Monday, March 4, 2013

Good Resources for Expectant Moms

I love talking about birth. It kind of freaked me out when I was pregnant, but now I seriously love hearing how each baby I meet entered the world. I especially love natural birth stories. I was sharing a brief version of Samantha’s birth story (the full version can be found here) with some friends, and a mom of two recently asked me how I knew “all this stuff” about alternative options for birth. My answer was quite simple: my incredible sister has seven children, two of whom were born at home. Throughout my pregnancy, she patiently fielded all of my questions and gently provided guidance, support, and information. I was also able to talk freely with my mom about her personal experiences “back in the day.” Between these two awesome women, I was able to educate myself about the birth experience the way women *used* to – by learning from their mothers, sisters, aunts, and cousins, instead of from doctors with whom they had no prior relationship. But I realize that I had a unique opportunity, and most women nowadays don’t have quite that network of women.

There are literally thousands of resources out there now to help guide women through conception, pregnancy, birth, and motherhood. This is both a good and bad thing. It is fantastic that there is information available in books and on the internet, but with so much information out there, a lot of it seems to contradict each other. Especially when your brain is flooded with pregnancy hormones, it is difficult to filter through all the differing opinions of what is “best” and make a decision based on what is best for you and your baby.

However, I think it is extremely important for women to educate themselves about this incredibly special occasion. Most women spend (significantly) more time researching and preparing for their wedding day than they do for their birth experience. Of course, weddings are important events, but birth is the act of bringing another human being into the world – it is THE most important event (at least, in my opinion). So, just like most of us wouldn’t hand over all the details of our wedding to an “expert” (wedding planner, well-organized friend, whatever) without at least getting the chance to veto the floral design or express our wishes for the meal, we shouldn’t just go blindly into birth and assume that everything the experts (doctors, midwives, nurses, whatever) want to do is what is best for you. None of these people are experts on you and your baby.

I would like to advocate here for women (and their partners) to make informed decisions and be actively involved in the birth process. Disclaimer: I am by no means trying to invalidate the experience of those who did not have natural births (whether by choice or by chance). I believe each woman needs to seriously consider what is best for her and her baby, and to make decisions based upon that information. That said, I also believe that our bodies are designed to birth babies – without medical intervention – the majority of the time. I believe that pregnancy and birth are not illnesses to be treated and managed by doctors on a schedule, but are experiences designed to transition a woman into motherhood. These experiences are not easy, will rarely fit into a perfect time table, and will, ultimately bring forth two new beings: the baby, and the mother. It is the most awesome, terrifying, and empowering experience a person can have.

Anyway, because I am always interested in discussing birth with anyone who will listen, I have often been asked for recommendations on the various books and resources that I have found helpful. I did a lot of reading and internet searching while preparing for Samantha (and even more since she has arrived), and many of these resources have been recommended to me by other mothers. I wanted to share a list of some of my favorites. Most of these follow the type of birth/parenting “philosophy*” that I adhere to, so if you’re not interested in that, then you probably won’t find these recommendations helpful. Please feel free to comment with other recommendations, as well.

*”Parenting philosophy” is a term I use loosely, since I think trying to put everything you believe into one ideology/set of rules is a sure way to set yourself up for frustration with a baby (and I can only speak about parenting itself from my perspective with a particularly adorable eight month old). However, if you’d like some clarification on how I would define my “style” , I’d say part attachment parenting, part “instinctual” parenting, and part “make it up as you go” parenting. It is not the easiest way to parent, and probably not the most effective, but it’s what feels right to me and my husband, so that’s what we do.*

Anyway, back to the recommendations:

For Pregnancy:

*The Pregnancy Book by Dr. Sears – this goes month by month with what to expect. Dr. Sears is one of the main advocates of attachment parenting, and I have read many of his books. The cover on this one is a bit 1980’s looking, but the information inside is solid.

