Aug 012008

Well, we have finally, formally, officially, all known i’s dotted and t’s crossed, scheduled the c-section.

The day I thought it was scheduled for turned out to be already overbooked. Fortunately, the midwife I adore went to bat for me and got a good compromise. So we are now fully scheduled for 9 am, Saturday, August 30.

It’s with one of the doctors I don’t know, assisted by the other midwife — whom I also like, she was the reason we decided to go with this practice in the first place. But she did earn the nickname “MEDwife” instead of “midwife” from blogger buddy Jen, for her unusually (for a midwife) interventionist opinions.

The only downside I can see right now is that I won’t get to go see Mir and Kirsten read from their new book, Sleep is for the Weak: the Best of the Mommybloggers, at the Decatur Book Festival over Labor Day Weekend. But hey, if you want to come by and read to me and Esmerelda after you’re done at the festival — and get to sniff that new baby head smell –¬† I’ll be a captive audience!

 Posted by at 9:30 pm
Jun 112008

I’ve just finished reading The Maternal is Political: Women Writers at the Intersection of Motherhood & Social Change, edited by Shari MacDonald Strong.

I read it as part of the MotherTalk book review team, and received my review copy for free from them. I was not otherwise compensated for this review. (And I wrote in the book, so I’m not inclined to offer it up as a giveaway, unless you want my underlinings and dog-ears.)

The list of contributing writers is amazing — writers like Anne Lamott, Barbara Kingsolver, Rebecca Walker, Susie Bright, Anna Quindlen, and politicians like Nancy Pelosi and the late Benazir Bhutto. There are also dozens of great contributors whose writing is less familiar to most of us.

MacDonald Strong’s Introduction acknowledges how difficult it can be for overwhelmed mothers to also be engaged political activists. We have to feed our children, keep them and our surroundings tolerably clean, and supervise them. We don’t have to follow the news, organize, or worry about the myriad of issues that affect our lives and communities less directly. And in her words:

Some days, it’s just easier to block it all out, to curl up with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s (or it would be if someone else in your house hadn’t gotten to it first), and curl up to watch American Idol while hoping someone else will step up and fix things.

On the flip side, as Judith Stadtman Tucker notes in the book’s opening essay:

Once you see injustice, you start to see it everywhere. And once you start to see injustice everywhere — once you take the awareness of its prevalence and corrosive power into your heart — you can’t stop thinking about what it would take to put things right.

Rebecca Walker asks what I think is the central question of both the book, and motherhood:

Is there one single aspect of motherhood that isn’t political? From conception to graduation, from your kid’s first apartment until you die, it’s basically one political decision after another.

The rest of the essays explore different places mothers are and the different paths that mothers take between those two poles.

Barbara Kingsolver’s essay comparing her own self-image at 13 to how she perceives her daughter’s, is touching, not to mention eye-opening for those of us who grew up in a later era than Kingsolver. Her effort to help her daughter deal with a fifth grade sexually harassing bully is nothing short of inspiring.

Like Kingsolver, Amy L. Jenkins finds the courage and need to speak out against narrow-minded sexism because more than needing to be the pleasant and polite, she needed to set an example for her daughter and another young woman — while they were all stuck together on a 125 mile car trip. (Normally, one imagines that going to see the Green Bay Packers would be the memorable part of a road trip, but not for this mother of a daughter listening to a young man spewing sexism.)

And like Jenkins, Anne Lamott struggles with the question of whether or not to politely allow someone else to give a polite and non-confrontational, soft response to comments she finds almost paralyzingly sexist and frustrating.

Lamott, too, cannot contain her honest anger and frustration in the face of both the original sexism, and the genteel and inadequate responses of the people around her, when she is part of a liberal/progressive panel discussion on politics and faith:

But then I did the only thing I could think to do: plunge on and tell my truth.

And somehow, as I was speaking, I got louder and maybe more emphatic than I actually feel, and said that [abortion] was not a morally ambiguous issue for me at all. I said that fetuses were not babies yet; that there actually was a difference between pro-choice people, like me, and Klaus Barbie.

Then I said that a woman’s right to choose was nobody else’s goddamn business.

