Birth, Breath, and Death: Meditations on Motherhood, Chaplaincy, and Life as a Doula by Amy Wright Glenn

Since I began the doula certification process through DONA International, I have had to read myriad required books on labor and the work of being a labor companion. My favorite book by far has been Ina May Gaskin’s Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. I pretty much love everything she does, but that book was has been the best so far.

image from Amazon

image from Amazon

As I’ve completed the required reading for the doula certification, I’ve been able to branch out and read some related works that are not on the list. While I’ve browsed through a few other titles, Birth, Breath, and Death: Meditations on Motherhood, Chaplaincy, and Life as a Doula by Amy Wright Glenn has been the standout. It’s a really interesting book that (perhaps controversially) makes the connection between doula work and chaplaincy.

Let me get my criticisms out of the way first (because that’s always the worst part). Organization. This book has an organization problem. It appears to be a mash up of personal reflection (that is wonderful!) and what reads like long excerpts from a recycled academic paper on spirituality, love, philosophy (which is fine, but less wonderful). I sometimes found myself wanting her to get back to her stories, lovely insights, and self-reflection.

Glenn’s experience and her perspective is absolutely rich. It felt like an indulgence, and I wanted more. Since I began this work, I have often thought of the close connection between doula work and chaplaincy—although I haven’t thought chaplaincy was the right word—it makes me think of religion. Like yoga, doula work is more than spirituality. It also deals with the emotional and very much the physical. In fact, I imagine that chaplaincy work would do well to take a lead from the female-centric way that doulas have of guiding new life on to Earth (no big deal).

At a recent doula gathering, a new friend, still very emotional, shared that her father had recently passed away. As doulas, we discussed the way that doulas might facilitate a more peaceful, less medicalized passing, just like we are often asking questions and making plans in advance to help facilitating a more peaceful, empowered, and oftentimes a less medicalized birth.

It appears that Glenn has made that connection between birth and death in her own life’s work. A highlight of her book is her birth story. It’s one of the best I’ve ever read (though I have read [and witnessed!] many beautiful birth stories). Like all births, Glenn’s labor is unpredictable, and she is skilled at reflecting and sharing insights from the experience. More generally, I loved her insights on motherhood. I wanted to know even more about her thoughts on her own mother. I loved reading about the way she loves her son and the hesitations she had at becoming a mother in the first place.

If you find deep complexity in doula work, motherhood, childhood, life, and death, you’ll like this book. You might have to forgive it for lacking some of the polish (and organization) of other books, but if you’re like me, that forgiveness will be easy for the insight she offers.


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