books for gorilla parents, or what i read while i was pregnant

There is really only one thing that is certain when it comes to good parenting, one thing that I think applies to everybody no matter who you are or what you believe or where you live: parenting requires flexibility. There are no rules and there is no One True Way. There is you and there is your baby and there are hundreds of angles to approaching the hundreds of unique situations and trials that you are going to find yourself facing. So of course it follows that the most important thing you can do to prepare yourself for the hatching of your own kidlet is to keep an open mind.

When friends or family respond to a parenting tactic that I’m into trying with criticism and/or with horror stories about that tactic failing for someone else, I tend to respond with something like a shrug. “Maybe it’ll work for us, and maybe it won’t,” I usually say. “But it’s where we’d like to start trying.” No use in making some sort of master plan, especially considering the fact that we haven’t even met the main player yet.

But knowing that I don’t need a master plan hasn’t stopped me from inhaling books about birthing and parenting and baby development. I bought My Mother Wears Combat Boots at an anarchist festival in Holland where we performed with Black Diamond before I knew for sure that I was pregnant. When we got back to Mainz, I took a pregnancy test—positive— and started reading right after I finished doing cartwheels at how quickly Peanut had decided to show up. I like to read, and—particularly during the part of being pregnant where I was spending all my time throwing up/laying in bed—I have a lot of time to read right now. When it turns out that Peanut is difficult on one or the other topics, I want to already have an arsenal of Things to Try Out in my head. As I don’t have a lot of parents in my group of friends, books were the first place I turned for stories from the front line.

This is a list of (almost) all of the books that I read during my pregnancy. They were all recommended to me by other gorilla parents, who I immediately began plying with questions about reading material that they had found helpful after finding out about Peanut. I’ve compiled a list (chronologically in the order I read them) and written mini-reviews for each of them so that some of you other gorilla-parent-readers can figure out where you want to start. And I’ve included my amazon links, in case you were planning on buying one of them anyway and wanted to help me earn another forty cents. Otherwise, off to the library with you! And off to the comments section with those of you who have any other books to recommend…

My Mother Wears Combat Boots // Jessica Mills

A great punk-rock-mom book. Starts with a month-by-month of pregnancy (half anecdote, half science), then talks anecdotally about a variety of topics you won’t find in many other tomes: touring with your band while pregnant and touring with children, planning childcare for demonstrations, and organizing child care co-ops, to name just a few. I really enjoyed how personal it was and how relevant the topics are for folks involved in any sort of punk/diy culture. You won’t find any advice about touring with infants in What to Expect, that’s for damn sure.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting // Heidi Murkoff , Sharon Mazel , Sharon Mazel and others

This book is supposed to be a classic, but I don’t think I would have bought it if it hadn’t shown up in a used book store downtown for 1 euro at just the right moment. I’ve found all of the information about what you can expect to happen to your body during each month of pregnancy useful, and I always felt instantly better about any new prego-mat symptoms for being able to quickly look them up and hear that they were normal. (When your hands suddenly start going numb all the time, you sometimes need someone to tell you that it doesn’t mean the baby is dead or you are about to be. It’s a good book for keeping hypochondriacal tendencies at bay, though for the serious hypochondriac it might have too many suggestions.)

BUT—and it’s a big but—I’ve found a lot of other things about the book offensive. It is written completely within the husband/wife paradigm, with nary a mention of the fact that some expecting mothers are single, some are partnered with women, some aren’t married, etc, etc. Fuck that. And fuck the section at the end about what your husband can do if he’s feeling jealous that the baby gets to spend so much time with “his boobs” once you’re breastfeeding. Seriously? So if you’re heterosexual, married, and think that a romantic relationship makes you the owner of someone else’s body, this book is for you. If you’re not, I’d probably just skip it—though if a copy falls into your lap, it can be useful if read with blinders.

The Essential Hip Mama: Writing From the Cutting Edge of Parenting // editor, Ariel Gore

I was expecting to love this book, and I didn’t. Hip Mama was a radical parenting zine for years and years (not sure if they’re still going, they have a kind of confusing web presence), so I was excited about reading a collection of punk rock mom stories ala My Mother Wears Combat Boots. But the content turned out to be a lot more abstract, a lot more “what does it mean to be a radical/’hip’/offbeat parent” then “this is how I dealt with Disney female stereotypes in parenting my daughter.” I keep telling myself that it might just be the kind of book I’ll enjoy more in a couple of years. (I think I would have preferred Hip Mama Survival Guide by the same. Anyone read it?)

