10 Months (and a few days) of Motherhood

I passed my books to the clerk at the library, who then handed them back to me, saying, “Your due date is August 22nd.” I wanted to tell him, “No, my due date is and always will be September 29.” The phrase due date is forever imprinted in my mind in relation to the birth of my child, the most monumental shift in my identity and existence. 

One of the books I chose today is called The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Sanity, and Big Success After Baby. I’d noticed it before in bookstores and passed on it, my own "fifth trimester" come and gone, but seeing it now, at the library, I reached for it to take it home for free. While I’m usually leery of books that make such lofty promises, I figured there was nothing to lose by checking it out. With a cover checkered with check boxes of to-do list items, it seems relevant, painfully so. 

It pains me, too, that this is a women’s problem--managing life after baby, that is. There are fatherhood books, but most are hyperbolically comic, the joke being that dads are helpless when it comes to babies. (Of course, this is patently false.) But I feel helpless when it comes to babies! I’ve figured a lot of things out by necessity: how to pack a diaper bag, how many extra sets of clothes to pack in a diaper bag, how to make funny faces and sounds to entertain the baby during a pungent diaper change, how long to bake zucchini until it becomes soft enough to be consumed with only the stubs of two teeth, how to read the fine print on nursing pads, how to weigh the merits of various baby gear sites in order to purchase the least frustrating option in a given genre of baby paraphernalia, how to cut a band aid in half length-wise and adhere it to the baby mid-squirm. 

The mental load, the all-consuming nature of motherhood, the endless to-do list: no matter how it is configured, whether as sociological phenomenon, physiological or emotion reaction, or task-oriented approach, motherhood overwhelms all else, most of the time. And when it doesn’t, when I neglect to order guacamole in addition to our burritos simply because the baby likes it, I feel guilty. 

I do not forget her tears. An hour or so after she falls asleep at night, I turn to my phone to re-watch a video of her from earlier in the day. I agonize over whether to keep a band-aid on her finger while she sleeps. I worry that she is too cool, too hot, too sandy, too sticky. Do I read her too many feminist empowerment books, so many that she’ll wonder why I keep insisting that she can be whatever she wants to be and do whatever she wants to do? 

Last year, when I was pregnant, I promised myself that my writing would not become all about motherhood or babies, as though there were something inherently wrong with that. My impulse is to write about what I know, and how I see the world, and with a child now, all of that has changed. From uncovered outlets and sharp coffee table edges, to healthcare policy and the gender pay gap, I am concerned for her, and I see all of these obstacles with her in mind. 

So when I happened upon Sarah Menkedick’s new book, Homing Instincts, I felt relief and validation: writing about motherhood is, indeed, real writing. The tedious parts of motherhood don’t render the experience simple. There is complexity and nuance in the experience of raising and caring for a human being. And just as I hope we all respect mothers out in the world (those who are feeding their babies, or toting them on planes or buses, or merely trying to buy groceries) because we were all babies once, and we all needed our mothers, I would hope that we can all see the richness in delving into the complexity of becoming and being a mother. 

Menkedick's op-ed in the LA Times just prior to the book's release captures this tension: 

I am standing before a small audience in Columbus, Ohio, apologizing for what I’m going to read. “It’s about motherhood,” I say, then quickly qualify, “but you know, more than that! It’s about stories, and self, and the meaning of home.” I have been doing this for months, explaining the book I’ve written as something along the lines of “about motherhood but not really,” until finally, in front of this audience, the absurdity of my intellectual scrambling strikes me. What male writer feels the need to atone for essays about, say, war? I imagine him hurrying to clarify: “But really they’re about the human struggle, triumph over adversity, and the meaning of self.”

As I carry on as a mother to my precious little person, and as I read and write about this experience, I feel the tiniest bit more reassured, thanks to her, in the daily struggle and worry and delight that encompass what motherhood is to me. 

Nine Months Out

As of 8:38 this morning, Rebekah has been part of the world for nine months. This doesn't mean that she has been outside as long as she was inside; she was inside for 40 weeks, and it's only been 39 on the outside. (That final week of pregnancy felt interminable, and I will not let that week be forgotten!) 

I'm feeling a bit wistful as I recall my intense, even agitated anticipation of Rebekah’s arrival and the agony I endured to bring her into this world and into my arms.

