Book Review: Natural Hospital Birth: The Best of Both Worlds

Natural Hospital Birth: The Best of Both Worlds

by Cynthia Gabriel


This is the essential book for families desiring a natural birth in the hospital. It informs readers of everything I wish I had to time to review with my doula clients. It does not scare or shame parents about their birth environment choice, instead gently and honestly reveals what you can expect when you arrive at the hospital and how to prepare yourself & your birth team to maximize your chances of a natural birth. Gabriel manages to cover the normal birth preparation topics such as stages of labor, pain coping techniques, & birth stories clearly and yet differently than any other author before her. Additionally she includes in-depth examples of what birth teams can say to tired, frustrated mothers during birth & what to say to hospital staff encouraging interventions. This review will cover a few of the books’ highlights.

Finding out how your care provider really feels about natural childbirth & if they will support you

Gabriel suggests these 5 questions to learn about your providers’ attitudes about natural birth. She goes on to unpack possible answers and points out red flags that may not be obvious to parents who aren’t birth nerds.

  • Can you tell me what kind of birth you chose for yourself (or what kind your wife chose), and what did you learn from it?
  • Can you tell me about the most recent natural birth you attended?
  • In your opinion, what helps omen achieve natural birth? What can a woman do to prepare?
  • In your professional opinion, what are the main reasons that women who want natural births do not have them?
  • What do you think birth pain means to women? What is the value of birth pain?


Inductions, Large Babies, & How women describe labor pain in natural childbirth

Interventions, drugs or the unplanned, unwanted cesarean birth is the fear that lurks in the back the mind of most women desiring a natural birth but who are the in hospital. As a doula myself I witness three of the most common reasons that natural births transition to medicated or surgical births: inductions, ‘large babies’, and pain.

A woman being induced and hoping for a natural birth has a long, difficult road ahead of her. A natural birth is still possible with the right baby, the right body, and the right birth team. “Almost 40 percent of American have inductions. Yet about a third of all inductions do not work.” I hadn’t realized inductions numbers are that high or that they are so often unsuccessful. It makes sense to me though, birth is a dance between the mother and the baby, it’s impossible for the dance to begin unless both partners are ready.

I wish I could openly roll my eyes when an OB tells a woman, “Your baby may be too big to come through your birth canal. Look at how tall your husband is! And you know we let you go until almost 42 weeks, babies really grow in those last few days.” Or I wish I was in a position to say, “Deformed pelvic bones were much more common is the 1700s, when our foremothers suffered from vitamin deficiencies. Most North American girls today get enough calcium and vitamin D to prevent rickets, the most common cause of pelvic bone deformity, so it is now extremely rare to find a pelvis that not able to birth a baby.”

Gabriel points out that most of the time the ‘large baby’ excuse is used to convince a family to agree to a surgical birth the problem is the position of the baby. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen many OB’s work with women on the position of the baby, this is where having a good doula and following the authors’ advice of ‘Eat, Cry, and Move’ can come in handy.

Pain is often a huge factor when births shift towards medication. The author sites her own research in the United States & Russia about pain intensity levels, the percent of women who experience them, and possible reasons and connected factors. According to Gabriel 85-96 percent of women report that labor “pain is intense and requires effort (usually, a focus on breathing and relaxing) to get through. Most would agree that labor has been their most painful physical experience. Many compare it to running a marathon.” The good news is only 1-5 percent (the number jumps appreciably if labor is induced) described labor as, “Excruciating, unbearable pain.” The important message here is: labor is hard, AND you can do it, here is the proof.


Eat, Cry & Move

Labor is not a straight line from first contraction to birth. While each and every contraction is indeed helping to prepare your body, it is possible for your cervix to open and close and open again. Contractions may increase or decrease in frequency and duration. Labor may ‘plateau’, the author recommends to Eat, Cry, & Move if this should happen because each of those activities helps to change physical, emotional and baby caused plateaus. ‘Cry’ is short hand for emotional release; which could be laughing or screaming if that is what feels right.

I appreciate that Gabriel suggests eating. While most hospitals don’t allow women to eat once active labor has begun it is unfortunate because I have seen eating give a woman the energy she needs to get through a difficult stage of labor.


