birth her dead son, at home, an experience reflected on in the afterword. Here she writes: ‘I felt devastated, but also at peace with our baby gone. But letting go of a homebirth, putting myself at the mercy of a hospital birth and having to say goodbye to my baby in that environment, to try to feel connected to myself and my dead child and my grief in that environment, felt like the start down a long, bad road I wasn’t sure could find my way back from.’ This is raw, open and honest.

Does this book need a trigger warning? Yes and no. Yes, there are triggers. Like the fact that angel babies used to get discarded, thrown out with the general hospital garbage. The description of women in stirrups, drugged. How ‘powerful strangers’ just come in and rupture your bags, ‘pit you’. But these triggers don’t stand by themselves. They are embedded in a powerful narrative, the story of two women finding themselves, their babies and in the process towards each other, the story of healing. Not to mention the delicately described relationships between women and their midwives. My heart beats for those.

And once again, it is the style that makes this book such a compelling read. I couldn’t put it down. I was swayed in its motion, its back and forth between the loosely defined chapters, which at times fire up like a storm, but are always anchored in the middle by a poem. If there is a lyrical way of capturing the motions of birth, then this would be it. I for my part am mighty glad that the home birth culture in the U.S. has found its voice through these two women, writers and activists taking a plunge.

‘Home/birth: a poemic is available through Amazon

Watch Rachel’s water birth of her son Judah on YouTube (‘The Home Birth/Water Birth of Judah Darwin’)
Read an interview with Arielle & Rachel here

All quotes directly taken from the book copyright © 2011 by Arielle Greenberg & Rachel Zucker, 1913 Press