Birth Without Fear

The Judgment-Free Guide to Taking Charge of Your Pregnancy, Birth, and Postpartum


By January Harshe

Formats and Prices




$22.99 CAD


  1. Trade Paperback $17.99 $22.99 CAD
  2. ebook $2.99 $3.99 CAD
  3. Audiobook Download (Unabridged)

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around March 5, 2019. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

An inclusive, non-judgmental, and empowering guide to pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum life that puts mothersfirst, offering straightforward guidance on all the options and issues that matter most to them (and their partners) when preparing for a baby.

In Birth Without Fear, January Harshe–founder of the global online community Birth Without Fear–delivers an honest, positive, and passionate message of empowerment surrounding everything that involves having a baby. It’s a guide that fills in the considerable cracks in the information available to women and families when they’re preparing to welcome a child–covering care provider choices, medical freedom, birth options, breastfeeding, intimacy, postpartum depression, and much more.

Birth Without Fear shows moms, dads, partners, and families how to choose the best provider for them, how to trust in themselves and the birth process, and how to seek the necessary help after the baby has arrived. In addition, it will educate them about their rights–and how to use their voice to exercise them–as well as how to cope with the messy postpartum feelings many people aren’t willing to talk about. Unlike other pregnancy books, Birth Without Fear will also help partners understand what mothers are going through, as well as discuss the challenges that they, too, will face–and how they can navigate them.

Shattering long-held myths and beliefs surrounding pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum experience, Birth Without Fear is an accessible, reassuring, and ultimately inspiring guide to taking charge of pregnancy, childbirth, and beyond.



Honesty in womanhood and motherhood is what creates a sisterhood.

A birth without fear.

That was the answer.

It was an answer that came to me during nap time. Not my nap time, of course. As a mother of four, my youngest just eleven months old, I wasn’t sleeping very much. In fact, I was sleeping so little that I probably should have been trying to catch a few moments of rest as I lay side by side with my snoozing baby girl one late morning in May. Instead my mind was at work.

“But they let you?” I remembered a friend’s response when I told her about my most recent birth experience. I was a plus-size, post-due-date, VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) birthing mama, and pretty much everyone I told about my home birth replied with disbelief. “I had to have x, y, and z,” they all seemed to say. “Otherwise they wouldn’t have allowed it.” What struck me most about these conversations was how all of the power was with some external authority, not with the mother. Let you? Allow? Had to have?

These words smacked hard against the reality of my recent drug-free home birth experience. I could only describe my labor this time around as peaceful, healing, and even euphoric. My husband, Brandon, described it as the best day of his life.

But I also understood the disbelief my friends and family expressed, for I too had experienced powerlessness during birth. With my first child, a planned birthing center birth with midwives turned into a scheduled cesarean with a high-risk OB/GYN; with my second, a planned VBAC at home, fifty-two hours of labor turned into an emergency cesarean. My third was another planned home birth; this time a VBA2C (vaginal birth after two cesareans) turned into a hospital birth characterized by disrespect, violation, and bullying from the doctor and nurse-midwife.

I wondered what made this sweet baby’s birth so different from the older three.

The answer came to me in an unexpected instant: Fear was not a factor.

With pregnancy number four, my determination and confidence in my body prevailed. I knew my body could birth a baby the way millions of women had birthed babies before me, and I knew the only person who knew I could do it was me. I had trust and faith in myself and I refused to let all those noisy, anxious doubts and fears disrupt that for me.

You see, in the hospital I always found myself strapped to machines for the nurses and anesthesiologists to monitor while OB/GYNs prepped for cesareans. Hospital billing staff came and went with form after form after form for me to sign. The fear that something might go wrong or, with a vital sign slightly off the average, that something was going wrong guided every decision. If my newborn was not a certain weight or nursing at specific intervals or in this percentile or that percentile, the pediatricians on call panicked. Once home, I felt shell-shocked, out of touch with my body and my voice, and now with the additional task of caring for a brand-new, fragile baby after such frantic experiences.

