Tag: Parenting / Pregnancy

A Midwife\’s Memoir
by Cara Muhlhahn

Muhlhahn traveled the world as a teen and early on discovered she wanted a career in a medical profession, helping people in need. When she decided to deliver babies she first worked as an apprentice to a lay midwife, then realized she wanted more training and went through the schooling to work in hospitals as an RN. Eventually she became frustrated with rigid protocols and left the hospital scene to open her own solo practice as a homebirth midwife in New York City. While I found it interesting to see her insider\’s take on the politicking and other dynamics among medical personnel in the various settings- especially the hospital- I was a bit disappointed that this memoir focuses more on the midwife herself than on birthing stories, or the women she worked with. It got dull after a while reading about all the paths her education took; around page 60 I started skipping passages to read the more personal stories. But there weren\’t enough of them, and all too brief and on-the-surface to satisfy. The women she helped to give birth hardly have any presence in the stories she tells; there\’s more about her own birth (constructed from stories told to her) and that of her son than of any of her patients. It\’s all mostly about what she does at school, or in her various jobs, how she questions the status quo and thus eventually comes to make her own path. There\’s one chapter almost entirely about her frustrations with traffic and parking tickets, and the last chapter is about a documentary film she was in: The Business of Being Born. I\’ve not seen it, have any of you? As far as memoirs about birth go, I much preferred reading Baby Catcher, or more recently, The Midwife, to this Labor of Love.

Rating: 2/3 …….. 256 pages, 2009

more opinions at:
Superfast Reader

A Journal of My Son's First Year

by Anne Lamott

Rather like Great with Child, this book is gathered from journal entries the author wrote, from the time of her son’s birth until he was a year old. But that\’s where the similarity ends. Where Great with Child was full of introspection and nearly-philosophical musings, Operating Instructions is much more light-hearted, candid and often funny. It’s the voice of a single mom struggling to get by, weathering the bumps of new motherhood without the support of the baby\’s father. At first she feels very alone, often frustrated and fearful; but soon comes to realize that there are plenty of people around her willing to shower her son with love. Friends, family and church members are all there when she needs them. Her journal entries jump around a bit, often with big gaps of time- there’s almost nothing about the first few weeks, for instance- but then, who has time to write a lot with a new baby, colicky and up crying all night? It also seems like her insecurities, worries and surges of anger take over the pages- but when you think about it, that’s when writing is more cathartic, when you’re feeling blue, so I’m not surprised that a journal would be heavier on the negatives than the good days. And there are shining moments when she expresses her deep love for her son and her gratitude for her friends. This was one of my favorite passages, I read it several times:

He’s so beautiful, so funny, so incredibly dear, and he smells like God. When Mon or Dudu have to hand him back over to me when they are about to leave, they lean into his airspace and sniff one last time, trying to memorize him, maybe storing a little hit for later.

We all lean into him, soaking him up. It’s like he’s giving off a huge amount of energy because he hasn’t had to start putting up a lot of barriers around it to protect himself. He hasn’t had to start channeling it into managing the world and everybody’s emotions around him, so he’s a pure burning furnace of the stuff. This is my theory, anyway, that he radiates it; it’s probably affecting us all like a spray of negative ions, like being in a long hot shower or at the seashore.

For instance,  I notice that the kitty, who like all cats, is a heat freak, stands right next to him all the time. She basks in him…

Some readers might be dismayed at her frequent mention of a difficult past- before having the baby she used drugs, smoked and was an alcoholic. She bemoans missing the relief that drugs and smoking used to give her; it’s admirable to me that she managed to kick all those habits and do what was best for herself and her baby. As you might have gathered by now, the book is actually more about the author’s own ups and downs than the day-to-day miracles of watching her baby hit his milestones, per se- but I liked reading it all the same. It felt very honest.

I borrowed this book from the library. I feel like I tried to read it several times before, many many years ago; but none of the content was familiar so I must have given up really early way back then. Lamott also writes fiction but I’ve never read any. Can anyone tell me about them? I liked her voice in this book, so I’m thinking I might enjoy her novels, too.

