Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective
My nurse-midwife gave me a copy of this book as a reference to use throughout my pregnancy and to help educate me about what’s in store for me. I found it useful, unobjectionable, and comprehensive, but somewhat dry.
Since I was hoping for a pregnancy guide that would offer a voice of sanity and avoid inducing guilt and unneccessary worry, I appreciated that the chapter on “Taking Care of Yourself,” which included information on diet and exercise, concluded with a section on “Keeping It All in Perspective.” I never felt like the authors were placing unreasonable or tyrranical expectations on pregnant women; instead they showed an awareness of the distress women often feel during this transitional time. One of my favorite things about the book was the way it included many women’s voices and experiences in the form of italicized anecdotes, often offering differing perspectives on the same issue. The personal touch here helped to liven up the occasionally bland, textbook-like prose.
This is a book with an agenda, but that agenda is one that I find inspiring at best and inoffensive at worst. It makes a point of giving information on women’s health issues that privileged women may not have to worry about, like AIDS, domestic violence, and teen pregnancy, and I appreciated this inclusive spirit. This was clearly a political choice, as were the pictures showing women of many races and colors. The conclusion is about advocacy for better health care and family policies. Personally, I’m in agreement with the authors on these issues, so this didn’t bother me.
For the most part, this book discusses women’s health care issues in a journalistic, unbiased tone, seeking merely to impart information. However, the book uses the word “intervention” repeatedly to refer to things like epidurals, pitocin, and C-sections, giving them a negative tinge and subtly discouraging readers from choosing them. In general, the authors believe that “natural” vaginal birth should be the default option, and other methods of giving birth or relieving pain should only be used when clearly medically indicated. Women whose births are characterized by these “interventions” may feel somewhat judged, but not viciously or capriciously.
Stylistically, the book is unusual because of its constant use of the second person plural; this perspective was deliberately chosen to emphasize the fact that this is a book by women, about women, for women. In some ways I really appreciated the carefully non-judgemental tone that the book cultivates. However, as a way of keeping a reader interested, this tone was a failure. It made the book more bland and boring, but I don’t know how this could have been avoided without taking a more personal point of view, which would have undermined the book’s politics and presentation. This carefully distanced perspective also led to lots of vague, overly obvious, and borderline meaningless sentences like these:
As during other times in our lives when we experience great changes or challenges, having good support is key.
No matter what your circumstances, doing your research, talking with your health care provider, and seeking out support from knowledgeable organizations can help you make good decisions about medication during pregnancy.
Taking the time early in your pregnancy to find a trustworthy provider and a safe, comfortable birth setting is a worthwhile endeavor.
Talk with your health care provider to decide what self-care is best for you in this situation.
Sentences like these can be frustrating for readers with questions so specific and personal that no single reference book can ever answer them all. I guess these quotes show that there is a problem inherent in writing a book for all women, and this is a literary problem, not a political one. Women are not monolithic, so the audience is so fragmented and diverse that it becomes impossible to address every concern. This book’s solution is to attempt to gloss over every possible question, sometimes in inanely cursory ways. It makes for boring reading and sometimes useless non-information.
However, if “boring” is the worst thing I can say about a pregnancy guide, I’m content. The principle of “First do no harm” definitely applies here. Our Bodies, Ourselves‘s avoidance of body-shaming, sexism, mother-guilt and general snarkiness vastly outweighed any yawns I might have endured in digesting the vast amounts of information it was offering. I do feel like reading it gave me the basic vocabulary of birth and pregnancy, and a solid starting place for building the knowledge I’ll need to make informed decisions when my time comes to give birth. And that’s the most important thing I was looking for, really. I would recommend Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth to another pregnant woman, especially one inclined toward midwives and more “natural” birthing practices.