As wonderful as all of those essays were, they were not my favorites. My favorite essays were Helaine Olen’s The Mean Moms, and Adoption in III Acts, by Kathy Briccetti.

I thought The Mean Moms was the most vulnerable and honest essay in the book. Although the perspectives couldn’t be more different, the naked truthfulness and bravery of Olen’s voice reminded me of Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions.

I’m not going to quote an excerpt because I can’t bring myself to expose the best and most awful story in the essay, out of context. Go read it yourself. The essay begins on page 243.

Briccetti’s essay was a favorite for more personal reasons. I owe her and her family a debt of gratitude — they were pioneers in the effort to have same-sex second-parent adoptions approved by the court. Their success in 1993 paved the way for Jill’s and mine in 2006.

As much as 13 years makes a difference in the legal and political evolution, I’m sorry to say that the fear and frustration they felt were no different and no more realistic concerns than ours. Our families still can’t count on legal recognition, even though we’re sometimes fortunate enough to get it.

Briccetti’s personal journey and relationship to adoption is far more complex than mine, and adds fascinating layers of emotion to her story:

Ever since Pam and I had visited the sperm bank to choose a donor, I’d struggled with the idea that my family’s blueprint — three generations of adoptions and absent fathers — had somehow caused me to create a child who would not grow up with a father.

If this collection has a weakness, it is that it does seem to be preaching to the choir. Feminists will love it, and may find new nuggets of information, new anecdotes to support theories, new writers they’ll enjoy and return to reading. I could imagine this book used as a college text. But I have a hard time imagining a “regular mom” selecting this book from a table in a bookstore.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Don’t we join the choir because we both like music and we like listening to a good, thought-provoking sermon?

 Posted by at 12:16 am
May 152008

What? You still read books? You haven’t posted a review in so long that we thought maybe it was because all you read are board books with Noah?

What are you talking about? I posted one just a few weeks ago!

Ok, true, but it was the first one in like a year.

I’m still reading. I’m just not keeping track of what I read like I did back in 2005, before I had a baby. Or writing about it. Also, I’m in this weird phase where I re-read the same books over and over. And not just to Noah.

Huh. You know that’s weird, right?

Shut up. It works for me, and besides, I’m trying to talk about a new book, ok?

As I was planning to say, before I got caught up in that imaginary conversation with you, I’ve just finished reading Marjorie Greenfield’s The Working Woman’s Pregnancy Book. I read it as part of the MotherTalk book tour. (They gave me a free copy of the book, but I was not otherwise compensated for this review.)

When I signed up, I expected The Working Woman’s Pregnancy Book to be pretty much like the myriad of other pregnancy books I obsessively bought when I was pregnant with Noah, only with some additional information on the Family & Medical Leave Act, and maybe some additional suggestions for staying healthy in different work environments, plus hopefully some advice on managing returning to work.

It isn’t.

The first three chapters are about your health before you even try to get pregnant. And the next two are about trying to get pregnant — and how/when to proceed “When Nature Isn’t Working.”

And while the next four sections are divided into the three trimesters and the actual birth, the week-by-week fetal development information ranges from a few paragraphs per week, down to a chart of key milestones.

Instead, the focus is on things like:

  • How to Choose a Doctor or Midwife
  • Communicating About Your Pregnancy at Work
  • Second Trimester Prenatal Testing
  • Arranging for Maternity Leave
  • Your “Birth Plan”
  • Natural Childbirth/Epidurals/Other Pain Relief Options
  • Cesarean Sections

Personally, my biggest fear/annoyance about pregnancy books is that they will be ALL about the unacknowledged assumption that the reader is in a heterosexual marriage. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! But not every pregnant person is either married or straight, and you would think that authors would remember that.

I liked how this book handled that.

Right up front in the Preface, on the first page of text in the book, Greenfield says:

I also want to explain what may seem like assumptions about gender and sexual orientation. In this book, I used the male gender for the partner, since that is the most common arrangement, and alternated male and female for the baby (by chapter). In places, I assumed that the mom was heterosexual and in a long-term relationship, but I tried to address other arrangements when it made a difference.

