For Mother’s Day this year, my mom surprised me by having lilies delivered to my work. Tucked into the lilies were two stuffed bunnies–one pink, one blue–and a note that said something along the lines of “motherhood isn’t something you can study for.” Already, she knew that I was consuming too many articles, books, blogs, and vlogs, determined to be 110% prepared for when Babyface makes her big debut.
Let’s be real: My mom is probably right. Reading all the books isn’t necessarily going to make me a better mom. It is, however, keeping me mildly calm in the now and helping me feel prepared. So if you find yourself in that situation, with a desperate and insatiable need to read everything you can get your hands on, here’s a list of books I read while pregnant and recommend.
Books on Pregnancy
This is what I consider the “classic” pregnancy book, and honestly, I can’t remember if I bought this one myself or if I received it as a gift shortly after announcing my pregnancy. What I love about this book is that it goes through stage by stage, telling you how your baby is developing, symptoms you may be feeling, and how you can best support your body and your baby. I read every word in it twice: I would always read my “current” chapter and a chapter ahead so that I could remember my current stage and begin preparing for our next stage.
GS’s cousin recommended this book as a slightly less serious/medical take on pregnancy. It’s written by Jenna McCarthy, who is apparently somewhat famous (full disclosure: I’d never heard of her before I read this book). Regardless, it’s super funny and super down-to-earth. It was perfect when I was questioning the types of things you don’t really ask your mom or your mom friends (“Is it normal to feel like your vagina is about to turn inside out?”) because she went through the less-than-beautiful aspects of pregnancy. Even if my particular “gross!” wasn’t addressed, her book helped me feel less alone because she had her own layers of “gross!” and “weird!” and “why???” throughout her pregnancy. Highly recommended, especially if you’re having a hard time finding the humor in your pregnancy.
Books on Labor & Delivery
Full disclosure: I didn’t read this book all the way through, and I felt weird about some of the parts I did read. That said, I still wanted to share it because I picked it up with one purpose in mind, and it satisfied that purpose.
For the first part of my pregnancy, I buried my head in the sand about the actual birthing process in a super mature, fingers-in-the-ears, “If I can’t hear you talk about it, I don’t have to go through it!” type of mentality. But when I got to the third trimester, it finally struck me that I was going to have to get this child out of me somehow, at some point, and it might behoove me to be at least somewhat educated.
By the third trimester, I had also been informed by doctors that I was unlikely to be permitted painkillers during birth, so I found myself facing the concept of a natural birth that I had neither planned for nor desired. I knew I needed to learn and practice some techniques before the big day came, so I googled books to help with breathing practices during natural childbirth, and this was by far the most recommended book.
The part that I read, and enjoyed, was the beginning section where mothers told personal stories about giving birth and how they breathed through it/visualized to get through it/generally dealt with the pain. Some birth stories had elements to them that I wouldn’t personally be comfortable with, but I liked reading them and I liked the non-judgmental element to the book–the idea that a birth story should be individual to the woman/family and that there is no “right” way to cope, but a vast buffet of options. There was specifically a piece in there written by a woman from Maine (where I live) talking about visualizing the ocean’s tides coming in and going out with each contraction, and how thinking of it that way–a vast and powerful ocean, but wholly natural–helped her get through. It’s a visualization practice I’ve used since reading it and gone back to several times when I feel my anxieties mounting, and though I’ve not yet had a chance to use it in labor, it’s helped me get through other things (like my nightly injections) with more grace than prior.
Books on Parenting
I read this book in a day, and I feel like I’ll go back to it often in the years to come. I first heard about it when I was reading up on RIE parenting practices. Similar to my stance on religion, I’m not one to think that any one parenting practice is the way to go–rather, I like to see what different practices have to offer and weigh within my own heart what seems valid and useful and what seems like total poppycock. But what I like about the approach outlined in No Bad Kids is that it focuses on, as a parent, staying calm, collected, and in control. As someone with a somewhat short fuse, this is something I’m really hoping to work on so that Babyface grows up trusting and respecting me. No Bad Kids gave concrete examples of how to put this patient control into action by de-personalizing children’s negative behaviors, and while I’m sure that’s easier said than done, the information felt really helpful when I was reading it.
