Book review: Ready (Gregory) and Baby on Board (Jay and Kovarick)

14 March 2011 at 9:51 pm Leave a comment

Baby on Board: Becoming a Mother Without Losing Yourself–A Guide for Moms-to-Be (Joelle Jay and Amy Kovarick, Amacom 2007)

Ready: Why Women are Embracing the New Later Motherhood (Elizabeth Gregory, Perseus 2007)

I don’t know exactly what accident of fate caused these two books–both published in 2007, but otherwise superficially quite different–to arrive in my house at the same time this month, but here they are. The Jay and Kovarick volume is a friendly paperback with workbook-style visualization and planning activities. The Gregory book is an academic hard cover with a thick section of notes.

They’re more alike than you might think, though. Both include quotes from first-person (sometimes pseudonymous) mothers; both are deliberately optimistic and endlessly upbeat in their approach; and both focus mainly on mothers, rather than babies, and at times that focus feels artificial. Yes, both volumes are reacting against a culture that forces women into second-place even as it glorifies babies and young children, but clearly mothers and babies are dyads, and I would think a more balanced view would serve both volumes better.

To read these books, there is nothing that a positive outlook cannot conquer about motherhood: need more alone time? Simply plan for it, as Jay and Kovarick would have you do, even before your baby is born, by filling out the handy hour-by-hour chart of “a typical day in the life” of you and your baby six months or a year in the future. Unrealistic? Hardly! As Gregory tells it–and, in fact, as Jay and Kovarick do, too–you can have it all: “stronger family focus,” “more financial power,” “more flexibility,” “greater likelihood of happiness in marriage,” even “greater self-confidence” (Gregory 8-9). Of course, to Jay and Kovarick, the key to “having it all” is metacognition, meditation (though they shy away from that word), planning, and other staples of the self-help genre, while to Gregory, the key is waiting to have your first child until you are–in her title word–“ready.”

Though one is aimed at women who have not yet given birth, to inspire them, and one is aimed at older mothers, to, er, congratulate them on their good choices, both volumes seem to ignore the reality of motherhood completely. “When do I most want to be with the baby?” expectant mothers are to ask themselves in Baby on Board; “What time of the day do I want to keep for myself?. . . When will I have time with friends?” (94-95).

Frankly, I would not have known how to answer those questions, while pregnant, about my life with baby. Having a baby truly was this giant, dividing event that separated my life before from my life after. No handy, bulleted list would have made me aware of quite how much my life would change, because, after all, it wasn’t just life–in the sense of the details of waking time and sleep and chores–that changed. It was Life, my outlook on life, my reason for life, my reason for living. How can any book prepare someone for that?

It is that great divide which Gregory and her subjects are so good at looking back on; possibly because they were “ready” to have children when they did (though she coyly avoids being too specific on what “ready” might look like for others), they look back at their old lives as though watching a rom-com: Now, one subject reports, “I’m real happy to be at home and go to bed at nine. We can still do fun things together, my husband and I, go to parties and go to football games. . . It’s just not as much, and I don’t feel like I have a big–I don’t feel like I’ve mised anything. Because I’ve kind of done it all. And so we’re real happy just to go to a little restaurant with the kids on a Saturday night and rent a movie. It’s nice” (118).

Can Jay and Kovarick’s checklists and tables show you this? I doubt it. I’ll leave you with these lines from Phyllis Chesler’s With Child: An Intimate Account of Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Mothering. In beautiful, compelling language, addressiner her newborn baby as “you,” Chesler depicts the contradictions of new motherhood that no workbook can prepare for, and no qualitative study quite account for:

I feel an impostor. I am not myself. Is this how it will be: me, pulled apart, existing on at least two opposing levels at the same time? With no one comprehending all the levels? The level of my longing to be alone with you. The level of my longing to be just as I was before you. My being leveled into fatigue.

I’ll ‘pass’ for normal as usual. At what cost?

Can I actually pull it off?

Doesn’t everyone see how different I am? Are they just being polite?

Am I permanently split apart? Me in one room? You in another? No longer One?

–Christina

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