It’s been a minute, hasn’t it? And by a minute, I mean…a few months. A lot has happened in my life since I last posted here. I’m reading a lot less and writing basically none, and that’s due mainly to the fact that I added a small human to my family in May. While I had an overall average pregnancy (no major complications, the usual aches and pains – uncomfortable but manageable), my birth and postpartum were pretty traumatic. I’m fine and so is the baby, but it was definitely not the birth experience I hoped for. However, now that we’re currently exiting the “fourth trimester” and kinda sorta getting the hang of taking care of a baby, I find myself with some time to do a little more than just feed the baby, burp the baby, change the baby, rock the baby, and try to squeeze in some food and sleep for myself.
As far as my reading life goes, I did read a few helpful pregnancy books before delivering, plus I occasionally page through a couple of baby-care books when I can. I’m also forcing myself to read a chapter or two of an actual print book – not related to babies, just for fun – every week. I thought I’d be able to continue my audiobook listening, but I’ve found it difficult to be able to focus enough on the stories while caring for the baby. Those tasks demand just enough of my mental energy to make following a book at the same time mostly impossible. Instead, I put on some low-energy television that I can still follow while only paying half attention to it (Survivor was our show of choice in the first month, but I mainly re-watch crime procedurals now).
I’m hoping to be able to get back into reading and writing more as the baby sleeps longer and my family gets more efficient and practiced with our baby-care duties. To kick off this goal, here’s a rundown of my recent reads.
Pregnancy and Baby-Related
Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong – and What You Really Need to Know by Emily Oster
I dislike the clickbait subheads on Oster’s books, but I really appreciate her straightforward discussions about pregnancy and caring for an infant. She’s an economist who writes about where the “conventional pregnancy wisdom” comes from – namely, the studies behind the advice and guidance doctors, other mothers, and the internet give new parents.
I found this book super helpful for right-sizing the actual risk of my activities to my baby in utero, and the conclusions I drew are mainly that there’s a lot less risk than you’d think. Just as I expected, much of the guidance about what to avoid (anything that tastes good or is mildly exciting) is fear-mongering and not based on science. For the most part, the only things that will harm a fetus are binge drinking (small amounts of alcohol are fine and not shown to cause harm), excessive caffeine (two cups of coffee a day are fine), and smoking and other recreational drug use (any amount). Foods pregnant people are often told to avoid, like sushi, are fine to consume if they’re from a provider you trust and stored safely. In my area of the world, food-borne illness such as listeria has more widely been found in melon, ice cream, and prepared salads, none of which pregnant people are told to avoid.
Oster does a good job of laying out the facts about each study, including whether it’s a good study in the first place or if there’s actually been a study done on a particular piece of guidance at all (it’s really hard to do ethical studies on pregnancy!). She repeatedly emphasizes that she wants the reader to draw her own conclusions about what she should or should not do/consume, giving examples from her own life (she chose to continue to eat turkey sandwiches; a friend of hers chose to avoid them). For my part, it helped me as a first-time mother calm my fears about harming my child and made me feel a bit freer in those precious months before my life would change entirely.
Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool by Emily Oster
What I remember most from this follow-up to Expecting Better is that women who forego the epidural tend to push for shorter amounts of time and have faster recoveries. Because of this, I wrote in my birth plan that I wanted to wait and see how my pain was before getting the epidural. I ended up asking for it before I was even admitted to the hospital because the pain was so bad – I believe I would have passed out from it if I hadn’t gotten the pain relief. It was definitely the right choice for me and if I have another baby, I will take the epidural immediately again. (I also only pushed for about 15 minutes so it doesn’t seem like it had any effect on that!) This is another good book from Oster, though I admit not a lot of it stuck with me.
I chose this as my pregnancy preparedness guide because I wanted an alternative to What to Expect When You’re Expecting, which had reviews that indicated even the most current edition had out of date information and the writing style spoke down to its audience. This is a straightforward, no-nonsense book from the experts that breaks down a pregnancy week by week, discussing what symptoms are normal, what symptoms are more serious and may require medical attention, and other useful ways to prepare for a new baby.
Mayo Clinic Guide to Your Baby’s First Years, Second Edition by Walter J. Cook, M.D., and Kelsey M. Klaas, M.D.
More of the same from the Mayo Clinic. This guide discusses common themes in the first half (feeding, sleeping) and then goes month-by-month in the second, covering milestones and normal growth.
This is a great dip-in, dip-out guide to everything baby. We’ve used it when we had a specific question or concern – just turn to that page and find the answer. It’s interesting to see what advice conflicts with the Mayo Clinic book or the pediatrician. The authors of Baby 411 suggest using distilled water, then boiling it, before mixing it with powdered formula (the former because of fluoride that newborns don’t need; the latter to sterilize the powder, which does not come sterilized). Our pediatrician says neither is necessary for an otherwise healthy newborn. So while there are many good books on the subject of babies, some discretion and decision-making will always be required.
Just for Fun
This is the print book I’m currently making my way through. I bought it at the last Texas Book Festival pre-Covid; it was among the set of books I purchased that I read fairly quickly after buying them, which is unusual for me (like many a bookworm, I acquire many more books than I actually read). This was one of the few I hadn’t gotten around to yet. It’s an epic YA fantasy with an ensemble cast about a world whose Prophets disappeared many years ago – and a prophecy that speaks of the birth of a new Prophet that could either save or destroy everything. Five teenagers, some with magical powers, are each caught up in the adventure.
I’m halfway through it, which feels like a minor miracle considering my reading is constantly interrupted or simply relegated to the back burner in favor of other activities (mostly feeding myself and sleeping). I’m enjoying the book, but not loving it, and I think that’s largely due to the fact that it’s really difficult for me to push from my mind thoughts about what I Should Be Doing (laundry, listening for the baby waking up, washing bottles, tidying the house, etc., etc.) and focus on just reading. The book is a bit of a slow burn as Pool slowly reveals how each character is connected to each other and to the larger story. Chapters cycle through each character’s point of view, making this a good readalike for teens who enjoyed that aspect of Game of Thrones but want something a bit more on their level.
I had never heard of this author before, but I really enjoyed this story about the tense relationship between a woman and her mother-in-law, and what happens when the mother-in-law is found dead (presumably murdered). This is less domestic noir and more tragic family story with a bit of suspense thrown in. Hepworth is really good at crafting three-dimensional, difficult, but sympathetic characters, and the mother-in-law in this story stuck with me long after I finished the book and learned how she died. If you enjoy psychological thrillers but want something a bit less soapy, I recommend giving Hepworth’s books a try (I also read and can recommend The Good Sister).
This author duo specializes in melodramatic psychological thrillers with a huge twist (or two) at the end. They are a lot of fun, though not of the highest quality. I started this one on audio while pregnant and finished it while caring for a newborn. I got a bit impatient with it, though, knowing that there would be a trademark Hendricks/Pekkanen twist at the end, and I looked up spoilers online before finishing it. The twist isn’t nearly as clever or satisfying at the one in their first hit, The Wife Between Us, and it made the book mostly forgettable for me, but it was an enjoyable few hours that helped pass the time in those first few long nights with a newborn at home.