Why we need more than “What to Expect When You Are Expecting”
When it comes to books about the childbearing year, twinkle-in-the-eye to postpartum time, there are a number of really great books out there for expectant parents. For myself (and the families we support) I want a book about birth and pregnancy that affirms and reinforces the things that I know about myself. That I am powerful, I am capable, and I am smart. I don’t want a to be condescended toward, and I don’t want to be worn down. This is part of the reason I became a doula (the approach part, not because of books necessarily), and it’s also why I recommend certain books over others when clients ask for reading suggestions.
While “What to Expect…” may be one of the easiest books to find, the following excerpt is just one of the reasons we don’t include it in our lending library:
“Those 15 or so hours it takes to birth a baby aren’t called labor because it’s a walk in the park. Labor is hard work — hard work that can hurt, big time. And if you actually consider what’s going on down there, it’s really no wonder that labor hurts. During childbirth, your uterus contracts over and over again to squeeze a relatively big baby through one relatively tight space (your cervix) and out through an even tighter once (your vagina, that same opening you once thought was too small for a tampon). Like they say, it’s pain with a purpose — a really cute and cuddly purpose –yet it is pain nonetheless.”
Thankfully, this is only one way of approaching the work of labor. As I was going through our library I was struck by the different words that various authors chose to describe the work a body does in labor. Their intentional word choice is indicative of the disparate tones the books strike. There are lots of books about pregnancy and childbirth that affirm a pregnant woman’s intelligence and ability to birth her baby. For example, here is an excerpt (with some paraphrasing) from “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth” in which she proposes that whether a baby, a penis, or a tampon it may be less the size and more the preparation that makes the difference:
“No one questions that labor and birth can be physically painful experiences for many women. Less well known is the fact some women in all cultures have labors that are essentially painless…How is it possible…?…What can we learn from this…? To answer these questions, it may help to try and think of labor and birth from a different angle than the usual one…Consider another act that involves the same female reproductive organs as labor does – the sex act. [It] may be extremely painful or ecstatically pleasurable, depending on the skill and sensitivity of the sexual partner and the willingness of the female involved. The size of the object…has less to do with the physical sensations…than do the factors just mentioned…The same size tampon can be inserted in a painful or painless fashion, depending on whether the woman had too much coffee to drink that morning, how cold it is, or the speed with which she tries to insert it. A lot depends on how ready she is for the experience. Looked at from this perspective, it should be somewhat less surprising that there is such a wide variation in the way different woman describe the sensations of labor and birth.”
The language we use impacts our perception of an event. It all boils down to attitude and how the author approaches the reader. There are other books out there that give the same format as “What to Expect” (month-by-month what you can expect from pregnancy, with information on medical and non-medical interventions), but also offer an alternative, less alarming, approach.
- The Healthy Pregnancy Book – William Sears, MD & Martha Sears, RN with Linda Holt, MD and BJ Snell PhD,CNW
- The Natural Pregnancy Book – Aviva Jill Romm
- Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn – Penny Simkin et al
- The Complete Book of Pregnancy & Childbirth – Sheila Kitzinger
Long story short:
It is possible to write about all the potential risks, trials, triumphs and joys that pregnancy holds while also making it a time of personal strength. A challenge that does not have to exhaust you. Which books did you love during your pregnancy and postpartum time?