Birth: Countdown to Optimal: Information and Inspiration for Pregnant Women
by Sylvie Donna

[2010, Fresh Heart Publishing, 632 pages, paperback.]

[Review first published in Midwifery Today Issue 97, Spring 2011, © 2011, Midwifery Today, Inc. Review by Christina Hurst-Prager.]

This book is a true gift for all pregnant women and their partners—and all who are in one way or another involved in pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. If as a pregnant woman you only want to read one book, read this one first. I consider it a must!

When I first had the book in my hands I felt a little overwhelmed by its size. I randomly opened a page and could not stop reading! Sylvie Donna has written a work that opens our eyes, hearts, ears and minds to the personal, familial, societal and global impact of birth. Donna seems to invite us into her living room or kitchen for a cuppa, starting conversations with: “did you know that…” She starts with her own experience of trying to find the care, place and way of birth she intuitively knew was right for herself and her baby to have an optimal birth experience; her professional background gave her the skills to do intensive and extensive research into birth and the impact of the how, where and with whom.

The content of the book is organised as the title promises: like a countdown, starting with chapter 10. The reader is invited to herself questions about her own images and knowledge of birth, and is gently made aware of all the possible inquiries to make. While it is very clear where Sylvie stands on matters of birth, namely the undisturbed, physiological, optimal birth, she is never dogmatic; she calls a spade a spade but never blames. Her style is clear, factual and at the same time comes from deep understanding, compassion and love. It becomes clear that undisturbed (not neglected or abandoned) birth is a powerful initiation into motherhood, not only in a physical and physiological way but also in an emotional and spiritual way—and it is the very best way for a baby to be born and welcomed into life.

The book is woven together from four distinct parts that are easily distinguished by their different fonts. Donna introduces a topic, gives her readers the background, the science, and the research (she invited Michel Odent and other experts to write their views and experiences) and includes accounts from mothers (as well as a couple of fathers) in either short paragraphs or longer birth frames, sharing with us their experiences, insights, hind sights, pains and joys. I smiled, laughed and also had tears in my eyes; these stories they are the meat on the bones of the book. There are many beautiful, touching black and white photos of pregnant women, new babies, and older children—none of birth itself. Donna walks her talk—no disturbance—as taking photos or filming birth would be a disturbance. The end of the book contains a glossary: all of the research cited and a fabulous index so you can go back and find content by topic and show easily to a friend or care provider.

Birth: Countdown to Optimal portrays as it should/could be experienced and readers are shown, step by step, how to achieve it. This is a masterful work of wisdom and art; may women and babies all over the world benefit from its insights and achievable practicalities.

Reviewer Christina Hurst-Prager is a childbirth educator, doula, breastfeeding counsellor, CranioSacral Therapist and EFT-Practitioner in private practice in Kuesnacht, Switzerland. She has organised five international conferences, “Gebaeren in Sicherheit und Geborgenheit” (Birthing in Intimacy and Safety) in Zurich. She is the mother of three adult children and nine grandchildren.

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