Distinguishing Emergencies from Non-Emergencies

A primary difficultly of birthing in the hospital is keeping your calm. “Much of today’s medicine is about evaluating risk, so even normal labors are continuously assessed as potentially hazardous.” The language, attitude, and experience of hospital staff is that danger could always be just around the corner. Part of this is because the hospital is not designed for natural birth, the staff are not trained for a natural birth, design and training is focused around responding when something goes awry, this is why you’ve chosen the hospital.

Nurturing the calm and reassuring atmosphere women laboring naturally need is not the strength of your hospital team. You must be prepared to maintain your relaxation and trust the process while staff around you has some fear in their bodies.

No one said birthing is easy! In a true emergency you will know, otherwise assume the tasks of the staff are not connected to an emergency.

Finally I’ll leave you with one of the most poignant parts of Natural Hospital Birth, Gabriel discusses her experience of relaxation during childbirth:

“The only way I know to get though labor pain is to surrender to it. Achieving surrender is the hardest part. When you feel overwhelmed by contractions you have not yet surrendered. Your are in pre-surrender. A miracle happens in the instant that you yield. Labor stops feeling so hard. You stop feeling overwhelmed. As soon as you accept that labor is overwhelming, it ceases to be so. Relaxing during painful contractions changes the feelings of those contractions. This is just one of life’s paradoxes”.


Serving Ojai, Santa Barbara, and Ventura

I am currently seeing clients in their homes for massage therapy appointments in Ojai, Ventura, Carpentaria, and Santa Barbara. I have an office in Santa Barbara where I see clients on Tuesdays & Saturdays. It is located at 113 W. Mission St. Suite C. There is often parking in the back.



Currently I am a graduate student in the Maternal Child Health Systems program at Bastyr University. I am doing original research about evidence based practice (EBP) change in intrapartum settings by interviewing nurses, obstetricians, and hospital administrators about their experiences with EBP implementation. This year I am largely taking a break from my massage and doula practices. I have settled in Portland, Oregon where I will continue to serve families in the childbearing year through massage & birth doula services while developing innovative health systems improvements for families when I complete my program in the Summer 2017.


n late 2012 I relocated to Santa Barbara & shifted my energy from primarily offering bodywork to working with families in the childbearing year through birth & postpartum doula services. I gained great experience while in Santa Barbara, attending over 80 births at home, the Santa Barbara Birth Center, Cottage Hospital, and Community Memorial in Ventura. I assisted many families in the postpartum period including families of multiples, single mothers, and babies with special medical needs.

My background is in clinical massage; I graduated from the 650 hour Massage Therapy Program at Ashland Institute of Massage in Ashland, OR. The majority of my clients were able to see me using their insurance benefits. I use Myofacial Release, various Neuromuscular Therapy Techniques including Trigger Point Therapy, Muscles Energy Technique, and Structural Relief Therapy to address my client’s aches & pains. I have a lot of experience working with clients with Fibromyalgia and other inflammatory conditions using Connective Tissue Massage.

My style has developed to include a deep structural understanding of the underlying postural issues that lead to most of our chronic pains.

I received my Prenatal Massage Certification from the Santa Fe School of Massage; I have hundreds of hours of experience working with women in their childbearing year. Since 2002 I have studied energy medicine, somatic emotional release, crystal healing, and ceremony with esteemed teachers all over the country including Bruce Burger, Tom Brown Jr., and Kaye Codrington.


n September 2011 I attended my first birth; it was a powerful and moving experience. Since then I have learned as much about birth as possible through classes, workshops, books, and women’s circles. I attended the Birth Doula Skills Workshop taught by Penny Simkin and Carrie Kenner at Bastyr University. I also received my Lactation Education Certification at Bastyr. I am currently working towards my Birth Doula Certification with DONA International.




