I read this book a few months ago in an effort to validate my own previously-held ideas about babies, pregnancy, and parenting. For the most part, it achieves this goal, with the side effect of also giving a picture of another sort of person, or probably just side of my own character, that I don’t want to be.
Sam’s book is well-researched, even if it does sometimes go on long, generally needless detours into descriptions of research rather than his experiences with it. For example, there is an extensive review of the history of Lamaze, including the man, the method, and its historical context (the Cold War, which I did not realize). These things are fascinating and appeal to me, a person who proudly holds a master’s degree in research, but they aren’t quite what I was looking for in a pregnancy and parenting memoir.
However, this book did do what I have admitted I was looking for it to do: provide background information in the form of another parent’s experience and research (to validate their efforts or criticisms of their own and others’ efforts). Most of that research, as you will see in the quotes section below, does validate many of my ideas and experience with child-raising.
Most of the time I found Sam to be an engaging and helpful partner and father. But then there were times, more frequently than I think would make it possible for us to be friends, that he showed that he’s over-sensitive to the point of naivete, self-absorption, and a sort of weakness I couldn’t deal with. He wants to be involved in the pregnancy and raising the baby, even the parts that are impossible for him to be intimately engaged in, such as the actual birthing of and breastfeeding the child. These are areas where it is only physically possible for him to be supportive and kind, which he absolutely is, rather than intimately involved, which is impossible, and in which his admittedly failed attempts to do so only frustrated or infuritated his wife, or worse, made life much, much more difficult for her.
To his credit, Sam almost always admits when he takes things too far with his attempts to essentially be a mother. These admissions gave him credibility and make the faults a little easier to stomach. Throughout his whole experience, as he narrates it, he is a wonderful, doting husband and father who simply wants nothing more than to be involved in a significant life experience. And, the more he figures out that the role of the father is just as important as that of the mother and stops being sad he can’t lactate or contract, the more his experience becomes valuable to the reader.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book, or passages that I found most useful or informative:
“If I am a helium balloon, then Jennifer is both the helium that sets me afloat and the string that keeps me tethered to the earth.” (5)
“Since I had been raised by my father, the idea that taking care of small children was somehow unmanly seemed bizarre to me.” (20)
“The dead are their own people as much as the living, and parents are more than the idealized figures their children create.” (50)
“Melzack determined that, on average, natural childbirth…pain feels almost as bad as having a finger cut off.” (81)
“If Dick-Read and many of the other natural birth pioneers often got their science wrong, just as often they got the larger human story exactly right.” (101)
“…human births are difficult because nature doesn’t care about us. Natural selection is a blind process guided by gene replication rather than concern for our suffering. This is what the romantics and religious natural birth pioneers failed to understand.” (115)
“According to the World Health Organization, half of the C-sections currently performed in the United States are unnecessary.” (131)
“As a Jew, I felt I had to circumcise my son. I have plenty of quarrels with Judaism but it is one thing to quarrel and another to reject, and choosing not to circumcise Isaac would have felt like a rejection of my people and my family.” (147)
“An estimated 15 to 20 percent of all babies have colic.” (168)
“I looked down at my beautiful son and told him to shut the fuck up.” (169)
“I’d read and heard so much about the importance of breastfeeding that I forgot the lesson I’d learned again and gain during my prebirth research: It’s dangerous to believe in an idea too strongly, even when it’s a good idea.” (182)
“We’ve somehow arrived at the point where overburdened parents are hiring strangers to watch their children and then hiring additional strangers to monitor the first strangers.” (228)
“The classes and products might be entertaining for babies, but as the Education Sector report makes clear, that doesn’t mean that babies gain any developmental benefits from them.” (231)
“There has never been good evidence that extra stimulation – beyond the sights and sounds that all babies hear in the course of daily life -enhances infant development.” (235)
“…there is no evidence that being extremely attentive to the needs of a baby or holding a baby a lot provides any psychological benefits.” (250)
” … while some long-term studies have found that babies deemed securely attached end up being more well adjusted and forming better relationships than insecurely attached babies, many other long-term studies have failed to show any correlation between attachment status in infancy and adult personalities or behaviors.” (258)
“‘In fact, one of the contributions of behavioral genetics is that in the normal range of how you treat your kids, parenting doesn’t have much effect on the kid’s personality or intelligence or proclivities.” (283)
“Frankly, we have no idea what makes people be the way they are when they’re twenty-five.” (282)