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Book Review: Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom

by Christiane Northrup, MD
Bantam, 1998
Reviewed by Susan Leibman
Tilghman MD USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 37 No. 4, August-September 2001, p. 90.

Did you know that there are more than 40 US and overseas Leaders who review books for inclusion in the LLLI Bibliography? The work of LLLI's Book Evaluation Committee (BEC) is one of those hidden gems of behind-the-scenes activity within LLLI that is actively engaged in support of Leaders. Many Leaders may not have given LLLI's book evaluation process a first-let alone a second-thought. Yet this committee, laboring quietly behind the scenes, is dedicated to helping Leaders offer the mothers they serve with accurate, up-to-date resources on a variety of topics.

The practical purpose of the BEC is to assist Leaders in navigating the overwhelming number of books related to breastfeeding and parenting that are available on the market today. The LLLI Bibliography provides a means for Leaders to select books for their Group libraries on a variety of topics that will be helpful to parents and which reflect, or are compatible with, the philosophy and the spirit of LLLI. This is not always an easy task. Many of the books the BEC receives are easily evaluated. Books with inaccurate, incomplete, or out-of-date information about breastfeeding will not be approved. The same is true of books with baby, infant, or child care recommendations that are inconsistent with LLLI philosophy, such as those advocating harsh or restrictive methods of punishment.

Beyond these basic requirements, however, BEC Leaders are looking for books that are excellent in content and style, provide new or updated information, have a fresh perspective, and enhance the overall quality of the LLLI Bibliography. The BEC looks for authors who maintain an objective stance in describing a variety of perspectives and do not promote ideas that are inconsistent with LLLI's mission, purpose, and philosophy. Sometimes these books include information beyond the scope of LLLI's mission. Books may be considered if they are likely to be of interest to parents such as books on preschool options, vaccination, or teaching children how to handle money. The BEC may also review books that go beyond the concerns of the mother currently breastfeeding, such as caring for elderly parents or grieving.

Three BEC Leaders must submit positive evaluations for a book to be included in the LLLI Bibliography. What happens when BEC evaluators are divided on whether or not a book should be approved? In such a case, our training in communications skills comes into play. We may need to return to some fundamental questions. For example, what makes this an outstanding book for LLL? What impression of LLL would a new mother take away if she borrowed this book at her first Series Meeting? Very occasionally, a book comes along which is at once captivating and challenging, a book whose content and style pushes us to evaluate carefully and thoughtfully our role as LLL Leaders and our function in helping women. This searching can be an extremely valuable and productive experience.

One of those "captivating and challenging" books is Christiane Northrup's Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom. The revised edition has recently been approved for inclusion in the LLLI Bibliography, but the first edition inspired some serious soul-searching on the part of BEC reviewers. Those familiar with the book will appreciate that its content inspires a variety of reactions, many of them arising from beliefs strongly held. As one reviewer aptly put it, this book is "bound to offend most everyone at some point!' Virtually all reviewers agreed that Northrup has assembled a groundbreaking and inspirational work on women's health. Her writing is clear and her messages for women are powerful and empowering. The hefty 600+ page volume can serve equally well as a reference manual or-for those with staying power-a complete read-through. The text is broken up nicely with case studies covering a wide range of experiences. Hearing about real women's lives-and the variety of choices they make--in a nonjudgmental fashion is as refreshing as an LLL Series Meeting.

Northrup forthrightly encourages women to take control of their lives and their decisions, their health and their unhealthiness, and to find creative, personal, and honest solutions to things that may be standing in their way. Much as we encourage mothers to listen to their babies so that they can meet the baby's needs, Northrup encourages women to listen to their bodies to see if what they are doing is helpful (and healthful) for them or not. She offers valuable guidance for obtaining truly beneficial health care. She praises both breastfeeding and LLL, and even describes the help she received from LLL while struggling to breastfeed her second child.

The revised edition has been updated to include more information on nutrition and expanded discussions of childbearing, fertility issues, and natural treatments. The extensive and invaluable resources section has also been updated and expanded, and includes contact information for LLLI.

However, the book draws from a variety of spiritual and holistic traditions, including extensive discussion of energy "chakras," that may be outside the experience and/or comfort zone of some readers. Her comments about abortion will be troublesome for some. She frequently speaks of women leaving troubled relationships, but rarely mentions counseling and dialogue. Northrup has surprisingly little to say about the joys of motherhood and family life, which may disappoint some LLL members and Leaders. Ironically, for a book about women's issues, the publication includes very little concrete, detailed information about breastfeeding, no mention of breastfeeding an older baby or toddler, and virtually no parenting or mothering information.

Still, Northrup does not take an imperative approach. instead, she gives information, shares experiences, explores options, and stresses that different choices may be best for different people. These values are consistent with LLL's goals in helping mothers. Her encouragement to take responsibility for creating physical and emotional health in our lives is a welcome voice, and the practical resources she offers can help women identify problem areas and create real solutions. Her holistic orientation is a welcome addition to the women's health literature, and her support of breastfeeding, good nutrition, and an active role in childbirth sides with LLL philosophy. Though not every reader will find her own views perfectly reflected in this book, many will find valuable support in Northrup's thoughtful and unique approach.

Leaders will need to carefully consider if this is a book that merits inclusion in their Group Libraries. You alone best know the resources that will help the mothers in your area. The BEC takes our role as your partner very seriously, and we will keep working to identify resources that can be helpful to all Leaders who work with mothers.

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