Written by a doctor and mother of three sons, Permission to Mother is a series of short, autobiographical vignettes about various natural mothering topics. The style is both a strength and weakness of the book. The bite-sized stories are perfect for a busy mother to read in between household tasks or while nursing her baby. However, the brevity precludes depth and most topics lacked full exploration. Many of the “chapters” are only one page in length (sometimes only half a page). The longest are 3-4 pages. This is not sufficient space to really examine a topic—instead the sections are more like short anecdotes/snippets from the author’s life and experiences, often ending almost as soon as they began.
The book is organized into four parts. The stories in Part One cover a variety of topics beginning with Dr. Punger’s experiences with birth in medical school, then moving into her own birth experiences, her experiences working with a doula, and homebirth observations. The highlight of the whole book is the birth story of her third son—an undiagnosed double footling breech birth at home.
The second section of the book address “The Breastfeeding Years” and includes a wide variety of stories about nursing during pregnancy, tandem nursing, working and breastfeeding, becoming an IBCLC, breastfeeding through anesthesia, and also segments about the family bed, cloth diapering, homeschooling, and unschooling. A surprising story in this section called “My Spiritual Journey as a Physician, Mother and IBCLC,” is actually a story about her sons’ circumcisions. Depending on your personal feelings about circumcision, this section may sadden or disappoint you or it my provide reassurance about your own decisions.
Part Three addresses “Breastfeeding Medicine” and explores some case examples from the author’s medical practice with nursing mothers. Again, the segments are so brief that they contain little of clinical value to other practitioners.
Part Four is a brief section about “Why I Do the Work I Do” and consists of letters to the author from satisfied clients.
As I read this book, I had the persistent feeling that much of the content had been written for other sources—perhaps a magazine or a blog. There was a choppiness to the writing that conveyed this sense. And, as previously referenced, the extremely short, vignette format lent an unsatisfying incompleteness to many of the stories. I also noted a higher-than-average number of minor errors in the text contributing an amateur quality to the book.
Despite these critiques, it was refreshing to read about natural mothering from a physician’s perspective and I enjoyed her insights about breastfeeding medicine. (Can you imagine how the world might look if more physicians practiced with this background and experience?!) If you are looking for short, personal narrative experiences of natural mothering, you may enjoy the simple style and friendly stories in Permission to Mother.