Before we start this review, a small disclaimer is probably necessary. I know Mark Harris, the author of this new book on birth and, after a couple of years of online interaction, some lovely chinwags on the phone and a few real world hugs, I would consider him a mate. Still, I hope I’d be a good enough mate to tell him straight if I thought his book was a pile of pants. But I don’t. I think it rocks.
I first met Mark a couple of years ago at the Doula UK conference. We were both speaking at the event, both first timers as speakers and a little sweaty and nervous as a result. I remember sitting alone, reading my notes, when a large man, with a big grin on his face sat down next to me. I’m no good at small talk, and apparently, neither is Mark. Within 2 minutes I knew all about him as he regaled me with stories from his midwifery career and confided in me that he had lost his first wife and had brought up his kids single-handed. This guy sure knows how to get women on his side.
He was the surprise hit of that conference, bringing mirth, merriment and more than a few tears of joy to the proceedings. He made 200 friends that day and has been taken firmly into the hearts of doulas everywhere. There are so few men in the birthworld that I have always thought that’s why we get a little giggly and adoring of them. Yet I don’t think Mark has so many fans JUST because he’s a man in a woman’s world. I think it’s because he ‘gets’ us. He really, blooming does. In a way that makes us want to shout, “hallelujah, at last, a man who understands the heart of a woman!”
And that’s the heart of Mark’s book, really. How can you, the man, the father, be the Papa-bear, guarding the cave, nurturing your woman and creating the optimal hormonal environment to facilitate birth without violence? He knows all the tricks to help you support her so that not only can she be a Goddess in the birth room, but she looks at you as the God who walked with her, sweeping aside all obstacles with one, muscular forearm.
This book takes a close look at men in the birth room, men as fathers and companions, and deconstructs the social paradigms of aggression, disassociation, repulsion or fainting by taking away the fear. It helps men understand how their cocktail of hormones can be used to complement hers and thereby create a safe, loving environment. Mark’s voice, and the voices of the men he includes, walk us through the physiology of birth so that fathers can understand the basic needs of a woman in labour. With information, he takes away fear. He doesn’t just tell men to step up, he shows them how. In minute detail. And with a cheeky glint in his eye at all times.
Rarely has a book on birth made me hoot with laughter so many times. I’m not sure that any book on birth, ever, has instructed the man to look around the house, find a job that needs doing and do it, without saying anything and without expecting thanks. That one piece of advice may do more to create a generation of swooning females than any other in the history of womankind.
Yes guys, it’s official and evidence-based: men who do housework get more sex. And stop press: if you pleasure her, without regard for your own pleasure, you’re helping her give birth…”so no coming on her tits” (you heard it here first 😉 )
Seriously though, this book does fulfil a definite need. Mark joins Dean at Daddynatal, who has also been doing great work educating fathers, in the pantheon of dad-supporters. Long may this new era last of fathers being encouraged and supported to be active, knowledgeable participants in the births of their babies. I love that partners are finally being told that, like their pregnant lovers, they too have choice and control and can be calm, loving actors in this amazing play.
Us doulas have to thank him for his active and compassionate support of our role. Mark completely understands how and why a doula may be a useful addition in the birth room – and quotes my book extensively. Thanks Mate!
I have to admit to a teeny-tiny feeling of frustration that the book about birth that gets the most mainstream press attention, in the year that the great Sheila Kitzinger’s swansong was published, is a funny little book by a 20 stone male midwife. But that’s far from Mark’s fault. Feminist principles aside, if a midwife who is mistaken for the security guard gets some fundemental messages about gentle, undisturbed birth out there into the mainstream, who are am I to get my knickers in a twist?
Thanks Mark, yep, you’re right, this IS the book “your pregnant lover wants you to read”, so it does what it says on the tin.
Men, Love and Birth available from Pinter & Martin.
Listen to Mark and my friend and mentee Karen Hall chat away about all things birth, baby and boob during their deliciously entertaining and intelligent Sprogcasts.
Mark’s website is Birthing For Blokes
I’m editing this a year later to say that Mark is writing again. On fatherhood. Like many, I’m looking forward to reading his next literary adventure!