Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Having a Baby? Read these books...

One April a few years ago I picked up the phone. It was Brenda Ramler, a local midwife calling.

"Hi. I'm working on a recommended reading list. Do you have any books you think I should include?" Brenda is someone you can always count on to get straight to the point; a real straight shooter. One of the straightest shooters I have known in my life.

"Why? What's up?" I on the other hand am an information gatherer. I never like to express my opinion until I feel I know all the facts. You know, a lay of the land type person.

"I'm working on something to hand out at the Fair. I have a list but I'm looking for new ideas to add to it." She was talking about Birth & Baby Resource Network's annual Birth & Baby Fair. This fair was almost as old as BBRN itself and Brenda & I had been involved in some way every year since its founding.

That's another thing about Brenda, she is a worker. She never sees something she feels needs to be done and says, "I'm too tired" or "too busy." Besides that she is an organizational wizard and perhaps one of the most detail oriented people I know. On top of that she is passionate about birth. I should say natural birth. Birth the way she feels it was meant to be. Her vision of birth encompasses pregnancy, birth and parenting. To her birth is one piece of the whole; not an isolated, stand alone event.

She has strong opinions about all of it and doesn't mind sharing them. Actually I believe she feels it is her calling to share them with women and their families; a duty to herself and to God. Of course she shared them with her clients, but she would also share them with pregnant women she met at a coffee shop or in line at the grocery store. She moves through the world strong in her beliefs that women need to know. Why? So they can be responsible for themselves, for their births and for their babies.

This is not a unique belief in the "alternative" birth world. It is the founding principle of BBRN and many other organizations, but Brenda is unique in her power of conviction and willingness to clearly state the truth without fear of repercussions. Many people find this not an endearing trait. But as far as I can tell it never fazed Brenda what other people thought of her. She brought that power, conviction and confidence to every birth. It served her clients well.

She safely caught lots of San Luis Obispo county babies during her years here. She educated many women in their birthing and mothering abilities. She made an impact in our world one family at a time. She also impacted our birth community; educating assistants, doulas, teachers, and even doctors and midwives. I was one of those people. I was lucky enough to doula at a few homebirths with Brenda and she always made herself available to discussclient issues or situations. Now she has moved on to new adventures in new places with her husband. The women whose lives she touched will never forget her. Myself included.

Recently I found a copy of the list of books Brenda and I spoke about that day on the phone. I was in the home of one of her assistants who is currently training to be a midwife. I recognized it as soon as I saw it and asked Heather if I could have a copy. Many of these books are classics. The basics of birth and parenting do not change but the context of the cultural/financial politics which surround it continually changes. These books continue to be relevant because the underlying foundation of greed, power and mistrust of women's bodies remain as a constant at the core of our birth culture. I am happy to announce that these books and many others will soon be on loan again through the Birth & Baby Resource Network in the library at the Santa Lucia Birth Center.

Here is Brenda's Recommended Reading List:
Active Birth
Janet Balaskas

The Vegetarian Mother's Cookbook
local author Cathi Olson

Pregnancy & Childbirth
American Way of Birth
Jessica Mitford

A Wise Birth
Penny Armstrong

Birth as an American Rite of Passage
Robbie Davis-Floyd

Birth Reborn
Michel Odent

Gentle Birth Choices
Barbara Harper

Immaculate Deception II
Suzanne Armstrong

Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way
Susan McCutcheon

Pursuing the Birth Machine
Marsden Wagner

Special Delivery
Rahima Baldwin

Pregnant Feelings
Rahima Baldwin

Choosing Waterbirth
L. Bertram

Seasons of Change: Growing through Pregnancy & Birth
Suzanne Arms

Creating a Joyful Birth
Lucia Capprioni

Mind Over Labor
Carl Jones

Open Season
Nancy Cohen

Birthing from Within
Pam England & Robin Horowitz

Rights & Responsibilities
Birthing Normally
Gayle Peterson

Birth Your Way
Shiela Kitzinger

Obstetric Myths Versus Research Realities
Henci Goer

The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth
Henci Goer

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding
La Leche League International

The Nursing Mother's Companion
local author Kathleen Huggins

Babies & Children
Natural Medicine for Children
J. Scott

Take Charge of Your Child's Health
G. Wootan

The Baby Book
Dr. Sears


  1. Stacy wrote via face book: "What a nice blog post about Brenda Jennifer! Brenda changed my life with her care and knowledge and her insistence that all decisions should come from a place of awareness of all options and possible outcomes. She expected a lot of the families she worked with and I don't think any of us were left without a sense of having experienced a shift in our lives. She was truly a gift to the women in this community. I miss her a lot!"

  2. Jennifer, this post captures Brenda's great gift and contribution to our community. When I was attending births as her assistant, I was constantly impressed at how, in serious situations when most people (me, in particular) might falter, Brenda was at her best. Fortunately, she didn't have too many of those circumstances because she was so proactive, careful and prepared, and generally was able to anticipate a problem before it became a crisis. But life isn't always predictable, and I've seen Brenda take charge of challenging situations with amazing competence, resolve, and a powerful sense of calm. She is like a warrior at heart. There are people who have great courage and confidence, who can run into a crisis when everyone else is in retreat, and Brenda is one of those people. I always believed that I was capable of the supportive role, of being the steady advocate, but I eventually discovered that I didn't have the temperament, like she did, to swing from calm to intensity and back to calm without getting rattled. I admire her all the more because of that realization; I had an insider's view of a master at work, and I was humbled by her gift.