Rating: 3/5
251 pages, 1993
Integrating Natural Childbirth with Modern Medicine

by Stacey Marie Kerr

This little book wasn\’t really what I expected. For once, I thought I was going to be reading a mostly technical book, and ended up surprised to find a collection of anecdotal stories. Homebirth in the Hospital is written by a physician who started out her practice in the traditional medical field, then became involved with midwives and homebirthing experiences for a while. She ended up working in a regular hospital, but does her best to provide midwife-type, non-invasive care in the hospital setting. The introduction to the book describes her background and how she came to choose this avenue, of providing expectant mothers with more natural methods of childbirth in the hospital, where medical assistant is close at hand if needed. The opening chapter describes exactly what it means to integrate homebirth in the hospital, and goes into different aspects- like allowing the mother to make choices, having good communication between doctor and patient, creating an atmosphere of trust, keeping hospital protocols from overwhelming the experience, etc. The bulk of the book is a collection of stories from the doctor\’s own experience, showing how different parents went through childbirth with her. Some intended to birth at home or in a birthing center but ended up in the hospital due to complications. Others chose the hospital setting, with Kerr\’s guidelines and encouragement to keep interventions to a minimum. They\’re all quite different, and show just how varied childbirth can be- and more importantly, that nothing ever goes quite as you expect it to. In fact, she pretty much said throw the birth plan out the window- that doctors just roll their eyes at such things because they know it won\’t go the way you want it to (something I can attest to, myself!) The final chapter is pretty much just a repeat of the first chapter, except addressed to doctors instead of to prospective mothers. (It felt entirely redundant). I liked reading the stories of all the different women and how they handled birth, wondering all the time what mine will be like this time!

Rating: 3/5 …….. 211 pages, 2008

more opinions at:
Massachusetts Friends of Midwives
Citizens for Midwifery

Reflections on faith, fullness, and becoming a mother
by Debra Rienstra

Contemplative, thoughtful writing on the inner changes that take place in a mother\’s soul, that\’s how I think of this book. Great with Child was written during and just after the author\’s pregnancy with her third child, and she chronicles with tender insightfulness all the impacts that bringing a new life into the world can have on a woman. Not just the physical changes- although those are addressed- the hormonal upheavals, pains and fatigue, wonders of first feeling the baby move- but more specifically the emotional territory and how being pregnant (and later, a new mom) alters her outlook on everything in life. Cultural norms, gender roles, shifting relationships with her parents and in-laws, body image, the nature of work, learning patience… More than any other this book is so honest about what\’s hard in becoming a mother (even though this is her third time)- painful breastfeeding sessions, severe lack of sleep (I\’m glad to know I\’m not the only one who falls to pieces on less than four hours!) the feeling of loosing your sense of self when all attention and energy must be focused on this helpless, demanding little infant- and what little is left divided among your other children and spouse. There is also great beauty here, love that unfolds, depth of character that grows through the trials of motherhood.

This is the kind of book you want to read slowly, to think over every passage. Although I have to admit I did quite a bit of skipping. Her writing is very faith-orientated, and sometimes the musings on God just did not resonate with me. Eventually I found myself glossing over every paragraph that started quoting scripture. I did appreciate more the metaphors and examples she drew from literature and art. Still, I don\’t feel like I missed much. I love how she writes about the inner workings childbearing can have on a woman\’s soul, so much that I\’m contemplating adding this book to my personal collection.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 295 pages, 2002

by Alice Eve Cohen

Cohen had come to terms with the fact that she would never bear her own child, due to having a deformed uterus. She had an adopted daughter, a new happy relationship and a budding career. Then at age forty-four she starting having mysterious symptoms. Doctor after doctor told her she was just experiencing menopause, explaining away her sore breasts, frequent need to urinate, nausea and fatigue. None of them thought to question her years-old diagnosis of infertility. It wasn\’t until she had a CAT-scan to see if her bulging stomach had cancer that it was discovered she was actually six months pregnant. Thus began an immense emotional and physical trial in her life.

She didn\’t want the baby. Her first thought was to abort it, and later when she found out the myriad problems her infant could have- due to the fact that she had no prenatal care for six months, had been drinking and taking hormone supplements, etc. etc.- to possibly put it up for adoption. To make matters more complicated, she had awful insurance that wouldn\’t cover the medical costs and extreme difficulty finding a doctor willing to take her as a high-risk patient. It was overwhelming. I can\’t imagine having to fight the medical establishment for care while at the same time struggling with feelings of ambivalence towards the unborn child itself. Even after her baby was born (with unexpected health issues) she struggled to find love in her heart for it and wrestled with postpartum depression.