I know that I don’t deal well on a funky sleep schedule, and already I feel tendrils of anxiety about Babyface’s upcoming sleepless nights (and ours!) My depression tends to get worse when I’m not sleeping well. My husband and our extended families are already coaching me through that and working on strategies (like him supplementing feedings with formula sometimes if I need a full night’s sleep) that can help me get the sleep I need so I can be the mom our little girl deserves. That said, I also know that it will be important for my mental health and the health of our family to get Babyface on a sleep schedule as soon as we practically can. This book talks all about the practicality of that while also setting us up for the times that schedule will change (sleep regressions, changing sleep patterns, etc). It has suggested feed/wake/sleep schedules for different stages, and also walks parents through being flexible and understanding that there are differences with each child and how to decide what’s actually working for your family and what isn’t. Some of the language usage was annoyingly didactic, but if you can get past the “stop talking to me like I’m an idiot” response, the actual strategies, schedules, and techniques were crazy useful.
Because I loved Jenna McCarthy’s Belly Laughs, I suspected I would be equally fond of her book on surviving the first year of motherhood. I was not disappointed. Written with the same wry sense of humor as her first book, it made me laugh while also helping me think through–ahead of time–some of the challenges Ginger Snaps and I will be facing.
Need an example? One of her most memorable stories is of waking up to find that her son had a blow-out in the middle of the night. She calls for her husband, and he comes in, and in a panic pulls their son’s onesie up over his head, smearing everything all through the poor kid’s hair.
The takeaway? Stay calm, learn to pull onesies down, not up, and let yourself laugh when you make a mistake in the middle of the night.
The first time I read this book, I was in grad school and parenting wasn’t on my immediate radar–the book was read as material to supplement my thesis. Since that time, I’ve read it at least three more times–once while pregnant–and have been trying to get everyone I know to read it as well.
As you can establish from the title, the book is about gender-fluid or gender-creative parenting–the practice of raising our sons and daughters in a way that encourages who they are naturally, not who we feel they should be based on their sexual organs. GS and I aren’t extremists–we are certainly gendering our daughter, calling her a “she,” etc–but we are aware of the impact our society has on children by putting too much stake in gender stereotypes.
What I love about this book in particular, however, and the reason I’ve gone back to it so many times, is that it makes the issue accessible. A series of essays written by real parents, it looks not only at the reasons parents want to practice gender-fluid parenting–in whatever form that comes in–but also the real fears and drawbacks that come with doing so. To this day, every time I read the following excerpt from “The Boy in the Red Dress”–an essay about a mother deciding whether it’s okay to let her son go to school in a dress-I find myself with tears in my eyes:
While I know that junior kindergarten is generally a pretty safe space, that my son’s school is generally a pretty safe space, my mind keeps flashing to the spate of suicides by queer teens, by those perceived to be queer. I think of fourteen-year-old Lawrence King, wearing high heels and makeup to his California junior high school, shot to death by a classmate in February 2008. I think of the “It Gets Better” project, nad I don’t want my kids to know that it could get worse, much worse. And yet, I don’t want him to hide his joy, to spurn the bright red centre of his self. I think of Shiloh Jolie-Pitt and Constance getting to take her girlfriend to the prom and of how much I am rooting for that girl in her suit and that boy–this boy–in his dress.
But that morning in that elementary school hallway, I desperately want that girl, that boy, to be someone else’s kid.
It’s not your typical “Rah-Rah-Feminism!” book on topics of gender and parenting, and it’s for that reason I found it to be so incredibly powerful.
So that’s it–the parenting books I’ve read through the course of this pregnancy (for those of you who aren’t counting, we’re currently 34 Weeks and 3 Days). Let me know in the comments below if you’ve read any of these, what you thought of them if you did, and if there are any more must-reads I should get on top of in the next 5 weeks and 4 days.