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Natural Birth.

Toi Derricotte. Natural Birth. Ithaca, NY: Firebrand Books, 2000. 86 pp. $10.95.

"I wrote Natural Birth when my son was sixteen years old .... I had told no one of the story of my son's birth in a home for unwed mothers, not even my best friend, and especially not my son." Afraid that if her son knew the truth of his birth he would feel that he had not been wanted, she was relieved when he said, "Mom, I didn't know you had suffered so much." Thus, she rededicated this reprint of the book, first published fifteen years prior to this release, to her son, "a wise and compassionate man, whose labor of giving birth to himself is partly the labor of giving birth to his imperfect mother."

The volume begins with a lengthy autobiographical "Introduction" that stands out and is as much a part of the ambience of the collection as is the combination of prose and poetic vignettes that follow. Derricotte gives voice to the excruciating pain and agony of natural birth--"natural" as opposed to the blissful sleep or reduction of pain during the birth process that is induced by anesthesia. "FORGET ALL THAT SILLY BREATHING STUFF. YOU'LL TAKE A SHOT LIKE THE REST WHEN THE TIME COMES," the doctor had told her. But the mother holds out. "I wanted my natural birth to hold on to the mystery and power of that singular rite of passage."

We take an amazing journey into the depths of agony, of wonder--surrealistic in treatment, unrelenting in the frank and open disclosure. We enter the maternity ward of the Holy Cross Hospital where the delivery and postpartum experience stand in sharp contrast to the calm demeanor of caretakers accustomed to the routine of attendance: ". . . everything conspired to make me feel afraid...and the night looked in from bottomless windows."

In Natural Birth we see, then, a mother caught up between revulsion and love--an ambivalence symbolic of the dichotomies of human experience. "Art," she tells us, "can revisit the wounds of the past and, if not heal them, at least send us back with the reader as witness." And so in this slender volume Derricotte sends us back as witness. We are reminded that this most universal human experience comes with great maternal sacrifice and instinctual courage.
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Lane, Pinkie Gordon
Publication:African American Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 2001
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