July 2004

Jen Crispin


Our Bodies, Our Selves

Having a few duplicate books to trade in for credit, I made my first foray into the pregnancy section at Borders this month. At first I was impressed by the size of it, and the sheer number of books it contained. But it didn't take very much time scanning titles to realize how derivative most of them were. At least three different books for Being Buff During Pregnancy! and two for Your Pampered Pregnancy! Nearly a billion What To Expect When You're Expecting rip-offs. Dozens of pregnancy books apparently by your personal girlfriends ("We'll tell you how it really is!" they enthuse. I suppose all the other books are lying?). Two books on Your Vegetarian Pregnancy and a handful of books for Hapless Dads. No books on assisted reproductive technologies, no books on non-standard, non-heterosexual couples trying to achieve pregnancy. A few books on being pregnant with multiples, but none on What to Expect When You're Expecting Octuplets Because Your Fertility Treatments Went Haywire. Though I suppose that last one is a niche market.

I have to admit, the Hapless Dad books amuse me. Personally, I want to see a Hapless Mom book. I imagine the title could be something like, So, You're Knocked Up? Or something involving expletives. But what concerned me was that there were no non-hapless dad books. At least not in my store. So I wondered, are all dads hapless? Are there bits of knowledge that I take for granted that boys just don't know because they were at recess when the girls were having their menstruation lecture in grade school?

So in the shower this morning I tried to devise a question. It had to be something general enough that there would be some reason for a guy to know it, but not so basic that they could figure it out from their freshman biology course. Finally I asked my husband, "At what stage of pregnancy is it common for a woman to experience morning sickness?" He pondered for only a moment, then started talking about vascular development of the placenta, and how it had to do with increased blood flow. (Though for the record, he was unclear on which weeks of pregnancy this stage of development represented.)

Clearly, not all dads are hapless. Where's the book for them? For the obsessive-compulsive dad all so common on TV and in movies? For the need to know it all dad? For the dad who just truly wants to understand exactly what is happening to the mother of his child? Clearly, there is a hole in the market. Someone needs to make a manual, with huge, full-color illustrations. Call it The Nuts and Bolts of Pregnancy. It will make millions, I swear.

Anyway, I have to say the only book that really tempted me at all was a book on How to Choose the Sex of Your Baby! The back of the book claims a 75% success rate, and I admit I had a hard time putting the book down. Now I'm not going to lie to you and tell you that "As long as the baby is healthy, we'll be happy," (though I suppose in the end we will). I'll admit right up front that I want a girl, I want a girl, I want a girl. I fully expect to cave in and buy this book sometime in the next six months, even if I have to hide it and read it in secret so my husband doesn't know what I'm planning.

In the end I didn't buy any pregnancy books, but went home with copies of Ulysses and Founding Brothers instead. Instead I went back to flipping through Our Bodies, Ourselves for the New Century. I'd almost forgotten that I owned it, until I found myself in a debate about why women on the pill have to have annual Pap smear. Our Bodies, Ourselves was the only place I could find the answer. (The Pap smear checks for cervical cancer, which has been linked to pill use in a few studies.) Ever since then I've found myself picking it up and looking up different issues. Now this isn't a book that you can read all the way through. Or at least, I can't. After a few pages its hippy-dippy, all-inclusive, positive-energy-ness starts to get to me and I have to put it down. But it's not too long before I pick it up again and flip to another chapter.

Our Bodies, Ourselves is a fantastic general reference to the female body. Unfortunately, the chapter on pregnancy is disappointingly short, though the chapter on childbirth is absolutely fabulous. I am now even more determined to have a home birth. My husband, however, still thinks that this is a crap idea. I guess I should make him read this chapter next. It's got information on water births, home births, nurses, midwives, and doulas, all kinds of gory details on hospital births and possible procedures, and tons of fairly cheesy 1970s photos of women giving birth, which are actually fascinating and very reassuring. And because it's the hippy-dippy Our Bodies, Ourselves, there are stories from poor moms, rich moms, gay moms, straight moms, moms of all races... birth stories from different countries, easy births and scary births. But my favorite stories (and there are several like this) are like: la la la, i baked a cake and then took a nap on the couch and then woke up and delivered the baby. Whee! Sign me up for that birth plan.

In the meantime, thanks for all the emails and stories and book recommendations. Keep them up! But don't just tell me about the good books, I want to know about the awful ones too. What was the worst book anyone ever gave you while pregnant? What made it so terrible? Send all horror stories to greenie@over-the-rainbow.com.

Our Bodies, Ourselves by Boston Women's Health Book Collective
Touchstone Books
ISBN: 0684842319
780 Pages