Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Great "Expectations"?

After finding out I was pregnant, one of the first things I did was make sure I got a copy of the so-called pregnancy bible, What to Expect When You're Expecting. 

Now in its fourth edition, it has sold over 16 million copies, at least according to the flag on the cover. It also has spawned several related books, including What to Expect Before You're Expecting, Eating Well When You're Expecting, and What to Expect the First Year. It was written primarily by Heidi Murkoff, a layperson who was frustrated by the lack of pregnancy books available that addressed all of her concerns. She conceived the book and delivered the proposal hours before delivering her first child, and has now developed that proposal into an empire of books, websites and even smartphone apps. According to USA Today, What to Expect is read by 93% of all women who read a pregnancy book. Wow.

However, this book is not a complete success story. It has been criticized for being alarmist, judgmental, and needlessly detailed. Some of these criticisms are gentle; some border on vitriolic. Case in point: this review from the Huffington Post, recently sent to me by my sister-in-law:

Huffington Post What to Expect

Umm... yikes! This reviewer not only despises the book, but actually accuses Heidi Murkoff of spawning a generation of paranoid parents, who have gone forth and multiplied in the world and the World Wide Web, to pass their own alarmist judgement onto the next generation of innocent new mothers.

To this reviewer, and to all new mothers out there reading this book, I say, "Lighten up!"

Yes, being newly pregnant is scary. From the day the double pink lines appear on the stick, your life changes completely. The early worries about the health of your body and your growing fetus grow into bigger worries and burdens. Can we afford the extra expense? Should we find out if its a boy or a girl? I don't know how to diaper! I don't know how to bathe, swaddle or breastfeed! And wait, we're supposed to pick a name that this child will carry around for the rest of his/her life? AHHH!

But mothers- and book reviewers- we all must relax. Pregnancy, childbirth and raising children has been going on since Eve, and I'm pretty sure she didn't have a copy of What to Expect hidden away in the Garden of Eden. We live in an age of over-information, over-stimulation, and more knowledge than we can process, mentally or emotionally. Recognizing this is the first step to understanding that all information needs to be taken with a grain of salt and an ounce of perspective. In fact, in contrast to the Huffington Post reviewer, I actually think Murkoff does a good job of keeping that perspective. For every concerned question ("I'm 12 weeks pregnant and shocked to find I'd already gained 13 pounds!") there's an equal but opposite question ("I'm in my second trimester and haven't gained any weight at all"). Yes, there are some very scary chapters. I suggest not reading the one on miscarriages unless you're at serious risk. But the book is informative and helpful. It's up to the reader to choose which things to be concerned about and which to pass over, and to keep a healthy emotional distance.

As a first time pregnant woman, am I worried about things I've never had to worry about before? Yes. But am I going to let it take over my life? No. And frankly, if you're going to let a book do that to you, you're giving it way too much power. (I'm talking to you, Huffington Post reviewer.)

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