What I Thought I Knew must have been an incredibly painful book to write. I can\’t imagine going through what she experienced. The issues of her considering aborting or adopting out her child didn\’t bother me so much as the indifferent attitude of medical and insurance people. I couldn\’t believe that a gynecologist examined her at five months and didn\’t recognize she was pregnant! That infuriated me. And I was most disturbed by the lawsuit at the end of the story, where in order to pay for medical costs that were sinking her family, she had to go to court and present a wrongful-life case. Which basically states that if the doctors hadn\’t erred in not detecting her pregnancy for six months, she would never had had a child, that this baby shouldn\’t have been born. Can you imagine being that child, growing up and discovering that your mother went to court suing that you shouldn\’t have been allowed to live? Of course the author discusses how she struggled with that herself, but she really could see no other way to get money to pay for the astronomical medical costs. Still, it was the part of the book that I stewed over the most.

Somehow, I was expecting a bit more depth from this book. I breezed right through it; the storytelling is quick and vivid, the words flow easily. It\’s a book that can tear at your emotions and leave you closing the last page too quickly. I longed for just a bit more introspection, to slow me down and keep me immersed in the book longer. Yet I heartily admire the author for writing and sharing with all us readers what must have been a harrowing time in her life, and her complete honesty in sharing her ambivalent feelings and depression in the face of what many women would greet with unrestrained joy.

Rating: 3/5 ……. 194 pages, 2009

more opinions at:
Bermudaonion’s Weblog
Book Addiction

A Pediatrician Explores the Science, the History, and the Wonder of Childbirth
by Mark Sloan

I think this is my favorite yet of all the baby/pregnancy books I\’ve read so far this year. Pediatrician and father Mark Sloan examines the miracle of birth in all its myriad ways. There are so many subjects covered in his book, and they were all relevant and fascinating. Drawing on his personal experiences helping deliver babies, on the event of watching his own child being born, on medical studies and historical events, he delves into everything from how childbirth is managed to what the baby itself is experiencing. Some of the topics include: the role of fathers has changed throughout the centuries, how attitudes towards birth have changed through the centuries, methods of pain management, the infant\’s abilities right after being born, why we have evolved to need so much assistance giving birth (all other primates manage quite fine by themselves), and how newborn health is assessed. Of course, being written by a doctor who worked in a hospital there are quite a few alarming stories of births that go wrong, and lots of details that might tell you more than you ever wanted to know- but for the most part it\’s a very positive book. It also manages to be un-biased; even when discussing issues that can be controversial like circumcision, alternative birthing options, invasive procedures, the rise of cesarean sections, etc. he always presents the pros and cons quite fairly, leaving the reader to draw her own conclusions. I learned so much that I had never even wondered about before! Like how exactly a baby transitions from living in a dark, aquatic environment to suddenly breathing air and circulating its own blood, or what all those funny reflexes babies have are actually for. Birth Day is on the whole an intriguing, informative and wonderful book, not without plenty of humor as well.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 370 pages, 2009

more opinions at:
Enjoy Birth
Mari Reads

the Naked Truth About Pregnancy and Childbirth
by Jenny McCarthy

I don\’t really follow the doings of celebrities, or even recognize who they are half the time, so I had no idea who Jenny McCarthy was when I picked up her book to read. All I can tell you is she\’s rather funny. And blunt. In Belly Laughs she shares anecdotes about all the uncomfortable, embarrasing things about being pregnant that most people won\’t talk about (at least in public). The nausea, constipation, vivid dreams (mine are much weirder than hers!) mood swings, bloating, acne, etc. I haven\’t experienced all the things she mentioned (nor did she; some of the stories are of her friends) but recognized plenty of what she went through. It\’s nice to know you\’re not alone, and nice to be able to laugh about it. But the book doesn\’t give you much more than that. You can read it all in one sitting. The stories are all very short, and not very descriptive. I was expecting a little bit more. She uses lots of profanity and crude humor, so be forewarned, if those things offend you. It did get rather tiresome (as did the constant mentions of her celebrity lifestyle).

