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After Tina Cassidy's 14-hour labor and emergency Cesarean, she asked her mother how her own birth had gone in 1969. In those days, anesthesia caused memory loss, and while her mom recalled being given an enema to "speed things along" (a practice only recently disproved), to Cassidy's astonishment she couldn't remember if forceps were employed. Yet even that was an improvement over the '50s, when Cassidy's grandmother was not allowed to see her baby for three days, per the hospital's infection-prevention policy.
In Cassidy's Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born, we learn that while childbirth can be transcendent, it's never been pretty. She explores why, in an age when people e-mail their newborns' photos around the world, technology hasn't yet rendered birth "safe, minimally painful, joyful, and close to nature's design."
Unlike Naomi Wolf's Misconceptions, this book isn't a feminist diatribe; rather it's a startling journalistic take on birth practices over the centuries. Birth is probably too graphic for anyone who's squeamish, but if you want to know why humans are the only mammals that require help during labor or what amazing uses have been found for placentas, it can prove fascinating. Most valuable tip: Future generations are bound to consider contemporary childbirth just as shocking
as our mothers' and grandmothers' experiences seem to us. (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2006, $24)