katie's guide to labor: books 'bout bumps & birthin babies

Absolutely Necessary Disclaimer of Nonjudgment!
I am not a doctor. 
But I do play one on TV.
Just kidding, I don't play a doctor on TV. 
Unless you count that time in Reggie's basement with the video recorder... 
HAHAHA just kidding Mom!
I'm not, in any way, a doctor. Or a doula, midwife, or birth professional.
These books are ones I personally read about pregnancy, labor, and birth.
I have friends who agreed with me. 
I have friends who didn't.
Actually, if I'm being perfectly honest, I HAD friends who didn't agree with me. 
But they were obviously illiterate ass holes, so I cut them out of my life with surgical precision. 
Because I'm actually a doctor.*

*I am not a doctor.

When it comes to babies, labor, birth, and parenting, there's a lot of literary noise out there.

These are the books I read while pregnant, about being pregnant and preparing for a medication-free birth (the first time around because I wanted a home birth, the second time around because I lived in terror of not having enough time to get my epidural.)

Pregnancy Books

1. A Child is Born by Lennart Nilssen

Pro: An inside look at what the fuck is going on inside your belly while you're knocked up. A literal inside look. Gorgeous photographs.

Con: Reads like a textbook. That didn't bother me but if you're looking for a spunky narrative this ain't it.

This one is my favorite pregnancy book, and the one I'm most likely to share with girlfriends who are pregnant for the first time. I feel like 90% of the pregnancy-book market is made up of pithy, contemporary tomes with gross/hilarious anecdotes and lists of foods you should avoid. They deal mainly with what's happening TO you while you're pregnant. And that's important, sure. But this book discusses what's happening INSIDE you while you're pregnant, what's happening to the baby.

I also really enjoyed the bit about how pregnancy actually works - the miraculous journey of the little swimmer that could and the egg who traveled a thousand miles. It's been a long time since 7th-grade sex ed, and I'd forgotten the number of ways that conception can go wrong. I'd forgotten the intricate sequence of events that all have to go exactly right in order for a women to get knocked up and stay that way for 40 weeks. Guys, seriously, we are miraculous machines.

2. The Girlfriend's Guide to Pregnancy by Vicky Iovine

Pro: Spunky narrative. Informative about what a pregnant lady can expect. Made me laugh out loud numerous times. 

Con: The author, like most women who have written books like these, has a strong point of view about the "right" way to do things, and it's the way she did it. Feel free to disagree with her. 

This one is accessible, not too hysterical/panicky, informative, and casual. My one sticking point with this book was that the author advises that pregnant women don't bother working out while pregnant. I couldn't disagree more. I think her point is that you're going to gain weight no matter what, so don't go to the gym to try to stay hot while your body is actively sabotaging you. But there's a lot more to exercise than stunning features and chiseled abs. There's stress relief and mood stabilization, cardiovascular health, and maintaining baseline strength so you can recover from labor and delivery more quickly. It's good for you.


Pro: Lots of information. It's the one your aunts are most likely to give you, and you can find it for 50 cents in literally every Goodwill store in the country.

Con: This whole book is like one big red phone that never stops ringing. It's panicky and never misses an opportunity to tell you about this one time that something awful happened to one person and here's how you can avoid it: For the love of God don't wear blue shoes in weeks 32-35.

Sure, everyone reads this one. But you really don't have to. All of this information can be had from other, calmer, less screamy resources, or, say, your doctor. Pregnancy can be fraught and scary enough without reading books that plant worst-case-nightmare-scenarios in your head and then tell you how you can avoid them. The problem with that outlook is that, by stating that these scenarios are avoidable, the book is placing responsibility on the mother's shoulders. There's a lot of shit that can go wrong in a pregnancy, and almost no way to know if that shit was avoidable, and we are all just doing our fucking best, so butt out, What to Expect.

4. From the Hips by Rebecca Odes

Pro: Makes a point to represent a lot of points of view about pregnancy, labor, and parenting. You hear from tons of different moms who made different choices. It's also a good bathroom book - bright, quick blurbs, well-organized.

Con: It's not as fact-heavy as many other books. Deals mostly with subjective choices rather than black-and-white, so if you're looking for clarity and a roadmap, this one may not be what you're looking for. OR it might be exactly what you need to decide what YOUR roadmap is going to look like. 

