Tag: Parenting / Pregnancy

Nine Months of Careful Chaos

by Lucy Knisley

Soon after getting married, Knisley wanted to have a child. Getting pregnant was difficult for her- she suffered two miscarriages then a severe bout of depression, and illnesses that doctors dismissed or failed to recognize the symptoms. After surgery to correct something, she was able to carry a child to term- but had more illness along the way, ups and downs of emotions, and then finally a very frightening birth experience with some serious complications. The ending had me biting my nails, even though I knew she would be okay and have a healthy baby boy. Throughout the story she not only shares with candid honesty her feelings (often negative or uncertain) and reactions to things, but debunks some myths surrounding pregnancy and childbirth, and shares bits of information on the history of women’s health that she learned. Her friends and family were amazingly supportive, and some of the scenes near the end of the book where her husband shared his part of the story- waiting to know if his wife was still alive- had me almost in tears. Then there’s a brief section about difficulties learning to breastfeed, the exhaustion of having a newborn in the house, and the joys too. Some of this memoir was tough to read- and I might caution any expectant mothers because the birth story was traumatic- but also delightful in parts, with her usual humor and fun drawing style. If she writes another graphic novel about new motherhood and her son’s early years, I’ll look forward to reading that.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
248 pages, 2019

by Stephanie Brill and Lisa Kenney

The authors are the founder, and the executive director of an organization called Gender Spectrum, dedicated to helping us understand gender diversity. The book has fourteen pages of detailed references from studies, reports, documentaries and interviews. Subtitle: A Handbook for Parents and Professionals Supporting Transgender and Non-Binary Teens. I\’m a parent here. We are trying to be supportive but I have to be honest- it\’s difficult. I won\’t have a lot to say solid about this book because there\’s still many things I don\’t understand, and other things that are too personal to our family right now. When you\’re still learning about something- a very large and complicated something with a ton of pressure to get it right because your child\’s health and well-being is possibly at stake- it\’s hard to even see if the sources I have at hand are accurate or not. How can I judge the material when I don\’t have a lot of background information or experience with it? It took me a long time to get through this book- I read it in pieces over the past few months. Really, that should tell me something perhaps- the last book I struggled through had its own issues, which I\’m kinda blind to while I\’m reading. This one sounded great while I was in the pages- definitions explaining unfamiliar terminology, outlines of adolescent developmental stages, reassurances that you\’re not alone, explanations of the unique stressors gender diverse teens go through, ideas on how to foster resiliency and so on- but when I sit back and think about it all, I feel rather let down. Seems like it touched shallowly on many things but never gave answers to the hard questions or concrete enough details in the examples. Also quite a lot of the material is repetitive so that gets boring, frankly. I was still feeling good about it though until I start looking at other reviews on the big site that\’s swallowing the world, and Goodreads. Now some scrutiny throws doubts on how biased the book might be, how lacking in critical information or discussion of the negatives. I received this book from a facilitator at a parent support workshop I attended. I\’m going to pass it on to another parent- and continue looking for more material to read.

Rating: 3/5               336 pages, 2016

the Straight Facts about the Risk-Taking, Social-Networking, Still-Developing Teen Brain
by Aaron M. White and Scott Swartzwelder

I got this book because of a concerned email from the public school administration (two months ago) sent to make parents aware of the new film Thirteen Reasons Why which was probably going to be popular among curious teens, and why it was so alarming. I haven\’t read the book or seen the film (nor do I want to), but I\’ve heard about it. I don\’t think my pre-teen has any interest in it either, but I\’m sure she will be exposed to the ideas of peers who have, and it\’s always best to arm yourself with knowledge. I don\’t often read self-help or parenting type books, but I went to the library looking for something about how to talk with teenagers about suicide. (My daughter is not suicidal. But I\’m sure she will hear other kids talking about it in regards to this film).

