The first time I spit out a piece of feta cheese I knew my pregnancy books were to blame. Ironically, I purchased the books for guidance, but in reality they were turning me into a neurotic mess. Once I began reading them, I no longer enjoyed my pregnancy and I started to get mad at myself for doing things like eating soft cheese or sleeping on my back. Reading and worrying about the advice in these books was more exhausting than my actual pregnancy.
However, I soon learned that not all parenting books are the same. There was one tattered paperback of a 1960’s parenting book that my mom had given me, which unlike all the modern-day literature, actually brought me solace throughout my pregnancy. Passed down to her from a friend and already dated when she used it in the 1970’s, reading the 1962 book, Pregnancy and Birth: A Book for Expectant Moms by Alan F Guttmacher, was like stepping into a time machine straight to the days of Mad Men. In fact, it became my Valium. Every time I perused the pages, I felt a numbing sense of calm. Just knowing that my mother used this book (and I came out healthy), made me feel at ease when I ordered a second cup of regular coffee or cleaned my cat’s litterbox.
In a world where I was actually chastised for wearing a t-shirt with a Sam Adams Beer logo to a Park Slope prenatal yoga class, this book brought me back to a time where expectant moms could drink openly and deliver babies while sleeping. Although written by a former Vice President of Planned Parenthood and a noted expert on women’s issues of his time (the famed Guttmacher Institute is named after him), the dated (and sometimes dangerous) advice in this book became the single best way to appease my overly neurotic tendencies.
Constipation? My pregnancy books advised that I increase my fiber intake. Pregnancy and Birth however, suggested an “Unhurried visit to the bathroom at the same hour each day:Smoking a cigarette while on such an excursion might help.” Of course I wasn’t going to take up smoking for many reasons, including the fear that people in my area of Brooklyn might stone me to death, but I found the advice pretty amusing.
But retro advice isn’t without its drawbacks. For example, Pregnancy and Childbirth had advised, “A total weight gain of twenty pounds is ideal.” It also stated, “The pregnant woman ought to control weight within normal bounds for vanity’s sake alone.” Thank God it’s the 21st Century. When I stepped on the scale in my third trimester and the doctor informed me that a thirty-pound weight gain was normal, I was relieved.
But like a good friend (or an addiction), the book drew me back in, the minute I realized I had consumed two of the most mercury-laden fish – tuna and swordfish – in the same week. Back then mercury poisoning wasn’t even an issue! I also noted that coffee was allowed, something I attempted to give up but could never do. My baby would be just fine, caffeine and fish be damned.
Despite all my somewhat “unsafe” lapses during pregnancy, there was one thing I was able to give up without issue – booze. Although Pregnancy and Childbirth stated: “There is no logical reason to prohibit the moderate use of alcohol during pregnancy to the patient who enjoys and tolerates it,” the last time I picked up a bottle of wine, the surgeon general’s warning against possible birth defects was pretty clear.
Reading about nicotine, caffeine and alcohol and how harmless they were to the 1960s pregnant woman did indeed help me freak out less over today’s litany of dos and don’ts. Rather than become overwhelmed by information overload, I was able to appreciate being a mom today. For instance, planned abortions weren’t legal or discussed back in the 60s. If they were, Baby wouldn’t have spent her entire summer learning that complicated dance with Johnny Castle in Dirty Dancing. Women were advised to curb their weight and the book even suggests that women with abnormal weight gain should, “Try skipping lunch and substitute skimmed milk with a few unsalted crackers.”
Looking back, I’m also glad that I wasn’t given a combination of Demerol and scopolamine during my delivery which, “In successful cases, under the influence of the drug combination, the patient soon falls into a deep, quiet sleep between pains.” I enjoyed being up for my children’s birth with my husband by my side, not in the waiting room or a bar or passing our cigars, like you see in old movies and TV shows.
Now that my kids are older, I’m going to save this book for my daughter, along with a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I wonder what she’ll find dated about the books I used during my pregnancy. Maybe the most dated quality of both will be the fact that her grandmother and mother got advice from paperbacks.