At nine months old, Rebekah is a joyful, adventurous, social, and opinionated baby. She enjoys eating sweet potatoes, baked apples, halibut, broccoli, zucchini, and most of all (but perhaps not the best parenting decision), maple custard. She also takes pleasure in books, both reading and eating them. She scoots around our house, army-crawling her way to Schroeder’s crate, water bowl, and Duck & Potato Formula. But her story is hers to tell, and her privacy is important to me. Someday she can have her own blog, or whatever the informal medium of choice turns out to be in a decade or two. So that's all I will say about her for now. 

Because my precious time to write is limited (I’m working part-time at American University, tutoring days a week at Chain Bridge Speech & Language, and starting up my own writing center), and because we’re in the middle of a childcare transition, I can record only a few disconnected reflections at this nine-month mark. 

At times, caring for a baby—even my own!—is tedious and demanding. Nobody admits this, but it's the truth, at least for me and most moms I know. Everything a baby needs takes precedence over the first thing the caregiver needs, which, though taxing, is how it should be. So, when I'm caring for Rebekah with another adult, or when I get or a break from cleaning her tray—a task oh so irritating because the darn tray is just slightly too big to fit comfortably in the sink—or someone else changes her blowout diaper, or she doesn’t scream in the car, or I have a moment’s peace to take a shower at my own pace … at those times, some of the joy and tenderness of the early, sleepy days returns, and I realize, yes, this is what I wanted—this relationship with my own child—in spite of it all: disposing of the now-daily pungent pancake turds, the stocking and restocking of four different types of wipes (for diapers, pacifiers, pump parts, and her face after each meal); researching the best bibs with pockets and the least garish play pens; winding cords into plastic “babyproofed” containers; and scrubbing bottles and pump parts. Amid it all, I love her so much. 

On the subject of pumping, I have to say how wonderful it is to pump while driving: I know, it seems crazy, and I used to think people who did it had truly lost their minds, but now that I am routinely pumping in the car, I find it liberating to multitask so efficiently. I can adeptly turn my neck to look for cars in my blind spot while preventing the milk from spilling onto my lap. I can unscrew the parts while stopped at traffic lights. Most importantly, I do not have to ask random strangers for keys to lactation rooms.  

My body remains in milk production mode, which means that I cry reading articles about maternal mortality because it seems cruel and unnecessary to die while creating another human being and to leave that little person without you. And ll the news coverage about infant mortality, SIDS, car seats being installed incorrectly ... it means that when I leave her I worry that it's the last time I'll see her. I always kiss her on the top of her head and tell her I love her. 

It's not just baby-related news that evokes tears, but almost all the horrible news these days, from orphaned refugee children, to innocent people killed by the police, to all kinds of systemic injustice. Even reading the second chapter of Brave New World with a student was difficult (hint: don't read it if you have a baby!), so much so that I'm concluding that having a tiny, fragile, helpless being around makes me more sensitive to everything. 

When Rebekah accompanies me to the bathroom, or watches me shower—which she does if we are at home alone together because she will otherwise eat lint or hair gel—I sometimes point out my c-section scar and say, “You came out of there.” Because I want her to know that she’s part of me. 

And perhaps that’s part of my reluctance to stop breastfeeding: I long to maintain our intimate physical connection, for her to know that she needs me for sustenance, and literally, for life. 

At the same time that I know I will be thrilled when Rebekah starts to speak and use forks, I know that those milestones will mean that she wants fewer hugs and cuddles, and will need me less and less, or maybe just in a different way. I can't decide whether I want her to grow up faster or return to being a cuddly little burrito content to rest on my chest. This isn't ambivalence, because that's far too mild a word to capture the highs and lows, the triumphs and the despair, of early parenthood. 

Six Months of Motherhood

Six months in, and I still feel like an imposter when I say I'm a mother. "Mommy" feels slightly easier to get behind, as it's a term of endearment rather than an identity. "Mom" feels like it belongs to the voice of an older kid, not to the babbling of my little baby. "Mama" feels too earthy to me. "Mother" feels like an enormous responsibility, one that should require some kind of extensive exam, or at the very least, some kind of Saturday afternoon class that provides a certificate of attendance as proof of readiness for bearing and raising a child. 

Impracticalities--and the impossibility of preparing to embark on task so enormous as bringing a person into the world--aside, the word "motherhood" still feels foreign. I envisioned being a mother as the commencement of a new relationship between me and a tiny person. As it turns out, babies, even my very social baby, can engage in relationships in only the most limited of ways. 

