Book review: It Sucked and Then I Cried. . .

14 August 2009 at 5:04 pm 3 comments

I just finished Heather Armstrong’s It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita (2009). Many people already know Heather’s name from her blog, dooce.com; I confess that I hadn’t at first put two and two together, and I picked up the book blind, cheerfully thinking something like, “Oh, a new book on birth–boy, it sounds pretty negative, but I’ll give it a go anyway.” Nevertheless, I quickly figured it out.

Here’s the bottom line: if you like Heather’s scatalogical focus and find her blog charming and amusing, then you’ll likely think the same about the book. If not–like me–then you may not be the biggest fan of this book.

Heather is indeed quite negative on pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and motherhood; it’s hard for me to know how much of what she says is honest and how much is just there to be funny. For example, are we really supposed to believe her when she states that “[o]ne thing no one ever told [her] about was that once [she] became pregnant [she] would experience a constant urge to go pee” (10)? I think an increased urge for urination is one pregnancy effect that even the much-maligned WtEWYE (which, interestingly, this book resembles in places) covers.

This claim of ignorance about bodily, and later emotional, processes–as well as disappointment and horror when her ignorance is finally dispelled–is a recurring theme in Heather’s book. She goes on and on about how painful breastfeeding was, claiming that no one prepared her for difficulties on that front either, and constantly making the leap from her own particular experience to generalities: “Everything I’d ever read about breastfeeding had to have been written by a man with no tits, because everything said that as long as the baby was in the right position it wouldn’t hurt to breastfeed. THAT WAS A LIE” (82-83).

Of course pregnancy, labor, breastfeeding, and new parenthood vary widely from woman to woman–a good midwife (who Heather never seems to have seen) would work with her client to educate her–and encourage the client to educate herself by referring her to some reliable sources–so that she was informed about all the possible dimensions of this marvelous journey. And yes, pregnancy and all the rest are difficult for some women–clearly no one should gloss over those difficulties or pretend that the post-partum period (which a big portion of Heather’s book is devoted to) is easy.

I think that Heather’s book has possible value in its (completely and utterly) unvarnished depiction of one woman’s particular experiences, but honestly, there are other books around that accomplish this same function while being both more optimistic and better-written. One that comes immediately to mind is Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year; when I read this book a week or so after giving birth, I found it the best, most realistic book I had ever read on motherhood. Another great book (now sadly out of print) is Phyllis Chesler’s With Child: A Diary of Motherood–An Intimate Account of Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Mothering, which is simply the most insightful, beautiful, poetic text I’ve ever read on the child-bearing year. Both of these books don’t gloss over the messy, painful, difficult times, yet are much better, more informed reads (despite their age) than Heather’s.

I’ll leave you with a quote from With Child just as a taste of how I think Chesler captures the bliss and paradoxical emotional turmoil that is many women’s experience in the early post-partum period. The speaker is of course a mother talking to her new baby:

“I dream of your sudden death. The stopped breath. The violent choking. The mysterious convulsion. My fear paralyzes me. . .

“Only you can comfort me. By remaining alive. I dread your cries. I crave them.”

–Christina

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Reminder: save the date for a cool interdisciplinary birth talk, 9/3 Will “healthcare reform” be better or worse for birth?

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kim  |  16 August 2009 at 5:46 pm

    I enjoy Heather’s brand of humor. I have not read the book but i read Dooce.com. I agree that pregnancy is completely different for each woman and I try not to judge when I hear of women who went into motherhood completely uneducated.
    Anyway I just wanted to say that since this book, Heather has gone on to have a second daughter. During her second pregnancy she was given a copy of “Your Best Birth” which pretty much changed pregnancy and the birthing experience for her, completely. It really is a great thing to read about, how one book truly did change the life of a woman.

    Reply
    • 2. christinamichaud  |  16 August 2009 at 8:29 pm

      Thanks for the note–very interesting! I reviewed Lake’s book a couple months ago and actually had that take on it: “While _Your Best Birth_ doesn’t even come close to _The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth_—it’s more accurately described as _Henci Goer LITE!_—it may be widely read by the type of woman who doesn’t venture far beyond What to Expect When You’re Expecting, and it may just make her look beyond the ob-gyn party line on birth.” Glad to hear Heather’s second experience was so much better!

      Reply
      • 3. Kim  |  17 August 2009 at 12:37 pm

        For sure, it’s nice that it’s probably going to reach a wider market then something by Ina May or even Peggy Simkin. Heather’s birth story is posted on her blog in three parts, it made me cry but that might be because i am pregnant 🙂

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