Friday, August 30, 2013

In Review: Birth in Four Cultures & Essential Truths of the Christian Faith

I am happy and quite pleased with my reading accomplishments for the month of August.  For the sake of brevity, you can look to my "Good Reads" profile for the reviews of the following books:

Changing Diapers: The Hip Mom's Guide to Modern Cloth Diapering by Kelly Wels
(4 Stars)
Gentle Birth Choices by Barbara Harper (3 1/2 Stars)

I also read Birth in Four Cultures & Essential Truths of the Christian Faith.  Since the latter was on my original reading list, I am reviewing it, but I went ahead and decided to include Birth in Four Cultures on the blog because of how fascinating it was.  It was of a different approach than the other birth/pregnancy books I've read, since it was not written for the lay person and masses, but originally a grad paper, so the tone and style of communication is quite different.  It is not one I would necessarily recommend to any pregnant lady, or woman wanting to conceive, unless they had lots of spare time to read and could read many other books too.  It's not an essential read for the expectant momma, by any means.

Birth in Four Cultures Brigitte Jordan
Truly, a fascinating book.  What started out as a comparative anthropological study of birth in different cultures by a grad student, Brigitte Jordan, has proved to open the discussion on traditional and medical birth and the pros and cons that go along with the differing systems.

This was the fourth edition and greatly expanded and updated, and yet it is 20 years old!  The original work was done 40 years ago.  I would be very interested to read another book of this sort that is current within the last few years.  The four cultures are the Yucatan, Mexico, Sweden, Holland, and the United States (California).  The first is an indigenous culture that primarily uses traditional midwives, the second, a modernized country where the use of drugs, etc. is very high, yet has a good birth outcome, the third, primarily natural births with midwives at home and in hospital, with doctors to take over complicated pregnancies, and the last, a controversial highly technological, interventionist, drug laden country where obstetricians are the supreme authority.  What was fascinating was the fact that though Sweden and the U.S. were both highly technologically and medically advanced in the area of birth (though, Holland is advanced too, they just reject the philosophies of these two nations), they had very different outcomes.  The author primarily focuses on the U.S. and the Yucatan in comparison, which was disappointing for me personally, since I was very interested to know more about the Dutch way of birth.

As an overview, The Swedish & Dutch have a socialized medical regime, whereas the U.S. and Yucatan do not.  The Swedish & U.S. both are routine in their obstetrical practice of drugs in pregnancy and treating it as a highly medical event.  In Holland and Yucatan, they see birth as a normal occurrence in women and completely natural, not needing highly specialized care in typical pregnancy and labor.  The Swedish are very informed about the drugs they can use in labor, and even choose which type and when they want it administered, and how much (since they are educated on the procedures, side effects, risks, etc), whereas most American women are completely ignorant of the safety or lack thereof of routine drug use and any procedures done to them and are treated rather childishly for their lack of understanding.  The Dutch women are evaluated and screened to find out if they fit in the normal pregnancy tier, or risky, or high risk.  They are given care accordingly and expected to labor naturally if no complications are foreseen, and drugs are not an option for them, unless they choose to opt in and pay for all the extra expenses themselves.  Interestingly, the Yucatan women see birth as a part of life and typically reject hospitalization for labor at all costs.  So most labor and birth in the quiet of their home, where the midwife comes to her.

This book compares more than just the practices of pregnancy, labor, and birth, but the social aspect, the "medical" aspect, or natural, and the cultural implications of such.  She urges for certain practices to be re-evaluated, and even gives her input on how to reconcile the gap between traditional labor and birth and the highly technological & medicalized view of birth. 

Over all, an interesting book to read, though at times a bit tedious due to the nature of the book being an anthropological study, (i.e., filled with many facts, statistics, data, footnotes to other research).  It was informative and useful, though I would not necessarily recommend this as pregnancy reading to most mommy-to-be's, simply because it was not as engaging or *fun* to read, like Ina May's book, which I highly recommend! But if you are very interested in all things baby, pregnancy, midwifery, etc. then this book is for you.

Essential Truths of the Christian Faith by R.C. Sproul Sr.

This is a book that every Christian ought to read, young or old, new to the faith or mature in the faith, as it is a refresher to some of the fundamental truths to our faith. For anyone who does not adhere to a confession of faith, or know the benefits of catechisms, would benefit the most to this systematic and easy to understand approach.  But it is so much more than mere concepts!  This book is the outpouring of a man who loves the Lord and meditates upon His word, loves His word, and wants others to love the Truth as well, and not fall by the way side of bad theology.  And R.C. Sproul is a very gifted teacher, both audio teaching, as well as the written word.  He has such a way with words in bringing things to an understanding level that all may comprehend, no matter what their background or how much they may or may not know about the bible.

If you are the type of Christian who says "No Creed but Christ!", or think theology and doctrine to be a hindrance or too much religion and prefer nothing but love and a relationship with the Lord Jesus, you would be pleasantly surprised as you read this book.  These are things that make us love the Lord more, humbly bow before His awesome presence, appreciate His mercy, grace, & truth, simply by reading them and being reminded of them.  Theology is not bothersome, on the contrary, it is the knowledge and study of God Himself!-the amazing Creator God who sent His Son to Redeem a people for Himself, to love and pour out His grace.  Why would you not want to know more about Him, to study Him and His word?  This book is an aid to that end.

As to the book itself and its contents, it was a very straight forward, concise, intelligent, clear, and easy to understand in simple yet thought provoking terms. This could even be used as a devotional since each "chapter" is 2 to 4 pages long.  And R.C. Sproul does not just spout off mere opinions, but in every single truth he presents and thoughtfully addresses, he includes four or more scriptures for reflection directly relating to the topic at hand, typically old and new testament.  Each topic ends with a review to give the reader a concise understanding of what was just read and presented to them.  I felt this provided clarity as well as a strengthening reminder for the memory. 

There were a few points in which I think he lacked, such as when he talks of Creation.  He merely says all things were created and need a creator, which was very weak in asserting that the bible is the standard for all truth and a Genesis Creation.  This may be controversial to some, but one of the other truths he presents is the infallibility of the word of God, so it seems he could have been stronger in this (and other) areas.  Over all, a very basic and general presentation of very important truths to our Christian faith, when it is biblically based.

God's word is indeed the standard, and R.C. Sproul seeks to show how essential our beliefs concerning the bible are, and what are the common things that hold us as Christians together, no matter what denomination.  And might I add, it was refreshing to read this from a covenantal position!  You will not waste your time reading this book.