Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong–and What You Really Need to Know by Emily Oster
I wish this book had been around when I was pregnant. Alas, it came out about a year after my conception date. I do remember reading Oster’s series of excerpts on Slate when I was on maternity leave, though. Her approach is exactly what I was looking for in a pregnancy book–facts and numbers delivered without judgment in an entertaining way. The book often reads like a memoir because Oster uses the story of her own pregnancy and the decisions she made for herself and her daughter to structure and add humor and personality to her presentation of facts and figures. She takes an economist’s approach to pregnancy, which means finding out exact statistics and carefully weighing costs and benefits. She emphasizes that different women in different circumstances may see these costs and benefits differently, and that’s fine. I think that’s a very healthy and inclusive approach to an issue that’s very individual and yet fraught with controversy and judgment.
I agreed with most of Oster’s conclusions, and made many of the same choices she did. She skipped the amniocentesis and epidural, and was willing to wait to go into labor naturally rather than to be induced. Most controversially, she approves of occasional light drinking and blows off lots of the most cumbersome diet restrictions. There were a few moments when I wanted to quibble with her tone or diction. In the chapter on prenatal testing, she says “healthy” when she means a child that doesn’t have Down Syndrome, though a child with this condition can be healthy. Often she stated things in a way that made it seem like the baby’s health is more important than the mother’s, that any sacrifice is worthwhile for a healthy baby, and the end of a healthy baby justifies any means taken to achieve it. As a mother myself, I understand these sentiments completely, but I also recognize that they can lead to a woman being seen as primarily an incubator, though I don’t think this was Oster’s intent.
One omission that bothered me was nitrous oxide. It’s understandable because at this point very few American women have the option to use nitrous oxide for pain relief during labor, but things will stay that way as long as no one advocates for it. Oster might have expanded her research to find that “laughing gas” is used widely in Europe during labor and has few, if any, side effects for either mother or baby. If she’d found out more about how amazing this drug is, she could have written about it and started a national conversation with this book. I was lucky enough to have my baby in one of two hospitals in the US that use nitrous oxide, and I loved it so much that I’m planning my entire life around making sure I’m able to use it for future deliveries–I’ve decided not to move away from Nashville until either another hospital offers it or I’ve had my last child.
At the end of the book, Oster says that after her daughter was born, she realized that the research and decisions were only beginning. I hope that means that she is planning another book in which she will research the choices parents make for babies and toddlers. I’d love to read about breastfeeding, cosleeping, screen time, day care, and sibling spacing.