As my fourth baby lay fast asleep next to me that day, her two fingers acting as a pacifier, I thought back to the moments and hours following this cuddlebug’s birth: holding her for many ecstatic moments before giving her my breast; nursing her for a short time as I examined her precious rolls and wrinkles; falling asleep with her in my arms; waking up and handing her to Brandon so I could clean myself up and put on clothes; going to the couch, joyously taking the baby back in my arms to nurse her again; the kids waking up and celebrating the birth of their new sister with ear-to-ear grins—everything just as I had visualized it years earlier when I was pregnant with my first child.


Later that day, as Brandon and I did lots of processing about this baby’s peaceful birth, the Birth Without Fear community was born. We started by creating a Facebook page. At the time it seemed to be what everyone was doing and we wanted a way to reach as many women as possible as fast as possible. It seemed more effective than shouting from a bullhorn.

We decided on the name Birth Without Fear to celebrate the kinds of birth experiences that empowered moms and families. At the same time, we worried the assumption of fear might be too negative—I knew other women who experienced fear in childbirth, as I did with my first three children, but I didn’t know how far it reached beyond my community. How many others struggled with a lack of good information, as I did? How many had experiences where they felt disrespected or judged? Seven years and more than half a million followers later, it is clear we hit a nerve.

I did not have my name attached to Birth Without Fear at first. It was an anonymous place for me to share a lot of information about pregnancy and birth options. So many women I talked to in my own life did not feel they were allowed to have a say in how they birthed. They didn’t realize there were options and alternative approaches; or, if they did, they had no clue how to get their hands on the information. There was no place for us to collectively come together as women to share our experiences and information, and to support one another. After a few months, women who joined our community asked to share their own stories, and that is how the blog and website began.

I created Birth Without Fear as a way to offer information and support so that women could have more experiences like those I had with my fourth child: peaceful, empowering births where fear didn’t have to be the motivating factor. I wanted a platform from which I could stand up for women who opted not to have the standard hospital birth. It was a message of strength and empowerment for anyone wanting to walk the lesser-known path. Within a few short months, Birth Without Fear accumulated tens of thousands of followers, and I could see that it wasn’t just a website, but a movement for women seeking information and affirmation. A place where they could find different, more supportive answers than they were getting from their birth care providers. A voice for us all both collectively and individually.

But soon I started to wonder about the voice I had given to Birth Without Fear. Yes, it was empowering. Yes, it was inspirational. Yes, it was feisty. But something was missing. I knew there was no mistaking that my second and third births ended in last-minute disappointment and trauma and that my home birth was a healing experience for myself and Brandon. However, the more I reflected, I realized I had only been telling part of my birth story. My first birth experience—a scheduled cesarean with an OB/GYN—had been a positive, even peaceful event in its own right.

My high-risk OB/GYN was calm, respectful, and gave me the opportunity to voice my thoughts and concerns. Together we decided that a cesarean at 39½ weeks was the best decision for me and my baby. When I presented him with a specific, gentle cesarean birth plan (not a label or movement at the time) that I wanted followed in detail for the actual birth and postpartum stay, the doctor gladly signed off on it, seeing to it that my every wish was respected. The birth itself was smooth and flawless. My baby was the first ever in that hospital not to go to the nursery following a cesarean birth. The nurses were kind and helpful. The pediatrician was considerate of my wishes. Family and friends made up for the terrible hospital food with a steady procession of meals that Brandon’s appetite more than appreciated.

Reflecting on this experience reminded me that birth was far from a black-or-white thing, where drug-free home births are “good” and hospital births with interventions are “bad.” There are so many shades of gray. Indeed, from my own life I knew that a more traditional hospital birth—including a C-section—could be an extremely positive experience, full of options, support, and respect. If I wanted to be true to myself and my community, I needed to step down from my soapbox (well, most of the time) and meet women and families with complete honesty. Only then could they meet me and each other in the same authentic, loving spirit. Only then could I help them have births without fear in any situation.

