Birth and Beyond author, Dr Yehudi Gordon, is a highly experienced obstetrician who now runs the Birth Unit in North London. As you would expect from someone who was a pioneer of active and water birth in the UK, the heavy tome places a strong emphasis on empowering parents through knowledge and advocates integrated health care, i.e. both conventional and complementary therapies.
If you're one of those people for whom complementary medicine, yoga and the like is anathema, then you're probably not going to get along well with this book. Which would be a pity, because there's a wealth of useful information here for nearly all stages of pregnancy and early parenthood. If you're more open-minded towards complementary medicine then you'll probably find the collaboration and mutual respect between medical professionals and complementary therapists refreshing.
Rather than being an intimidating tome of the whats to, and not to, do, Birth and Beyond is more a celebration of parenthood, and particularly motherhood, and of the choices and opportunities it involves. The emphasis on a holistic approach notwithstanding, the impression you take away from the book is not one written to suit the latest fad in the medical profession but a rounded effort that combines the latest medical knowledge with parenting wisdom handed down through the ages.
The first two-thirds of the 600-page heavy-weight aim to prepare future parents by detailing what you can expect from pregnancy, birth and life as a new parent. It's in the conveying of the details of pregnancy and development and outlining the challenges you will face as a new parent that the book is particularly strong.
To start, a breakdown of pregnancy by trimester looks at how both your baby develops and how you will be growing, changing, and possibly feeling, at the same time. A rather substantial section of the book looks at the practicalities of birth, with helpful hints on how to prepare for the experience mentally and physically and natural ways of coping with the pain. Gordon also does well to outline what medical intervention may be necessary, when and why, in very non-threatening language.
The section on the first nine months of your baby's life covers everything from child development and dealing with issues of feeding, changing, sleeping and so on, to checklists of necessary items and how to cope with the physical and emotional impact of being a parent.
You'll probably want to dip in and out of these sections as the need or mood takes you, but the text is well and clearly enough written that it's no problem to read chunks at a time as general preparation.
A hugely useful part of the book is the back third reference section, which covers a host of conditions, problems and potential dangers, and offers succint but informative explanations or advice for each. Long after you cease to look at the first two-thirds of the book you'll probably be delving back into this section for help or reassurance.