A Review and Giveaway for “Embodying the Sacred: A Spiritual Preparation for Birth”
I’ll admit it: when I was first asked to review Peg Conway’s book, “Embodying the Sacred: A Spiritual Preparation for Birth,” I was a little nervous. I knew that it would be a book that took a Christian perspective on birth preparation, and I knew that it offered spiritual practices on preparing for birth. But because I didn’t know much more about Conway or her book, I didn’t know if the “Embodying the Sacred” would gel with my feminist sensibilities. I also didn’t know if it would be at odds with my particular perspective on childbirth, nor did I know if it would be at odds with the general theme and tone of this blog.
But still, I agreed to the review. As someone who appreciates how important it is for many people to explore the spiritual journey of pregnancy, and as a birth professional who is often asked about book recommendations on this very topic, I thought that the review could be something of interest for both my readers and me.
And you know what? Now that I’ve read the book in its entirety, I’m exceedingly glad that I agreed to this review because 1) I think the book is fantastic (for the right audience: I’ll get to that in a bit), and 2) I now have a book that I will definitely recommend to doula clients and other birth professionals who are seeking a book that focuses on the spiritual side of pregnancy and childbirth.
In fact, I loved the book from the start: specifically, from the moment that Conway revealed her inspiration for “Embodying the Sacred.”
In explaining this inspiration, Conway describes visiting her aunt in a hospice care facility. During this visit, she witnessed the sort of personalized and respectful and even spiritual care that her aunt received there. Following this visit, Conway shares, “I began to wonder why death and dying are deeply probed theologically, but giving birth is rarely explored from that perspective.” This, I think, is an apt observation. In fact, it is a question that seems to apply not just to theology but to much broader cultural conversations too.
As a childbirth educator, doula, and mother, Conway was further inspired to ask the following questions about the interconnection between birth and faith: “How does birth connect with faith? How can we speak of it in religious language that lives up to the intensity of giving birth? How can spirituality be a resource for childbearing? And why are the churches, deeply concerned for the unborn, so silent about normal childbirth?”
These questions, then, gave birth to her book. (I know! I know! Sorry for the birth pun! I can’t help myself!)
To be clear: this is not a book about informed decision making. It is not a book about clinical practices, nor does it advocate one method or location or type of birth over another. What’s more, it might not be the right book for those who brush off anything “spiritual” (even in a non-denominational, non-organized religion sort of way) as syrupy, sappy woo.
But for the rest of us? I think that it could offer just the sort of wisdom and guidance and affirmation that so many women seek during their pregnancies.
“Embodying the Sacred” offers pregnant women a spiritual preparation for childbirth: one that, it should be noted, Conway writes from a specifically Christian (and, for her, Catholic) perspective.
The guide follows pregnancy chronologically, moving from trimester to trimester as Conway offers various spiritual exercises for pregnant women to practice. Some of these exercises involve journaling, some involve creating art, and one even involves baking bread–an activity that Conway thinks serves as a metaphor for childbirth. (I cannot express how much I love this metaphor!)
Notably, she is careful to point out that not every spiritual practice will “work” for every woman. She is also careful to clarify that readers should not view her book as a strict and stringent “how to” guide for achieving some sort of perfect pregnancy preparation. What her book does offer women, however, are routines and practices that can help them tap into the spiritual dimension of pregnancy and birth.
The purposes of the exercises aren’t entirely abstract either. One section that I especially love involves Conway musing on the difference between tourism and pilgrimage, all within the context of labyrinth walks, journeys to the Holy Land, and her own time spent as a student studying in Europe. Tourists, as she sees it, mostly observe, but pilgrims “get involved, search, and are receptive to the journey experience.” And the astute connection that she makes to pregnancy and birth is this:
In the context of pregnancy and birth, a similar comparison is possible between being a pilgrim and being a patient. Where a patient might feel passive, a pregnant woman on a pilgrimage feels herself fully a participant while recognizing her vulnerability. As a pilgrim, she is open to each moment, trusting in the journey with her vision set on ‘reaching Jerusalem’ regardless of any challenges along the way.
This sort of wisdom and inspired reflection can be, I think, enormously helpful for many pregnant women.
For those wondering about how the Christian and Catholic perspective functions in the book, please note that it is ever-present (and purposefully so). But for those wondering about whether or not this challenges a feminist perspective on birth, please note that Conway’s message can co-exist, and even complement, a feminist sensibility.
In fact, Conway’s perspective often reminds of some of my first exposures to Catholic teaching and philosophy as an undergraduate at a Catholic university–ideas that were far removed from any caricature of Catholicism that I had encountered previously, and in many ways ever since. Her book celebrates the female body, and it challenges both Church and wider-reaching cultural norms that erase the significance of female embodiment. And the primary theme of “Embodying the Sacred” seems to be nothing short of empowerment and respect for the processes of pregnancy and childbirth. What’s more, Conway extends this empowerment and respect toward all types of birth–cesarean sections, vaginal births, hospital births, home births–and places all of them under the umbrella of “the sacred.”
Her book gives women the sorts of exercises and practices that can help them–if they so desire–explore and reflect on and get closer to this sense of sacredness.
Many thanks to Peg, you can win a copy of “Embodying the Sacred: A Spiritual Preparation for Birth” for yourself! Contest ends next Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 12:01 a.m. EST. Please see the Rafflecopter box below for more details. Good luck!
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of the book for purposes of this review. Though Conway is a Birthing Beautiful Ideas sponsor, I received no additional compensation for this review. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.