Birth Without ViolenceWe were wondering about how best to prepare the child…
Now we can see it’s not the child who needs to be prepared.
It is ourselves.
It is our eyes that need to open,
our blindness that has to stop.
If we used just a little intelligence,
how simple things could be.

If I told you that this book is widely considered a seminal work that revolutionised the process of birth, what would you expect? Some learned tome, very worthy but rather dull?

Think again. This is a work of art, of poetry, of truth and beauty. Calm, persuasive truths are told elegantly, illustrated by telling black and white photographs. At times poetical, at times discursive, always engaging, Leboyer’s book is truly beautiful, and utterly moving.

Originally published in 1975, the book describes then current (and still prevalent) attitudes towards birthing and newborn babies, as we induct babies into the abrupt, cold, hard world outside the womb with bright lights, loud noises and a slap on the backside – not thinking or caring about why they cry, but only glad that they can cry and concerned if they do not.

Leboyer then leads the reader towards a suggested new (old!) approach, a way that respects the new child as a person, a frightened little person going on a great journey and needing welcome, love, reassurance and, above all, patient gentleness. The book describes that babies born in such a way do not cry, except maybe a little, when first they try the shock of breathing. Leboyer shows you that a newborn baby can smile.

I’m not sure that I would follow every step, or even agree with every step, suggested by Leboyer. I’m not even sure that this gentle practice really has all the benefits claimed for it, of creating a new breed of child who is strong, free and unafraid. But I do know that the book has much in it that is true, and moving, and uplifting. I even shed a little tear.

Had I read this before giving birth, no doubt I would have dismissed it as a load of sentimental nonsense. Now I know different, and reading these words instead intensifies my hope that one day again I might get the chance to help a baby be born, so that I can do it better next time. Maybe it will even, one day, be my baby.

I leave you with an extract:

Learn to respect this sacred moment of birth,
as fragile, as fleeting, as elusive as dawn.
The child is there, hesitant, tentative,
unsure which way he’s about to go.
He stands between two worlds.

For heaven’s sake, don’t touch him,
don’t push him,
unless you want him to fall.
Let him wait until he feels
the time is right.

Have you ever watched a bird take flight?
As he’s still walking, he’s heavy, awkward,
his wings drag, and then suddenly
he’s flying,
graceful, elegant and free.
He was the son of earth,
now he’s the child of the skies.

Can you say when he left one kingdom for the other?
It is so subtle, the eye can hardly catch it.
As subtle as stepping in,
or out, of time,
to be born,
or to die.

What of the tide,
which imperceptibly,
irresistibly rises,
only to fall.
At what moment did it turn?
Is your ear sharp enough to hear the ocean breathe?

Yes, this birth,
this wave parted from wave,
born from the sea
without ever leaving her.
Don’t ever touch it with your rough hands.
You understand nothing of its mysteries.
But the child,
the drop from this ocean,

A wave pushes him towards the shore,
another pulls him back,
only to push him higher still.
One more,
and he’s out of the flood.
He’s parted from the water,
and come to the land.
He’s frightened, terrified.
Let him be.
Just wait.
This child is awakening
for the very first time.

This is his first dawn.
Allow him its grandeur, its majesty.
Don’t even stir until he leaves behind
the night and its kingdom of dreams.