Rhea Dempsey
Birthing Wisdom

Praise for the Book

‘Rhea brings more than three decades of birthing support and wisdom, sharing tools and perspectives that will help expectant women to navigate self-doubt and set up solid support systems for a confident birth. (I loved Rhea’s workshops too, as a pregnant mama!)  Birth with Confidence is honest, empowering, and illuminating. Highly recommended.’

Dr Sarah J Buckley
author of Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering and Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing: Evidence and Implications for Women, Babies, and Maternity Care

‘Rhea Dempsey’s dynamic and profound book, Birth with Confidence: Savvy choices for normal birth, has stimulated a lot of our thinking around how we engage with women and their supporters in preparation for labour and birth. We thank her for her inspiring work and for giving us permission to reproduce her diagram about Pain Attitudes.’

Nicky Leap and Billie Hunter
professors of midwifery, in the Acknowledgements of their 2016 book Supporting Women for Labour and Birth: A thoughtful guide

‘If you are pregnant or considering getting pregnant, this book is a must read’

Pinky McKay
author of Parenting by Heart, Sleeping Like a Baby and 100 Ways to Calm the Crying

‘Rhea Dempsey is a wise woman who everyone I know refers to everyone else I know… all the time. She is a keeper of secrets and a polisher of treasures. She is a fierce supporter of things that actually matter: like women and their experience when giving birth, and men and their experience of bonding with their children. These are just two of the things that make her a true treasure, and we are so lucky she’s written some of her wisdom down in this book.’

Clare Bowditch
musician, actor, social entrepreneur

‘I just wanted to thank you and let you know how much your workshop and book helped us throughout our birth journey. I was unsurprised at how much my husband got from your book and then workshop but what surprised me is how much I gained as a midwife of ten years. So thank you again for telling it how it is, keeping it real and not pussy-footing around the issues that matter.’

new mother and midwife

‘Your brilliant book Birth with Confidence … is truly one of my favourite birth books that I refer to often in many of my papers and in working with women and feel it is an essential read for all pregnant women, their partners and support people.’

student midwife

‘A great book for pregnant women and educators alike. Rhea has distilled a lifetime of experience and observations into this slim volume.’

Sue Bulluss
midwife and childbirth educator

‘Rhea Dempsey is a loved and admired birth educator. While researching for our documentaries, we were seeking the expertise of the world’s top natural birth practitioners. Rhea’s name kept coming up, due to her vast experience and the stories of recommendation and gratitude from many, many women and families whom she suppported during birth and postpartum. We sought Rhea out, I attended many workshops and conducted in-depth interviews, part of which became a vital part of our films The Face of Birth and Meet the Experts. I would recommend her services to any expecting parents.’

Kate Gorman
co writer/director/producer of The Face of Birth

‘Rhea Dempsey is a national treasure. Her wisdom and experience around the process of natural birthing is a gift to all women who wish to enter their birthing journey with a sense of empowerment and intention. Birth is a huge event in any woman’s life and rarely is the space provided for such deeply thoughtful preparation as Rhea provides in her workshops. I feel blessed to have been able to give birth naturally to my two children, in large part nourished by an understanding that pain can be power. I hope with all my heart that there is a Rhea Dempsey of the future to look after my daughter and all women who wish to embrace their power and bring their children into the world with consciousness.’

Berry Liberman
publisher and editor of Dumbo Feather

‘Rhea’s book is the book I wish I’d had before my first baby—it puts words to the gut feelings I have about birth. This book is a game-changer for us women who are neither hippies nor radicals, but simply wish to have a go at normal birth because we know there is a more richly rewarding way for both mothers and babies.’

Leigh Russell
TV presenter, sports management consultant, leadership coach and co-author of Game On!: Supercharge Your Career and Build the Life you Want

‘As one of Rhea Dempsey’s students in 2005 I am ecstatic that Rhea has finally written a book. Her work is amazing and unique. Make this one of your staples for your pregnancy, no matter where you live in the world.’

