The Birth of Love – Joanna Kavenna

If you have any interest in child birth then this is the book for you. Ever since the birth of my son four years ago I have been fascinated by the different approaches to child birth around the world, but this book gave me a new perspective – the way things have changed through time.

The Birth of Love combines a present day birthing experience with flashbacks to Vienna in 1865, a time when thousands of mothers died simply because doctors didn’t think to wash their hands between performing an autopsy and helping with a birth. We discover how Professor Semmelweis, the first man to suggest that doctors should wash their hands regularly, was imprisoned in a lunatic asylum. He was driven mad by his realisation that he had killed so many women by spreading disease between them. 

The book also gives a scary prediction for the future, suggesting that in 2153 no one will give birth – all babies will be grown in special genetically screened baby farms.

There isn’t much plot in this book, but I found the text gripping. The emotions of childbirth were captured perfectly:

She closes her eyes again, trying to sink into the stillness. The suspense is the worst part, being in the middle of something and knowing that it will end, somehow, but not knowing what the ending will be. The hours will flow along, but Brigid longs to escape them, to accelerate to the conclusion.

The period atmosphere was excellent – I was instantly able to tell which time period the section was referring too without having to be told.  The way everything was tied up at the end was equally impressive.

It is amazing to think how much things have changed in the last 150 years, but I struggle to believe Joanna Kavenna’s vision for the future. Can you foresee a time when women don’t give birth? This book would be a fantastic choice for a book group, particularly one containing lots of new mothers – I’d love to discuss her ideas with other people.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the themes of motherhood.

40 replies on “The Birth of Love – Joanna Kavenna”

I don’t have much interest in personally giving birth and bringing up children but the book intrigues me. As a woman I find the miracle of what our bodies can do fascinating and amazing; I can’t foresee a time when the natural birth of babies will be superseded completely by science, detracting from the wonder.

Claire, Producing babies in a farm is an interesting idea and I can sort of see the way we are heading there with all our testing for genetic diseases, but I can’t imagine what it would do to our family units – being handed a new born baby one day , without the pregnancy, would be weird. I can’t see it working, but perhaps I just don’t have future vision!

I dont know about women one day not giving birth. I do think fashions have a part to play though. At the moment home births are on the rise but whos to say that in 50 years time everyone will be given a C section as standard rather than as an emergency?

Sounds like a fasinating read anyway.

Jessica, Fashion and pressure from society forms a big part of it. I really hope that everyone isn’t given a C-section as standard in the future, but who knows how things might change!

The thought of babies being grown somewhere artificial (apart of course from the current early stages of IVF) is truly horrible!
I really really hope that it is a purely speculative idea because the thought of what children born without any maternal intervention would be like is chilling!
It sounds an interesting book though, particularly as I am in maternal mode at the moment with the news that granddaughter Amelia (aged 2) is going to be a big sister to twin siblings , God willing, in the New Year!
I might see if the library has a copy but I will take a view as to whether to recommend it to my daughter-in-law!

LizF, Congrats on the the twin grandchildren! I hope they arrive safely and their big sister looks after them well 🙂

I hope you enjoy reading it – I think your daughter-in-law would enjoy it too – she’s had one child already so it shouldn’t scare her 🙂 It does all end nicely.

Sounds interesting… though I have no interest whatsoever in birth. The disease and changing health views is the part that interests me! And baby born in a tube? Sign me up! lol

Amy, It is really weird to read about a time in which they didn’t wash their hands in a hospital – I wonder what we do that people in 150 years time will think is mad!!

They likely will think natural child birth is mad heh. But of course being the type of gal who has never had a maternal instinct in her life… probably not best to listen to me! LOL (I’m all for babies, just other people’s babies, so you can give them back after short visits!)

Amy, Probably!! Why do we risk our lives when it could all just be done in a little tank!

I’m not that excited about other people’s babies – I like to hand them back after a short visit too 🙂

I have a few friends that would sign up to have their babies come from a tube, either because they are afraid of pain or they are worried they will spoil their perfect figures. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way than the way God intended. It was magical and natural and I never felt more like a woman than at that moment. I can’t imagine humanity giving that up.

