November 7, 2007

Book Review: Newborns Are Ugly

Birth Without Violence: The Book That Revolutionized The Way We Bring Our Children Into The World by Frederick Leboyer (Healing Arts Press, 1995, 0-89281-545-0)

This book was written by: Dr. Frederick Leboyer, who studied traditional childbirth practices in remote areas of India unaffected by Western-style obstetrics. He graduated from the University of Paris School of Medecine, where he served as Chef de Clinique, and has written this book to explore the termination of the relationship "between the uterus and its prisoner."(p.62) His love of children is clearly conveyed through his lyrical, almost poetic style of writing, such as the passage where he discusses how there should be no external light at birth, since "in the darkness, the mother will be able to make out her child's features only faintly. And this is all to the good, since newborn infants are almost always ugly."(p.37)

What is in this book: A re-examination of birth, focusing on the fragility of infants and the sensations that they experience. Their skin, "thin, fine, almost without a protective surface layer--is as exposed and raw as tissue that has suffered a burn."(p.19) Furthermore, "the air, which enters and sweeps through the trachea, and expands the alveoli, is like acid poured on a wound."(p.20) After establishing why current birthing methods are traumatic, he offers alternatives that include giving birth in darkened rooms and immersing newborns in water.

What is not in this book: Graphic descriptions of axe kicks, inverse piledrivers, and turnbuckle stomps performed in the delivery room. Apparently, the violence Dr. Leboyer is writing about is largely metaphorical and/or symbolic.

Would you recommend this book to Marv Albert? No. This is a book about birth without violence, not conception without violence.

Would you recommend this book to a classical musician? I'm not sure. The author does not discuss his stance on birth without violins.

What is interesting about this book: Dr. Leboyer's description of how one should touch a newborn baby. While he acknowledges that some may find his methods overly sensual, "making love is the sovereign remedy for anguish: to make love is to rediscover peace and harmony. In the cataclysm of birth is it not fit that we should call upon this sovereign comfort?"(p.64) He is unapologetic in the advocacy of his methods.

"Without rediscovering this visceral slowness that lovers rediscover instinctively, it is impossible to communicate with the child.
But, people will say, you're making love to the child!
Yes, almost."(p.64)

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