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Labor Day: Birth Stories for the Twenty-first Century: Thirty Artful, Unvarnished, Hilarious, Harrowing, Totally True Tales

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  306 ratings  ·  45 reviews
Thirty acclaimed writers share their personal birth stories—the extraordinary, the ordinary, the terrifying, the sublime, the profane

It’s an elemental, almost animalistic urge—the expectant mother’s hunger for birth narratives. Bookstores are filled with month-by-month pregnancy manuals, but the shelves are virtually empty of artful, entertaining, unvarnished accounts of l
Hardcover, 310 pages
Published April 15th 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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really liked it Average rating 4.00  · 
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Start your review of Labor Day: Birth Stories for the Twenty-first Century: Thirty Artful, Unvarnished, Hilarious, Harrowing, Totally True Tales
For context, I should note that my response to this collection probably has a lot to do with the fact that I read two-thirds of it while repeatedly slamming my head into the emotional brick wall that is a stubborn breech baby. So in one respect, this collection was helpful because pretty much any group of birth stories, in the aggregate, will be all about how this shit doesn't go to plan. It just doesn't. It is peripherally comforting to remember that, as one's plans crumble around one's ears.

Oct 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I have an essay in this anthology, but I am rating this based on the work by my fellow contributors, women like Cheryl Strayed, Joanna Smith Rakoff, Dani Shapiro, and many, many, more. This anthology offers so many diverse birth stories, and each took my breath away: they're honest, they're harrowing, they're moving, they're funny, they're true. It's a great, necessary book! ...more
WHITE LADY BABY FEELINGS TIME. Still worth reading if you're pregnant or have been pregnant, but don't buy it. I got RULL tired of the incessant "the only good birth is the home/unmedicated/'natural' birth and any other birth is only worthy of lesser assholes who feed their children food with high fructose corn syrup" crap, and thus got to revel in schadenfreude when they had to face the reality that all the holier-than-thou in the world won't solve medical issues during labor and birth. ...more
Aug 28, 2020 rated it liked it
It’s a mixed of experiences. They don’t harp on things, it’s like sitting with some friends and hearing their birth stories and how they felt about the choices they made. Some aren’t sunshine and rainbows, trigger warnings for miscarriage and still birth.
I just took it as, these are important stories even though they aren’t happy, and they still deserve to tell their story.
Some of them are funny And sweet. There were some things I learned.
I just gorged on thirty birth stories, and my head is spinning. I remember the first couple of birth stories I ever heard, pregnant with my first baby. Tearing skin, stitches, blood and mess, pooping, all things I had not ever associated with these women I thought I knew. And yet, those stories helped me through the pregnancy and helped me to see both the variety and the sameness of each childbirth. These birth stories included here provide much the same reminder.

Each story is different, althoug
Aug 03, 2014 rated it liked it
I liked most of the stories in this book, but I would have appreciated more of the "I would like as many drugs as possible, please." variety. Most of the births here were, or were intended to be non medicated, and the authors were pretty judgy about epidurals and c sections. Like the use of them was a failure. That part I didn't like, but many of the stories were quite touching. ...more
I love birth stories, so this is right up my alley. I only recognized a couple of the writers included in this book, but all the stories were fascinating and well written. Some of them were deeply sad, but I appreciated that even the ones that started with loss ended with a healthy baby.
Some were great, some were terrifying (especially while pregnant), most were written really well, and almost all of them made me cry.

2018 Reading Challenge: A book with an ugly cover
Destinee Sutton
So I'm six months pregnant and getting tired of reading blah prose about pregnancy and birth. I was really excited to find a book of essays about childbirth by great writers. Finally! A pregnancy book the English major in me can sink her teeth into (really the English major in me should say, "into which she can sink her teeth").

Now, I liked this book for the quality of the writing, but I'm going to say that I sort of regret reading it. If you're a pregnant lady trying to prepare for an unmedica
May 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
This was a lovely read. Just lovely. I can't help it...once I had children, I became addicted to birth stories. There really is something magical about that moment when you move from non-mother to mother.

I loved this collection of stories because the stories were so personal and so full of varied emotions. Each had its own context and aftermath, and reading each was like being invited into someone's personal and sacred space. I laughed, and, yes, I cried at times.

I gave it four stars vs. five (
Jul 12, 2014 rated it liked it
Good for pregnant women who are not easily alarmed. Really nice to read birth stories penned by good, thoughtful writers.
Jul 21, 2017 rated it liked it
I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I really appreciated hearing all the varied perspectives and experiences about birth. As a woman approaching that day soon herself, I was craving some real, honest, and uncensored accounts of what other women have been through. However, it can be very scary to hear what can go wrong, and how many unexpected things can happen no matter how much you prepare! I knew that to be true but also I will admit some of these stories caused me to have nigh ...more
Oct 28, 2016 rated it liked it
This book is one of those things that reminds you how amazing and miraculous birth is. These women honestly shared their stories of expectations and misconceptions as well as triumphs. It was interesting to read that again and again we are so hard on ourselves about natural birth and the gap in rhetoric between birthing classes and what happens in hospital. I suppose what ultimately matters is getting baby delivered safely.
Oct 08, 2018 rated it liked it
Since these are all written by authors, they are mostly all about births to women of a very certain demographic, i.e. mine, in Brooklyn. But with that caveat, I found them interesting in a voyeuristic way and slightly terrifying.
Jun 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting, honest, and raw birth stories from a variety of writers.