Kelly Winder
founder, Belly Belly

‘During my twenty years of involvement in childbirth activism and research, many women have asked me “how can I have a good birth?” I have wanted just this book — Rhea’s wise answers — to give them. Now we have it’

Dr Kerreen Reiger
School of Social Sciences La Trobe University and author of Our Bodies Our Babies

‘Ever since I encountered first-hand the power and the clarity of Rhea Dempsey’s vision of childbirth, I have been hoping Rhea would write a book. I have no doubt [it] will become an instant classic — for women about to give birth, for their partners, and for childbirth professionals across Australia and beyond’

Maria Tumarkin
author of Otherland and Traumascapes

Feedback from Mothers

‘Rhea, thank you for your kind offer of a book. I have purchased two copies this year for the Birth and Beyond library as so many women love it—it is always borrowed out! At the weekend antenatal workshop we run—Welcome Baby—there were two women raving about your book saying it was the only resource they felt they needed!’

Coordinator Childbirth Education Association Alice Springs

‘Rhea, I’ve been meaning to email you for a while to say — thank you. Your book was my birthing bible. I now recommend it to all my pregnant friends. During the course of my pregnancy I devoured books about pregnancy (a willing, savvy women before I knew that existed!) I loved reading about other people’s birth experiences and was very motivated to have a normal physiological birth in hospital.

Your book was one of the last I picked up. I now wish it was the first. As I read the book I had many light-bulb moments and felt as though the book had been written just for me. You beautifully articulate the concerns I had in regards to achieving a normal birth in the hospital system.

Your book was my handbag companion, going everywhere with me so I could read and reread and take notes and share insights with my husband!

Your book became another piece of my armour — along with Erika (doula) and my husband — that enabled me to feel confident, empowered yet calm in the weeks, days leading up to birth.

I reread your book and my notes while I was at home having contractions to keep me engaged and focused on the process. I loved your no-nonsense approach to the birthing process and pain expectations.

I attribute your book with helping my baby—Mia—and I achieve our most perfect birth. Mia was born in water—I was able to deliver her after a couple of hours of getting to hospital.

It was a truly amazing process. I loved every minute of it and I’m thankful to have had your book as my companion to prepare me.

So thank you, thank you, thank you for helping Mia, Murray and myself start our life journey together so positively.’

Emily Orchard Hall

‘Rhea, I read your book three years ago, prior to the birth of my son in Melbourne. It was by far the most useful and realistic book that I had read as part of my preparations and I truly believe that the concepts that you conveyed made a huge contribution to the achievement of the natural birth that I wanted.

Thank you for writing such a wonderful book, which truly resonated with me.’

Kate Dougherty

‘Rhea, I just wanted to let you know that we gave birth to a beautiful baby boy … I had an amazing labour and birth experience and am still buzzing about it. And I am very thankful for all the great words of wisdom from your book ‘Birth with Confidence’. I laboured at home with my two-year-old toddler and when the time came I got to birth at our local birthing unit in the birthing bath all by maternal effort—I felt/feel very empowered.’

Abbie Hill

Feedback from Fathers

Feedback on Rhea’s presentation based on concepts from her book Birth with Confidence

‘This was the most intellectually stimulating and thrilling seminar I’ve attended since I can remember. The concept of pain is power is a remarkable insight into the birth process, and life in general. Provocative ideas, presented well – a true paradigm shift. I’ve thought about it a lot since, and I’ll remember it for years. I’m very grateful.’



Reviewed in Australian midwifery journal ‘Women and Birth
August 2013
by midwife Jacinta Cross

Birth with Confidence addresses an issue of fundamental importance to midwifery practice: how do we encourage women to have a go at normal birth? Author Rhea Dempsey, a childbirth educator and birth attendant with thirty-four years experience, provides a sophisticated and accessible commentary about childbirth in contemporary Australia. Birth with Confidence equips midwives to talk to women about why they might want to choose normal birth, how a woman’s motivations for normal birth can be used to support her through the challenges of labour, what models of care will give women the best opportunity to birth normally, and why. Birth is framed as a peak-performance physiological event needing encouragement, support, protection and celebration.

