It's easy to tell a first-time mother to "go read a book" when she has questions about pregnancy and birth. The question is, which one?
I would argue that usually, the more informed you are, the better equipped you are to make better decisions regarding your pregnancy care. Theoretically you should be able to cut through the crap that might be dished out - whether it's from well-meaning, opinionated relatives and little old ladies or an overbearing obstetrician. Because of a number of things, your OB might not have the time to fully go over every little question and concern that you have. Many people find that when under the care of a midwife, the visits last longer and are far more relaxed, giving the mom time to gather her thoughts together and ask questions about her care.
Pregnancy books can be a good thing to read when you don't want to call your doctor at 3 a.m. asking him about round ligament pains or odd twinges you might be experiencing. However, you shouldn't feel that you're inconveniencing your doctor by calling him, either, which unfortunately many women do.
I do remember one woman lamenting that even though she read books, it still didn't change her outcome and she had a disappointing birth experience. "Maybe I didn't read the right books," she said, as if somehow she failed and could have done better. Unfortunately, while I don't think it's her fault at all, she touches on something that those in the birth advocacy community regularly decry: that some pregnancy books are definitely better than others.
In choosing pregnancy books, I think it depends on what kind of experience you want to get out of it. Some women are very determined to go all natural (meaning, not just vaginally, but truly natural) and others decide beforehand that they will ask for the epidural. I'm not criticizing anyone who requests pain medication; I did in my VBAC delivery (although it was Nubain, not an epidural) and realized later that it didn't do a bit of good and I could have gotten through without it. I do think, as I thought before I delivered my first child (and well before I became a Birth Nerd), that it's helpful to remain open-minded about pain relief, because everyone's experience is different. You are not going to feel pain the same way another person is.
For this reason, I am hesitant about books that are written from the author's perspective. So far I've seen quite a number of books (more on that later) that are very negative, pessimistic, sarcastic and grating when it comes to childbirth pain and being pregnant in general. What Vicky Iovine (author of The Girlfriend's Guide to Pregnancy) felt about her pregnancies is not the way everyone feels about it, and while pregnancy does indeed "suck" sometimes, I think it's a matter of perspective. Nothing taught me that lesson more than experiencing annoying and painful pelvic pain towards the end of my third pregnancy, only to realize that when it went away, it meant my son's head was no longer in the birth canal - in fact, no where near it. I might as well have purchased my advance ticket to the OR right then and there.
The tone the author uses is important as well, I think. Does the author come off as authoritative? Superior? Judgmental and harsh? Sarcastic? Warm and open? All could play a role in how you perceive birth, both for good and bad. How they treat certain topics is important, too - harping constantly on things like diet and weight gain, while totally ignoring the real threat of cesarean or failed induction, for example, might also tell you a lot. Look for signs that they tend to blame the mother for certain things (especially weight gain) rather than see the overall picture: that sometimes labors are harder, longer and more painful because of hospital policies that are often outdated and not as useful as they claim to be (again, more on that later).
As far as knowing what you want out of your birth experience, you might find that there's more out there than what everyone else experiences. Being influenced by negativity and pessimism do not help women to think outside that box at all, which is very unfortunate - and only reinforces the negative attitude we have about birth in our society. Knowing that there is more out there beyond What to Expect is key in deciding what you want - or don't want - in a birth.
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