Friday, October 30, 2009

Good in Bed (Jennifer Weiner)

So the other weekend we were out for a walk on a beautiful fall day, and I wanted to swing by the library to pick up a book I had on hold. But I didn't have my library card. Which meant that instead of using the self-checkout machine, I'd have to hand my book to an actual librarian to check out. And so I handed her the copy of Jennifer Weiner's Good in Bed. It shows considerable self-growth that I was only a little bit embarrassed by this. One, there's the title, and two, it's definitely chick-lit, not high brow in any sense. But I've come to realize that my definition of a good book is simple: one that you don't want to put down. And that's exactly what this book was.

Cannie, the main character, finds out that her ex has started writing a column in a women's magazine about her (titled Good in Bed). Horrified, this sets off a chain of events that include taking part in a weight loss study, befriending a famous celebrity, becoming pregnant, and reconciling with her mother's lesbian partner. I'm not going to say anything more about the plot because in trying to explain the whole thing to Jim, he was practically rolling on the floor laughing in disbelief. But the book is well-written, with fully developed characters. The very-dramatic-thing-that-must-happen in these kinds of books is a little too dramatic for me, and I did notice that the main character in this book and the main character in her third book, Little Earthquakes, have a lot of similarities (and similarities to the author), but that didn't make either book less entertaining to read. (I read Little Earthquakes this past summer, and also very much enjoyed it.)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Not So Common Knowledge

I've had some intense memories this fall. Every small event (the first sweet corn of the season, the first sign of leaves changing color, the first early morning tailgaters for the UW football games) reminds me of what I had been doing that time last year, and each memory seems to end with "and I was very pregnant." I'm not sure if it's because I'm getting so close to Noah's first birthday or if it's because it was until August last year that I really started paying attention to the whole pregnancy thing. I do remember, though, sometime in July or August of last year deciding that we needed to learn how to take care of this baby and that experts had written books about these things, so we better get learning quick.

I actually wanted to write a wrap-up of the books I had read during pregnancy back when I was on maternity leave, but, as it happened (surprise, surprise), I never managed to get it done. This is probably for the best as, after a full 10 months of learning on the job, I now have a different, fuller, perspective.

I chose the books I read based mainly on (a) what was available at the library, (b) what seemed to be popular on Amazon, and (c) what the pregnant woman at the gym who always was riding the stationary bike in the row in front of me was reading (she was about 6 weeks or so ahead of me).

I did not read What to Expect When You're Expecting (even though this was the book the doctor's office gave me during what I like to call my Orientation to Pregnancy). The illustration on the cover portrays a woman looking quite dour in her expectant situation, which gives me the impression there are not joyful things in these pages. (The publisher must have gotten word of the unpopular cover because they updated the 2008 edition.) I also had heard that the tone of the book, and the broad scope, covering many rare and emergency situations, could easily make readers worry more than they needed to. What I read instead was Body, Soul, Baby by Tracy Gaudet, an OB who works in integrated medicine. I loved this book for presenting a balanced look at pregnancy. Gaudet is fairly conservative in her recommendations on herbal medicines but is very open to alternative therapies. This book focuses more on the journey of pregnancy, providing a general manual (although not comprehensive) for the nine months and postpartum period. She does highlight possible complications, but it's not the focus and she often states how rare these circumstances are.

I did find through my reading that the "normal procedures" of labor and delivery presented in each book vary based on date of publication. Much has changed (for the better) over the past 5-10 years and procedures vary by region and even by hospital. We were lucky that our hospital provided a six-week comprehensive course so that we could learn their procedures, and it is also one of the few certified baby and family friendly hospitals in the nation.

I was determined to prepare for a natural birth, and so I read Birthing from Within, Calm Birth, and Hypnobirthing (although I did not follow the Hypnobirthing program, I was curious to read about it). These three books presented completely different techniques and mindsets for labor. Calm Birth I'm going to completely skip over because it was written by a doctor who really should have considered having a coauthor (writing was not his strong point), and while the central message of the book was strong (meditation is good for both baby and mother), it read awkwardly. Birthing from Within is more of an eye-of-the-tiger kind of approach to birth, a true "get in touch with your inner, animal self, unleash the moans and cries of pain and embrace them" kind of thing. Hypnobirthing focuses on the concept that "pain" is a taught sensation for the process of labor and that we need to rethink this mindset. The meditation exercises in Hypnobirthing were very helpful, but I also very much appreciated Birthing from Within's general message, so somehow these incredibly different approaches both worked for me.

I also exercised throughout the entire pregnancy, and was concerned especially about modifying my strength training and abdominal exercises. Maternal Fitness adopted the somewhat defensive, angry tone not unfamiliar to many pregnancy books (the the-doctors-are-so-not-right-in-what-they're-telling-you-to-do tone), but it did provide some good back and abdominal exercises. Expecting Fitness was the better of these two books, with more exercises and adaptations.

Jim and I both read The Happiest Baby on the Block by Dr. Harvey Karp, and found it to be extremely helpful with the swaddling and shushing techniques. In fact, Jim would rate this book as one of the top two most important baby books to read (more on the other one below).

On the feeding front, many people recommended The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding to me (which is a LaLeche league book). I'm not sure there is anything more confusing than trying to figure out the mechanics of breastfeeding before you actually have a baby you are breastfeeding. I think reading this book helped me feel calmer about the prospect, but I have to say that it also angered me in some ways. The section on returning to work should have really been subtitled "Are you sure you really want to?" because its general thesis seemed to be against it. Giving actual advice on pumping schedules, etc., would have been more helpful.

One thing I learned quickly after Noah was born was that there is no topic new mothers want to talk more about than that of infant sleep. And for understandable reasons since no one is really sleeping in those first few months (or longer). I had read the No-Cry Sleep Solution while pregnant, but of course it made little sense to me then, and I promptly forgot everything in it. This approach, touted as a calmer, gentler way to change your baby's sleep habits, compared with other approaches, would not have worked for us. Inadvertently, we found out by reading Ferber's Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems that everything we were doing in an attempt for Noah to sleep better had trained him to sleep poorly. Ferber unfortunately gets a bad reputation by those who have not read his book (they label his approach "cry it out," which it is not). But we found it to be full of science, and after coming up with a game plan to retrain Noah's sleep, he was sleeping better in less a week, as were we, and everyone was happy. (This would be the second most important book for Jim, as mentioned above.)

I remember being at the solstice service last December at the Unitarian society, a tiny one-month Noah asleep in his car seat, watching light, powdery snow falling in the night sky behind us. During the service, candles were passed and lit, while everyone focused on something that happened during the past year they would like forgiveness for. I immediately thought of how I had read parenting/baby care books like I was cramming for a final test, how I thought I knew the correct answers, and how I quietly, secretly, judged most parents I saw in action on a daily basis. I now understood how wrong I was. The day Noah was born, it was like I had been dropped off in a remote village that spoke a foreign language, and I had to become fluent just by getting by every day. After a moment of silence, the minister asked everyone to then let those thoughts go and blow out their candles. And with that, we began again. A little more fluent, a little more wise, a lot more ready to leave most of those books on the shelves.