Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Baby and Birthing Books

My reading has been very slow recently, but I can, in part, blame that on all the baby reading I've been doing. It's just over a month before my husband and my first child is due, so I'm trying to read and absorb all I can prior to her arrival.
Since I haven't necessarily read all of these books in their entirety, I thought I'd do a big collective post on what I've been perusing.

What to Expect When You're Expecting by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel

I absolutely love this book and would recommend it to all mothers-to-be. I'd even buy it as soon as you start trying to have a baby. I waited until month four or five before getting it and regretted all the reassurance I missed out on. The biggest peril of pregnancy is that the internet provides troves and troves of information which often inflames, rather than soothes, fears. On the other hand, What to Expect is clear and easy to read, and each month it provides practical guidance on what's normal and what you need to talk to your OB about. More than once it told me that what I was experiencing (i.e. stuffiness--who knew pregnancy caused congestion?) was normal and not for concern. I also liked that it provided a snippet of what was going on with baby each week; it became a "treat" for my husband and me to read that together each time we hit the next week's milestone.

Recommendation: Definitely an immediate buy!

Baby Bargains by Denise Fields and Alan Fields

This is another book that I regret waiting on. I attempted to build my baby registry from scratch, using various internet resources--and was totally lost. I'd read dozens and dozens of reviews for products, only to find that some parents thought an item was essential and others claimed it destroyed their children's lives. And that's even when I knew what to look for! Baby Bargains is another easy-to-read book (much like What to Expect) that breaks down the various baby item categories, offers information about what's important, and then provides compiled reviews of the most popular products. It provided a lot of reassurance and guidance.

Recommendation: Another definite buy, especially because it can be used for awhile (i.e. later in the baby's life when you're buying a high chair or moving out of the infant car seat). Be sure to get the newest edition.

Expecting Better by Emily Oster

Oster's book got a lot of buzz when it first came out for challenging conventional assumptions about drinking and eating during pregnancy. Oster's not a doctor, but she's an economist who looked at the various studies that have been done to determine whether the perceived risks conveyed to pregnant women are really present. And, not surprisingly, she found that many of the dangers are over-hyped. I didn't read much of the first section since I didn't pick up the book until my third trimester, so I can't comment on it directly, but my experience as a pregnant woman has suggested that we're overly restrictive without actually improving outcomes for women or babies. I was most interested in the section on labor and delivery because I've been taking a natural childbirthing class, and the information provided in that class has sometimes clashed with what my OB is saying. Expecting Better provided a neutral approach to many of these issues (like monitoring and episiotomies) that helped me feel more confident with both groups--the natural parenting movement and the medical establishment. The book is quick and easy to read while providing solid information.

Recommendation: A good choice to borrow from the library in the first trimester and perhaps again in the third.

On Becoming Baby Wise by Gary Ezzo and Robert Buckman

Early on, I think most parents have at least some concept of how they'd like to parent. Nowadays, the choice seems to be between attachment parenting and some form of parent-direct parenting (lots of different terms are used), though I think the reality for most people is somewhere in between. In the end, I think a baby can be raised on any plan and be perfectly happy and healthy. Yet I knew early on I would be a parent that needed some kind of routine--nothing too strict, but something I could rely upon to plan my and my baby's day. Baby Wise is on the stricter side (at least compared to true attachment parenting), but it's also a plan that provides some flexibility. Two of my neighbors raved about it, so I was happy when one offered her copy for me to read.

Again, I liked that the book was straightforward, easy to follow, and not overwhelming. The authors push their parenting style a bit too heavily (suggesting that attachment parenting is significantly detrimental to baby/family's happiness), but their actual plan--called Parent-Directed Feeding (PDF)--is practical and moderate. It provides the baby and family with a reliable routine that is based on the baby's cues but doesn't have mom breastfeeding constantly through the night for months on end.

I do disagree with their advice on letting babies cry it out, and I think they could have been more specific in parts (the philosophy is fairly broad), but it did give me a good basic blueprint of how I'd like to approach feeding and sleeping. Now, I haven't actually tried it yet, so we'll see what I say in a few months. :)

Recommendation: If you think this type of parenting appeals to you, I'd borrow the book from the library first and see if it gels with your approach/expectations. If you know you're going to be drawn to attachment parenting, don't bother--it'll probably just make you angry!

