Years before I became pregnant, a good friend with a one-year-old son gave me a short book titled While Waiting: The Information You Need to Know About Pregnancy, Birth, and Delivery, by George E. Verrilli and Anne Marie Mueser. My friend said, “Read this. Don’t read What To Expect When You’re Expecting. It’s probably a good book, but not for people like us.” What she meant was, not for people prone to guilt, anxiety, and performance orientation.
When I did become pregnant, another kind and generous friend loaned me What to Expect. The first friend was right. The moment I started reading, I began to worry. Fortunately, I spent half my pregnancy out of the country and decided the book was too heavy to pack…not that I didn’t find adequate sources of anxiety anyway.
When I returned, I delved into What to Expect to find out what else I should have been worrying about, and sure enough, I found anxieties I hadn’t thought of. Hiccups, for example. Did you know that “a possible sign [of a knotted cord] is frequent hiccups at 36 to 40 weeks—two to four episodes every twenty-four hours, each lasting more than ten minutes” (521)? When I mentioned this to the certified nurse-midwife at the birth center where I planned to give birth, she said she had never heard of such a thing. Her preferred name for the popular prenatal bible is What to Fear When You’re Expecting.
The question for us in the information age is, How much information is enough? After all, knowledge is power, right? We have a responsibility to inform ourselves, don’t we? And some of us, like myself, are just compulsive readers anyway, who will read the backs of cereal boxes if nothing else is available. (As if the world didn’t already contain a daunting number of books to be read, now we have the Internet!)
But we also have a responsibility to use all these media responsibly, with an awareness of the effect produced not only on our minds but on our emotions. When I recently checked out What to Expect, the librarian said, “I’ve heard that’s a good book.” I told her my experience, and she responded, “Well, I guess they write about everything in there.” Exactly. And, fortunately, everything doesn’t happen to most of us. But we can sure worry ourselves to death thinking about the things that might once we know about them.
As an alternative to What to Expect, the birth center midwife gave me The Official Lamaze Guide: Giving Birth with Confidence, by Judith Lothian and Charlotte DeVries—now given routinely to all expectant mothers at the facility. In the preface, the authors outline the message they believe pregnant women most need to hear: “Birth is a normal and natural part of life” (v). Just as important as what the book is, I appreciated what it is not: “It’s not an encyclopedia of everything that anyone could possibly know about pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. It’s not an endless list of obscure and unlikely complications….It’s not a guide to medical birth but a guide to normal, natural birth. It encourages you to lay down the heavy burden of what-ifs that can squash confidence” (vii).
The contents cover early pregnancy (choosing a caregiver and birth site, myths about pregnancy) to early parenthood (bonding, co-sleeping), as well as chapters devoted to natural birth and the history of birth. The text includes stories and pull-out quotes from mothers, as well as sidebars with encapsulated information and quotes from practitioners. The book is evidence-based and easy to read and features a lengthy list of references and recommended resources in the back. The appendices also include “The Rights of Childbearing Women”; “Lamaze International Position Papers” on the benefits of breastfeeding, the hazards of C-sections, and other topics; and “The Birth Doula’s Contribution to Modern Maternity Care.” Essentially, the Lamaze Guide has everything you would hope to find in an informative, natural pregnancy book.
And if that isn’t enough to recommend it, the Guide also cites a Finnish study that found women who ate chocolate during pregnancy had babies who were more relaxed and happy at six months than women who didn’t (69-70). That’s the kind of book I want to read while pregnant!