The Birth Book carries the subtitle, "Everything You Need to Know to Have a Safe and Satisfying Birth." That would actually turn out to be true in my case, as this was the only book that I bought and read on the subject.
The book opens with the authors telling about the births of their own children. They have eight children in all, so there's no doubt as to their experience. The authors also start giving advice right away. This chapter contains 10 tips that they believe will help women have a safer birth when the time comes. Some of these tips include making sure you prepare adequately (read books, take classes, know what to expect); take responsibility for the choices you make regarding the method and manner of your baby's impending birth (in other words, don't let the nurse or doctor make all the choices -- unless a medical emergency comes up); learn how to make your labor progress naturally; and use technology wisely.
I thought this was an extremely effective opening chapter. The authors established themselves as experts with qualifications beyond mere titles and degrees. In addition, they gave solid advice right off the bat, so I felt that I was going to be able to learn a lot from the rest of the book.
The next chapter goes into some differences between how births were handled in the past and how they are handled now. I have to admit that I just skimmed this section because I didn't feel that knowing the information would impact my personal experience at all.
The authors then start talking about the many choices that mothers have to think about prior to giving birth. For example, it's important to think about where you want to have your birth. Are you going to do it in a regular hospital, or do you prefer to go to a place with a friendlier atmosphere (a so-called "family birth center)? Some women might even choose to give birth at home, but this would of course require that you prepare your home well in advance and arrange to have proper medical assistance onsite once your labor pains start. Some other choices that the authors talk about are: choosing who will be in the room with you, choosing a birthing philosophy, and choosing your birthing classes.
At this point, the authors also described some things that might go wrong during delivery. Although reading about the problems was a bit disconcerting and worrisome, the authors also pointed out some things that you can do to be prepared if any of these emergencies arise. They also give some statistics about how often the problems occur, which is reassuring since the percentages are pretty low.
In total, this book consists of 14 chapters describing various aspects of the whole birth process. In my opinion, some of the more interesting chapters were: Why Birth Hurts -- Why It Doesn't Have To, Labor and Deliver, Composing Your Birth Plan, and Relaxing For Birth. I thought the tips, advice, and stories presented in each of these chapters was extremely helpful and gave me lots of things to think about that I never would have figured out on my own.
I have to say that I was quite pleased with what this book was able to accomplish. The authors addressed the most important aspects of labor and delivery, and did much to educated and inform me about what I could expect. Of course, I still knew that my own baby's birth probably wouldn't unfold exactly as laid out in this book, but I at least had more of an inkling as to what I could expect to happen, and why those things would happen.
In other reviews of this book, some critics have said that this book is basically one-sided and very biased. The reason for these complaints is that the authors really go out of their way to recommend a natural birth without the use of narcotics, epidurals, or other pain relievers. In addition, the authors recommend holding out on a Cesarean section for as long as possible, and to only agree to such a procedure as a last resort.
I can understand where these other readers would feel that the authors were biased, because they really do urge women to choose natural birthing methods. However, they also present information about all of the options out there, and make it clear that the final decision is of course up to each woman herself. As a result, even though I could tell that they were indeed leaning towards natural births, there is definitely useful information in here for women who want to take advantage of the pain relief medications that are widely available.
On the whole, I would recommend The Birth Book to any woman that is interested in knowing what to expect when it comes time to deliver her first child. This book contains a lot of information, and the authors present it in an easy-to-read (yet not condescending or preachy) manner. You'll find the answers to many common concerns that pregnant women have about the time prior to, during, and just after delivery, as well as things you can do to help make your birth as safe and memorable as possible.
Contrary to what some critics have said, this book does give you a good look at many different delivery options, while taking the time to reinforce the notion that the final choice is yours. There is also a very helpful index in the back that will allow you to look up specific topics quickly and easily. I found myself constantly referring back to the book during my pregnancy to make sure that I was following the advice that was offered.
After reading The Birth Book, I can honestly say that I went into the delivery room more prepared than I otherwise would have been on my own. I believe that the advice in this book helped make my experience just about as good as it could be!