Tuesday, January 25, 2011

There's something to be said for Mother's Intuition

January 12 was the day that I found out I was pregnant. On January 13, I hit the books.

I read every book, magazine, blog, article and review that I could get my hands on. I had an insatiable appetite for information relating to pregnancy that continued right up to the day I gave birth. The first book that I sought out was the only one that I'd ever heard of...the legendary bible of pregnancy and birth: What to Expect When You're Expecting by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Hazel. However, after thumbing through a couple chapters, I politely slid the book back onto the shelf. First of all, it is American and so it contains a lot of information regarding hospital bills and American medical statistics that are totally irrelevant to me. Also- I knew immediately that I wanted to have my primary neo-natal care provided by a midwife and since midwifery is still just a shade above witchcraft in much of the American medical arena, there wasn't much information about it in this so-called pregnancy bible. The main thing that turned me off the book was the focus on what could go wrong. It's filled with headings and sidebars that read "Danger", "Warning" and "Watch out for...". While it's absolutely true that an expectant mother ought to be cautious, it's also important to focus on the positive. Although I believe it is also important that pregnant women educate themselves on common problems so that you're not face with a lot of medical jargon at an inopportune time (such as in the L&D room), I also know that the overwhelming majority of pregnancies are healthy, routine aspects of regular life.

Okay, so we all know I skipped the "bible"...so what was I reading then? A lot. "What to Expect..." is not the only book on the shelf, mamas. I've written some short reviews of books that really stood out to me for pregnancy, post-pardem and dads, too.

For Pregnancy:

1. Gentle Birth Choices by Barbara Harper

This was the first book about pregnancy and birth that I read. Barbara Harper is a major advocate for midwifery, home birth and water birth- so this book was perfect for me because I was interested in all three things. What I especially enjoyed about this book was the history of midwifery and how birth was essentially taken away from women and handed over to the medical profession in the late 19th century. There are also a lot of startling statistics about the rate of cesarean sections in North America: about 1 in 4. My favourite passage in the book is where Harper comments that every woman alive today is a product of thousands of years of successful childbirth and as such, it is absurd to think that 25% of us can't deliver babies. The book also comes with a DVD film which documents the labour and delivery of several women at home, birthing centers and in hospital.

2. Your Best Birth by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein.

Okay, so I didn't have high hopes for this book. I mean, come on, Ricki Lake?? Well, colour me surprised because I love love loved this book! I read it in a day and a half from cover to cover. Yes, it's American, but it covers natural and medical labours, home and hospital deliveries as well as vaginal and cesarean deliveries. The book relates to the documentary that Ricki and Abby made together regarding pregnancy and birth called "The Business of Being Born", which is an excellent film that I also recommend you check out.

3. The Birth Partner: Everything You Need to Know to Help a Woman through Childbirth by Penny Simkin

Penny Simkin is the stuff of legend. An author, birth coach and doula for over 40 years- she's right up there with Ina May Gaskin in terms of her wealth of knowledge and expertise in the field of midwifery. This book is not only for the birth partner (be it your doula, your mother, your baby's father) but it is also for the mother, herself. There is a ton of info on how to cope with labour pain, different positions to try, etc. This was my mother's fave book, she whipped through it in no time and was absolutely indispensable to me during my labour.

4. The Big Book of Birth by Erica Lyon

This was the last book that I read before I delivered and I couldn't have timed it better if I had planned it. I bought it for $5 from the bargain section at Indigo and it ended up being my favourite book on pregnancy and birth. It goes through every stage of labour in detail and includes personal accounts of women in labour. Any scenario you could imagine is included in this book- which I found very enlightening and inspiring. As I was only a few days away from delivering my son, my emotions were running wild and reading the stories of these women where they described the unimaginable love they felt for their babies had me shedding more than a couple tears. This was the book that I felt myself referencing back to when I was in labour. Perhaps it was because it was the last one I read, but more likely it was because it prepares a woman so well for labour, this was my favourite pregnancy book.

For Dads:

5. Don't Just Stand There: How to be Helpful, Clued-in, Supportive, Engaged and Relevant in the Delivery Room by Jon Lichtenstein and Elissa Stein

W read a few father-geared books during my pregnancy- mostly when he was in the bathroom. He wasn't crazy about the majority of them because they generally focus on how to "deal" with your emotional basket-case of a pregnant wife and what he was looking for was a check-list of things to do to make my life easier. He found it with this book. Literally. There is a check-list in the back pages where you fill in the music your wife wants to hear, phrases that will help her, things to never ever say when she is in labour, people she wants called after the birth, etc. He loved the book and we renewed it twice from the library. I enjoyed reading it as well- it was funny and helpful and focused more on the well-being of the pregnant mother than on the finances of the father-to-be, as so many other books do.

For Post-pardem/Parenthood

6. The Baby Book by Dr William Sears M.D and Martha Sears R.N

The Sears' hit another home run with this book. The subheading reads "Everything you need to know about your baby from birth to age two" and I have found myself referencing it almost daily. It's a huge book and covers everything from nursing positions to making your own baby food to choosing a diaper style and handling baby's first cold. There is a very handy quick reference guide for typical illnesses your baby may suffer from that lets you know what can be treated at home and what requires a visit to the family doc. The Sears' specialize in attachment parenting, which stresses contact and bonding with your baby as well as babywearing, co-sleep and never letting your baby "cry it out". So if that is what you're into, then this book is a keeper.

7. The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems: Sleeping, Feeding and Behaviour - Beyond the Basics from Infancy Through Toddlerhood by Tracy Hogg

This has to be the #1 most recommended book for me. Everyone I talked to about parenting my dear baby, especially in the early days, told me to read this book. The dearly departed Tracy Hogg knew babies and she knew how to get a routine set in place and make it work. The book teaches parents how to read a baby's cues to set up sleep and feeding schedules. I have found that a lot of her suggestions are very sensible and easy to follow although I personally find that getting overly attached to any schedule tends to set you up for disaster when it doesn't work out.

So there you have it folks- my book recommendations from pregnancy to birth and beyond. I'm going to share some words of wisdom that my midwife passed on to me. In the early days following the birth of my son, I was really, really struggling just to get from one day to the next. During one of my home visits, I was telling her how I never know when he's had enough to eat which was a constant source of anxiety for me and one book says to never time feedings and another one lists minimum feed times per breast and how confusing it all was. She told me that years and years ago, women used their intuition to care for their babies and while it is good to have resources like the Internet and books, relying on them too heavily is what has caused women to mistrust their own instincts. She said to me, "Listen, you may not be an expert on babies, but you are an expert on HIM". That one sentence is the best advice anyone has ever given me regarding parenthood. You can read every word ever published on the subject, but no one knows your baby as well as you do. No one knows your body as well as you do. No one can tell you how to be a mother; it is something you have to discover within yourself.

Happy reading, mamas. A pre-natal education IS a must- but remember that at the end of the day, no one knows dear baby quite like you do.

Diadima xo

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