Sandy, I can’t imagine getting rid of it either. Part of me thinks it would be nice not to have gone through nine months of sickness, but it makes you appreiciate them more when you’ve been through something like that. Having said that adoptive parents make great jobs of it, so perhaps we’re all just mad to stick with it!

Sara, Thanks for commenting on my blog for the first time! I have read quite a few books containing childbirth issues – but perhaps I seek them out?!! Most of the time they are about midwives in other countries, not entire books about birth, but I do like picking up all the little snippets about the different ways of doing things. I’ve also read quite a few wonderful non-fiction books. *heads off to look at your post*

I’m sure that some women would opt for baby farms given the chance but I would hope there was always the possiblity to choose!! Is a bit of a creepy idea somehow…

Actually sounds like a fascinating book.

Novel Insights, The right to choose then leads to the problems of two classes of people – the ‘super humans’ bred to perfection in a lab and the ordinary people. Did you see the film Gattaca? Scary!! I’m hoping it doesn’t happen.

Wow! I have to read this. I was one of those women who never thought she’d have children and was, by default, totally uninterested in all things birth. Now that I have a baby and have lived through childbirth (my experience was pretty anticlimactic) I am totally fascinated.

Because I’ve decided that two kidlets is quite enough thankyouverymuch, this might be an appropriate time to read more about childbirth. I’m not sure how much of it I would relate to (unless she has a section titled, “Give Me the Damned Drugs NOW”), but I’d be interested in reading about with a historical perspective.

Michele, I’m afraid that I don’t think this book will do anything to put you off more children. It does give a realistic experience of birth, but I wouldn’t have thought it would scare anyone who had children already – strange how even when reading a book you forget about the long journey as soon as a cute little baby appears!

The idea of all babies being born artificially makes me think of sci fi- Brave New World? it surprises me to hear that it’s discussed in a book about childbirth! I’m curious to read it, mostly for the history aspects too.

I can’t say whether babies could ever be grown outside of a woman’s body, but I would feel sorry for those babies. I don’t often think about actually sharing my mother’s body, but knowing that I didn’t share anyone’s body would make me feel really weird. I also wouldn’t have given up the time Allison was tucked safely inside me for anything. Then again, I know what it’s like not to be able to get pregnant as well. Our oldest daughter is adopted. I would have given anything to have been her biological mother. Still, I don’t think I would have ever resorted to something like that.

Literate Housewife, It is fascinating to hear about your experiences and to learn that you don’t think you would ever have resorted to tank grown babies even though you couldn’t have children naturally. I think that if I had been unable to have children I would have done anything to get my hands on one, but I guess until you are actually in that situation you can’t really understand it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

This may not be for me – I always find it frustrating when people suggest that the next step after genetic screening is raising babies in tanks. Chromosomal disorders run in my family, and I’m absolutely going to have genetic testing before I start trying to get pregnant.

I read about that whole handwashing thing in another book (I think it was Superfreakonomics).

And NO … I cannot imagine a world where women don’t give birth!! It just won’t happen.

Jenners, I remember reading about the handwashing thing before and I couldn’t remember where either! I think you might be right about it being Superfreaknomics, but I’m not sure…

This sounds absolutely unbelievable — and makes you think of all of the individuals who were considered insane by suggesting something that we think today is abominable if we don’t do! This is definitely going to be on my list to read, it sounds fantastic! Thanks for posting this!!

This would be a good one for a new mom’s bookclub to discuss! I have a hard time imagining baby farms but I can’t say that it sounds completely far fetched either.

I read most of this book on Mother’s Day; what timing! I thought the birth scene amazingly well-written, even though I have not experienced my own. Thanks for giving me a bit more insight into the future timeline part, too. I was looking for a deeper connection, I think.
We are going to be discussing this and NF book about Childbed Fever/Dr. Semmelweis over at on May 23. fyi

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