British birth publisher Pinter & Martin has reported that French obstretrician Dr. Frederick Leboyer has died. May he have as gentle a passing out of this world as the one he devoted his whole life to creating for others coming into it. My condolences go out to his family, friends and colleagues.
Frederick Leboyer published Birth Without Violence in 1974, and revolutionized our modern perception of birth by urging us to consider the experience from our baby’s point of view. He called for a gentle, sacred transition for babies from womb to world – advocating for dim lights, reverent voices, immediate skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby, infant massage and comforting, gentle bathing.
Even 43 years later, we still have so much to learn from this perspective. The changes Dr. Leboyer advocated for are all so simple, with no cost other than time, patience and attention. This book is as relevant now as the day it was released. It is one that I deeply wish every caregiver – obstetrician, labour & delivery nurse, midwife and doula – would consider required reading. As a birth keeper, I don’t think there’s anything I’ve ever read that has touched me as deeply as this. For expectant parents, it is an eye- and heart-opening new way to consider how your child will come into the world.
At the time of the book’s publication, he was vilified by the obstetrical establishment for putting the baby’s perceptions front and centre, challenging the pervading view that babies lack consciousness and that their experience of birth was of no lasting importance. Even today, the book is a shocking confrontation of the deeply ingrained stories and accompanying values we hold about birth.
“Everything that has been said here is simple. So simple that one feels ashamed to be so insistent about it.
Perhaps we have lost our taste for the simple.
Yes, so few things are essential. None of these costly gadgets for monitoring, none of the other things that are the pride of our technology and are so in fashion now.
None of them.
Only a little patience and humility. A little silence. Unobtrusive but real attention. Awareness of the newcomer as a person. Unselfconsciousness.
And love is necessary too.”
~ Birth Without Violence
He also wrote the luminous “Inner Beauty, Inner Light: Yoga for Pregnant Women” in 1978, illustrated with photographs of Vanita Iyengar, daughter of yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar. It is no mere textbook of yoga poses for pregnancy. This is a text of profound wisdom of authentic yoga grounded in ancient tradition, illuminating the spiritual path of pregnancy, birth and motherhood. An original copy that I stumbled on in a used bookstore is a treasured gem in my personal library, and I highly recommend it to every yogini.
“Accept that it will be a surpise. A wonderful surprise. Something totally different from anything you could ever think of.
Yes, when it comes, let it happen.
Everything will be alright.
All troubles come from the mind, from having ideas, from trying to imagine.
Yes, stop thinking.
And, mostly, stop expecting.
Expectation always is a lie which can meet only with frustration.”
~ Inner Beauty, Inner Light: yoga for pregnant women
As a doula, I strive to share with parents, caregivers and anyone who will listen that another way of life coming into being is not only possible but absolutely necessary if we are to effect positive changes in our wider world. We have lost one of the greatest advocates for this shift in thinking with the passing of Frederick Leboyer, but still have an opportunity to make his vision a reality for new families every day.