Week 21: Reading While Pregnant

And then I remembered how storytelling is the root of all matriarchal cultures. How it has always been a source of wisdom and magic and witchery.
— Home/Birth: a poemic

In my 21st week of pregnancy, anxiety smacks me in the face every time I think about how much I have neglected writing and reading. I say all the time how much I love both, and how much I need both to feel fulfilled. In reality, over past couple years, I have resigned reading and writing to if-I-have-time activities. As I draw closer to this due date (something that feels like a deadline for so many things), I am trying to make the most of each in my life, working them in somehow to make them a habit.

A symptom of this stage in my pregnancy is a craving of sustenance all…the...time. Before you expect me to list off the foods I’ve been demanding at all hours of the day, I am referring to things that are less about calories and taste buds, and more about information and education. Think pieces, stories, podcasts, and research are all fascinating me. I want more.

Musically, I crave “voices of a generation,” political energy and controversy. I find myself googling analyses of Kendrick Lamar’s Damn. I watch the live stream of Lady Gaga’s Coachella performance on YouTube well into 1:00 a.m. feeling baby kick in either fear or approval (who can say?).

Reading my favorite gossip blog, Lainey Gossip, provides me with a certain level of higher order thinking that I haven’t had before, because it succeeds in weaving social criticism regarding feminism, racism, and politics with pop culture in ways you might not think possible. It also makes me feel less vapid about knowing the details of Johnny Depp’s divorce.

Never have I been this much of a sucker. And, never before have I been okay with it simply because, again, I crave information. No one said it had to be good, useful, helpful... The benefit, of course, is that there is much that I have read between the muck that leaves me feeling like I have more knowledge in me. And for some reason that feels important right now.

How often are we reminded of all the great books we should read (here’s another reminder and here)? Does anyone actually accomplish reading them all? Like, every book on every list out there? It seems both possible and impossible at the same time. When thinking about the birth of my child as a deadline, there is so much pressure to get all things done as if that is even possible (sometimes, I think I can). By giving in to this way of thinking, the benefit is a sense of urgency that I welcome gladly. The downside: what happens once I get to this “deadline” … and the inevitable things I don’t get to before said deadline?

I’m trying my best not to feed into the idea of baby equaling end of “you” as you know it. I expect the seasoned mothers out there to roll eyes. Maybe that isn’t fair, but I can only speak to my experiences, and my experiences lately have involved said “seasoned mothers” telling newbie me that I “cannot do _________” or to “enjoy ____________ while you can.” Baby, then, finds a way into my psyche of becoming a dread. Which, should I admit to these same people, would follow with affirmations of what a blessing and how much better my life will be after baby too. Both awful and blessed at the same time is the message, and that message is very confusing.

What am I trying to say with all this? Clearly, I’m trying my best to reject this expected reality that motherhood imposes on us women. If I can look into my “mirror” and still recognize me, after baby, while also a mother, that is the goal. The question: am I naïve or are they jaded? I’m sure it can be both.

This is how I feel sometimes when I think about my decision to have a home birth. For a certain crowd, the reaction to this statement is a pretty mild, non-reaction. As if saying, I am going to go to Ralphs instead of Vons for my groceries. For others, I’ve heard a gamut of euphemisms for “Are you crazy? Don’t answer that. You’re crazy, you just don’t know it. But you will.”

 Read on for 5 book recommendations on pregnancy and childbirth. 

Read on for 5 book recommendations on pregnancy and childbirth. 

Now that I am immersed in the “home birth” world, it’s becoming more normalized to me, but that doesn’t mean there are more people out there that think it’s normal. I have a midwife and her assistant who will help me birth my child in my home. She also manages my prenatal care at a facility called Babies in Bloom. I have a doula who will help my husband and I throughout my labor. We are in a nine-week long natural child birthing class led by a woman who coincidentally had a home birth with my midwife. We had our twenty-week ultrasound at a facility that I believe is a home zoned for business.

My decision to take this alternative route isn’t due to religious ideology, finances or insurance concerns, prior experiences (this being is my first birth), or even some rebellious impulse in me to be different or subversive. To really pinpoint the root of my decision would mean for me to go back to 2011 and a time when reading brought me knowledge I didn’t expect or ask for, but can’t help but think allowed me to satisfy some craving I didn’t know I had.

In 2011, I attended a Writer’s Conference in Chicago. Together with one of my best friends, we volunteered to sit in shifts at our old professor’s booth for her small press, 1913. During a lull, we’d flip through the pages of poetry collections and works of translations, but really the chaos made it impossible for me to really read anything. It was with this complete lack of knowledge, and my tendency for judging a book solely by the cover, that I acquired Home/Birth by Rachel Zucker and Arielle Greenberg.  

At the time, I was 24 years old and not at all in a place where I was thinking about having children, let alone having any awareness that there were options for how to birth your child. Prior to this moment, the seeds of my feminism were buried in me somewhere, sure, but I can’t quite say it at all resembled a plant…

I read the whole book on the plane ride home, without having any prejudgments or expectations for what I was reading. Before picking up Home/Birth, if someone asked me if anyone today had births at home, I might have placed these women in third-world countries who had no other options, or the small Amish sects that exist in our own country. It was something done in the past because, again, I believed, it was the only option, and since modern technology and improvements in medicine, there was no need and ultimately, the world, babies and mothers were better for it.