This crystallized the Birth Without Fear way as a movement for all women and birthing people. A community of grace and understanding, a place where women choosing C-sections and vaginal births, women who feel more comfortable in a hospital instead of a birthing center, women who feel more comfortable at home than in a hospital, women choosing to feed their babies formula instead of breastfeeding, women choosing to exclusively breastfeed beyond the societal norms, women from small towns and those in big cities, homeschooling and corporate mamas, lesbian, bisexual, queer, and trans birthing people, women of color, and every variation of mother in between can all come together with support and respect taking the place of competition and judgment.

Today the Birth Without Fear community is much more than a Facebook page. It’s a community a million strong that reaches from the United States to Australia and many places in between. From that one social media group we have sprouted a range of communities encompassing all aspects of the parenting journey with groups such as Take Back Postpartum, Breastfeed Without Fear, Find Your Village, and Don’t Forget Dads. And we’ve moved out of cyberspace and into in-person gatherings—I travel the world hosting Birth Without Fear and Find Your Village events where I get to snuggle lots of your sweet babies and hold your hands as you share your stories.

Brandon helps me run the Birth Without Fear blog, serves as webmaster and blog editor, and is as involved in the decision-making process and evolution of Birth Without Fear and the Birth Without Fear events as he was on that first day when our fourth child was born and we decided to start a Facebook page. We also now have a podcast, The Harshē Podcast, which Brandon co-hosts with me and serves as the (sometimes inappropriate) comic relief.

Whenever possible—and it’s admittedly hard with six kids—Brandon joins me as a speaker at Birth Without Fear events, where he shares what he’s learned (and is learning) as a father of six and as my central support person through pregnancies, loss, births, and postpartum.

They say practice makes perfect, and that we learn through our experiences. Through repeated pregnancies and births I grew more and more confident in my body and my voice, and I also grew more aware of the realities of birth in the United States. Given an unlimited number of births (or, in my case, six), you’d probably make the same connections I did by baby number four—that it matters less how your baby is born and more how you are treated during your labor, and that this guiding principle ripples out beyond birth to include pregnancy, postpartum, parenting, and, hell, even your whole life. Our lives don’t have to look the same, just as our bodies, our pregnancies, and our families don’t have to look the same, but it matters that our experience of the journey is respected, that we have options, and that we have the support we need.

Without multiple experiences with which to compare and explore the ins and outs of birth, all we have is each other’s stories to fill in those gaps of experience. Even with my own widely varying experiences, I still needed a village of support. No matter how much we may be conditioned to believe that life is a series of stages we accomplish either successfully or not and then move onto the next, it is in fact a much messier, ongoing, nonlinear journey. Our best resource to help us keep showing up to our lives is each other.

Most women and families don’t have an unlimited number of births to figure things out. Many of us struggle to find a strong village of support. Far too often we make decisions that stem from the subconscious belief that we have to listen to authority, that our feelings aren’t valid, or that it’s our responsibility to take care of others more than ourselves. Care providers—everyone from OBs and midwives to lactation consultants and therapists—can so easily confirm our feelings of powerlessness by not including us in their recommendations and decisions. Pop culture and social media swoop in to offer us so many “right” ways to live, birth, and parent that our voices and our individuality can get more lost to us every time we refresh our newsfeeds. At any stage of our lives we can learn (and relearn) how to be advocates for ourselves and each other in the face of so many other influences.

I hear so many stories of fear from the Birth Without Fear community: fear of all the unknowns in fertility, pregnancy, birth, and parenting; fear of whether or not they can get pregnant or that their “advanced maternal age” will cause complications; fear that they’ll go into labor when their OB/GYN is not on call and that their birth plans will go out the window; fear of bringing previous traumatic experiences with one baby into a next pregnancy, whether it’s an episiotomy or a baby born with heart defects that went undetected; fear that they’re not going to be able to handle the pain or the sleep deprivation; fear of being bullied into another C-section when trying for a VBAC; fear of making it past their due date or not making it to their due date, and the cascade of interventions that will surely follow. There is just too much fear associated with pregnancy, birth, and postpartum—understandably so—and not nearly enough support.

