Rhea Dempsey is a counsellor, independent childbirth educator, trainer and author who works with women and families before, during and after birth. This month, she spoke with Independent Publishing about self-publishing her first book Birth with Confidence with the help of her editor daughter.
Describe your book in under 50 words
Birth with Confidence is for women yearning for ‘normal physiological birth’ without unnecessary medical interventions. Necessary interventions are wonderful but Australia’s statistics show most aren’t, and women don’t know that. I explain why this is so and what choices women can make for their best chance of avoiding them.
I had been working on this book for many years while also running childbirth workshops, ante-natal classes and my own counselling practice. As luck would have it, over the many years it took me to write the book my daughter Matthia became an editor in the publishing industry so I was lucky to have both her editing expertise and her knowledge of the publishing process to get the book out there. I honestly don’t think I would have attempted to self-publish without her knowledge, but luckily for my author’s ‘royalties’ I did!
What year did you start and where are you based?
We published the book in 2013 and I am just about to print my fourth (substantial) print run. I’m based in Melbourne.
How many people did you contract on your book and what did you do yourself?
Other than my daughter Matthia as editor, I drew on the favours of several editor friends and also young women with editing and birthing experience. I paid a typesetter, Megan Ellis, and Sandra Nobes designed the cover. The book was first printed right after Matthia had her eldest child and although she raised concerns about the quality of the stock I was too keen (and she was too busy with the baby) to look for another printer. The second and third print runs were with McPherson’s and the quality is so much better—it actually looks ‘like a real book’!
What makes your book unique?
There are plenty of childbirth preparation books out there but mine is—I believe—unique in two ways. Firstly, I explain how the hospital system and birth culture affects women in labour. Many women are just like I was when I had my first baby: naive and (understandably) very trusting of the hospital system. But a closer look at the statistics shows that how your labour unfolds and how your baby is born has a lot more to do with who is with you when you birth, which hospital you are birthing in and what their routine timing and other protocols are—all this predicts interventions rather than what is medically necessary. This is vital knowledge for anyone wanting their best shot at normal physiological childbirth. Secondly, I am honest about pain. Normal physiological childbirth is intense and involves functional pain. But again, most women don’t know how much they can raise their pain threshold through preparation, support and a ‘reframing’ of the pain. No one says ‘Oh you poor thing, you can’t do it’ to a fit athlete breaking pain barriers—birthing women can be supported to do amazing things.
What has been your biggest success?
I think getting to my fourth print run without a publicity department behind me is a pretty big success!
What has been your biggest challenge?
Self-promotion, social media and my website. I’m still working, counselling and educating and so that side of things comes second. I know I could be doing more and doing it better but where to find the time?
What would be your top tip for those starting out in self-publishing?
Know your strengths and pay professionals for anything you (or your daughter!) can’t do yourself. Educate yourself about distribution. We made the decision not to seek a distributor and I sell the books myself online and at my events. I’ve had a few bookshops and antenatal practitioners approach me who keep the book in stock but I certainly don’t walk into a bookshop and expect to find it—and no self-publisher should, unless they’ve managed to line up a distributor.
What will you publish next?
I’m almost finished my second book, also about birth. While the first book was about the birth system and the external choices (of birth place and caregivers) a woman can make to boost her chances of normal physiological birth, this new book is about the internal psychological preparation that will help her. This idea of holistic psychological preparation for birth is very traditional midwifery knowledge but it is largely ignored today—at great cost to those who want to have a normal physiological birth.