I very much felt like my baby's mother when my obstetrician cut her out of me during an emergency c-section and hoisted her into the air and over the curtain that (ever so thankfully) blocked my view of my torso so that I could see her, dripping with blood and amniotic fluid, and coated in vernix, for the very first time. (I considered avoiding all mentions of bodily matter in this post, but decided in the end that the gory process of creating life must not be overlooked.) Since then, I most felt a connection to her when I was able to make her giggle for the very first time several weeks ago. Her staccato, cackle-like laugh signaled to me that inside this little helpless being is someone who will blossom into a real person, someone who will someday need me for more than mere survival. I wait in eager anticipation for her personality to emerge even more and for our emotional connection to blossom. As she learns who I am and we develop our rapport, and as I become not just the provider of sustenance for her, I imagine I will get to be her mother in an even fuller sense of the word. 

In our six months together, I have enjoyed cuddling with her and feeling the warmth and weight of her little body on my chest. I love to watch her try new foods and cackle with delight, and then seconds later, watch as her face sours in surprise as the flavor reaches her tongue. I am relieved and heartened when I can comfort her with milk from the source. I like to wear her in my baby carrier and feel her close to me. 


I was aware that I would often be deprived of sleep and utterly exhausted; that has proven to be the case. (But let it be known that it's better to be tired than nauseated!) I was not, however, adequately prepared for the task of feeding the baby. Prior to her arrival, I focused on procuring the appropriate baby paraphernalia and readying myself for the birth. Plenty of people helped prepare me for the actual birth, but I had no idea how relentless the task of feeding a baby was. Six months in, I can conclude: There is no easy way to feed a baby.

Breastfeeding propaganda abounds, yet actual evidence doesn't support all the claims that its advocates state with authority. Breastfeeding is quite difficult, and certainly not intuitive for the mother or the baby. For a mother recovering from labor, surgery, or both (as was the case for me), and a newborn baby who can barely see and has only a tiny mouth with little strength to suck, it is a challenging process. It's a wonder to me that our species survived with breastfeeding as the sole mechanism for keeping infants alive for thousands of years. 


It eventually worked for us, albeit with the assistance of six lactation consultants. For several months, I spent four or five hours a day feeding Rebekah. (I highly recommend The Good Wife and Madam Secretary as breastfeeding television; I can attest that the female protagonists of both are oddly empowering to watch while sitting half-dressed in pajamas all day.) Now that Rebekah can see well, and her mouth is larger, the process is much quicker. But it is not free! The milk, to be clear, is free. But pumping with a rented hospital-grade pump is not free. (To maintain a milk supply if you are not with your baby every 2.5 hours, you have to pump.) Insurance companies are, for the time being, required to provide a pump under the ACA. The pump I received from my insurance company is both inefficient and loud. Nursing tops and bras are not free, and unless you want to disrobe every 2.5 hours, these are essential. If you want to leave home, nursing apparel--shirts with flaps or buttons--is also a necessity. Other purchases include: milk storage bags, a bag for the pump, new parts for the pump (periodically), and a hands-free bra (if you want to be able to use your hands while pumping), among other things. I mention all these obstacles not to complain, but to make the point that breastfeeding is not free, easy, or natural. It has its advantages--not waiting when the baby is wailing hungrily, for example--but it is not without its challenges. 

Also, if you want to go out in public with the baby, you have to feed the baby in public. It sounds silly to say that, but women still face so much grief for feeding their babies. This level of discomfort from many people puts mothers in a tricky and unfair situation: either you stay at home and lose your mind, or you go out in public, feed your baby, and risk making other people feel awkward. At first I was very modest and would disappear into another room if I was at home or hide in a bathroom if I was at a restaurant. Now I feed her when I need to and am mostly able to not feel bashful. 

These are some of the bottles we tried.

These are some of the bottles we tried.

We endured about 2 months of her refusing a bottle. This meant that I could not be away from her for more than 2.5 hours at a time. We tried numerous bottles, sought advice from experts, and eventually, after many tears from all involved parties, she took a bottle. I learned that I was right: It was not a matter of willpower, or letting her get hungry enough, or not giving her the right bottle. She had some tongue and lip tie issues that made it difficult for her to drink. I now have the option of moving her entirely to bottles, but I'm hesitant to give up the one thing that I know will almost always calm her down. There is also less cleaning involved than if we were only feeding her with bottles, and at this point, less cleaning equals more sanity. 