The journey for a birth without fear (and a pregnancy without fear, and a postpartum without fear, and a life without fear, etc.) doesn’t mean that you have no fear—it means having the courage to name and acknowledge your fears so that they no longer have so much power over you. In this book, I’m not going to tell you not to feel ashamed or scared or hurt anymore because I know that those feelings are valid and real. But I am going to help you name the things that feel limiting and empower you to find more options. I’ll encourage you to speak your own truths and listen to other women with grace and compassion, for it is this honesty that creates a sisterhood, a village, so that we know we are not alone.

These days “self-care” is such a loaded term. It’s so popular and mainstream at the moment that we all feel we should be doing it, but most of us really have no clue what it is or how to apply it to our lives. We’re made to think it means taking a warm bath filled with Instagram-able rose petals, but in reality it means doing the work, day in and day out, of finding the woman beyond the wife, partner, and mother.

But in order to do that work, we need to practice being honest with ourselves and with others. We need to keep it real, because when you use your voice you not only empower yourself but other women who hear you. It gives them power to use their voice as well. Our stories and experiences are valuable wisdom. It’s about empowerment, inspiration, support, healing, solidarity, and validation—from trying to conceive, to pregnancy, and from birth to postpartum and beyond.

Unlike some pregnancy books that tell you what to expect, as if it were that easy to distill the beautiful diversity of birth into a singular narrative, this book is about creating the space for birth narratives that empower all women, all bodies, and all families to get the most out of their journeys.

In the pages that follow I’ll glean the wisdom of the community to resist the one-size-fits-all, fear-based medical model of birth, but not so that in its place I just create another singular version of “normal.” Instead, my goal is to expand the notion of birth into as many variations as there are bodies, babies, and families. It’s a way for us to hold on to our individuality without losing the benefits of the medical knowledge. I’ll help all mothers and families assess their normal—as I often say of my own parenting style: “Some days it’s all organic raw vegan. Other days it’s Oreos and Coke. That’s my kind of balance.” I’m here to help you get in touch with your power and possibility, to find the balance that feels right for you.

Each chapter is filled to the brim with information empowering you to make the best decisions for your life, and it’s also filled with stories: stories from my six different pregnancies, birth, and postpartum experiences; from Brandon’s experiences; and from the diverse and beautiful Birth Without Fear community. Why? Because this book does more than simply give you information—it creates a village for you, one that validates and embraces all the variations of normal. I invite you to gather round. I also encourage you to be inspired by these stories to claim your own pregnancy, birth, and postpartum stories. This is a revolutionary community where women and partners can gather, be heard, and be held. It’s a space free of judgment, where we can all take a deep breath and really listen. It’s a commitment to hold each other in joy, stress, and even grief and anger.

This book is divided into three sections: pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. However, although the book starts with pregnancy and ends in postpartum, as this seems the most logical, linear time line to follow, we acknowledge that our journeys are never that neat, fixed, or finite. Sure, sometimes a positive over-the-counter pregnancy test is the first step on a woman’s birth journey, but another woman could just as easily talk about the first time she looked into her future husband’s eyes, or even a longing for motherhood she had as a young girl playing with dolls, as the beginning of her baby journey—and others may recount months and months spent at fertility clinics. And so beginnings are not as standardized as they may seem.

On the other end of things, there are plenty of “experts” defining postpartum for women. Six weeks, some say. Twelve weeks, according to others. These recommendations stigmatize and shame the many women for whom postpartum lasts much longer. This book passionately demands a shift in that narrative. We are changing the conversation. Right now. In reality, postpartum can last more like two years—or however long it takes to go through adjustments and struggles as we work through changes and find a new normal.