See how easy that is? Authors don’t need to engage in awkward writing OR to ignore the diverse circumstances under which women get pregnant. Speaking to your specific imaginary reader is totally fine — just acknowledge the fact that your actual readers will be in many different circumstances, and when that makes a difference, address it! Good job, Dr. Greenfield!

A few other things I liked about this book:

  • There were lots of great quotations from moms, about their experiences, throughout the book. (Although some of the “anonymizing” was silly. Like “Jane S., state governor. Gee, I wonder who that is.)
  • Non-judgmental tone in discussing emotionally charged issues like c-sections, circumcision, and breastfeeding/use of formula.
  • Use of quotation marks around “Birth Plan” and explicit recognition that your birth is not going to go according to anyone’s plan. I really think that the moms who are the most attached to their idea of how birth “should go” are the ones who are the unhappiest with their actual experience. (That’s NOT what Greenfield said, but I felt validated in my opinion by her quotation marks. Certainly she agrees that you should talk with your health care providers about what you want.)
  • The chapter “Crawling Up the Learning Curve” about the exhausting emotional roller coaster of the first few weeks home with a newborn does a good job of setting a new mom’s expectations. (But does anyone ever believe how crazy it will be?)
  • The information about pumping at work, that pumping is a learned skill, and that your workplace may or may not do a good job of supporting your need to pump, are things I think very few women think about in advance — and it would be helpful to do so!
  • Finding a health care practice — great information explaining the different types of options, including OBs, Family Doctors, Certified Nurse Midwives, and various other types of midwives, as well as RNs, Nurse Practicioners, Doulas, and Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialists. Also excellent information about how to figure out if the practice is the right fit for you. I had a hard time finding a practice to deliver Noah, and it would have been reassuring to have something concrete like the list of questions this book provides.
  • Great appendices full of information about infertility treatment, interpreting various prenatal tests, and additional resources both online and in print.

This book would be most useful to someone who is at the very beginning of the process of trying to get pregnant.

While readers who are or have dealt with infertility treatment will quibble with some of the assumptions in the chapter “Trying to Get Pregnant,” for an average, fertile, healthy, heterosexual woman in a relationship, the information is WAY MORE useful than we got in high school sex ed, and probably works for most people.

The next group of people I think would find this book valuable are professional women in urban or suburban areas. We are the people most likely to be able to make the wide range of choices about health care, work for employers covered by the FMLA, and likely to buy multiple pregnancy books.

Yeah. Multiple pregnancy books.

Maybe I’m unique, but in both of my pregnancies, I’ve wanted more details about both fetal development and the changes happening to my pregnant body than this book includes. That’s ok, all those other books have that. And most of them don’t have the breadth of information in this book.

If you are pregnant for the first time, or hope to become pregnant for the first time in the next six months or a year, I recommend picking up these two books: The Working Woman’s Pregnancy Book and Bun in the Oven by Kaz Cooke.

And if that sounds like you (or you just want to read it), leave a comment. One random commenter will be the lucky winner of this book. (You can’t have my copy of Bun – I’m re-reading it for the week by week details!)

 Posted by at 5:29 am
Apr 232008

We’ve been super-busy and I am extra-tired lately, so here are some extremely short versions of the posts I have been writing in my head:

This is a great resource on how women’s “power of the purse” can be used to help contribute to a healthier, more sustainable way of life. And in many cases, it actually saves money to do it that way! MacEachern very helpfully lists some top “bang for your buck” suggestions in each chapter of the book, so that if a reader wants to test a few simple changes, figuring out some options is easy.

We read this as part of the local Smith Club Book Club this month, and most of the other women at the meeting agreed. The top changes people are considering after reading are joining a CSA and switching cleaning products.

Full disclosure: I did score a review copy of this book, but this review was not otherwise compensated.