While I read a lot of books about pregnancy and birth, and one or two about breastfeeding, I read none about sleep. I anticipated (likely, incorrectly) that each author would have a pet theory that might work for some people but wouldn't be worth reading an entire book about. I knew that I would not be able to withstand even one night of "cry-it-out," the sleeping method in which you leave your baby in a room to cry until it falls asleep. That description is probably unfair because I have not read much about it. Nevertheless, I know that I would not be able to listen to her scream without intervening. When her lower lip quivers, and tears well and then pour down her face from the corners of her eyes, I feel a startlingly strong impulse to swoop in and save her. 

The first two months or so were easier than the last several, in that she now requires nearly constant entertainment and is not as portable as she once was. She grabs whatever is in reach and has already dumped one Chipotle burrito bowl onto the floor; not to worry, Schroeder happily cleaned it up. I was able to do things during those first few months when she slept all the time. I could make dinner while wearing her, which I did precisely once. I could write a few emails with her in the carrier, which worked several times, for about 15 minutes each time. I am behind on many things I have been meaning to do for many months now, including what I feel most guilty about, which is properly thanking everyone who gave us gifts, for which we are very thankful! 


Six months ago today this little one joined us and changed everything forever. My primary responsibility is now to her--her health, safety, education, security, and well-being. We remain physically, intimately connected. It is an immense privilege to be her mother, yet motherhood, so it seems, is not without the emotional torment that comes with attempting to be everything she deserves in a mother. 

Creating Life: An Update in Lists

We're ready, her room is ready, and judging by her kicks, I'm pretty sure she is ready, too. I had a lovely shower, and I think she has just about everything she could possibly need. And we've met with our doula, taken infant CPR, and toured the hospital. (Though somehow the car seat won't install itself, alas.) 

By the Numbers 

1.5 — growth, in ring size, of fingers due to swelling

2 — # of bottles of Tums purchased for heartburn relief

2 — # of pairs of both shoes and pants that currently fit

3 — # of visits to Emergency Room

4.9 — estimated current weight of baby, in pounds

5 — # of basketball games baby has attended in utero (3 rooting for UNC, 2 for Georgetown) 

7 — # of states vomited in (DC, MD, VA, NY, PA, CO, WI)

19 — purported current length of baby, in inches

38 — number of days remaining until due date

78 — size of baby, in percentile ranking, at 28-week ultrasound


Exciting Symptoms (not an exhaustive list*) 

  • swelling of hands, fingers, feet, and toes 

  • nausea & vomiting (yes, still; yes, I have tried everything) 

  • heightened olfactory sense (less than ideal when frequenting public restrooms) 

  • plantar fasciitis (sneakers help) 

  • heartburn (exacerbated by lacing up aforementioned sneakers) 

  • fatigue 

  • elevated body temperature 

  • bleeding gums 

  • round ligament pain 

  • overall unremitting discomfort 

*The exhaustive list is safe somewhere else, lest in the future I forget my misery and think it's a good idea to repeat this process. 


Good Reads 

  • Eleven Hours: A stirring, powerful novel about one woman's birth over an 11-hour period. The friendship she cultivates with her nurse grows in intensity as the the moment of delivery draws closer. Probably not great to read if you are nearing delivery, however, as complications do arise for the protagonist. 
  • Love Works Like This: Travels Through A Pregnant Year: A memoir of psychologist Lauren Slater's experience during pregnancy and early parenthood.  She writes about things that other people won't or don't. For example: "Motherhood's biggest taboo may not be rage but mildness. Mother love must be intense. I am not intense. I feel a great guilt. So far, it is only my guilt that makes me a mother" (142). 

  • The Birth Partner: Our doula gave us this book to help Jacob prepare to help me through the birth. It's not just for the partner, though; the explanation of the birth process was very informative and unbiased. 

  • Mindful Birthing: This is a combination mindfulness/birthing book, also recommended by our doula. I mostly skipped the part about mindfulness, though some of the specific applications to labor and delivery were useful. 

  • Catastrophic Happiness: The follow-up book to Waiting for Birdy by Catherine Newman, this book was also amusing and full of self-deprecating humor. The kids are older in this book, so it didn't feel quite as relevant, but it was a worthwhile read nonetheless.  

  • The Baby Name Wizard Book: A very useful resource written by the creator of the Baby Name Wizard website and blog. My favorite part was the list of likely siblings for each name, data generated census records. 

  • Operating Instructions: Anne Lamott's memoir of raising her son, by herself, over the first year of his life. So good! 

You can click the image to purchase the book directly from Amazon. A small portion of the sale helps to support this blog! 