Of course, there are some clearly defined stages of pregnancy, birth, and child development, but there is also a beautiful and dynamic range of normal within those stages that must be acknowledged if we are to empower women in their parenting journeys. Just as labor has its own time and rhythms, this book creates movement within the linear chapter time line in order to hold space for readers to find themselves on their own terms. We’re all on our own journeys and we all take our own time. One size does not fit all; in celebrating our individuality we can find true solidarity, healing, and validation.

Partners and spouses are featured in every chapter of this book in Brandon’s “Partner Point of View” sections, because their empowerment and support matters, too. There is a stigma against active fatherhood, or partners who want to be helpful but don’t really know what to do (and don’t have role models they can turn to). They, too, deal with social and media misrepresentation and stigmas. Just as this book creates a community for women, it will also be a voice for men and all kinds of partners by addressing the range of feelings they, too, can have and the many ways they can join in the parenthood journey.

As I wrote this book, I found myself straining to imagine every possibility you might face so that I could help prevent any hurt or trauma in your pregnancy, birth, and postpartum journey. I’d be up late at night worrying and wondering and trying to plan for every outcome. It just felt so overwhelming and impossible. In fact, I realized, it is impossible. There’s no way I could keep every stress, hurt, or challenge from you.

More than that, though, I came to the understanding that I wouldn’t even want to keep you from having the growth on your journey that you’re supposed to have. I remembered that if I hadn’t had my traumatic birth experiences and then fought for myself to have healing birth experiences I would never have started Birth Without Fear in the first place and wouldn’t have had the honor of writing this book at all. My fight to speak up for myself and my babies made me who I am. Those experiences hurt; they were painful and difficult and they tested me to my very bones. But they were important for me. And they are important for all of us—the hard ones and the good ones, they’re all important.

I can’t take or keep those bad experiences from you, and it wouldn’t be right for me to do so anyway because they’re your experiences to learn and grow from. But I can walk next to you, side by side, as you go on your journey. Not in front to lead you, or behind to follow, but beside you to hold your hand so that you know you’re not alone. I want to empower you to process, heal, and go through your journey in your own way. That solidarity and love are the heart of this book. Acceptance and empowerment are front and center.

If you are thinking about getting pregnant or you are pregnant, this book is for you. If you are a new mother, this book is for you. If you are a husband or partner, this book is for you. If you are a birth care provider, this book is for you.

Simply put, if you are a human being, this book is for you.


Empowered Pregnancy

Love yourself enough to get the care you deserve.

In the following chapters I’ll hold space for you, your variations of normal, and your pregnancy from your first trimester to your last. Every pregnancy is different. Even if you’ve already had children, every pregnancy is unique. Don’t skip these chapters. Take the time to hear the encouragement, support, and love. Whether you’re a first-time mom or mother of many, these chapters are going to remind you of the power you already have within you. Being pregnant can be mentally and physically challenging. Even if you have a simple or easy pregnancy. It becomes your whole world. But the world around you doesn’t stop being the way that it is. The only person you can count on to validate that is you. Make sure you’re loving and honoring yourself first and then it expands out from there to your partner, spouse, friends, family, and birth team.

I’m not going to tell you what to expect during your pregnancy. This is not a week-by-week guide. No one can tell you exactly how to feel or how this pregnancy is going to go. It’s impossible. Instead I want to give you the wisdom of your mom, aunts, and sisters that you never had. I’m bringing together thousands of women’s voices and experiences and sharing their wisdom with you, women who’ve witnessed each other as women—not the media’s version of us, or the medical narrative of us—but our own and each other’s power. You’re holding the collective voice of thousands of women in your hands.

Chapter 1

Variations of Normal: First Trimester Without Fear

You are unique. You are not like any other pregnant woman before you, currently, or to come. Even your previous pregnancies, if you’ve had them, are different from this one. There is such a constellation of things that make you you and your pregnancy your pregnancy—from geography to the idiosyncrasies of your body. Take refuge in the experiences of others when they are a source of comfort, solidarity, and useful information, with the knowledge that every single pregnant person—and her baby—is unique.