Rating: 2/5 …….. 165 pages, 2004

more opinions at:
Musings of a Bookish Kitty

A Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times
by Jennifer Worth

As a young nurse, Jennifer Worth moved into a convent in the 1950\’s, to become a midwife for the very poor. The dockside slums where she worked were dismal, squalid and packed full of humanity- many buildings were condemned and yet families with ten or more children often lived in just a few rooms. Birth control was non-existent, antibiotics barely making their appearance on the scene; doctors were mistrusted and the hospital setting feared. It was quite a different time period, and Worth really makes it come alive. Her storytelling is full of wonderful characters and descriptions of human suffering that will wring your heart. Two of the stories really moved me- I admit I literally cried tears when I read about the workhouse conditions that had rendered an old lady destitute with grief. And the family with twenty-four children (yes, twenty-four!) whose last baby was born under dangerous circumstances, very frail indeed, kept me breathless on my seat. I was amazed at that mother\’s love and tenderness for her child, even when her own life was in jeopardy.

There are darker sides, too. Neglect and ignorance, women beaten by their husbands, young girls forced into prostitution, children starving. To it all Worth brought her helping hand, sometimes extending herself beyond the call of duty. She absorbed the love of the nuns who taught her. On first arriving at the convent she (not being a religious sort) found the nuns and their way of life odd, perhaps even amusing, but throughout the book you see her attitude slowly changing towards them. It was just as intriguing to read about life in the convent as it was to read about her visits to patients; the book wasn\’t all entirely stories of childbirth as I rather expected. The Midwife is really about people, people doing their best and keeping their humor in the worst of circumstances.

I happened to really enjoy the appendix, where the author explains the Cockney dialect as its own language; it was very interesting and I enjoyed reading the sentences as they were written phonetically out loud, to see if I could figure out what they said before she explained it to me! It really added some extra flavor and depth.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 340 pages, 2002

More opinions at:
The Curious Reader
The Book Nest
Ardent Reader

an Ecologist\’s Journey To Motherhood
by Sandra Steingraber

Another excellent book about pregnancy, Having Faith is a sensitive memoir with a very scientific bent. (And it\’s not religious in nature; she named her daughter Faith, thus the title). Part of the book simply focuses on the author\’s experience being pregnant: what it\’s like to have morning sickness, mood swings, to face choosing between relief offered by the medical establishment during labor alongside the desire to avoid interventions and do it all naturally. Steingraber is a scientist herself, so at every stage of her pregnancy she contemplates the effects environmental toxins and pollution can have on the developing fetus. It gets very particular: why does a mother who takes thalidomide on one certain day have a baby born with no ears, a mother who takes it a few days later one born without arms? for example. The stories of birth defects caused by ignorance, indifference or simply unavoidable ingestion of toxins can be a bit horrifying, but at the same time this book did not leave me feeling frightened. If anything, it\’s very informative and really makes you think about what you\’re putting into your body. And the effects that environmental factors can have on a baby don\’t end when it\’s born, either. Steingraber asserts that since a baby in utero or a nursing child ingests everything the mother does, at even higher concentrations, human babies are the very top of the food chain and face the most dire consequences from environmental pollution. It\’s kind of scary how much is unknown about this subject (or at least was when the book was written) and to think of the pollutants that could be present in your breastmilk (could the best possible food for your new baby also be the most contaminated?) but again, I didn\’t find the issue highly alarming so much as just something to really consider and another motivation to eat healthier, organic foods. Aside from all that, the book is written with such insight, skill and even humor that it\’s a pleasure to read.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 342 pages, 2001

the Emotional Life of New Mothers
by Elisabeth Bing and Libby Colman

Written by a psychologist and the childbirth educator credited with introducing the Lamaze method to the US, this book deals with the emotional highs and lows of new motherhood. It is organized in stages, describing what new mothers might expect to experience during the first few hours after birth, the first several days with a newborn, the first six weeks and on up to a year. Discussed are not only the joys of being a new mom but also the stress, ambivalence and emotional turmoil that can accompany it, including things like feeling uncertain, changes in roles with your marriage partner, anger and frustration, etc. There\’s lots of helpful information on how to handle difficult emotions and when to recognize that you need help (such as in the case of postpartum depression). While most of the book is rather dry and clinical reading (I actually found it kind of boring) some quotes by new mothers sharing their own experiences help make it more personal and let new moms know that whatever they\’re experiencing, they\’re not alone. Laughter and Tears is a good resource to have.

Rating: 3/5 ……. 276 pages, 1997

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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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