The Collins Press, ISBN 1 898256 54 3.
Childbirth is in the news. Dublin hospitals report a baby boom but also a shortage of midwives. The national Maternity Hospital at Holles Street is launching a home birth service within a five-mile radius of the hospital and a new non-interventionist approach to childbirth. The home birth campaigners seem to be making an impact on the establishment, after many years of patient lobbying.
Songs From The Womb is topical and timely. Benig Mauger addresses a wide range of issues around the experience of birth. Any study of psychotherapy gives serious attention to the effect of early learning experiences on the human psyche. Mauger discusses the considerable literature that now exists pushing the definition of ‘early’ further and further back to the mysterious period before birth. In the introduction she writes: “This book is about soul wounds. More specifically it is about identifying and healing birth wounds.”
For a long time the emphasis was on the child’s experience of the birth struggle. The Summer 1998 issue of, for example, includes a very informative article by Shirley A. Ward that summarises birth trauma theory and the history of birth psychology. Mauger urges to consider also the mother’s role and argues passionately the need to improve the conditions under which women bring their children into the world. The sub-title of this book – Healing the Wounded Mother - speaks for itself. She approaches the subject in a personal way; this is no dry textbook. The first chapter, for example, consists of two short stories describing two contrasting births. Throughout the book the style moves from debate on the issues to personal stories told as fiction: ‘It was a fine June morning… it was a drizzly night and Dave cursed as the car skidded…’ I am not sure that mixing styles in this way helps Mauger’s argument.
There is a full index and a useful bibliography for anyone who wants to read more on the subject. Unfortunately there are gaps: for example, there is a reference on p86 to Reich and the concept of ‘body armouring’. Reich, we are told ‘was a therapist who wrote much on the influence of thoughts and feelings on the body.’ I was keen to trace these writings but there is no mention of Reich in the bibliography. Footnote No.3 – a reference to Janov – has disappeared from Chapter 9.
A footnote to Chapter 6 quotes an article with a precise title on birth complications and early maternal rejection predisposing to violent crime. Mauger omits the crucial evidence of maternal rejection and writes simply: ‘Studies have begun to emerge which suggest a relationship between forceps deliveries and a later disposition to violent behaviour.’ She goes on: ‘Researches into this area continue, which mean that the impact of birth procedures on the emerging child cannot now be denied or minimalised.’ Now if research is continuing it means nothing can be confirmed or denied, whatever we believe intuitively. If you are trying to make a case to persuade the medical establishment to change, it is not advisable to misuse research in this way.
There is a powerful argument to be made for better services for mothers and children, whether at home or in maternity hospitals. Maire O’Connor, in the foreword, describes women feeling ‘dehumanised, humiliated and distressed’. This book highlights the need for change and Mauger writes with compassion. Hospitals have chaplains. Is it beyond the bounds of hope that they might have counsellors/psychotherapists freely available to support pregnant women and new mothers in distress? A goal for the new millenium, perhaps.