*What to Expect When You’re Expecting – this is probably the most popular book. I read this side-by-side with The Pregnancy Book, each a month at a time so I wouldn’t get overwhelmed. This book represents every single possible spectrum, so it is good for pretty much all mothers, regardless of what they are considering. However, I will say that while it discusses natural birth, it is a bit light on some of the alternative options or other more natural approaches to pregnancy, which is why the Dr. Sears book is a good companion.

For Nutrition:

*Real Food for Mother and Baby by Nina Plank – I didn’t read this until just a few months ago, so it wasn’t helpful to me during my pregnancy, but I wish I had read it then! It follows the ideas Plank shares in her book Real Food (simply: processed food, “low fat/carb/calorie/whatever”, and things like “cheese products” are not, actually, food, and that real food in its natural, complete form is quite healthy and good for us… Imagine that!) In this version of the book, she gives ideas for diets for increasing fertility and conception, for pregnancy, for breastfeeding, and for feeding baby when s/he starts solid foods. While I was pregnant, I did try to read “What to Eat While You’re Expecting,” and the Dr. Sears book also had nutrition guidelines, but I have a hard time counting calories, or protein/carb/fat intake, so this holistic approach to eating well to help baby grow and help prepare your body for its biggest physical challenge is simple and wonderful.

For Birth:

*The Birth Book by Dr. Sears – I think this book is extremely important. What to Expect covers every single option for birth available – from drug free to elective C-section – and that is all fine to know. This book, however, while covering all of these topics, puts a lot of emphasis on natural birth and alternative birth options. It discusses all of the tests that will be done during your pregnancy (which, by the way, did you know that you have the right to refuse any test or treatment if you want? This information was the most liberating thing I learned while pregnant. While I only turned down one screening early on – to see if there were any genetic defects in the baby, since we knew we would have the baby regardless of the results and the test can show a false positive and cause unnecessary worry for the remainder of your pregnancy – it was still comforting to know that D and I could be in control of our baby’s wellbeing from the very beginning). Anyway, it also discusses putting together your birth team – selecting your doctor/midwife, and choosing who will be with you (partner, doula, family, friends) – as well as writing your birth plan. It discusses the pros and cons of various birthing locations (home, birth center, hospital). It also thoroughly explains all of the stages of birth and everything to expect. Honestly, by the time I went to my birth class, I knew all of the information already because of this book. It’s a good read if you want to be really well informed. It might even help you prepare yourself to avoid any unnecessary but all-too-common medical interventions. Knowledge is power, afterall.

(Notice there is only one book under this heading? Even though it’s the main topic of my blog post? That’s because I only read this one book specifically on the subject of birth [other books touched on it] and felt that I had all the information I needed to make informed decisions throughout the process.)

*The Business of Being Born. This isn’t a book, it’s a documentary. And it’s amazing. And okay, it made me cry when I watched it with my fearful early pregnancy hormones, but it opened up my eyes to quite a lot of information. Like any documentary, it has a specific spin (this is very homebirth oriented), but I think it is especially important for those planning a hospital birth. It clearly demonstrates the effects of extraneous medical interventions, as well as reveals some of the (now out of date) rather scary aspects of medicalized birth history (twilight sleep, anyone?) It also shows how incredibly awesome and transformative birth can be. Be advised that it does depict actual birth scenes, although none of that close-up nonsense of the baby emerging (which, I’m told by my husband, is “crazy and beautiful and a confluence of emotion that is hard to describe” when you witness it on a loved one, but might not evoke quite the same emotions when watching a stranger on the tv screen). These scenes are very… well, real, of laboring women, and if you’re getting ready to have a baby and you have never seen a birth before, these are the ones to watch. They might not be pretty, but they are absolutely beautiful. Honestly, if you only take one recommendation from this blog, I hope it is to watch this movie. Seriously.

I have been able to find most, if not all, of these resources at my local library. As I said earlier, there are thousands of books out there on pregnancy, nutrition, and birth, and I am sure each one has at least a glimmer of good information. These are just the resources that I found particularly helpful during my pregnancy, and that I routinely loan to friends. I am very interested to hear what resources have been helpful to others during pregnancy, so please comment with other recommendations!