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.


Unknown said...

Not So Common Sense reminded me of the doctor who took care of us and delivered our first born. This man also routinely made house calls. And his first visit to our little apartment was a get acquainted call that he initiated. He wrote a monthly newsletter called Uncommon Sense with truly helpful information, some of it contrary to the party line of the day.

As for judging others based on my own limited experience, it's taken me a while to put a damper on that routine. I like the old saying about walking a mile in their moccasins. Currently I'm having a great time in some "moccasins" I never tried before. I am thoroughly enjoying the adrenalin-junkie world of the fire and rescue boys and girls, where we, yes we, actually look forward to that radio popping and calling us out onto the street.

And now that I'm one full week into an EMT course (medical terminology), I am discovering what it feels like to try to get a grip on an impossible amount of information in a very short time. (300 page textbook - three week course - pass or fail) Can someone help me define percutaneous nephrolithotomy?

Am I bragging or complaining? Hey! I'm having a great time.

K. Lauver said...

I'm glad that you commented on the books you read during pregnancy. I'm still going to look into Ferber. I totally agree about The Womanly Art. Right now I am reading Your Baby and Child: From Birth to Age Five, and I love it. I can literally watch Evelyn go through the various milestones, and it helps me know what to look for. It was given to me by Aaron's step-mom who had twins. I find it very comprehensive, plus the 80's baby pictures are fun.