Bring It On Baby: How to Have a Dudelike Pregnancy
By Zoe Williams
Published by Guardian Books
ISBN-10: 0852652054, ISBN-13: 978-0852652053
From natural childbirth to infertility, breastfeeding to immunisations, there are few areas of pregnancy and childcare that are free from judgment and well-meaning advice.
'Bring It On Baby: How to Have a Dudelike Pregnancy' by Zoe Williams takes on the politics of pregnancy and parenting, casts a sceptical eye over the guidance given to pregnant women and mothers, and ultimately encourages us to stop worrying and enjoy the experience. This message is woven through personal anecdotes of Williams' own pregnancies and family life with her two young children.
'The mistake I made, as a neurotic first-time mother, was to believe things that people told me', Williams says. The book combines humour with a more critical look at the evidence behind some common pregnancy advice. It is more of an entertaining read than a pregnancy manual, and is refreshingly light-hearted on the topic.
Chapter titles give an indication of the humour as well as the issues covered, take 'The fog of birth, why labour is no big deal (especially when you're unconscious)'; 'Let me eat cake, the incredible human miracle of food-related weight gain' and 'What would Gina Ford do? Hugging, smacking, drugging and other things you should never do to a childcare expert'. The book addresses infertility, diet and alcohol in pregnancy, epidurals and Caesarian sections, breastfeeding, attachment parenting, and much more.
Williams argues that many of these issues are framed as 'a conflict between the mother-to-be and her unborn child, creating a narrative in which her behaviour runs counter to its interests', but concludes that 'it's all nonsense'. This juxtaposition is implied in every choice - from the age women choose to have children, the food and drink they consume, to the details of their labour and birth.
Williams - who chaired the session on assisted conception at the 2011 PET, Progress Educational Trust, annual conference 'The Best Possible Start in Life: The Robust and Responsive Embryo' - amusingly captures the anxieties, confusion and self-doubt experienced by pregnant women and parents.
Bombarded with advice from health professionals, parenting experts, family and friends, she sifts through some of the common claims and questions and reminds us that guidelines are just that - guidelines to be interpreted and adapted for each individual. Breastfeeding, for example, is neither possible nor practical for some women. Yet the pressure to do what is 'best for baby', however incremental, can lead to feelings of inadequacy rather than empowerment in new mothers.
Although the book is not intended as a review of the medical literature, references are few and far between. Very rarely were references provided to the new research that Williams discusses. For interested readers, who might want to explore a topic in greater depth, sources of further information would have been welcome.
'Bring it on baby' is at its best when using humour and personal stories to draw attention to the issues. I was a fan of Williams' 'Anti-natal' column in the Guardian, and the book covers similar ground. What comes across strongly is the genuine joy and fun she clearly has in raising her children.
At one point Williams proposes that the test of a good book on pregnancy is to 'see how much you can remember of it once you have a one year old child,' and even invites us to 'choose this one if you like'. As a neurotic first-time mother myself, caring for my six month-old daughter, I'm sure that some of the funnier bits will stick in my memory - the family dog destroying every baby toy in the house, and the complicated logistics of avoiding excessive nudity while breastfeeding in public. I also hope that, six months from now, I will have embraced her 'dudelike' attitude to parenting.
New mums or mums-to-be will find 'Bring it on baby' very entertaining and light-hearted. While it probably won't be their first or only source of information on pregnancy or parenting, it might end up being the most enjoyable read.