Comprised of six chapters, the book begins by contextualising normal birth within the Australian maternity system. Citing national perinatal statistics, Dempsey grimly points out that normal physiological childbirth with no interventions cannot be easily extrapolated from the statistics, and could be as low as five per cent overall. She describes normal birth as an increasingly ‘endangered species’.

Birth with Confidence contends that a significant proportion of women who want to experience physiological childbirth unexpectedly do not. Mainstream maternity care is dominated by ‘circumstantial interventions’—Dempsey’s term for interventions that result from factors other than medical need: often care provider or institutional convenience. Dempsey outlines how a woman’s choice of care provision will support or hinder her in achieving a normal birth, and she cites a range of contemporary Australian and international midwifery literature to build a strong case. Midwifery one-on-one continuity of carer is presented as a gold standard model.

In chapter three, Dempsey—an expert in working with physiological pain—reframes pain in labour as functional peak-performance pain, akin to running a marathon. Dempsey compares the work of labour to the intense effort required by artists in creative pursuits, or the challenge of academic pursuits such as higher research. Chapter four presents Dempsey’s theory of women’s ‘pain types’ as they approach birth. In Dempsey’s view, women range from being highly motivated to avoid pain in labour, to taking a ‘wait and see’ approach (or going with the status quo), to wanting a normal birth but being naïve about the realities of a highly medicalised maternity system. The ‘savvy willing woman’ desires normal birth and knows how to navigate the system: she seeks out care that will facilitate physiological birth, surrounding herself with a ‘holding circle’ when her confidence falters (‘a crisis of confidence’).

Birth with Confidence positions midwives as important guardians of normal birth, able to encourage women and facilitate the physiological process. Dempsey makes explicit links between our collective sociocultural undervaluing of normal physiological childbirth and the challenges that midwives face in keeping birth normal. This commentary facilitates reflection for midwives on their philosophy about pain in birth and the impact of rising intervention rates.

With its frank discussion of pain, normal birth and its value, the wise and pragmatic information presented in this book will not appeal to every woman or midwife. It does, however, deftly fill a substantial information gap for women and midwives who value normal physiological childbirth, and who may be struggling to navigate the maternity system in Australia. Birth with Confidence equips midwives to better understand the complex dynamics of birth and help women to make well informed choices about what they want from their birth and their care providers.

Reviewed in ‘Essentially MIDIRS‘ Magazine UK
Dec/Jan 2015 Vol 5, No 11
by Sarah Hunt, UK Community and Home Birth Team Midwife.

Rhea Dempsey is an Australian childbirth educator who like many, was inspired to become involved in improving the experience of childbirth through her own experience of a depersonalising mediatised first birth compared with her deeply satisfying physiological subsequent births. Thirty years on, Rhea has witnessed many births and is offering her thoughts on how to negotiate a holistically satisfying birth in the current risk averse climate. As she states ‘A mother’s birthing capacity is affected by her culture’s values and attitudes, her own values and attitudes, her life experiences, and her trust in, and lived experience of her body.’

This is not another ‘if you do this breathing/visualisation/positive thinking then you will have a better birth’ type book. Dempsey is trying to inform pregnant women that birthing within the current cultural climate is even harder than it was 30 years ago, and that you need to be prepared for the reality of what you may encounter, both within the maternity system and labour itself.

She is talking about the Australian maternity service when she says ‘to my great sadness and anger—our present birth system is not set up to support normal physiological birth. More than that, it is well and truly stacked against this kind of birth.’ Dempsey appears to be in awe of UK maternity services based on the promise of Changing Childbirth (DH 1993) and the fact that midwives are primary caregivers. Sadly as an NHS midwife I think this view is not accurate and I personally found the situation described in Australia comparable with UK today.