I’m not here to tell you that you’ll feel this or that. I’m here to offer you this healing perspective: everything you feel is a variation of normal. You may experience all the things you see on television, or read online or in books throughout your pregnancy, birth, and postpartum—or almost none of them. And that’s okay.

One evening after a Birth Without Fear gathering, a mom approached me, tears quickly falling from her eyes as she introduced herself. She’d had a traumatic birth with her first baby, she told me. During labor, just as her body and her baby began to transition, she suffered a panic attack: out of control, disabling anxiety, heart pounding, struggling to breathe. “I’m pregnant with my second child,” she said, “and I’m so afraid of that happening again.” She explained that she had read everything she could get her hands on, but none of it addressed how to not have this happen again, and her fear would not subside.

“Will you have good support this time?” I asked her.

“Yes,” she responded, describing her relationship with her midwife, doula, and partner. “But even with this team in place, nobody knows how to help keep me from experiencing another panic attack,” she concluded.

“What if instead of trying to find something or someone that can keep your panic attack from happening again, you and your birth team make space for it to happen again?” I asked her. “What are some things you can tell your birth team to say or do that is comforting if it happens again? Make space for it to be okay for it to happen.”

She had a look of shock on her face as this idea took root, and it was as if I could see this new perspective make sense to her in every cell of her body. She sighed, embraced me in a hug, and tearfully said, “Thank you. No one has suggested that but it makes so much sense.”

We all have our own fears, our own stories like this woman’s, our own histories we bring into pregnancy and birth. When I hear stories like this from parents all over the world, it always makes me wonder: Where did so many of us get this notion ingrained in us, that if we read or watch precisely the “right” combination of advice and information, if we plan and do everything “just right,” that we can control the outcome or the journey to the outcome? Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves—pressure that can so easily turn to blame, self-hate, disappointment, and anxiety when the outcome isn’t as expected?

You don’t have to chase the elusive perfection. There is no “right” way. There is only your way, your baby’s way, and your family’s way. You can’t control the pregnancy and birth journey—all you can do is make space for yourself. Get really interested in listening to and trusting your instincts. Don’t fight yourself. Give yourself permission to feel whatever it is you’re feeling each step of the way with love and acceptance.


  • "With endless warmth and encouragement--and not a single ounce of judgment--January Harshe shares a wealth of wisdom and resources to help you discover what the best pregnancy and birth experience is for you. Birth Without Fear is a must-have book for anyone who is preparing to welcome a baby into the world."—Dawn Dais, author of TheSh!t No One Tells You About Pregnancy
  • "The first book on pregnancy, childbirth, and the tender postpartum period that will leave you feeling truly supported, understood, and informed. January bravely calls out in a straightforward, funny, and thought-provoking way where we have gone wrong with prenatal and postnatal care, and how women can reclaim their experience and find empowerment on their journey to motherhood."—Bryn Huntpalmer,M.Ed., founder of "The Birth Hour" podcast
  • "Birth Without Fear is an inspiring, non-judgmental guide to taking charge of your birth and postpartum experience, as well as a no-nonsense, mother-centered approach to empowerment. A must read!"—Dr. Vivian Keeler, D.C., CD, HBCE, CH, VicePresident of HypnoBirthing International
  • "Practical, positive, and empowering."—Booklist

On Sale
Mar 5, 2019
Page Count
288 pages
Hachette Books

January Harshe

About the Author

The mother of six children, January Harshe knows firsthand how widely birth experiences can range. In 2010 January founded the Birth Without Fear Facebook page and Birth Without Fear Blog in order to spread her message of empowerment, to give women their voices back in the face of a powerful medical industrial complex and widespread cultural ignorance about birth. Soon, Birth Without Fear became so much more than a website–January had sparked a movement. Her community had grown so big that January expanded her platform so she could speak directly to areas of specific need. She created Take Back Postpartum, Don’t Forget Dads, and Breastfeed Without Fear under the Birth Without Fear tent, all of which today collectively represent a social media following of over 1 million and counting.

Learn more about this author