So, surprise! I had a baby last month! And in honor of my little one, and to acknowledge that alongside all the great fiction books I’ve read and reviewed over the last 10 months the fact that I’ve also been obsessively researching baby information, I’ve decided to dedicate my two posts for this week to four of my favorite pregnancy/baby-related reads. It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that, as a librarian, reading was/is my go-to coping method when the first-time mom anxiety hit(s) and there are a lot of resources out there. Some were ok, some seemed like a textbook for scare tactics (I’m looking at you “What to Expect” series), but these four were pretty solid for me specifically. Now, of course, pregnancy and parenting is all very indivualized to how people approach life and children, so massive warning that these fit what I was looking for and in no way reflect some type of be-all, end-all to the the vast, VAST expanse of resources and approaches on these topics. So, that out of the way, here are the first two I’m highlighting.
Book: “Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong – and What You Really Need to Know” by Emily Oster
Publishing Info: Penguin Press, August 2013
Where Did I Get this Book: own it!
Book Description: Pregnancy—unquestionably one of the most profound, meaningful experiences of adulthood—can reduce otherwise intelligent women to, well, babies. We’re told to avoid cold cuts, sushi, alcohol, and coffee, but aren’t told why these are forbidden. Rules for prenatal testing are hard and fast—and unexplained. Are these recommendations even correct? Are all of them right for every mom-to-be? In Expecting Better, award-winning economist Emily Oster proves that pregnancy rules are often misguided and sometimes flat-out wrong.
A mom-to-be herself, Oster debunks the myths of pregnancy using her particular mode of critical thinking: economics, the study of how we get what we want. Oster knows that the value of anything—a home, an amniocentesis—is in the eyes of the informed beholder, and like any complicated endeavor, pregnancy is not a one-size-fits-all affair. And yet medicine often treats it as such. Are doctors working from bad data? Are well-meaning friends and family perpetuating false myths and raising unfounded concerns? Oster’s answer is yes, and often.
Pregnant women face an endless stream of decisions, from the casual (Can I eat this?) to the frightening (Is it worth risking a miscarriage to test for genetic defects?). Expecting Better presents the hard facts and real-world advice you’ll never get at the doctor’s office or in the existing literature. Oster’s revelatory work identifies everything from the real effects of caffeine and tobacco to the surprising dangers of gardening.
Any expectant mother knows that the health of her baby is paramount, but she will be less anxious and better able to enjoy a healthy pregnancy if she is informed . . . and can have the occasional glass of wine.
Mini-Review: As a librarian, I feel like I have a lot in common with the author and her emphasis on research-based decision making. Working in an academic library, none the less, I spend a solid chunk of my time teaching students why it is important to find research to back up their own thoughts and opinions and how to distill that information into choices that are reflected in their work. This book has an incredible wealth of information from someone who has spent the time to really analyze what studies are really saying about pregnancy and decision-making, all presented through the lens that each expectant mother will need to ultimately make whatever decision feels right and most comfortable to her. For me personally, it really helped re-focus my attention on aspects of pregnant life that do require new approaches but also took a lot of fear out of the millions of warnings out there that make pregnant women feel like everything and anything is crazy dangerous for them and their growing baby. It’s all too easy to live the full 9 months feeling like every little thing could be the WORST THING EVER and you’re a BAD MOM if you do such and such thing. This book really helped me give myself a break from much of this. For others looking to know what the science is behind the general recommendations that “everyone knows to be true,” this is a great book to really dig deep. And yes, justify a glass of wine now and then!
Book: “A Good Birth: Finding the Positive and Profound in Your Childbirth Experience” by Anne Lyerly
Publishing Info: Avery, August 2013
Where Did I Get this Book: own it!
Book Description: Most doctors are trained to think of a “good” birth only in terms of its medical success. But Dr. Anne Lyerly knows firsthand that there are many other important elements that often get overlooked. Her three-year study of a diverse group of over one hundred expectant moms asked what matters most to women during childbirth. The results, presented to the public for the first time in A Good Birth, show what really matters goes beyond the clinical outcome or even the usual questions of hospital versus birthing center, and reveal universal needs of women, like the importance of feeling connected, safe, and respected.
Bringing a new perspective to childbirth, the book’s wisdom is drawn from in-depth interviews with women with a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences, and whose birth stories range from quick and simple to complicated and frightening. Describing what went well, what didn’t, and what they’d do differently next time, these mothers give voice to the complete experience of childbirth, helping both women and their healthcare providers develop strategies to address the emotional needs of the mother, going beyond the standard birth plans and conversations. Transcending the “medical” versus “natural” childbirth debate, A Good Birth paves the entryway to motherhood, turning our attention to the deeper and more important question of what truly makes for the best birth possible.
Mini-Review: Yes, yes, again with the studies. But this was one big study conducted by a doctor on women’s experiences with labor, specifically. The author was recognizing that while medical professionals focused, rightly for the most part, only on the outcome of labor to establish whether a birth was “good,” many women, asked later would mention a variety of things that contributed to their feelings on their labor experience. The book is broken up into section that deal with these larger areas (like communication, safety, control, etc) and got into the different, smaller details that influenced how women felt about these larger topics and their birth. The really great thing about this book, I thought, was the way it always circled back to the idea that every woman is going to need different things to feel like she had a “good” birth, and that in a society that is largely fixated on the “right way” to have a baby, we are often losing focus on the fact that the whole idea of a “right way” is a fool’s errand to begin with. One that is often used to shame women about their choices, rather than support the variety of ways that work for the many, many different women (and births!) out there. After having my baby, this book seems even more valuable, as I can still find myself having the tendency to feel guilty about some of the aspects of my labor. But this read is a good reminder that there is no need for that.