BIRTH by Tina Cassidy
Kirkus Star


The Surprising History of How We Are Born
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Former Boston Globe editor Cassidy explores the way childbirth has changed, from pre-history to the present.

Women have always borne children, but how people have thought about the process is far from static. Cassidy got interested in the topic after realizing that three generations of women in her family had completely different expectations about what childbirth should be like. Here she considers the development of the epidural, the relationship between midwifery and obstetrics, the current trend toward conveniently scheduled C-sections and shifting ideas about the father’s appropriate place: by the laboring woman’s bedside, or in the waiting room? One of the more amusing sections here details the attempts of cultures around the world to induce labor. The Egyptian Siwa tried to scare tardy babies into entering the world by shooting two rifles near the expectant mother. Midwives in France’s Auvergne region placed a chicken on the stomach of a pregnant woman, hoping the bird’s claws would prompt labor. Other cultures have shaken pregnant women on blankets or hung them from trees. Cassidy doesn’t limit herself to sociological or cultural changes. In her captivating first chapter, she addresses how evolution has affected childbirth. Most mammals have a much easier time giving birth than do humans, because their birth canals are roomier. Walking upright, as people do, requires a compact pelvis, and humans have bigger brains than any other mammal. In other words, the very combination of features that allow people their place at the top of the evolutionary heap, large heads and small pelvises, combine to make birth terrifically difficult. “If we had just one more inch of pelvic width,” Cassidy explains, “there might be no need for cesareans, forceps, vacuums, extraction hooks, and episiotomies.”

Fascinating, funny and occasionally shocking—should be at the top of every pregnant woman’s reading list.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 2006
ISBN: 0-87113-938-3
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2006


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