  • Noah seems to have contracted Fifth Disease. It appears to be not serious, at least for him. I’m hoping that my utter lack of symptoms means that I, like most adults, had it as a child and am now immune. Because naturally it is dangerous only to people with compromised immune system and fetuses. And for some reason, my midwives haven’t returned my phone call about it.
  • No bug sightings since Saturday!
  • I am officially out of 90% of non-maternity clothes. I freaked out last week because I hadn’t gained any weight in 2 weeks, and I’m in prime weight-gain time for pregnancy, the second trimester. But don’t worry, I made up for it and am up 2 lbs since my freakout last Tuesday. Happily, I am still not on track to match last pregnancy’s 50 lb weight gain.
  • I joined a food swap. About a dozen other toddler moms and I are each making a bunch of sets of felt food items, and then doing a massive exchange, so our kids get a variety of safe pretend food. I’m making fried eggs — I did the first one last night, while watching election returns, and it turned out adorable!Considering that his cooking toys currently rank 3rd behind trains and cars, I think Noah will like the bounty due to arrive in early June.
  • I’ve been falling off the fruit & veg/healthy eating wagon lately. So I’m re-instating my daily fruit & veg reports here. Fruit & Veg Count, 4/22: Big fat nada, unless you count the amount of strawberries in a cup of strawberry yogurt. I’m going to go eat a banana.
 Posted by at 4:56 am
Mar 142008

Jenny tagged me for this book meme ages ago, and I finally have the teeny bit of leftover brainpower to do it.

Here are the rules:

1. Grab the nearest book of 123 pages or more.
2. Open it to page 123.
3. Find the first 5 sentences and write them down.
4. Then invite 5 friends to do the same.

The book I’m midway through reading is Embryo Culture: Making Babies in the Twenty-First Century, by Beth Kohl. I read about this book over at my location-doppelganger Mel’s a week or two ago, when it was being reviewed by the Barren Bitches Book Brigade. Here’s an interview with fellow Badger Beth, and links to lots of other reviews.

I’m not done with the book yet, but so far, I think it’s a fantastic read, deftly bridging the gap between personal memoir about the experience of infertility and both failed and successful IVF, and well-researched cultural critique.

Here’s the meme quotation from Embryo Culture:

Weekend well spent, we’ll drive home, and for the next ten days I’ll go about my business knowing intuitively that I am with child. Examining packages of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, ordering books of stamps, I’ll be focused inward, even as my glow emanates out to the world. On the eleventh day I’ll administer a home pregnancy test. The result window will immediately turn hot, hot pink, setting all sorts of records for the quickest and most undeniably positive result, which of course I won’t realize, knowing only that it works just like they say it will on TV.

I’ll bake chocolate souffles and nestle the test stick inside Gary’s serving, spooning extra whipped cream on top.

I’m going to tag Mel (do you play internet memes, Mel?), Cindy, Clare, Lesbian Dad, and because talking to them unexpectedly was the absolute high point of my week, Levi’s Moms. (Either or both, but I imagine Mama Mindy is more likely to play. Especially if she’s not done writing whatever it was she was not writing when she called.)

Anyone who would rather not play on her own blog is welcome to play in the comments here, and anyone I didn’t tag who thinks it sounds like fun, please pretend I tagged you.

 Posted by at 5:37 am
Oct 272007

I just finished reading Alternadad by Neal Pollack, and I loved it. It’s my second favorite book about being a parent, after Operating Instructions, by Anne Lamott.

I also have to give credit for my having read this to Shelfari. It caught my eye on Lizzie’s shelf, which contained numerous books I’ve read and loved, so while I was stuck in La Jolla, I found and bought it.

I probably wouldn’t have picked it up if it weren’t for Lizzie’s recommendation. It’s a dad book, for one thing, and the cover features a rubber ducky with a stainless steel bill ring. In my mind, I am just not as hip and cool as that kind of parent — and let’s be honest, my favorite “music” is NPR. Aside from that, I 90% don’t care about what I’m listening to, although I sometimes pretend otherwise.

But it seems that being “alternative” is more complicated than just partying and being ironic and listening to bands in smokey bars. If Pollack and his family are examples, it also includes being politically active in your community, trying to be an informed consumer and to struggle with the compromises that requires, and smoking a lot of marijuana.

I’m not a pot smoker any more than I’m a watch bands in smokey bars person, but I am progressive, moderately active, and I struggle with making consumer choices that are right for my family and what we believe. I’m also good with being ironic. Oh yeah, and I think I automatically get a heaping pile of alternative cred points for being a 2 mom family. ;-) Even if I do look like Jenny of Suburbia.

