I'm not a "new age" person and I probably wouldn't have even browsed through this book in a store, however I received this book as a gift during the peak of holiday stress and the beginning of my second trimester. I found this book a wonderful antidote to the popular pregnancy "manual" I was reading at the time -- a weighty book that left me feeling overwhelmed and convinced that I wasn't living up to all of those expectations. In contrast, Joyful Birth helped me relax and enjoy my pregnancy by accepting the profound life-changing nature of this transition.
The book consists of five essays by five different authors. Each essay focuses on a different aspect of becoming a mother with each author lending her unique point of view. I can't remember how many times I've re-read the first essay by Anne Cushman. She recounts the huge variety of experience that different women have with pregnancy and birth, from smooth by-the-What-to-Expect-book deliveries, to the moments during her own natural labor when she screamed for an epidural. The essay is refreshingly honest and fully admits the discomforts and worries of pregnancy and birth, while never losing sight of the joy of the transformation.
The second essay, "Nurturing Your Body," describes the benefits and provides guidance for practicing yoga to ease physical discomfort and promote relaxation. It includes pictures of specific, basic poses, and detailed descriptions. If, like me, you have trouble translating a pose in a book into movement, you'll want additional help. Ideally, I recommend taking a prenatal yoga class with an experienced instructor -- there's just no substitute for having someone who can work directly with you to improve a pose. As another option, I'd recommend using the DVD version of Yoga Journal's Yoga for Beginners (ASIN: B000067D1C) -- in the pose guide section of the DVD, you can select specific poses one at a time and hear Patricia Walden's serene, detailed instruction on proper and safe form for each pose. Unfortunately, the DVD doesn't include all of the poses in the essay, but the basic ones are included. With or without additional help in mastering the form of the poses shown in the book, once you learn them, you can use them at home to relieve stress and the aches and pains of pregnancy.
The third essay focuses on bonding with your baby, inspiring and reassuring readers that bonding is something you simply let in rather than force. Celia Straus writes, "If we can stop second-guessing ourselves and forcing ourselves to feel whatever we're conditioned to believe we ought to feel, bonding will simply happen."
In the fourth essay, "Calming Fear," the author, a Buddhist teacher, relates her personal experience and balances down to earth admission of the fears and anxieties that seem to be an inseparable part of pregnancy and offers guidance on releasing them.
The fifth essay, "Setting Intentions," helps the reader visualize what kind of mother she wants to become. I expect to revisit this essay again and again in the final months of pregnancy, as well as the first years of motherhood.
In addition, there are 5 "practices," 1 or 2 pages of instruction on a specific meditation, aromatherapy, or journaling exercise. Each practice follows one of the essays, reinforcing elements of the essay without making the book feel like a workbook.
The first CD is a companion to the meditation practices -- the calm, steady voice of Acharya Judith Lief guides the listener through four brief (5-8 minutes), non-threatening meditations.
Finally, the book includes a second CD, "Music for New Moms," based on the principles of psychoacoustics. I'll confess, when I put the CD in the first time, I dreaded hearing pan flutes and droning bells. Instead, the CD contains two tracks of classical music, played on harp, cello, violin, piano, flute ... and ok, there's one part with Tibetan bowls and tubular bells, but by then I was so relaxed, I barely noticed. The first track, "Ease," is 20 minutes of variations on a classical theme (Clair deLune, I think) designed to leave you feeling relaxed but alert -- it makes great background music at the office in the morning. The second track, "Deep Sleep," is 40 minutes, designed to prepare you and baby for sleep.
The book itself is beautiful, trim and square, printed on good quality paper, with every page illustrated or washed with a soothing color. All in all, this book is a gift that I treasure.