This book is the paper version of a PEPS group. PEPS, for those of you not in Washington, stands for Program for Early Parenthood Support. New parents can sign up for a support group, and will get matched with other parents who live nearby, and who have children about the same age. The groups meet with a facilitator for a number of weeks to have structured meetings and discussions, and then have the choice to continue meeting more casually.

The best part about PEPS is that you get to meet a lot of people who are in the same boat, but who are steering that boat differently. You know 8 or 10 other families who are dealing with the same issues keeping you up and on BabyCenter all night long. You can ask questions and offer tips. That's what this book does. It gives you a breadth of solutions and options for your pregnancy and early parenthood.

Labor/Birth Books

1. Birthing from Within by Pam England

Pro: it is incredibly comforting, inspiring and encouraging to read other women's stories, and to feel like a member of the sisterhood.

Con: if you're a sarcastic smartass, you'll be eye-rolling so hard your face might get stuck that way.

We read this book in preparation for Chicken's birth, so while it might not technically be a "home birth manual," that's how I think about it. There's a lot of misty-woo-woo sacred rite of passage universal sisterhood stuff in here.

But if you're of the snark tribe, please hold up. There's a lot of good practical information in this book. FOR EXAMPLE! When you squeeze your partner's hand through a contraction, make sure you only take 2 or 3 fingers and not the whole hand. That's how fingers get broken. YOU'RE WELCOME.

2. Birth Book #1 by Sarah Blight

Pro: The last chapter has a good concise list of pain management techniques for non-medicated labor, and you can borrow this book for free in the Amazon Prime lending library if you have Prime.

Con: Every other chapter is judgmental and narrow and potentially hurtful to pregnant women who are vulnerable to feeling guilty about the choices they are making for their birth (PS that's all pregnant women at some point, by the way.)

I actually hated this book. I hated it. I found it absurdly one-sided. Thank God I didn't have to pay for it.

This book defined a "normal" birth as an intervention-free birth. So what, that makes me abnormal? Lucky for YOU I've been abnormal my entire life and I think it looks pretty good on me, thank you very much.

If you're a first-timer please don't let this crap in your kitchen. Please, please, please. Just don't even read it.

Hear this. There is no perfect way to bring a baby into the world. Or, wait, sorry, I meant to say that there are infinite perfect ways to bring a baby into the world: as long as you and the baby are both healthy and alive at the end of the day, you did it PERFECTLY.

So I hated this book. That being said, skip the first chapters - interviews with medical practitioners who subscribe to the author's theory that elective interventions are basically child abuse - and go right to the pain management chapter at the end. There were a number of useful tips there that I used during my labor.

3. Laboring Well by Elizabeth Allen

Pro: Insights from the point of view of an experienced Labor and Delivery nurse, tons of great information about the mechanics of birth as well as natural pain management techniques, and a measured perspective on what makes a birth successful.

Con: It's a self-published e-book, and grammatical errors abound. I found them wildly distracting until I reminded myself that the author is a medical expert and not a writer, and I'm reading this for information and not style. Kind of like a Dan Brown book, if Dan Brown were an expert in, well, anything really.

I think this one was my favorite birth book. Once I got over the misplaced modifiers and the the fact that the author is on permanent apostrophe safari, I found this book to be compassionate, thoughtful, and very informative. It's also quick read.

The best part of this book was the reminder that birth is more about product than process. The trend today seems to be focusing on the process of birth. We determine whether or not the birth was successful based on how closely the birth process stuck to whatever birth expectations we had going in.  This nurse has a more clinical approach to defining a successful birth: is the mother healthy? Is the baby healthy? Wheeeee! Success!

While I think it's completely fair for pregnant women to have requests, ideas, and hopes for their births, I also think it's so incredibly sad for women to berate themselves for changing horses in mid-stream, so to speak - thinking on their feet and changing the plan in mid-labor to address an unforeseen issue. We all make the choices we need to make in the moments we need to make them. Don't feel bad. You did great. You're going to do great. Just remember: product, not process.

Did you read something that helped you? Did you read something that really completely sucked? Feel free to comment and share!


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