I’ve read the Mayo Clinic Guide to pregnancy and the stupid What to Expect books back-to-back probably three times now, unintentionally—certain chapters just fall open, compliant under the thumb. In fact, I’ve read How to Survive the Loss of a Child: Filling The Emptiness and Rebuilding Your Life (Catherine Saunders), Making Babies: A Proven 3-Month Program for Maximum Fertility (Sami David and Jill Blakeway), A Child Is Born (Lennart Nilsson and Lars Hamberger); have constantly referred back to The 100 Healthiest Foods to Eat During Pregnancy (Johnny Bowden and Allison Tannis); perused Portraits of Pregnancy: The Birth of a Mother (Jennifer Loomis and Hugo Kugiya); cooked a smattering from Eating for Pregnancy: The Essential Nutrition Guide for Today’s Mothers-to-Be (Catherine Jones and Rose Ann Hudson); and I’ve had my eyes glaze over a truly embarrassing number of entries in the various baby name dictionaries and guides (thank god I didn’t start looking till I knew we were having a boy).
I’ve also e-mailed, like, every friend with a womb that has been filled or with a penis that has been in contact with a womb that ended up filled.
I’ve Googled endlessly, landing on opinion after opposite opinion, and yet many a large decision still looms on my list: now that we need to choose a new practitioner to handle my labor (more on that later), we’re back to square one. Midwife or OB? Hospital, birth center, or home? Lamaze or Bradley or hypnobirthing or ICEA? Doula who is a professional stranger or a friend? Circumcise or not? Immunizations—yes? no? And if yes, which ones, and if no, what precautions then become necessary? Not to mention the clusterfuck that is our incomplete registry and all the problems inherent: cloth vs. disposable diapers, what kind of bottles, which model of crib or co-sleeper or bassinet or moses basket or …, organic or not clothes and sheets and …, and … and …
Yeah. That’s what this brain looks like on pregnancy. What can I say? I really like to read. Also, my way of coping with paralysis caused by my own ignorance is to throw other people’s opinions at it and hope I can form my own opinion from the chorus/cacophony.
But it hasn’t been the birthing bibles that have cut through the fog as much as the stories. Like the one I am halfway through right now. It’s a book of essays of one man’s experience of his wife’s pregnancy: American Parent: My Strange and Surprising Adventures in Modern Babyland, by Sam Apple—my god! Who knew! This book’s been sitting on my bookshelf, unread, since 2009. But it's so helpful!
For the same reason that I reach out to friends who are young parents for advice, Apple’s vignettes bring me real comfort. Instead of the fifty ways to harm your helpless fetus by eating, drinking liquid, exercising, breathing, or having been born with a certain set of genetic code—also known as What to Expect When You’re Expecting—I want story. I want connection. I want intimate details you are surprised to find yourself sharing with me. I want an embarrassing catch in your throat and uncontrollable mirth in recounting your journey, and I want to see your eyes shine even if you have a spectrum of dark-hued bags under them.
Apple is a companion on an odyssey that transports you to a strange place where the natives debate the merits of increasingly specialized technologies of baby making, having, and raising and who worry over how best to grow a wee Einstein. This book is another friend, weary and wise, who cuts through the crap and tell you that cloth diapers may save the environment, but disposables will save your sanity. That Lamaze doesn’t work. That as sensitive and enlightened and profeminist as your partner may be, he doesn’t have boobs so you’re going to end up with the bulk of the early babycare. That there are a million ways to do all of this, and he only knows what he and his wife chose, and sometimes those choices were made for the most arbitrary of reasons. I can’t tell you how comforting it is to hear that last bit.
Here are some other books that have become friends during this fertility odyssey:
Increase (Lia Purpura)
The Room Lit By Roses: A Journal of Pregnancy and Birth (Carole Maso)
Room (Emma Donaghue)
Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace (Ayelet Waldman)
Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son (Michael Chabon)
Baby’s First Picture: Ultrasound and the Politics of Fetal Subjects (Lisa Mitchell)
The Bitch in the House: 26 Women Tell the Truth about Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood, and Marriage (Cathi Hanauer, ed.)
The Moon, Come to Earth (Philip Graham)
Impossible Motherhood: Testimony of an Abortion Addict (Irene Vilar)
Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers Reflect on the Mother-Daughter Bond (Andrea N. Richesin, ed.)
Books I am looking forward to next (among others):
The Blue Jay’s Dance: A Memoir of Early Motherhood (Louise Erdrich)
Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year (Anne Lamott)Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood (Michael Lewis)