Not-As-Good Reads 

I didn't end up finishing any of these, so it's entirely possible they improved significantly after the first chapter or two ... let me know! 

  • First Bite: The author interview on Fresh Air was great! But the book had me bored with detailed accounts of scientific studies.  

  • Our Babies, Ourselves: An interesting, albeit dry, take on pediatric anthropology. I really wanted to like it, but it put me to sleep. 

  • Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety: I started getting more anxious about the challenges of balancing everything, so I promptly put it down and eventually returned it to the library. 

  • After Birth: I thought this was going to be an interesting novel about motherhood, but it turned out that was not the case. I read the free sample a while ago, so unfortunately I don't even remember why I didn't like it. 


Offspring-Related Podcast Recommendations 

  • Bee Wilson, author of First Bite, on Fresh Air: An enlightening take on the power parents have to shape their children's food preferences and habits.  

  • Only Human episode on Prenatal Testing: How the development of prenatal tests empowers parents to make (sometimes controversial) choices. 

  • Episode 2, Attachment Parenting, of the new podcast Science Vs.: I'm about halfway through the episode, and am so grateful for all of the dispelling of attachment-related myths. When it comes to offspring, it can be hard to figure out what's backed by evidence and what isn't, but so far this podcast seems adept at doing just that. 

  • Episode 57, Milk Wanted, of Reply All: A fascinating tale of the history and context of breast milk, and why it is so hard for those who need it to get it. 

  • The Accidental Gay Parents on The Longest Shortest Time: This is the first of four episodes with these parents. Such a compelling story about what it means to parent ... I dare you not to cry! 

  • Also on LST, Terry Gross on Not Having Kids: I could seriously listen to Terry Gross talk all day, so this rare glimpse into her personal life was fascinating. 

  • Episode 103 of Totally Mommy on Birthing in a Volvo: Elizabeth recounts the story of giving birth to her second child--in a car!  

New Reading Material for a New Era

It has become somewhat of a pattern that before I begin something new, or as I anticipate a new phase in life, I read as much as I can on the forthcoming change. Fiction, nonfiction, journal articles, blog posts, etc. So in the case of a change that's so much more life-changing than anything I've ever taken on before, I clearly needed to read much more than I ever have. On the topic of pregnancy (because yep, I'm pregnant!), there is more than enough reading material to last one the entire time it would take to raise a child.

Of course, typically only people with a vested interest in the subject read such books, and (with the exception of Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions and Some Assembly Required--accounts of the early lives of her son and grandson, respectively) until I started to consider that I might someday want this miracle to happen did it occur to me to look in that particular section of the book store (or online retailer, as the case may be). The sheer number of pregnancy-related books is astonishing, and while many of them are useful, a number are not. Some paint a rosy picture of the whole experience and others make it sound unbearable. Unfortunately, many of the books on the market succeed by appealing to pregnant women's worst fears. And there are so many fears!  

pregnancy books

Below, I include my thoughts about the fertility, pregnancy, childbirth, and early parenthood books that I finished and found worthwhile to at least some degree. It was harder than I anticipated to find deep, heartfelt accounts of the experience as well as evidence-based advice. 

Of the many myths floating around out there about pregnancy, none has been more notably irritating to me than the idea that you "glow." False! Wrong! There has been no such glowing in my case. Vomiting, yes. To be more precise, there's been intestine-convulsing, projectile-through-nose vomiting that leaves behind a nasty film of bile in the throat. Absolutely no glowing. If my comments appear tinged with some rage or despair, it's because there have been moments of both. People say that you forget the hard parts, but I don't think I'll forget puking in bed, or on the street, or in the bathtub.

It can seem, these 9 months and some additional days, like such a glamorous, romanticized time. In some ways it is glorious: having this little other person grow inside oneself is nothing less than incredible. In other ways it's a time full of tremendous physical change and anticipation of even more changes to come. If anyone ever needed a book for guidance, now is certainly the time. 

Let's begin at the beginning! 

Taking Charge of Your Fertility, Toni Weschler

Seriously, this is the best, most informative, most thorough book about all things fertility. It has everything you wish you already knew (or wish someone had told you) about a typical cycle, as well as how to understand your body's particular cycle. As a fertility expert, Weschler approaches the subject with a neutral tone. She doesn't assume much prior knowledge--which, given the state of sex-ed in this country, is fair. I liked having the Kindle version of this book because I could search for anything I needed, though at times it would have been useful to look at charts and diagrams in the paper version. 