 Placenta Encapsulation Workshop

    • taught by Carrie Kenner, CD (DONA)

Foundation for Best Practice in Lactation Care

    • taught by Evergreen Perinatal Services

Birth Doula Skills Workshop

    • taught by Penny Simkin, PT & Carrie Kenner, CD (DONA) at Bastyr University

Prenatal Massage

    • taught by Elizabeth Rose, BS, LMT, CD (DONA)


    • taught by Tom Brown, Jr. at Tracker School

Anatomy Trains I

    • taught by Peter Ehlers, LMT

650 hour Massage Therapy Training Program

    • at Ashland Institute of Massage

Polarity Therapy & Somatic Emotional Release

    • taught by Bruce Burger, LMT at Heartwood Institute

Apprenticeship in OrthoBionomy

    • with Kim Lincoln, LMP

Reiki Level II

    • taught by various teachers

BA Evergreen State College

    • in Sustainable Agriculture & Indigenous Knowledge


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After hours of laboring at home, my husband called Saralynn asking what we should do and she immediately came over. When she arrived at our house it changed the whole atmosphere – I felt rejuvenated physically and renewed emotionally to continue. She worked with us to try different positions and helped me try a variety of things to help reposition our baby to help her come down. She provided a calming influence and helped me to relax and breathe through the process.

With Saralynn’s support, we were able to understand when it was time to go to the hospital and by the time we got there I was already 8 centimeters dilated, having been able to spend as much time at home as possible, thanks to her support.

She stood by my side at the hospital the entire time, providing needed back rubs, comforting me with her words of encouragement and helping me relax and work through the waves. Also very importantly, she provided support to my husband as he endured the long labor with me and coached me through it. She was a guide not just to myself, but him as well.

When it came time to push, she proved herself even further by providing me with warm and cold compresses as needed and keeping me calm and supporting me through the exhaustion. She helped me focus and guide me in how to effectively push. She stayed focuses on everything going on and kept us informed.

At times we felt lost in what was happening, but she made sure to explain all the seeming chaos to us. She was the one that explained to us what they were doing with our baby girl when she came out…

and when she saw the nurse about to throw away the placenta we had requested they save, she sprinted out of the room to save the placenta just before it was thrown out. Without her, we would not have had that special gift.

I wholeheartedly recommend Saralynn to anyone looking for a doula. Having her there to support us, allowed us to be assured and more relaxed during such a wondrous and life-changing experience.

-Julie M., Santa Barbara


Saralynn’s prenatal massage helped to move me from the trauma of an early pregnancy accident through to a healthy thriving back and body. Her techniques relax my body, mind, spirit and emotions, while helping to release tight muscles and support my healing. She is kind and firm and really provides a holistic approach to building a healthy body between massages. Her wisdom and guidance through the emotional elements of both pregnancy and massage have helped me to ground and focus as an expecting mother.

I highly recommend Saralynn as a part of your support team throughout pregnancy.

-S. Snyder, Seattle, WA


Saralynn Finn was a tremendous help to me during my pregnancy in September 2011. She knew how to apply pressure in just the right spots to alleviate discomfort in my lower back in the third trimester and stimulate circulation in my legs to reduce swelling. She also showed me how to stretch in a way to relieve stress in my back and shoulders and make the final days of pregnancy more bearable.

But it was during delivery that Saralynn really shined. I was so grateful for the consistent support and compassionate care during that emotionally and physically challenging time. My wish was to try for a traditional delivery – vaginal birth – as long as I could stand the pain.

While my husband was managing the doctors and nurses, Saralynn helped me find that little extra courage to keep going, relieving pressure in my back in just the right spot and cheering me on…

With my husband, she was the only other person I requested in the delivery room.

When I needed to make a big decision about proceeding with a caesarian as recommended by the doctor, I was grateful for Saralynn’s perspective as a massage therapist and savvy around natural remedies. I found her to be supportive and nonjudgmental in the face of many controversial and sensitive issues. She has my infinite gratitude for helping me through that difficult, amazing experience.

Expecting mothers looking for the comforts of a doula would do well in Saralynn’s care. – T. Corley, Seattle, WA


Saralynn has an innate ability to assess and relieve discomfort and pain during pregnancy. Throughout my pregnancy, I suffered from low back and hip pain but Saralynn’s massage modalities and techniques consistently provided pain reduction and relief.  I continued seeing her post natal for mid-back and shoulder relief from breastfeeding and carrying our infant.  I would highly recommend her for pre and post natal massage. – T. Quinn, Seattle, WA