The book didn\’t really give me that, but it was very informative in a different way. It\’s about how the brains of adolescents are still developing, in ways that make them eager to show off and take risks, short-sighted when it comes to planning, often unable to control strong emotional reactions, easily stressed, and quick to learn new habits which can be lifelong. It goes into a lot of detail about the actual structure of the brain and how connections are being made and how certain behaviors, food intake, sleep patterns and substance use affects the brain during this developmental stage. Alcohol and drug use are particularly scary. In a nutshell, the book discusses: mental health issues, sugar and caffeine, eating disorders, sleep habits (our local school system starts high school latest of all, and now I know why), driving (how the brain learns and manages that multitasking skill, how easily it is distracted, exactly what aspects of teens driving are risky), influences of digital media on the brain, sexuality, exposure to violence and drugs.

That\’s a lot to take in. The authors are a biological psychologist and a neuropsychologist. They quote a lot of research and studies, but keep it brief and easy to understand. There is not a lot in the way of what-to-do when your kid acts a certain way, or how to talk with them about things- it\’s more about understanding how their still-developing mind affects their emotional reactions, thought processes, how they learn and make choices- so you get an idea of what\’s going on and are not taken unawares. It does point out a lot of warning signs: when to recognize your teen is just being a teen going through normal ups and downs, and when they are showing signs of something you need to address (ie a mental health disorder or substance abuse).

On a kind of side note, one little tidbit I found really interesting: in one state the brain goes through while in process of falling asleep, \”some people experience hypnagogic hallucinations during this stage, seeing imaginary objects or people in the room.\” It is common in young children and diminishes with age. So when your kid is frightened at seeing a monster in the corner or thinking of ghosts in the closet- they may actually be experiencing a minor hallucination when on the verge of falling asleep! On another note, I was kind of surprised at how abruptly the chapter on drugs ended. It discussed a lot of substances in succinct detail- telling what they physically do to the brain, how addictive they are, and how dangerous. The part about cocaine didn\’t mention anything about actual damaging affects to the body. Which I was expecting, because it was included in all the other sections.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5         288 pages, 2013

by Anne Civardi

This picture book about a two-year-old learning to use the potty is going through its second round in my house. I read it a lot when my first daughter was young, and am reading it to my second child now. It has bright, simple pictures that show the little girl Millie at home with her family (big sister, younger brother) and how she learns to potty. She sees her big sister\’s example in the bathroom, and then her mom gives her a potty of her own. Her friend tells her what it\’s for, Mom helps her sit on it (even though nothing happens at first) and she gets out of diapers into \”big girl pants\” (which I read as \”special panties\” because that\’s what I call them with my daughter). Millie has several accidents but is always gently reminded to use the potty instead. She finds that it\’s okay to potty in different places- taking it along in the car, using it right before bedtime, even occasionally going in the bushes with help from dad when at a picnic. By the end of the book she\’s using the toilet with some help, and learns to wash her hands afterwards. Then she gets to be the example and tries to sit her baby brother on the potty!

I think it\’s cute, as well as being a good sample for a child of different activities and experiences that surround toilet training. I also like the home atmosphere in the books; the floors are strewn with toys (just like my house looks most days), the mom always looks gentle and helpful, the family is shown doing things together like making cookies, playing outside with a hose in hot weather, going out on errands. My child is really fond of this book, and was even before we started helping her use the potty in earnest.

When I read it aloud, I do change the euphanisms \”Number One\” and \”Number Two\” to the more straightforward \”pee pee\” and \”poo\” we use in our house. But the book itself makes that suggestion; there\’s a brief forward that reminds parents to use whatever terminology they already have in place with their own kids. I don\’t know why this book seems to have fallen out of favor; the amazon review is rather critical, and nobody else seems to have made notice of it. Maybe some dislike how the pictures show clearly activities surrounding toileting habits, while the text itself doesn\’t go into great detail. But I think that works just fine; kids don\’t always need a ton of detailed verbal explanations, whereas they can look at a picture and identify with it clearly. It works for us.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 24 pages, 1988

by Bonnie Maslin

I find it difficult to write about self-help books without feeling like I\’m exposing something of my flaws and failures. I also find it hard to know which books in this area are more credible than others. What makes one author\’s advice more solid than another\’s? And I often wonder if I am just liking a self-help book because its views already agree with my own; but what if my views are wrong? maybe a book that I didn\’t agree with but that taught me to do different would be more useful…

Anyway, I found this book helpful enough that right after finishing I wanted to turn to the front page and read it all over again, but I\’ve already renewed it twice from the library. So I bought myself a copy. That in itself says a lot. I feel like the real test of the book\’s veracity will be how well its suggestions work when put into practice. I am trying, but still fall far short of where I should be as a parent. Here\’s some of the things that really stuck with me from Picking Your Battles.