The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems by Tracy Hogg and Melinda Blau

Baby Whisperer picks up where Baby Wise leaves off--it offers a significantly more detailed and somewhat more moderate approach to the basic Baby Wise philosophy. The general philosophy of establishing a eat-wake-sleep routine is the same, though Hogg does not advocate leaving babies to cry, She offers the specific advice that Ezzo and Buckman lack, such as a "winding down" routine before putting baby to sleep or specific methods for calming a crying baby who should be sleeping. She also spends considerable time going through common problems and providing solutions, based on her methods.

The big downside about Baby Whisperer is that in being so comprehensive it becomes lengthy, repetitive, and totally overwhelming. I felt like I wasn't remembering much and was completely confused--I was supposed to do this, but only if this, and not if this was happening, in which case it was this, but only if you didn't...

Her attitude can also be simultaneously encouraging and discouraging. On the one hand, she suggests pretty much any problem can be solved--there's no such thing as being stuck with an unmanageable baby. On the other hand, this implies that if you do have a problem, it's completely your fault. You've "accidental parented" your way into the situation.

Recommendation: Read Baby Wise first. If you like their approach and want more direction or options besides letting a baby cry, give Hogg a try. I recommend you don't read the entire chapters (even though she advises to). Just read her philosophy sections or sections that address a specific problem you have.

Birthing From Within by Pam England and Rob Horowitz

This book was loaned to me by my doula, and I just started reading it, so the review will be pretty incomplete. I like that it provides an alternate look at natural childbirthing. While my childbirthing class emphasizes hypnosis and relaxation, Birthing from Within emphasizes exploring the woman's psychological state and acknowledging that birth can be painful and difficult. It relies a lot on art therapy, which I'm not sure appeals to me, but I like its realistic attitude toward birth.

Recommendation: Haven't read enough to recommend yet, but perhaps a good buy if you'd like some pre-birth activities to address your attitudes toward birth.

Monday, June 23, 2014

"Black Moon" by Kenneth Calhoun

Gotta love a disaster dystopian, and even if Black Moon doesn't cover especially new ground, it's still an engaging "what if" look into human nature and the structure of society.

In Calhoun's dystopia, humanity has suddenly become unable to sleep. People still live, but without the rest and restoration that sleep provides, they devolve into violent and incoherent beings consumed by hallucinations. Yet, not unexpectedly, there are a few individuals who, for reasons never explored, still possess the capacity to sleep. Their lives are in equal danger, as the sight of any sleeper quickly turns a non-sleeper murderous.

Through this world the reader follows several individuals: Biggs, a sleeper who's looking to finding his afflicted wife; Chase, a young man desperate to get back his girlfriend; Felicia, a researcher at a sleep institute and Chase's ex-girlfriend; and Lila, a high school student still able to sleep. Though the destruction of the world looms over each of them, Calhoun's novel highlights the ways in which people are unable to let go of personal issues even in the most dire of circumstances. For example, Chase is still obsessed over fixing his sexual impotence, and Biggs is still focused on his struggling marriage

The stories move quickly, and because the reader follows a range of viewpoints, he or she is given a decently broad perspective about what is happening. More time is spent on fallout than the science of the insomnia, which I appreciated--I prefer to just accept that this is the way the world works and then explore the consequences.

I think the ending strikes the right balance between utter despair and false hope, even if it's not as uplifting as we might want.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"All the Birds, Singing" by Evie Wyld

After reading the goliath The Goldfinch, it was nice to follow up with the short, tense mystery that is All the Birds, Singing. Fear and paranoia permeate this novel, which follows Jake, a female sheep herder still fearful of her past catching up with her. This past is revealed slowly to the reader--as half of each chapter chronologically advances Jake's story of living alone with her sheep and Dog, the other half of each chapter jumps chronologically backwards to reveal a single part of Jake's history. Such a structure forces the reader to piece together what has made Jake into the woman she is.

This structure also creates mystery and adds to the paranoia. We know Jake's skittish of men, but it's only slowly that we see what has led her to that place. We also are aware of her independence and strength, yet it becomes clear early that such strength was forged through incredibly harsh necessity.

There's also an element of mystery with a supernatural air (what's been killing Jake's sheep off?) that's never fully resolved. Such a lingering question didn't especially bother me since I felt the real focus was on the human relationships, but it does mean the book lacks a neat ending.

I'd recommend reading the book in as close to one sitting as you can manage (annoyingly, the book became due [and non-renewable] at my library when I was only about 50 pages in. I had to return it and wait a week or so before I could check it out again, which ruined some of the effect!). Doing so helps make the connections between pieces clear and amps up the tension.