Home/Birth turned that belief system so deeply wired in me on its head. It is not a book for pregnant women. This book is a feminist manifesto, even for those who may be turned off by this “f” word. In picking up the book, I thought I’d read some poems about childbirth or motherhood. Once I put it down, I felt a revolution growing inside me. If anything, the book should be first appreciated for its innovative form. The two authors, both poets, one a doula and the other pregnant with her second child and preparing for a home birth, have a conversation with one another that reads effortlessly. So many times I wasn’t sure who was speaking, but it didn’t matter, I couldn’t get enough and I inhaled its data and research as easily as their lyrical cadences. Simply put Home/Birth is a discussion between women about women and how our current healthcare system and society handle women using pregnancy and childbirth as its focal point. Sure, there is bias. This is not an objective book, but it doesn’t paint itself to be one. It shouldn’t be one. Again, it’s a protest. But, in its protest, it offered me a perspective I never even knew I needed. 

I intended on giving this book an appropriate and well-deserved book review. I don’t think that’s necessary. The book has been out of print for some time, but was re-issued recently and is available for $15.00. One of its authors is offering the PDF version online with a suggested price of $7.50 in hopes of increasing its accessibility to all who may wish to read it. There is much to be said, but really, any woman should read it. One review said the book is full of “triggers” which is an apt point worth noting, but with the caveat that these triggers are often common experiences pregnant women endure and just are not able to freely talk about. It’s honest and raw, which isn’t always welcome. Let’s start asking ourselves why that is so.

“... Home/Birth lets you in on a conversation, a most important conversation, between friends, between women, between a woman and herself. It feels like the ancestor midwives are listening in, too, chiming in with reassurance, stories, outrage, wisdom. In a culture that so often silences this conversation with fear and shame and smiles and nods, Greenberg and Zucker sustain it through the interruptions and soundbites, including them in the discourse but never letting them shut it down. Like birth itself, this conversation is not linear or predictable; it is messy and real and powerful, and a gift to be privy to. ‘We haven’t even begun to talk about…’ is one of the book’s refrains, but there’s so very much here.”

—Jennifer Block, author of Pushed


5 Pregnancy & Childbirth Books You Don’t Know About Yet, But Should


The following books are ones I’ve read either before or during my pregnancy that came to me in various ways. You already know how I found Home/Birth. Birthing From Within was suggested by my midwife (and others), Ina May’s book and The Natural Pregnancy Book were shared with me by my sister-in-law who is completing her Naturopathic Doctor Program at Bastyr and read them while in her program, and the Jillian Michaels book probably popped up sometime on my Facebook feed. All in some way have helped inform me throughout my pregnancy, and hopefully one or all will have a similar positive effect on you.    

 

1.  Home/Birth by Rachel Zucker and Arielle Greenberg

I already touched on all the reasons to read this book, but do want to add an addendum. In the past, after reading this book, I said that I would never recommend this book to a woman who was pregnant. I used to say a lot of things…and I guess the concept of wanting to protect pregnant women from what “could happen” was what motivated my thinking. But as a pregnant woman who prefers to be as informed as possible, I welcome this book for its candor about so many of the things we don’t talk about openly.

2.  Birthing From Within by Pam England, CNM, MA & Rob Horowitz, Ph.D.

Hypnobirthing is a method of child birthing that I’ve seen pop up a lot. Basically, Lamaze class is so out, and hypnobirthing is in. While I have not opted to go the hypnobirthing route for my own childbirth class preference, this book does touch on pain control and mental preparation required to help feel empowered during the birthing process. This book is accessible, not too touchy feely, hippy dippy (which scares off some people), and is not avoidant when it comes to fear and pain. Rather than ignoring these realities of childbirth, it encourages facing these fears we have as a means for strength.

3.  Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin

I’ve heard Ina May described as the “mother of midwifery” for her dedication and experience within the field. She’s well-known by all in the natural medicine, midwifery, and doula world, which is very well the reason why I had probably never heard of her before. This book provides a full picture of the world of childbirth from sharing birth stories to walking you through the stages of labor. It isn’t an overview book in the sense that it just runs through the checklist of “what to expect,” she spends time explaining what is happening to your body, to you mentally, how the midwife or caregiver approaches each stage or situation, and what is happening with the child. Easy to read but the information is so helpful all the same.

4.  The Natural Pregnancy Book by Aviva Jill Romm

While this isn’t necessarily a read-from-cover-to-cover kind of book, I have relied on it regularly to check in on symptoms and solutions throughout my pregnancy. This book walked me through physical changes to look out for during each trimester (so I wouldn’t be too taken aback or worried when something came up), and also was a helpful guide for pesky problems like heartburn and colds with herbal or dietary remedies. If you’re trying to approach your pregnancy care as natural/organic as possible, this book gives you the tools to do just that. There are also tips regarding exercise and massages that are nice to have available. 

5.  Yeah Baby! by Jillian Michaels

This is probably the most mainstream of all the above books and one I hesitated to recommend. However, it was one of the first pregnancy books I purchased and it has informed me about a lot of things I’m still incorporating in my daily activities today. While there are opinions in this book that I don’t fully agree with, and the meal plan she suggests is pretty limited, I do really like the workout schedule with visual guides she has created. Also, her dietary recommendations as a general guideline were helpful in the early stages of my pregnancy to make sure I was being as healthy as possible in my first trimester before meeting with my care provider and eventually working with a midwife. I also think Jillian Michaels is a bit of a bad ass and her perspective writing this book as a woman who has not birthed a child, but whose partner did, is one I hadn’t heard from before.