Here’s what I loved about Alternadad.

Pollack wrote about his family, from meeting his wife, through their decision to move to LA when their son was about 2 years old. I cracked up reading at various moments, including:

Few couples have ever gone into childbirth as educated as Regina and I. We new every possible permutation and were prepared for all of the curves. This just might be the easiest birth in the history of humankind.

I don’t want to ruin anything for you, but if you think an ironic outcome is on it’s way, you are absolutely correct. But don’t worry, everyone is ok in the end.
Another favorite example:

I realized that marriage would mean some concessions. But I didn’t realize I was marrying an adult female Pigpen, a woman who seemed to have a genetic penchant towards sloppy surroundings.

I began to realize that Regina employed an odd household logic. It had only a little bit to do with her not wanting to do chores, because I was more than willing to split the work with her. Slowly, it occurred to me that, for psychological reasons, she really didn’t want things to be clean, that she preferred for things to skirt the near edge of vile before she went on a massive bleach rampage.

Like Operating Instructions, Pollack wrote about the good, the bad, and the ugly. He didn’t whitewash to make himself look good, or his son, or his parents. I don’t think he whitewashed to make his wife look better, but she comes across as the person I’d most want to hang out with in the book, so maybe I’m wrong there. (I wrote that last sentence before deciding to include those quotations, so now I’m thinking he didn’t whitewash her either. Nope.)

In every major decision, every struggle, every argument, you can understand and relate to the difficulty and the final choices. They’re human choices, full of human love and human pain.When people write about their experiences in a way that is true and touches on the universality of being a parent, being married, or trying to pursue their professional & artistic dreams, it doesn’t matter if they are Jenny of Suburbia, the poster boy for hipster fatherhood, or a depressed recovering alcoholic single mother. Almost anyone can still hear himself or herself in their stories.

Pollack is that kind of writer. And if you are a liberal or progressive parent, trying to figure out how to entertain and teach your child without sacrificing your values or giving everything over to the easiest answer, I think you’ll love this book.

Also? Pollack writes a bunch of blogs, so you can decide for yourself whether or not you like his writing style before you buy the hardcover book.

(Aside to You have some great bloggers! But would you mind making it easier to find them and making your links shorter and easier to follow? This is a terrible URL:
, why not make them something like or, which I could remember instead of needing to bookmark or google every time. Even if you do have to query a database for each entry, you could return it to that kind of top level URL structure.)

 Posted by at 6:15 am
Oct 082007

These are the top 106 books most often marked as “unread” by LibraryThing’s users (as of Oct 4). Thanks Reno!
Bold what you have read, italicize those you started but couldn’t finish, and strike through what you couldn’t stand. Add an asterisk to those you’ve read more than once. Underline those on your to-read list. ? for can’t remember if I ever tried to read it or not.

Having stolen this list from a Reedie, I’m also going to add in the annotations R, S, and HS if I read the book in question at Reed or Smith, or in high school.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell*
Anna Karenina R
Crime and Punishment R
One Hundred Years of Solitude HS
Wuthering Heights* HS
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi: a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
The Odyssey R
Pride and Prejudice* HS
Jane Eyre*
A Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov R
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler’s Wife*
The Iliad R
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway S
Great Expectations
American Gods
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran: a Memoir in Books
Memoirs of a Geisha*

Wicked: the life and times of the wicked witch of the West*
The Canterbury Tales HS & S — read and enjoyed selected stories, never tried to do the entire thing from soup to nuts
The Historian: A Novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera HS
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum

The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel
1984 HS
Angels & Demons
The Inferno R
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility*
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse S
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s Travels
Les Misérables
The Corrections
The Amazing adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Dune - I’ve been thinking about rereading this
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
Cryptonomicon****** – one of my favorite books ever
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Beloved S
The Scarlet Letter HS
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon*

Oryx and Crake: a novel
Collapse : How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion?
Northanger Abbey*
The Catcher in the Rye – 8th grade
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an Inquiry into Values
The Aeneid – R
Watership Down

Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers*

 Posted by at 9:29 pm