The book describes methods of implementing discipline, being firm and sticking to the rules and standards you have made for your family, without caving into arguments. It helps you discern between what kinds of infractions are merely irritating to you and better ignored, which are impolite misconduct that should be corrected, and which are serious infractions that need to be acted on immediately. It tells you how to teach your child to be responsible, to recognize consequences, to understand the impact of their actions on others. Shows you strategies for managing anger, whether it be at your children, or anger they feel towards you. Points out that anger can be useful, as long as it is not expressed with aggression. Helps you recognize your own discipline strategy and realize if it is effective or not. And so on. Grounded in an understanding of child psychology, the author also tells you how to recognize when your kid is acting the way he does because of a developmental stage, not just because they\’re trying to be difficult or get under your skin. This is another thing I often need to remember. There\’s a lot more that I\’m not even touching on here, but I don\’t really know how to describe it properly.

Well, I\’m trying to implement some of the ideas from the book: to listen more, guide and direct more than demand and punish, give positive reinforcement instead of negative reprimands, and stem my irritation (I tend to nag a lot). But I think I\’m going to read this book over again many times before I am done.

rating: 4/5 ……… 352 pages, 2004

more opinions:
Jesse\’s Girl

by Michael Elohon Ross

I looked for this book specifically because I wanted more with illustrations by Ashley Wolff. Similar to I Love My Mommy Because, it shows different animal mothers caring for their offspring. Only in this case, the entire focus is about breastfeeding. Mama\’s Milk has a nice gentle rhyming quality. It begins showing a mother nursing her baby in bed Cuddle little baby warm and tight Mama\’s going to feed you day and night then each page shows a different animal mother nursing her infant(s). In the middle spread there is a picture of a mother nursing her baby in a park (while another mom nearby feeds a toddler in a stroller with a spoon), another picture shows a mom holding a baby in a sling leaning over to see a mother cat with her kittens, and the final picture shows a mother fallen asleep in a chair with her nursing baby. Delightful is the variety of animal moms- not just the ones you\’d expect to see like horses, pigs or bears but other less-familiar animals like the platypus, a bat, and an armadillo- all nourishing their babes with their milk. I like that the book showed a variety of aspects regarding breastfeeding- nursing at night, in public, at home, by humans and animals alike. At the end of the book is a spread with little thumbnails giving some facts about each animal featured. I found this particularly interesting: did you know that an elephant will nurse her baby for up to five years? or that kangaroo milk is pink? Lovely little book, Mama\’s Milk is one I enjoyed just as much as my daughter.

rating: 4/5 …….. 24 pages, 2007

more opinions at:
the Petite Bookshelf
Breastfeeding Mum\’s Blog
Carma\’s Window

by Ina May Gaskin

This is truly the hippie book of childbirth. It was mentioned in quite a few of the other pregnancy books I\’ve read recently. Written by a midwife who lives and works in a commune in Tennessee known as The Farm. Ina May learned the practice of midwifery by assisting at births, reading medical textbooks and being instructed by a supportive physician who was their back-up. In the time span of the book, about 2,000 babies were born at The Farm and Spiritual Midwifery shares many of their stories.