Wise Woman’s Herbal for the Childbearing Year // Susan Weed

I LOVE THIS BOOK. Susan Weed is a pretty well-known herbalist, but this was the first of her books that I have read. It is full of herbal remedies for various pregnancy complaints, as well as herbal suggestions to help prepare your body for birth, help with starting labor, and taking care of yourself and your baby postpartum. Awesome. Ten stars. A plus. Seventy cheers.

The Birth Partner // Penny Simkin

At least ten different people recommended this book to me. And, though I haven’t quite made it to the end yet, I’d already recommend it to someone else. Great, straight-forward, easy-to-read guide to what happens (or could happen, in the case of a problem) during birth as well as how to be a good birthing partner. The line drawings of women being aided during labor made me cry the first time I saw them, and I’m planning on reading the whole thing again before Peanut’s debut in February.

Spiritual Midwifery // Ina May Gaskin

Ina May Gaskin was (is?) a midwife on the Farm, a rather famous Tennessee commune still in existence today. The caravan of folks who became the community’s first residents started delivering their own children while they were still on the road to their new home. Their positive, realistic, and woman-friendly approach to asssiting birth is not only beautiful, it has the caesarean rate among Farm births at 1.4 percent from a national average of 24.4 percent in the same year. Even their use of delivery instruments such as forceps is notably low (in comparison to hospital rates). All that is to say that this is a book written by a woman who knows from experience that birth can be an incredibly positive experience that can be safely assisted at home.

The majority of the book is made up of birth stories written by women who gave birth on the Farm. Part of Ina May’s goal in this book and in her birthing philosophy is to create a positive mythos surrounding birth to replace the aura of fear that is so often perpetuated. If you are afraid of giving birth, then this book might just make you feel better, make you believe that, yeah, birth can be a positive thing, intense though it might be. The end of the book is written for aspiring midwives, and covers a lot of details about pelvic sizes and baby positions that I skimmed, but which is probably very helpful to those more interested in science then anecdote.

Criticism: the phrases “it was heavy” and “it was psychedelic” are used a lot to describe giving birth—and those phrases simply don’t mean anything to me, besides sounding a little silly when used over and over again over hundreds of pages. I am not afraid of birth, and frankly, I wanted more gore. Not gore for gore’s sake, but gore for the sake of having a realistic picture of what I’m going to be going through during labor, of having some sort of concrete idea of what being in labor means. If you were to take all of these stories literally (and hadn’t read anything else) you might come away with the impression that giving birth is a lot like taking LSD. But criticism aside, I loved reading these stories, and I think the book is a total success in describing birth in a positive, woman-friendly way. I would recommend it to friends, though I preferred Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth (see review below).

The Continuum Concept // Jean Liedhoff

This book was recommended to me by every anarchist parent who I asked for pregnancy reading suggestions and then some, and it is more of an anthropology book then a parenting book per say. In it Liedhoff shares her observations regarding child care from years spent living among several groups of Indians in South America. It is a compelling argument for attachment parenting, a fascinating study, and, I might add, a damn good argument in the anti-civ direction. Though based purely on observation and not on “science,” what she has to say just feels instinctively right and I have since read multiple books choc full of science that make exactly the same claims that she does (for example that baby wearing is good for your baby and that babies being included in all parts of life—though not in a way that makes them life’s exclusive focus—is good for your baby). Only problem I had with it was that at one point she attempts to “blame” homosexuality on bad parenting, which makes it sound like she thinks homosexuality is a negative result of a negative practice. Minus ten points for you Jane Liedhoff. Otherwise a really thought-provoking read.

Unconditional Parenting: Moving From Rewards and Punishment to Love and Reason // Alfie Kohn

This was the perfect book to read directly after finishing The Continuum Concept, as very similar attachment parenting principles are discussed, but this time with a heap of really well-researched evidence to support their use. It starts with a compelling point, one that felt so obvious once I read it but that had never occurred to me: most modern parenting tactics are based around the idea of raising an obedient child. (For example, usually when someone says a kid is “good” they are referring to a kid who does what it is told or is quiet.) Yet when you ask parents what traits they would like to pass down to their children, “obedient” is almost never among them. In Unconditional Parenting Kohn examines a lot of our current assumptions about good parenting and makes suggestions to help parents move from, as he puts it in the title, “rewards and punishments to love and reason.” Fascinating, thought-provoking (and occasionally even practical) read.