Jill Gooch
Oct 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved it!

Even though I am way past childbearing age, I still love to read about having babies. Well written, I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. Thank you!
Jan 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
As a mom, I found this to be a really interesting read. Apparently I had easy birth experiences compared to most people! Yikes!
Katherine Maher
Didn't finish. ...more
Caryn Johnson
Oct 19, 2019 rated it did not like it
I couldn't finish it. But its the predictable, "childbirth is horrible," point of view. ...more
nomadreader (Carrie D-L)
Mar 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
(originally published at

The basics: Labor Day: True Birth Stories by Today's Best Women Writers, edited by Eleanor Henderson and Anna Solomon, brings together an impressive group of contemporary female writers from a variety of genres to share their experiences giving birth. The essays are as varied as the women who write them.

My thoughts: Admittedly, before I got pregnant (and even early on in my pregnancy), I shied away from birth stories. Rarely do I favo
Jan 07, 2014 rated it liked it
I have to agree with an earlier reviewer who wrote that this book had a "sameness" for him, and that "this collection has put its finger on the concerns and experiences of well-educated, well-informed, married, intentionally pregnant women writers of New York Times notable books who seek out midwifery care and who have caesarians at a noticeably lower rate than the norm, which is to be expected as an artifact of economic/access privilege." In some ways, this book has a range of birth stories: si ...more
Nov 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a collection of well-written essays by women writers about their experiences with pregnancy, labor and birth. If you've had this experience yourself you will find this book fascinating, but I would definitely not recommend it for someone who has yet to go through it, especially if she is pregnant. Not all of these birth stories are harrowing, but almost all of them make labor and delivery sound extremely difficult and often fraught with unseen dangers.

A lot of these stories are by women
Dec 03, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: doula
It's really interesting to read birth stories. I love how a birth story is almost always so much more than just the birth of a child: it's the story of the couple's relationship at the time, it's the story of their fertility journey, it's the story of their parents. People who have more than one child usually end up having their birth stories blend together. This book contains well written, intriguing stories. That part is really wonderful and we need lots of those.
What bothered me about some of
Sarah Benson
Aug 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
So much writing about pregnancy and birth is kind of blah. These stories were refreshingly honest, funny, insightful, and well-written. Most of them touch on much more than just "birth"-- also discussing the transition to motherhood, expectations, anxieties, family dynamics, and relationships. Might read this again, and would (or rather, will) recommend to friends. That being said, the collection is meant to represent a diverse spectrum of stories, and I thought the editors only did an okay job ...more
Literary Mama
Feb 20, 2015 added it
Shelves: essays
Pregnancy and childbirth provide a glimpse of ourselves at our most elemental. There is no room for inauthenticity or the masks of politeness that we wear daily. There is only the experience—a ride that grips, lifts us into a mighty paw, and takes us to a destination guaranteed to be unknown. Control is never more glaringly absent than in these life-rending moments when things are given and others are taken away. Labor Day, a collection of birth narratives from 30 women writers, captures the raw ...more
Dec 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
Well-written stories, but I have to say that I would *not* recommend this for a pregnant mom. There are some stories of births that had tragic outcomes. I believe that one needs to try to stay in a good headspace when preparing to give birth (I had two unmedicated births and I had to stay optimistic in order to keep my nerve up to do it) and some of these stories would definitely not help in that endeavor. That said, my youngest is three and we don't plan on any more, so I could appreciate these ...more
May 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I think this book came at the perfect time in my life: after having one child and considering having another next year or the year after. Every essay is beautifully written and poignant, and each one gave me a lot to think about. I also reflected on my son's birth and thought about what might happen during a future birth. Life is so precarious and precious, and this collection is an illustration of the many ways we fall down and get back up when we produce that life. ...more
Jan 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Oh, a book written exactly for me? Well, I cannot resist but to give you 5 stars then, book.

Fans of birth stories will obviously gobble this up. Even more so if you are a fan of literary memoir. More than one contributor seems to have named a child after Willa Cather, if that gives you a sense of what kind of moms and stories we are dealing with here.

Read: May 2014, February 2016

Celeste Fairchild
May 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I was drawn into this after encountering some of the included essays on Slate (and I think Salon?) -- notably Cheryl Strayed, Lauren Groff, and Marie Lee. The rest of the collection didn't disappoint, and it seems like every possible variety of birth story (or western birth story, at least) is represented here. Moreover, it's plain gorgeous writing. ...more
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