Making Babies: A Proven 3-Month Program for Maximum Fertility, Sami S. David, MD &  Jill Blakeway, LAc

I borrowed this book from the library because, to be honest, its subtitle made me a bit skeptical of its claims. Really, three months? How can you be so sure? The authors, an obstetrician and an acupuncturist, frame the book around four different fertility types, and they then explain how to prevent as well as troubleshoot problems associated with each type. I ended up appreciating this book because it offered precise markers to look out for as well as questions and tests to bring up with your doctor. Also, they approach the body more holistically than some others do, with chapters about the endocrine and immune systems, for example. Brief vignettes throughout the book chronicle the (seemingly too easy to be true) remedies they tried for women struggling to become or stay pregnant. 


Expecting Better, Emily Oster  

Finally, finally! Actual evidence! Emily Oster trained as an economist and approached her pregnancy with that training in mind. When doctors told her "don't do such and such," she would ask about the risks, and they consistently failed to give her numbers of percentages. So, she looked into the studies upon which many pregnancy recommendations are based and found many of them flawed, outdated, or both. She approached pregnancy and all it entails as a series of decisions. In order to make good good decisions, she teaches her students that they need two things: 

"First, they need all the information about the decision--they need the right data. Second, they need to think about the right way to weight the pluses and minuses of the decision for them personally. The key is that even with the same data, this second part--the weighing of the pluses and minuses--may result in different decisions for different people. Individuals may value the same thing differently." (xii-xiii) 

The rest of her book provides the costs and benefits of many of the decisions that pregnant women make. In many cases (with the exception of smoking, in which case the evidence is clear that it is terrible to smoke), there is not one right answer, but a weighing of risks. This is why when people say, "Oh, you can't have X because you're pregnant," it makes me livid: this baby is part of my body, and I (as the fully formed, functional human) am making informed choices and taking calculated risks to have the best outcome for both me and my baby.  

Oster debunks a number of myths through the book, such as that hair dye is toxic and sushi is dangerous. Both carry very minimal risks. It's difficult to determine exact risks for other decisions, such as whether or not to drink alcohol and how much caffeine is safe. While it's clear from numerous studies that both are harmful in excess, there are no randomized studies (due to ethical concerns) showing that low amounts of either are problematic, and there are some studies that show that moderate consumption can be beneficial. It's not as clear and tidy as the OB or society would like you to think! 


Bumpology: The Myth-Busting Pregnancy Book for Curious Parents-To-Be, Linda Geddes

This Q&A format book has useful advice, though the style is not especially entertaining or enthralling. Most of the information can be found elsewhere, so it's nothing all that special, but the format does make it useful for looking up (or skipping) answers to certain unsavory questions. It's unfortunate that we need a myth-busting book, but we definitely do because there are so many myths out there. Geddes refers to recent research in her answers, which I appreciated, though I sensed a bias against the natural childbirth movement. 

More importantly, she burst my red-hair-dream-bubble with the following:

"Hair color is similarly complex, with one exception: red hair. A gene called MCR1 seems to be the key player in deciding whether or not a child has red hair, and the flame-haired variant is recessive. This means that if a child has one copy of the red-hair variant and one copy of the non-red-hair variant, he will not have red hair (although he will be a carrier, so his children might have red hair— and carriers often have freckles)." (61)


From The Hips, Rebecca Odes & Ceridwen Morris

Written in a casual style with lots of graphics and bright colors, this book provides both medical information and useful advice. Nothing about it is particularly unique, though I did appreciate the blurbs it included from a women who had different experience dealing with the same things. It normalizes pregnancy by providing numerous alternative viewpoints. There were women who had no vomiting, ever, women who had relief precisely at twelve weeks, and women who threw up every day for the entire pregnancy. When you read From The Hips, you feel like you're reading a magazine--and sometimes that is a welcome relief from the doom and gloom books and the books with the front-seat color photos of birth. 


My Pregnancy, Virginia Beckett, MD (editor) 

This is a DK book, which means it's full of color photos and diagrams--some of which I wanted to see, and some of which I didn't welcome quite so much. But it's incredibly comprehensive, up to date, and neutral. It's not trying to persuade anyone to do anything. It tells you when to seek more tests and when not to worry. I like it much more than the pregnancy apps that tell you what size fruit your baby is comparable to in a given week because it's not trying to sell me anything or encourage me to participate in some inane forum. It's similar to From The Hips, but better; if I were to get only one, I would get this one. 


Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood, Anne Enright

I found this book when I was searching the library catalogue for the other Making Babies book. This one popped up, too, and I thought I would give it a try because Anne Enright is a famous author who had won the Man Booker Prize. Well, I just didn't get into it. I had high hopes, but the style didn't suit me. Maybe she was too far removed from the experience to capture it without portraying it in an overly sentimental way? I gave up a chapter or two in. I probably was just irritated that she used these long, flowing sentences to write about pregnancy when all I could think of was vomiting. I have to say, the cover freaks me out a bit. Let me know if you find something redeeming in it, please! 


Mama Tried: Dispatches from the Seamy Underbelly of Modern Parenting, Emily Flake

This book had me laughing SO hard. Flake's drawings are impressive, and so much more realistic than, say, any others you can find anywhere. She writes and illustrates scenes of the seamy, unpalatable  trials of pregnancy and birth with running commentary on how society perceives pregnant women. For example: 

"I have been steeped in a culture designed to make me view my pregnancy and my child as amazing, an incredible journey, a wildly difficult and world-changing thing. Bullshit. I'm just another lady that had a goddamn kid, and so you are, and so is everybody else" (40). 

And it  just tickled me how she makes fun of luxury baby goods and placenta encapsulation (see below), which maybe you wish you could un-know. Sorry ... 


Waiting for Birdy, Catherine Newman

Catherine Newman wrote this book during her pregnancy with her second child, affectionately dubbed "Birdy." I couldn't put this book down; it so accurately captured my experience with pregnancy. For example: 

"Sometimes, during the late afternoon especially, I feel so genuinely rotten that I worry it won't ever end, not even after the baby's born. I worry that I will always feel like throwing up, and that, for the rest of my life, that's all I'll have to talk about." (Loc. 280) 

And her take on conventional pregnancy wisdom and all the advice given to women is likewise refreshing in its honesty. Here she finds herself grumbling about a line from the famous pregnancy book, What To Expect When You're Expecting, which several people thankfully advised me to avoid. 

"And that whole “best bite” pregnancy diet? Please. “Is that the very best bite for the baby?” Michael likes to tease when I’m hunched like a criminal over a bag of gummy bears. “Be sure to indulge yourself at least once a week,” the book advises. “A fruited yogurt makes a nice treat.” A fruited yogurt! As if. A pound of cookie dough washed down with a quart of half-and-half— now that makes a nice treat." (Loc. 1299) 


Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood, Naomi Woolf  

This was my first Naomi Woolf book, and I have to say, this woman is opinionated. And for good reason! She put words to the irritation I feel when people (and doctors) act like you, the pregnant lady, would do something unreasonable to put your baby at risk, when she said it's as though society is trying to protect the unborn baby from you, its mother. I returned the book to the library a while ago, otherwise I'd quote something about how society thinks pregnant women are public property. At times, the book rambled, but the message is worth considering--especially when there are crazies out there like Texas State Rep. Dan Flynn (whom Samantha Bee so beautifully skewered) and Indiana Governor Mike Pence whose recent actions motivated quite the Twitter campaign


Understanding Your Moods When You're Expecting, Lucy J. Puryear, MD  

Thank goodness for this book! Lucy Puryear, a reproductive psychiatrist, is versed in all the things that can go awry in one's mind when creating life. It's a shame that this book isn't more widely distributed or advertised, as I think it would help a lot of women realize that what they are feeling is actually quite normal and natural--and that those feelings only grow more intense if you try to suppress them. She provides numerous anecdotes of successful treatment of pregnant and postpartum women that provide hope and rational thought, both of which are useful, even if everything is going smoothly. I found a very cheap used copy through Better World Books, though I would pay full price for it now that I know what's in it. 


Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother, Beth Ann Fennelly

I loved, loved, loved this book. I bought this book several years ago when I had a hankering for a dog and my mom thought I wanted a baby. Ha! I really just wanted a dog then, so I didn't end up reading it. But I was so thankful for it when I found it on my shelf a few weeks ago. Beth Ann Fennelly is a poet who writes letters to a young former student who has just married, become pregnant, and moved to Alaska, where she knows nobody. Fennelly writes her frequent letters about raising children, the discomforts of pregnancy, and the story of her first child's birth. This is the heartfelt book about having a child that I was looking for. 

