Practice Makes Perfect

I’ve recently come to the inescapable conclusion that the primary function of most pregnancy books is to make me feel like a bad person. I’m serious. Oh, they come on all soft and squabby, with their pastel colors and their pretty line drawings of perfect expectant mothers with perfect little fetuses inside grade-A wombs. “Pregancy is Wonderful!” they assure you. “This will be one of the Most Precious Times of Your Life!” Sure, they pretend to be realistic. “Don’t worry if you’re feeling stressed or anxious,” they say, “that’s completely natural.” (Pregnancy books are big on the word “natural.”) BUT THEN. Then, they slap you with these lists. You moms out there know what I’m talking about. The lists of “reasons to call your practitioner.” Or “things you may be concerned about.” Which should really be titled LISTS OF DOOOOOOOOM, with an echo effect.

Take, for example, the mother of all modern pregnancy books, What to Expect When You’re Expecting. After opening with all this positive stuff about choosing a practitioner and how great it is to be knocked up, they whomp you upside the head with this ginormous list of concerns you may be having, including obesity (check!), Rh incompatiblity, having a baby after 35 (does 34 count?), fibroids (check!), incompetent cervix, STDs and family history – almost none of which I was concerned about until I read the book. And it doesn’t help that the sections all take the same format: 1) statement of the “concern”: You’re worried about obesity; 2) faux reassurance: Many obese women have totally normal pregancies; 3) instilling of fear: Obesity does put you at risk for EVERYTHING, though, so you better watch out! (I’m paraphrasing, slightly.) Super helpful, in other words.

Or consider the Baby Center Essential Guide to Pregnancy and Birth, which includes a handy list of “symptoms you should never ignore” for each trimester. The first trimester list includes: vaginal bleeding or spotting, leaking fluid or watery, mucousy vaginal discharge, sudden headaches, breathlessness, and severe constipation accompanied by abdominal pain. Jesus Tap-dancing Christ. First of all, how do you even know? Spotting, ok – you can tell that. It would be nice if they reminded you how TOTALLY COMMON it is to spot in the first trimester, but whatever. But: breathlessness? Sudden headaches? What the hell counts as “sudden?” And at what point does constipation go from being “a pain in the ass” (HA!) to “severe?” I HAVE NO IDEA. If I called my practitioner every time I had any of these symptoms, I’d tie up the frickin’ phone lines! The result is that I either feel like a whiny crybaby for worrying all the time, or a shortsighted bubblehead for not calling my doctor when I should. Win-win!

It’s funny, because although I’m a born worrier, in general I’m a pretty laid back person. I’m usually pretty good at keeping things in perspective, knowing to take advice books with a grain of salt, not getting too obsessed with being perfect. But lord have mercy, this pregnancy is bringing out my inner type-A. I should have known, really. The only times I’ve ever felt this kind of obsessive anxiety in the past was in situations involving my younger siblings – being worried about their welfare, wanting to help them out but not knowing how. I always said that having five younger brothers and sisters was good practice for being a parent. I just didn’t think it was the worrying part that I was practicing!

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