Wednesday, August 8, 2012

summer reading: le bebe edition

The day I told my mom I was pregnant, she went to the bookshelf and pulled out The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth by Sheila Kitzinger. "I've been saving this for you," she said. "I bought later editions as gifts for other moms, but nothing compares to the original." And with that she handed me the very book she referenced when she was pregnant with me. Sure enough, the woman on the cover had long, '70s-style hair fastened with a barrette and was rubbing a large, tented belly. The copyright read 1980.

It was the first of many books for expectant parents recommended or given to me over the next several months. Now that I'm switching to literature covering child care (namely, how to get an infant to sleep through the night, thank you), I thought I'd offer up an honest assessment of each read I thumbed through.

1. What to Expect When You're Expecting, the iPhone app
Okay, so I didn't break the bindings of Heidi Murkoff's iconic book. Like many Millennials, I downloaded the "What To Expect: Pregnancy" app onto my iPhone. For the most part, I liked it. The app gives you week-by-week updates about both your and your baby's development, as well as daily tips about subjects such as mercury levels in fish, swollen feet, or pregnancy-approved exercises. My favorite part was sizing-up our fetus to a fruit or vegetable every week ("Jon! Our baby's as big as a cucumber--your favorite!"). The drawback? As many of my friends have mentioned about Murkoff's book, the tone can be condescending at times and is full of advice that errs on the side of starting helicopter parenting in the womb. But I think the app has less of those drawbacks than the book. It's worth the download.

2. The Hot Mom to Be Handbook, by Jessica Denay
The best parts about Denay's book were in the sections dedicated to looking and feeling good while you balloon into shapes you once thought unimaginable. It was also great for finding the best stuff for you and your babe. Vain and materialistic? Yes. But when you've given up your entire being to create another being, I think you're entitled to some pretty things and pampering. Just saying. Some of the goodies listed are rather lux, and Denay lets you know if they're worth the splurge. But she also lists "bump on a budget" options, which I thought offered fair and honest comparisons. This read was also chalk-full of pregnancy dos and don'ts, some of which were great, some of which were a little cautious for my taste--even though there is a whole section dedicated to dealing with the "Pregnancy Police." While I generally understand the "better safe than sorry" rule, and while I'm no physician (even though I have always consulted mine before toeing the line), I still believe in some wriggle room when it comes to coffee, wine, and soft cheeses for mom. But this book made me feel like a bad person for choosing the occasional glass of red wine with dinner over whipping up a virgin "preggatini." I still recommend reading it, but mostly for the advice on looking good and loot. Just be warned you may feel reprimanded from time to time. Oh, and I completely ignored the blank pages for monthly journaling included at the end of every chapter. This is pregnancy, not middle school.

3. The Girlfriends Guide to Pregnancy, by Vicki Iovine
An OB recommended this book to me after he caught me reading Denay's Hot Mom book on a plane. "It's written by a former Playboy bunny," he said. "You'll like it." And like it I did. Unafraid of going into explicit detail about her four pregnancies, Iovine offers an honest assessment of the "nine (ten) months" of pregnancy. She's both funny and sarcastic, yet offers enough research and authority to be taken seriously when necessary. Iovine gives a lot of advice--from exercise and intimacy to what to expect each doctor's appointment and what to pack for the hospital. She even touches on problems conceiving and postpartum depression. Everything in the book has been culled from her doctors and vetted by the "Girlfriends." This book was informative and cute, without being overly so--if you catch my drift.

4. My Boys Can Swim!, by Ian Davis
I did not read this book; Jon did. I merely skimmed it. In this "official guy's guide to pregnancy," Davis uses quick, snarky anecdotes to explain away why his pregnant wife is acting so differently from the woman he met, dated, and married. (Bonus: There are cartoons.) A friend said her husband read the book at the beginning of her pregnancy and, darn it all, I was not going to be the only one reading about babies and burping in this household, so I added it to our Amazon order. Jon says it was "fine, though not very informative about actual childbirth." Fair enough. Order it if you want a reading partner out of your labor partner, I guess.

5. Belly Laughs, by Jenny McCarthy
A good friend gifted this book to me and I happened to read it at the perfect time during my pregnancy--right when the heartburn started to kick in and things started to get, well, generally unpleasant. If you can put aside the grammatical errors and forget everything you know about McCarthy's feelings on vaccinations, she is very, very funny. I laughed out loud 100 times more often when reading this book than in my entire teenage years watching Singled Out. More than anything, with all the Giseles and Klums out there bouncing around in bikinis two weeks postpartum, it was refreshing to read a realistic (and sometimes vulgar) account of pregnancy from a celebrity. There were times I caught myself thinking, "Damn, Jenny had it baaaad," which I hate to admit, made me feel so much better. And the book is thin. I think I read it in two quick nights.

6. Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother, by Beth Ann Fennelly
A friend gave me this book as well, and I could not put it down. When Fennelly, a poet and professor, found out a dear friend was pregnant with her first child and moving to faraway Alaska, she wrote her letters of love, advice, and support nearly everyday. This book is the compilation of those letters and, naturally, takes on a more maternal tone than the other books I read earlier in my pregnancy. I picked up Great with Child at six months pregnant, just as I was starting to feel true, maternal affection for this small being kicking and moving inside me. (Getting to that point took me longer than most, I know.) Great with Child is a love letter to motherhood. There was nothing agenda-driven about Fennelly's letters, nor were there any stern dos or don'ts. This book, more than any other, got me excited for becoming a mom, and it shouldn't be reserved for only expectant mothers. Actually, I gave it to my own mom to read. I couldn't recommend it more.

7. The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth, by Sheila Kitzinger
Honestly, when I first opened this book I wasn't ready for it. I was in my first trimester, could still button my pants, didn't feel like a mother-to-be, and was in denial about what would change in both body and mind in the next several months. (True story: I called my mom angry and crying after opening a page on episiotomies.) But now I can see why my mom likes this book so much. Before she married my father, a physician, and having six children, my mom worked as a labor-and-delivery nurse. This book is very medical. It's the dictionary, the source on all things pregnancy related. True, the women pictured look like their pregnancies began after a wild night following a Mama Cass concert, and much has changed with medicine and childbirth since Mama Cass ate that fateful sandwich. But, at its core, pregnancy and childbirth hasn't changed in hundreds of years. Kitzinger's book has been a great first reference for me--better than Googling or visiting WebMD, for sure--and I check it before bringing questions to my next doctor's appointment. I can't speak to versions with later copyright dates, but I think this book is the perfect reference text. 

I hope you find this small list helpful. And thanks to all you friends (and Mom) for your recommendations. I'll share my next batch of books when I'm through, promise.