They\’re quite unlike any other birthing stories I\’ve read. Not only do the women all give birth naturally- without drugs or medical interventions (except in a few cases where they had to go to the hospital) without (apparently) feeling any pain, but most of them say they find the experience exhilarating. They put a lot of emphasis on approaching birth with a totally relaxed, fearless attitude, and being surrounded by people who love and support the mother. It kind of makes sense to me that it would be easier to give birth if you\’re relaxed, that you feel more pain if your muscles are tense, that being stressed or worried could prolong your labor. But it was quite something else to read about mothers who reported having out-of-body experiences while in labor, or communicating telepathically with the baby\’s father or the infant itself. The language can take a bit getting used to; the women frequently refer to their birthing experience as being \”psychedelic\” or making them \”feel high.\” They almost always refer to contractions as \”rushes.\” To them, childbirth is not something to endure but a momentous, even enjoyable experience.

It all seems rather touchy-feely when you\’re reading the stories. A few of their practices had me wondering, though. I don\’t know how many times the midwife in these stories recommended a women drink liquor to slow down her labor. It also seemed like they frequently had the mother labor flat on her back in bed- when I was expecting to read about more different positions, like squatting. But the later part of the book reminds you how serious the midwives (Ina May is only one of several who have a presence in the book) are about providing their mothers with good medical care, both before, during and after the birth. The last half is a handbook for midwives. It\’s pretty detailed. I didn\’t read all of that part, just the bits that were interesting (like all the different ways a baby can present). Other areas just had too much information for me- I didn\’t want to look at diagrams of how to stitch up tears, or read about all the possible infectious diseases and birth defects.

At the end there are some instructions for new-baby care and the kind of support mothers need when they first go home. There are also statistics about the births on The Farm.  It\’s a pretty well-rounded text, although the black-and-white photos and drawings feel kinda dated and the hippie attitude is certainly unconventional.

The author has her own web page here where you can read a lot about her philosophy on childbirth.

I note the range of publication dates below because this book was originally written in the seventies, but the fourth edition I read has a lot of added material from 2002.

This ends my spate of reading books about pregnancy and childbirth, unless anyone has some really good ones to recommend that I might have missed?

Rating: 3/5 …….. 479 pages, 1975-2002

Myth, Magic and Birth
by Suzanne Arms

 This book (engaging and very easy to read) looks at childbirth practices in modern Western culture, particularly how hospital doctors treat women and what historically led them to use so many interventions routinely. In some ways a lot of the historical information repeated what I recently read in Get Me Out, but there were quite a few new angles here, too. Arms focuses a lot on why men have overpowered women in the field of childbirth care, not only looking at how physicians shouldered out midwives in the recent past but also the role the Catholic Church played in discouraging the practice of midwifery. That chapter got a bit dull to read (it often felt like she was veering off the subject of childbirth and more into religious stuff), I was glad to move on from it. There are a few chapters that each give a fictional scenario illustrating how women typically gave birth in different periods of history. One shows a woman in a tribal culture, another a woman in Victorian times. They felt rather conjectural to me; I wondered exactly how she could know of the attitudes and practices surrounding childbirth in prehistory?

The latter part of the book is all about how childbirth is approached in our times-  how drugs are used, the rise of cesarean sections, use of ultrasounds (she considers them unnecessary), babies being put into intensive-care units more than ought to, the presence of midwives and doulas in hospitals, why our culture causes so many women to fear childbirth, how babies should be treated immediately after birth, etc. etc. In pretty much every case she is pointing out how intrusive hospital policies are and advocating midwife-assisted homebirths or in birthing centers. Birth is a natural process that need not be treated like a disease and almost any woman can get through it without drugs or interventions, seems to be her overwhelming message. Needless to say, I found Immaculate Deception II to be very one-sided, mostly anti-hospital in nature, yet at the same time it was very encouraging. I was able to set aside her negativity about hospital settings and instead focus on the empowerment of women, the assertion of their strength and ability to trust their bodies and birth their children without fear or tension.

At the very end of the book is a collection of interviews and stories about birth, showing many different opinions and circumstances. I liked the fact that it included not only stories of mothers giving birth, but also the viewpoints of various midwives, obstetricians, physicians,  fathers, even an interview with an eight-year-old girl who was present at the homebirth of her baby sister.