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth // Ina May Gaskin

This book is, for me, the quintessential Ina May book. It has all of the positive sides of Spiritual Midwifery, with none of the annoying language that I mention in my review above. By and large, like Spiritual Midwifery, it is a book of at-home birth anecdotes, with a shorter concluding section about various complications that can occur.

So. Those are the books I’ve devoured so far. Almost. I also read Real Food for Mother and Baby by Nina Planck (which I already covered extensively here), The Family Bed (interesting, but not interesting or well-written enough to review in full), and I’m currently in the middle of The Baby Book by William Sears and Marth Sears and The Bilingual Family by Edith Harding Esch and Philip Riley. On the to-read list remain: Rad Dad: Dispatches From the Frontiers of Fatherhood by Tomas Moniz and Jeremy Adam Smith; The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by Diane Wiessinger, Diana West, and Teresa Pitman; and Infant Potty Training: A Gentle and Primeval Method Adapted to Modern Living by Laurie Boucke.

What did you read during your pregnancy? (And what did you wish you had read?) I’m always looking for another good read, so leave me some titles in the comments.

0 Comments on “books for gorilla parents, or what i read while i was pregnant

  1. Wow, you totally covered ALL the bases, including my all time favorites with Alfie Kohn and Susun Weed. The only things I would add to your list of dead necessary parental reading, though it could well be tackled after the babe is born, as they are more about education and thus not an immediate concern, are Summerhill by A.S. Neill and anything at all by John Holt. Holt’s work is a bit edu-technical, kinda aimed at teachers I think, in the same way Spiritual Midwifery is aimed at midwives and birth pros, but a powerful read just the same. Summerhill turned my whole idea of what education could be right smack onto its head and brought me to tears several times, remembering the torments of my own childhood school years. It rang so true to me that kids were just capable of handling so much more freedom and honesty than anybody was giving them credit for. I credit this book more than any other for my decision to unschool and let my kids free-range.

  2. The Birth Partner was the best birth-process book for me. Highly practical, and very little woo-woo. I don’t need to be told about what a miraculous majickal happening it all is and how to feel about it, thanks very much.

    As for child rearing, I plan on “start trying” the wisdom in this little post:

    Be well, Gorilla.

  3. Oh, and don’t buy the book (it really could be a single blog post or even a pamphlet), but we’ve found Dr. Harvey Karp’s “Happiest Baby in the Wagenplatz” and the ‘5 S’s’ to be a sanity saver. Swaddle, suckle, side-laying, swaying, and loud shhhhhhhing. Individually or all together, if necessary to calm the wee one. Truly worked for us.

    The theory is that we humans kick the babies out of the womb about 3 months too early — they really need a 4th trimester. Trouble is, if we wait much longer, their heads will be too big for the birth canal. The 5 S’s approximate the womb experience and they chill out.

    There. That’s the whole book. Sorry, Harvey.

  4. @Andrew. Ah, I’d forgotten about that one. Someone loaned us the videotape (about 30 minutes). It was a lifesaver with our first and the visual instruction of how to do the swaddle properly was awesome. Also, our kids loved watching all the babies go from screaming to contented.

  5. Rachele: Sweet! Thanks for the recommendations. Those books about education sound awesome. And will probably depress the hell out of me seeing as homeschooling is totally illegal in Germany.

    Andrew: Loved that article about teaching your kids to argue, thanks for telling me about it. And for the sum up of the Happiest Baby thing. Wohoo less than three more months to go…

  6. great list! i am a huge ina may fan- she has a new book, birth matters, that i haven’t read yet but want to. ani difranco wrote the preface, which makes me even more want to. ina may also wrote a breastfeeding book which is out of print, but i got my hands on a copy and really liked it. there are a few things in it that are outdated, which is why i think it’s out of print. but i just love the woman and still gleaned lots of gems from it.

    i’m a big fan of unconditional parenting. other ones in that realm you might like are hold onto your kids (neufeld) and raising our children, raising ourselves (naomi aldort). a lot of people i know like aldort’s book better than kohn’s, saying it has more practical suggestions. i personally loved kohn and all his theorizing, but appreciate naomi’s take on things as well.