For example, in describing to her friend what being a mother does to you, she writes, 

"First, you understand yourself as lodged in history in a way you didn't before. Your beliefs will be tested, your hypotheses put into action, so you'll consider them in a new way. Whether you're explaining where pets go when they die or teaching your child to recycle, your philosophies have ramifications. For the rest of history, echoes of your voice will be heard." (20) 


Bringing up Bebe, Pamela Druckerman

So many people have written about this book that there is not much left to say. I enjoyed Druckerman's self-deprecating perspective as she related her attempts to raise her three children in France. By the end, I wanted to be French! I will say, though, that it made me skeptical of snacks. Now, when I see kids eating in strollers, at the park, or on the bus, I silently judge them, even though their parents probably have a good reason for feeding them at those times. I just think to myself that we should all be like the French and have three elegant meals every day. I think there is some useful wisdom here, though it's easy to get frustrated at America after reading it. I actually listened to this book on Audible, and it was easy to follow along, though the narrator's attempts to approximate a French person speaking English were amusing, if not annoying, at times. 


Birth Day, Mark Sloan, MD

I'm not exactly sure how I happened to find this book (because I'm not reading about birth just yet), but I'm glad I did. Dr. Sloan, a hospital-based pediatrician, has made a career out of working with newborns and their families. In this book, he provides history and commentary on the evolution of the human head, the first few minutes after birth, pain relief options, fathers, and how doctors examine newborns. His narrative style makes for compelling reading, and I found myself unable to put the book down. 

The most interesting chapters to me were those on the discovery and spread of pain relief options for women in labor and doctors' reluctance to adapt their methods. I also learned, to my dismay, that one of the pain relief options available to women outside the US (with the exception of one hospital in San Francisco), nitrous oxide, is not an option at the hospital where I will deliver. 

"Nearly half the women in Finland, Sweden, and Canada inhale nitrous oxide during labor, and over 80 percent of them feel that it was at least somewhat helpful. [...] As we've seen, it's a moderately effective pain reliever, easy to administer, inexpensive, safe for mother and baby, and all the rage in most of the rest of the Western world." (147)

It's seen as a "good enough" option in many places, with fewer side effects than epidurals. Yet, due to the overwhelming prevalence of epidurals here and the fact that there is no money to be made on nitrous oxide, it's unlikely that we will see it here anytime soon. I find this infuriating. I'm convinced that if men were the ones giving birth, the problem of pain would have long ago been solved. 


A Life's Work, Rachel Cusk

I read Rachel Cusk's recent novel Outline a month or two ago, and when I found out that she had written a book on motherhood, I knew I had to have it. Cusk has some of the humor of Flake mixed the political outlook of Wolf, though her narrative feels more literary (and sometimes requires a bit of work to understand). She tells her story in scenes, so it doesn't have the comprehensive feel of some of the other books on this list. 

Weaving social commentary into her thoughtful reflections on her experiences of birth and early parenthood, Cusk both exposes her flaws and lays criticism where it belongs. In particular, she's spot on that being pregnant can make you feel like you're under someone else's watch and that you're not even a person yourself anymore: 

"Modern pregnancy is governed by a regime breathtaking in the homogeneity of its propaganda, its insignia, its language. No Korean cheerleading team was ever ruled with so iron a rod as pregnant women in the English-speaking world." (24-5) 

I promise that parts of this book exude Cusk's delight, but the more fun parts to quote are those that reveal her bewilderment. In "Colic and Other Stories," she writes about how she tries to quiet her baby: 

"We go to the bathroom, where I intend to change her nappy. Again, this strategy has worked before, although I am unsure why. I lie her down on the mat. Immediately the crying stops. Delighted at the speed with which I have disarmed her, I sit down on the bathroom floor and lean back against the wall. [...] I pick her up. Immediately she roars. I put her down again. She stops. [...] I try picking her up again in the hopes that something has changed, but it hasn't. She roars. When I put her down, she stops. I wonder whether it is possible to spend the whole day in the bathroom." (63-4) 

What I like about Cusk is that she is honest without being self-pitying and vulnerable without being self-satisfied. She relays her experience as it felt to her, whether painful, frustrating, or pleasurable. She doesn't make pregnancy and parenthood out to be a monolithic experience, and if I've learned anything so far, I know that it's different for each person. 


P.S. This is my first post as an Amazon Affiliate. If my recommendation spurred you to purchase a book, I'd appreciate you using the image link directly from this page if you choose to purchase from Amazon. I receive a very small portion of the sale, and every little bit helps me maintain this blog. Of course, if you prefer to patronize your local library or an independent bookstore, I salute you! Thanks for reading!