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Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Girlfriend's (misguided) Guide to Pregnancy

"Or everything your
doctor won't tell you."
(Oh, if only that
were true.)
I vaguely remember when I first heard about this book - that and Jenny McCarthy's Belly Laughs were pretty popular, and I figured it would be a nice alternative to those books that depicted pregnancy as all flowers and sunshine.

What I wasn't prepared for was the tone (of either book) to be the verbal equivalent of a cheese grater. I read a few passages of Jenny's book and thought, Ok, this is going a little too far in the opposite direction. (She obviously has never been known for her grace or demure behavior.) While not necessarily that bad, Vicki's book struck an uneasy chord with me on much the same level. 

This book is probably one of the biggest reasons I would hesitate to rely on  something written from the author's perspective. (Unless she's like Robin Elise Weiss, who is on like her eighth child: that alone gives her a bit more leeway in that department.) Iovine rubbed me the wrong way on several topics, namely:

• Home birth. Her perspective on it is somewhat sad, and reflects the notion that only doctors are capable of handling a birth. Not only that, but it sounds like she did little - if any - research on it, and relates the story of her friend Kathy, who transferred from a home birth to the hospital.
"....[Kathy's] midwife did everything from make her herb teas to walk with her in the hills ... to bring on regular contractions. The nurturing and reassurance were extraordinary... Unfortunately, Kathy found labor longer, more painful, and more frightening than she had anticipated..."
I'm not exactly sure how to interpret this passage. What is she saying? Have a plan? Be prepared for it to fail? The way she describes it, the midwife must not have been that reassuring.

Iovine says she "gleaned three lessons" from her friend's experience: you can never get to the hospital too early, (oh yes, Vicki, you certainly can!), save the "homebirths, midwives and underwater deliveries for the second, third and fourth babies" (because you have no idea what to expect or how to manage labor when it's your first child), and "never elect to have a child where you have no access to medication, or God forbid, real doctors."

(I think here is where Vicki just figuratively smacked the collective group of home- and waterbirthing women across the face with her book. Ouch.)

I don't really get the mention of water birth - which can be done in the "safety" of a hospital with "real doctors! Gasp!"

She says that "childbirth is as messy as a pig slaughter," and wonders who would want to 'sacrifice' their beautiful sheets and other linens for such a thing. She recommends giving birth in a four-star hotel, where the maids can clean up afterwards. Seriously?! 

So much for a real, meaningful or educational dialogue on home birth. No wonder it gets so much flak!

• Regarding pain management and epidurals:
"You will tell yourself from now till labor begins that you intend to try delivering without an epidural, but I can't think of a Girlfriend who didn't take it when it was offered."
What the heck kind of thing is that to say?

So don't even bother, because no one else does, and you're weird if you think you can actually try to get through this without it. Just go ahead and try, because I bet you can't! Honey, I think you need different friends.

(One Amazon reviewer noticed this too, and said Vicki was "downright hostile" towards moms who don't have epidurals and "chastises women who are disappointed to end up with c-sections." While she emphasizes the 'natural' changes in your body such as weight gain, the reviewer notes, she "has no use for the natural process when it comes to birth," and "thinks everyone should induce labor at a convenient moment.")

As far as childbirth in general, she concludes that:
"A delivery that results in a healthy mother and baby is a gift from God, no matter how that delivery was achieved. Period. Childbirth is not like a visit to a spa: It is not designed for your personal enjoyment and fulfillment. It is not an opportunity to demonstrate your abilities or fitness....I think this feeling of being "gypped" by a birth experience that doesn't match our expectations is one more example of that yuppie self-centeredness that is none of our least attractive characteristics." 
This passage .... this part made me mad. Right after I thought my eyeballs were going to pop out of my head, I then felt like barfing. So, all you ladies who feel victimized, used, abused, betrayed or otherwise treated like crap by an OB, you better just get over it. Because all that matters is your baby was born healthy, okay? Your feelings don't really mean much, in the broad scope of things, now do they? (sarcasm off)

It's this kind of behavior that makes women feel like their thoughts, feelings and emotions surrounding childbirth are completely invalidated, and that is so not fair. Who are you to say another person has no right to feel the way she does?

As far as the whole "personal enjoyment and fulfillment," I bet there are loads of women - both of whom had epidurals and those who didn't - who would definitely beg to differ. For many of us, it definitely is about fulfillment - of your role as a mother, as the giver of life.

And as more women are realizing, sometimes those interventions that are supposed to help us have a "healthy baby" do more harm than good, and we would oftentimes be better off without.