Dempsey gets to the bottom of how women can negotiate a truly physiological birth by encouraging women (and partners) to be active participants in their care, not just through current methods of birth preparation but by acknowledging that the system, despite its promises with ‘home-like settings in birth centres’, does not truly promote normal birth except by chance. Women have to be ‘willing women’ because we are currently living in the ‘labour by-pass era’ with ready access to the let out clauses of epidurals, elective caesarean, and narcotics for pain relief, all backed up by the culture of risk and the perceived danger of childbirth.

The ‘willing woman’ is going to have to think deeply about what informed consent actually means to her, if she is not to be drawn into ‘the trance of acquiescence’ where rather than giving consent, she is actually just being informed of what is going to happen.

As for labour itself, Dempsey gives an in-depth discussion of how labour pain differs from other physical pain and how our perceptions of pain at different stages of labour have to be recognized and expected, both by the labouring woman herself and by her caregivers. Labour presents most women with ‘crises of confidence’, where the pain ramps up, and she starts to lose confidence in her ability to manage. At these points, her caregivers and support people are vital as they can either become participants in her ‘suffering’ and want to rescue her by offering a way out through pain relief or they can stay with the woman until she re-finds her power to work through these times.

Although this book is aimed at pregnant women, I think it is quite a hard read as it has so much packed in. Ideally it could be divided into two books: a labour guide for women, which would benefit from fewer facts and probably more birth stories, and a labour guide for midwives and doulas, as it provides a valuable in-depth discussion of birth today, backed up by theory and statistics.

As a midwife, I found the book well written and very thought-provoking and I would particularly recommend it to student midwives who are starting their midwifery career at such a challenging time for normal birth.

Review in ‘Interaction‘ – Journal of the Childbirth and Parenting Educator’s of Australia (CAPEA)
Melinda Eales (Midwife/Childbirth Educator)

For those of you who know Rhea, have heard her speak or know of her, you probably know that we have been waiting for her to write about her experiences, working with pain and normal physiological birth for about ten years now. Well here it is!

The book was launched in May this year and covers many issues that the average woman usually doesn’t even contemplate until she is already pregnant and “in the system” or even aware that she actually has options.

The book is written in Rhea’s own unique style and some people I have spoken to have even commented that is sounds just like listening to her talk. Including her use of expletives in her narrative: the first of which at least waits till page four.

The book begins with Rhea’s own story and how she first became involved in the birthing industry. The rest of the book is divided into six chapters, together with further reading, resources and acknowledgements at the end.

Rhea discusses many issues and highlights these throughout with the use of women’s stories. She also concludes each chapter with some points for personal reflection.

The first chapter looks at those things that motivate the ‘willing woman’ as well as those things that the woman can make choices about, such as place of birth, care-giver and philosophical match.

In the second chapter she takes a look at what may now be considered to be “normal” with regards to birth outcomes, supported by a variety of statistics. The aspects of birth culture, intervention rates, social expectations and pain pathways are covered.

The next chapter looks at what many of us know Rhea for – her advocacy role of reframing pain, understanding the normal physiological pain of labour and working with it. Together with the power of hormones this is valuable information for everyone – health professionals and the general public.

The fourth chapter helps women to identify their own pain philosophy and their pain type, and how this can influence their labour and birth. In addition identifying the support circle that needs to put in place, which includes the attending midwife’s pain attitude. All this can greatly influence the labour process. Leaving it to chance on the day can have a predictable outcome and not necessarily what one is hoping for.

Rhea’s well-known “crisis of confidence” is discussed at length in chapter five and highlighted with many women’s personal stories. Potential causes of it, support in it, “wild cards” and consequences are all covered.

In the last chapter, the focus is on the support required to help you get through a normal physiological labour. This chapter looks at the need for building appropriate environments, selecting experienced known care-givers, understanding the normality of functional pain and bringing that support circle together.

Throughout Rhea has provided us with her wisdom and the experience gained from supporting over a thousand women during birth. It is not an anatomy and physiology book but uses some of these principles to discuss the often neglected, physical and emotional issues that contribute to birthing outcomes today.

Congratulations Rhea. We look forward to your next book.


$29.95 + shipping

Format: Paperback
Publisher: Boathouse Press
ISBN: 9780987402905