Birth Day (Hardcover)

A Pediatrician Explores the Science, the History, and the Wonder of Childbirth

By Mark Md Sloan

Ballantine Books, 9780345502865, 384pp.

Publication Date: March 24, 2009

List Price: 25.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.


I delivered twenty babies in the summer of 1977. I was hardly more than a baby myself, just turned twenty-four and starting my third year of medical school.”—from Birth Day

So began Mark Sloan’s three-decades-long exploration of the wonders and oddities of human childbirth. Pediatrician, husband, and father, the author has attended nearly three thousand births since that long-ago summer, encountering everything from routine deliveries to tense labor-room dramas. In Birth Day, Sloan draws on his personal and professional experience to weave the strands of memoir, history, science, and culture into a fascinating—and often funny—tapestry of this fundamental human passage.

Birth Day takes the reader on a remarkable journey, from the dawn of human history to the quiet efficiency of a modern operating room; from Aristotle and Julius Caesar to a trailblazing, cross-dressing British army surgeon; from a recent past filled with the horrors of childbirth gone wrong to a present day, in which every pregnancy is expected to end happily. Some of Birth Day’s many topics include

• The evolution of human childbirth—or, why do gorillas have it so easy?
• The first five minutes of life—scuba divers, astronauts, and the amazing adaptations that transform a fetus into an air-breathing, out-in-the-world baby
• Cesarean section—a look at its origins, its future, and how it came to be the most frequently performed operation in American hospitals
• Pain and politics—the age-old quest for painless childbirth, starring Adam and Eve, Queen Victoria, a nineteenth-century medical brawl, and the rise of today’s “epidural monoculture”
• Daddies—raging paternal hormones, hidden anxieties, and the emotional evolution of men (including the author, his father, and grandfather) as they approach fatherhood
• The five senses at birth—does light enter the womb? how loud is it in there? what is a newborn baby searching for with those first anxious glances?
• A tour of the newborn body—springy skulls, hairy ears, innies and outies, the advantages (and disadvantages) of looking like your father, and why the United States is one of the world’s most circumcised nations

Delightfully instructive and entertaining, Birth Day offers a fresh, sometimes irreverent take on a universally familiar topic. Warm, reassuring, and packed with stories from the author’s work and life, this unique book is one pediatrician’s meditation on the hiding-in-plain-sight marvels of human birth.

Praise For Birth Day: A Pediatrician Explores the Science, the History, and the Wonder of Childbirth

“With science, history, and his own personal experience as a father and a doctor, Mark Sloan has given us a truly enlightening look at childbirth. Birth Day is an absolutely fascinating read about the most important journey any of us ever makes.”—Sara Ellington, co-author of The Must-Have Mom Manual

“In Birth Day, Sloan skillfully blends personal anecdote, hard science, and bizarre historical detail to deliver a fertile and amusing account of the womb-to-world journey that every one of us has made. Without a doubt, this book will educate, entertain, and prompt you to call your mother in gratitude.”—Katrina Firlik, M.D., author of Another Day in the Frontal Lobe

“No one has described the intricate timing and sequence of a baby’s miracle transition from inside its mother to breathing on its own more clearly or beautifully than Dr. Mark Sloan. Sloan covers the various approaches to pain management during labor and their effects on both mother and child, and he supports adding nitrous oxide–safe and widely used for labor in so many other countries–to the very limited alternatives now available to women in America.” —Judith Pence Rooks, CNM, MPH, author of Midwifery and Childbirth in America

“I have given birth twice but until this book never grasped the true wonder of what happens to mother and child during childbirth. An amazing, tender, funny book about our bigheaded species.” —Adair Lara, author of Hold Me Close, Let Me Go

Birth Day is a wonderful book. Dr. Sloan has accomplished the impossible, combining the history, biology, sociology, and medicine of childbirth into an informative, yet amusing story. Expectant parents will find this book useful and reassuring. So will physicians..”—Donald Caton, M.D., Emeritus Professor of Anesthesia, University of Florida, and author of What a Blessing She Had Chloroform

"In Birth Day, Dr. Mark Sloan delivers a rare and compelling blend of humor, compassion, insight, and scholarship- all swaddled in a remarkably engaging literary style. As illiuminating as it is fun, this book shines a gentle light into all the nooks and crannies of what must be the most universally familiar of all great mysteries: the act of being born. I heartily recommend the book to everyone who has ever played a role in that act, birthers and brithees alike! You'll learn a lot- I did- and it won't hurt a bit."—David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP Director, Prevention Research Center, Yale University School of Medicine

“Over three thousand births later, Dr. Mark Sloan has lived to tell—and tell beautifully. At once decoding the mystery of childbirth while preserving its wonder, Birth Day is saturated with scholarship, humor, and heart.”—Linda Phillips, author of Sweet Remedy

"What boosts Sloan’s book above other pediatrician memoirs is his Captain Kangaroo–like humor and compassion. After attending roughly 3,000 births, and tending the medical needs of countless other children and their moms, he seems outstandingly suited to his specialty. The topics he discusses were born, if you will, out of his own experience, professional and personal, so in talking about them, he combines anecdotes and overviews of the various aspects of fetal development and birthing. With its crisp and upbeat tone, Sloan’s book is good company for parents experienced and prospective alike."—Booklist

"[Sloan] marvelously captures the precarious nature of childbirth—both its joys and its anxieties—while treating readers to an informal and captivating history of the medical practices surrounding birth in America… [He] ranges surely and splendidly.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Sloan, who practices in Northern California, is a graceful writer, and his narrative, like the works of Jerome Groopman, flows easily between memoir, anecdotal reporting and hard science… Given the subject, "Birth Day" has a natural audience in curious, new and expectant parents. But anyone interested in the complex and, yes, miraculous way we all make it into this world will find lots to wonder over and ponder here, too." –Washington Post