Ironically, a few pages back she talks about her primary cesarean with a baby conceived through IVF, and how let down she was by the experience of not having a vaginal birth. So much so that she had her next three children by VBAC, because she says that she "felt so robbed of something my soul had yearned for." (At least one Amazon reviewer said Vicki frequently contradicts herself, and I guess this is one of those moments.) She goes to on to mention two of her friends and their husbands, who, at the time, were planning on all natural births. (emphasis mine)
Both of them labored for more than twenty hours. They were in the kind of pain that only fear and no end in sight can create....I call these husbands Golden Retrievers because they continue to act sweet, loyal, and dumb even when all evidence is making it abundantly clear that everyone in their little family had been unimaginative in how big and long and scary the pain of childbirth can be. 
Finally, it was the insistence of their doctors that got the laboring moms and their clueless husbands to surrender and release their stressed babies via the zipper. 
The babies were "scandalously healthy and robust," she adds. So maybe that means they weren't so stressed after all? I feel badly for her friends, who I bet aren't anymore after that one.

So basically it's okay for Vicki to feel "robbed of an experience," but no one else should be because she says so. "Period."

I don't know if I can go any further, honestly.

Ladies, you have every right to feel "robbed" of an experience if that's what happened to you. Taking into account that not every birth can always turn out the way we'd like, that "experience" can be very important in deciding the outcome. As the person giving birth to this child, it can be about you and your wishes too, without compromising the "healthy baby" part. It's important to realize that some of what is done and isn't done in labor - that can either add to or take away from the "experience" of birth - is key in the healthy baby equation. Don't let Vicky Iovine or anyone else tell you to just get over it and move on; a true girlfriend would never say that. 


Christie Haskell said...

Well geez. I'm so glad I've NEVER picked up that book, and it explains a ton about the women who recommend it.

Mrs. Obie said...

I can't bring myself to read books like that anymore, even if I know going into it that I'm not going to get anything of value from it. I'd rather read a book written by a well educated woman, than someone trying to be "funny" by writing about childbirth. Barf.

Maggie said...

Hi, I just clicked to your blog from At Your Cervix but I felt compelled to respond to you. I am SO GLAD to know that someone else felt the same way about this book as I did. I actually specifically remember this passage that you cited:

"A delivery that results in a healthy mother and baby is a gift from God, no matter how that delivery was achieved. Period. Childbirth is not like a visit to a spa: It is not designed for your personal enjoyment and fulfillment. It is not an opportunity to demonstrate your abilities or fitness....I think this feeling of being "gypped" by a birth experience that doesn't match our expectations is one more example of that yuppie self-centeredness that is none of our least attractive characteristics."

I specifically remember it because I was reading two other books at the same time, "Pushed: The Painful Truth About Childbirth..." by Jennifer Block and "Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born" by Tina Cassidy and I was pregnant with my first child. I remember thinking how untrue her statement was and that, while a healthy baby is absolutely important the mother's (i.e. THE PATIENT) rights are vitally important and a woman who has been bullied, ignored or coerced during birth has every single right to be upset about her treatment. I talked to one friend who likened her horrible experience to a rape. I also agree that it's attitudes like Iovine's that make women feel even worse when their births don't go how they've hoped.

Anyway, sorry for the rant! I rarely comment on blogs but I couldn't help it in your case. I look forward to perusing your archives.

Molly said...

"Via the zipper"???????
Well shucks, if I'd known there was an easy exit, I wouldn't have done all this labor stuff. Heck, I would have opened that thing up a couple of times just to check on the baby. No ultrasound for me! I've got a zipper!

Jennifer Pinch said...

I read that book 8 years ago, when I was pregnant with my first baby. I cringe to even think now, that I actually paid money to purchase it back then! I learned (the hard way) how much birth matters.
My second birth was a beautiful natural & powerful experience, thanks to GREAT books like "Ina May's Guide to Childbirth", "Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way" and "Birthing from Within". Since my second child's birth (in an awesome rural hospital in High River, AB), I have become a birth doula, a childbirth educator, and a passionate birth advocate. I am due in 6 weeks with my third baby and having a planned home birth this time (my first home birth :), with my amazing midwives, my loving husband, and my two beautiful daughters (who are thrilled to get to witness the birth of their baby brother or sister!)
Thanks for posting a good warning about the very misguided guide to pregnancy. The only thing that book will guide you to is a deep ache that you missed out on something sacred :(

MamaOnABudget said...

My (homebirth) midwife had that book in her giveaway basket - left by another mom. I decided to borrow it because, with this being my 4th times through the Dr. Sears Pregnancy Book and Ina May's Guide, I wanted to read something else.

I had that same general uncomfortable feeling throughout. But the one that got me was when she talked about the placenta. She said something about taking a look at this miraculous organ where your baby lived for the last 9 months. I figured if she didn't even know what the placenta was and that it *wasn't* the amniotic sac, I probably shouldn't take the rest of her proclamations with much confidence, either.

The Deranged Housewife said...

That is .... staggering. I have no words. *cringe*