My original intent was to read the first version, Immaculate Deception, but I couldn\’t find a copy available. Probably for the best, as I\’ve since read that it has quite an angry (possible more negative?) tone towards the medical establishment. I borrowed this one from the public library.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 290 pages, 1994

by Dr. Kevin Nugent and Abelardo Morell

I first saw this book on SMS Book Reviews, and thought it looked just lovely. So I added it to my list of \”pregnancy and baby\” books to read. I\’m so glad I did, it was just as wonderful as I expected. It\’s a collection of beautiful photographs, the type you\’d expect to find in a book that just features photography as art. I don\’t think I\’ve ever seen such cute infants before! (even the ones that are upset or crying look adorable) The photographs all nicely illustrate and compliment the text, which discusses different behaviors and emotional responses the newborn has, ways in which it can communicate with its loved ones. There\’s the obvious- the baby crying because it is hungry, wet, tired, uncomfortable, etc- and the not-so-obvious. Such as: when you are having a wonderful, face-to-face moment talking and cooing to your little one and the baby yawns or turns away, she might just be telling you she\’s had enough interaction and needs a break! There are sections on fussing, sleeping behavior, feeding, imitation (even an hour-old baby can mimic your facial expression), reflexes, touch and more. All of it informing you on just how much a newborn baby is taking in and what they are learning about the world around them. I love the gentle, thoughtful prose in this book. A sample:

Your baby is learning simply by watching you and by paying attention to all that is new and unexpected in the world around him. However, he is able to learn only because he can rely on you to protect him and meet all his needs. Whether he is asleep, wide awake, or in distress, it is the consistency and reliability of the care you provide that allows him to take in all the information he needs to understand his world. Love makes learning possible; and then learning provides its own momentum. 

I appreciated that the book doesn\’t just tell you about the wonderful babies that are easily soothed and snuggle up to you, but also the fussy ones that cry a lot or are difficult to comfort. The book was a gentle reminder to me of some baby \”milestones\” (after all, it\’s been five years since I last had an infant in the house!) by three months they start having regular sleep patterns, for example. It was a delight to pore over these pages (in the space of just an afternoon) and remember how wonderful babies are, that even though they can\’t talk yet, they definitely have ways of letting you know their needs and making a deep emotional connection with their family. Beautiful.

I borrowed this one from the public library.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 106 pages, 2011

more opinions at:
Becky\’s Book Reviews
Escape in a Book

A History of Childbirth
by Randi Hutter Epstein

One of the most interesting birth-related books I\’ve read yet, Get Me Out is about the cultural history of childbirth, from ancient times up to today. Each chapter takes a subject through its evolution- the one about cesarean sections begins in the 1400\’s when they were done only after both mother and child had died in childbirth, in order to baptize the baby before burial; eventually the operations became more successful (at least the baby lived) but were done only in extrememe emergencies; today some women request the surgery for convenience! Quite a change. Other parts of the book explore the advancement of birthing tools (like forceps), how women have moved from birthing at home to using hospitals (and back into the home again), the use of drugs (whether for pain relief or supposed prenatal benefits- often going awry), the first use of x-rays and then later ultrasound, and sperm banking. Some of the stories from the past can be quite horrific- as when a doctor in the 1800\’s did repeated experimental surgeries on slave women to learn how to repair fistulas. Lots of things in the book opened my eyes but probably the most surprising was when I read about twilight sleep. For some reason I had assumed that twilight sleep was pressed upon women by doctors who wanted complete control over unconscious patients during birth (from something I read before?) but this book tells the opposite: doctors were reluctant to use a drug they didn\’t know all the side-effects of, and feminists of the day demanded a pain-free birth when they saw it was possible.

There\’s a lot to learn in Get Me Out, not only about how medical science has advanced over the decades but also how societal attitidues towards birth have changed, often drastically so! There\’s enough disturbing details about what women suffered in childbirth in times past that I\’m not sure I would recommend this for pregnant women to read (I probably shouldn\’t have read it at the time, myself!) but otherwise, it\’s pretty intriguing.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 302 pages, 2010

more opinions at:
Elizabeth\’s Books


All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it


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