Early on, silly me, I promised myself I wouldn’t open the pages of a pregnancy book. I had less than nine months to get in order my “to read” list of books–the ones I’d always wanted to but not gotten around to, the unfinished novels I’d had on my nightstand, the big ones, and the mindless ones. Each night, they stared at me from my shelves, and me at them. I counted them, I rearranged them, I read a few, and then I broke down and bought one–just one–book on birthing.
I learned my lesson about googling stuff online that involved pregnancy, after spending an entire Saturday afternoon, slumped over my laptop in the BP’s bed, as he kissed me goodbye to go ride his motorcycle with a friend. I was beyond consolation. What I’d read were horror stories, and now they were in my head. And now I felt compelled to google more to undo them.
After that night, I called the BP when in doubt, had him look something up and spare me the gore.
But then I bought just one more book. A pregnancy bible. Other mothers of color swore by it.
Of course, there was the book on sleeping. And, I reasoned, getting sleep would pay off–reading about getting sleep while I still was able to get sleep seemed like a good idea and could potentially provide me with more reading time, even after the baby arrived.
Then I hired a doula, and she mentioned a book. She’d be with me during the crucial hours of my labor; I wanted to be on the same “page” as her so to speak. I put the order in on Amazon.
Before long, the novels on my nightstand disappeared beneath the books on pregnancy and birthing, sleeping and baby products.
“I never opened one of those books,” a friend reported one day, ignorant to my recent growing library. Hearing the liberation in her voice, I silently vowed to stop. To return to my beloved short stories and travel memoirs. Now that I’d no longer be traveling–at least not in the foreseeable future–I could at least read about other people’s travels, right?
But questions came up, and with so many resources around me, and my bad experience with googling, I quickly flipped to indexes, just to look up one thing. And I read chapters. And I compared chapters. And I skimmed. One book praised “attachment parenting” and cosleeping, while another strongly urged letting them “cry it out,” another mocked the “sleep trainers” and the sleep trainers criticized the cosleepers.
I justified my consumption of this, telling the BP one night, that I now felt I had a good picture of all sides; I didn’t quite know yet where I stood but, at least, when all hell broke loose, I’d have options.
On my nights off–when I’d reached my saturation point, or felt like I was toward the top of the curve, I’d guiltily pick up an abandoned novel, sitting there as a stark reminder of my freer, easier days.
One night, at dinner with my parents, my mother listened to me rehash facts about infant’s nervous systems and REM sleep. “I don’t know,” she said, wistfully nostalgic, “I just got pregnant, my belly got bigger, and then we had you.”
I smiled at her. And then I immediately said, in my own defense, “There’s so much information out there, and I feel obligated to be abreast of it.” But it came out sounding like a weak excuse.
“Women in China,” my father casually reminded me, “squatted in rice fields and gave birth.”
So was it my fault that I was part of a culture that exploited the vulnerability of parents with its marketing, making one feel guilty, irresponsible, risky, or even downright ignorant for not taking part in the frenzy of information hauled on us, as if ushering a life into this world from our wombs isn’t, alone, enough to bear.
Even in the “back to basics” trend of clothe diapers, slings, breastfeeding until toddler-years, and natural childbirth, the industry has flooded our wishes to keep it simpler by selling us products that make things … even simpler.
What is the real simple? Do I need to look to women in rice fields in China? My grandmother and mother’s generation to find that happy balance of women’s wisdom, collective wisdom, and maternal instinct over parenting books and birthing guides? While I’ll admittedly reap the rewards of knowing it’s no longer necessary to wake a child every two hours to breastfeed, I just wonder what price I’ll pay–have paid–in my increasing paranoia, vulnerability, and often detachment from my own basic instincts–for the information I am given.
Mothers of color are more than just a stroller researcher
If making a decision is as much fun to you as, say, the question of whether you feel like getting hit by a truck or suffer a bout of food poisoning for a thousand years, then you’ll probably feel as tortured, trapped, overwhelmed, and uneasy as I did in registering for my baby shower.
In my first trimester, the notion of a baby shower was something sweet, celebratory—a chance for a lot of attention, and doting and—presents! In fact, to my own horror, I even begged a reluctant friend, who recently gave birth, to have one (she politely declined, deciding instead to buy things herself “as needed”). I now see the beauty in that.
I, on the other hand, decided to go the more traditional route—me, unmarried, pregnant, who didn’t even attend her own college graduation because of a strong dislike for pomp and circumstance—couldn’t pass up the chance to be showered with gifts which, most likely (now that I understand the sheer quantity of “stuff” a modern baby requires), I would never be able to afford on my own.
And, in doing so, I’m paying the price. It began with a list—collected by the BP from some Web site about “nursery necessities” and turned into a full-blown nightmare. For nearly one solid month—the concept of a shower and a baby registry snowballed into a research project requiring monumental-decision making and also epic-level paranoia.
Casually, one night, at a meeting to plan my sister’s bridal shower (oh, to be registering for napkin holders from Crate and Barrel rather than having to choose between six different kinds of breast pumps), a bridesmaid who’d recently had a son started dashing off tips about what a baby needs—from humidifiers to saline spray. I took a few notes on a nearby scrap of paper, and made a mental promise to look some things up later online. (I truly miss those days of innocent naiveté and ignorance.)
Before the bridesmaid left, she told me to look at her old registry online. I did. And that’s when it all started. I was astonished by the amount of stuff one small being can require—from wipes warmers (I think I’ve chosen to let my baby have room-temp warmers and go without) to lap pads, bottles and pacifiers in all shapes and sizes and varying degrees of toxicity-free and ortho-friendly, ointments, and shopping-cart seat covers, diaper disposal bags and breast milk storage bags . . . when I thought I was just buying a car seat and a breastfeeding pillow.
At some point, I thought it would be a good idea to send my list to several friends who had kids—to get some opinions on these matters. And, boy, did I. Opinions, at this stage in the game, are the last thing I need, but I asked for it—only to find, in the end, I no longer trusted anyone save a few favorable reviews of the product in question by complete strangers on Amazon.com or Babies-R-Us. A friend told me which brand of crib she’d bought, and when I looked it up online and discovered that it had been recalled, I chose to stop asking her for advice.
I made decisions based on sheer paranoia and favored reviews online from those who appeared to be operating at the utmost level of neurosis … if they were going to be even crazier and more discerning then I, let them. I’d operate from their well-researched opinions. I studied top-of-the-line strollers with the same degree I scrutinized washcloths, cross-referencing reviews and consulting the Baby Bargains book.
It goes without saying, the process was excruciating. While it seemed women were out there (clearly women crazier than I) who relished in writing these reviews, took pains to respond to people’s questions on various forums, had a good deal of time to devote to acquiring knowledge and dispensing opinions about … stuff … I found the whole process remarkably agonizing, cruel even—who could I blame? Whose idea was this? At times I thought, I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.
But I needed—felt compelled to—make my own decisions, come to my own conclusions, do my homework, be an informed consumer. After all, what kind of women went blindly into these things?
At this point, I’d venture to say, probably very wise ones.
If my grandmother were alive today, I know what she’d do. She’d take a hand to either side of her head, cradle it, and slowly shake it back and forth. “Oh, I don’t know,” she’d say, sorrowfully, sympathetically … telling me about her one crib, the few things she took home from the hospital, the cloth diapers her mother would cut from rags. Her children grew up to be my aunt and father—both (amazingly) still alive today. They survived.
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