  7. Gorilla, the state of homeschooling in your country is depressing indeed. But things change, and even if they don’t by the time the peanut reaches school age, there are always alternatives. You could fly under the radar and homeschool anyway (I know some do), or you might look into Sudbury or democratic model schools in your area. I think there are a handful of them in Germany. You’ll find a way to raise this baby on your terms, whatever you believe to be best.

  8. Hi Gorilla! I dig your blog. My poor hubby is confused, I keep telling him I want to move to a wagenplatz! Poor guy thought we were “movin up” when we got jobs and started renting.
    Anyway, breastfeeding, birth and parenting is my gig, and so I could chat about it for hours. Lemme know if you wanna strike about more conversations about it… If you like birth stories, check out “Journey into Motherhood” which is a collection of natural births stories. Heather Cushman Dowdee is a comic book artist and author. She compiled “Simply give birth” which I am currently devouring. Her comics are hilarious, check out Any book by Sheila Kitzinger is kickin’ I’ve read most of them. She tells it like it is, and she’s a birth advocate. Finally, “Birthing from Within” is a groovy woo-woo rightbrained take on birth. And birth is very woo woo and rightbrained, so its actually very accurate.
    Finally, Jan Hunt is a pretty cool natural parent advocate. Checker out.
    Thanks for sharing your life with all of us on the ‘net!

  9. mb: Hurray for more recommendations! If only there was a really great English-language library around here. It always kind of irritates me that I have to buy most of these books in order to read them. One good thing has been the lending library that my La Leche League group has. Three cheers for them.

    Rachele: Indeed, indeed. We shall see.

    Katie: Haha, and thanks, for the kind words and all the recommendations. I’d love to become alterno mama pen pals! Assuming your email address is saved in my comment back end so I can write you…

  10. I’m not pregnant nor planning to be pregnant any time soon, so I have a book/language nerd question: Have you been reading these books in English or in German? I love hearing about the differences between American and German pregnancy concerns and practices. Are there words about pregnancy in German that translate hilariously into English?

  11. This post is just what I’ve been looking for. I’ve got a long list of books from a friend who is a PA and has a masters in midwifery, currently working in a nicu. However, her list is so exhaustive I didn’t know where to start. Her thoughts echo your right down to dispising the close mindedness of What to Expect When Your Expecting.

    My only problem is I live in a super small town and even though I’m in the middle of America, I’m going to be ordering a lot of these books in. At least I now have a smaller list to consider. Thank you.

  12. Jan: Oh my god, the stuff on that site is insane. Ha. The kind of stuff that drives fear into the hearts of even the most chaotic of parents to be…

    Foy: Glad to hear it!!! I would be interested to know what you think of all of them too, if you ever feel like stopping back and giving us a report.

    Jill: Oh what a great questions. I’ve read all of these books in English, though I’m ordering Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth (German title: Die selbstbestimmte Geburt) in German for my birth helpers to be able to read with ease, and I’ll probably read it to so I can get more of the German birth vocabulary down.

    So far the funniest German birth-related word and my all-time favorite is “Mutterkuchen.” That literally means “mother cake” and refers to the placenta. Heh. Perfect descriptor of what it is, yet somehow hilarious at the same time.

    Oh, another good one is “Muttermund,” which literally means “mother’s mouth.” But translated to English means “cervix.” I love how pictoral the German language can be. Just makes so much sense somehow. Hmm, maybe I should write a whole post about this sometime.

  13. Here are my top parenting books, but you’ve already read the ones I think are most essential before baby arrives! It will be helpful, though, if you start thinking about discipline strategies now (and discussing with the Beard to make sure you agree) so that you’re prepared to use a consistent approach from the beginning. I was surprised that within the first month, I was relying on gentle discipline philosophies already, to figure out how best to respond when my baby bit me while nursing! (My instinct was to throw him across the room, but I knew that was not the best choice.)

    About the passage on homosexuality in The Continuum Concept, here are some more recent statements from the author. At the time the book was written, there was more of a societal perception that being gay was disadvantageous because of the negative social pressures you would face, so it was something you’d want to protect your child from if you could. That’s changing. But it does seem to me (as a developmental psychologist, and having known a wide range of GLBT people) that although many non-heterosexuals seem to be following an inborn inclination, others seem more motivated by psychological scars–for example, a girl molested by men from an early age grows up into a woman who trusts only women and is terrified of men’s sexuality, or a boy abandoned by his father grows up into a man who seeks the love of men to fill that void. I think Liedloff was speaking of those cases more than intending to make a blanket statement about all homosexuality.

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