Comment permalink

Why Are Pregnancy Books So Terrifying?

What to expect when you're expecting? TERROR.


I speak as someone on the sidelines, here. I'll turn 40 this year, and I have so far successfully been able to avoid getting pregnant. But that doesn't mean I lack empathy for mothers and expectant mothers. To the contrary; you ladies are holding up my end of the bargain, species-wise. Raising the next generation of little humans, and all. Thanks for that! Way to take that bullet, so to speak!
But one thing I have noted, over and over again, is that pregnancy advice is always terrifying. And it's usually written by someone who has no business writing pregnancy advice.
Such is the primary point of Allison Benedikt's hilarious Slate critique of What To Expect When You're Expecting. It turns out that What To Expect is not only filled with things to terrify expectant mothers (as if you need more stress, more things to worry about). It was originally written by a woman who wrote it while she was pregnant with her first child! In other words, by someone with no business writing a book about pregnancy.

Women in all corners of the world have been giving birth for hundreds of thousands of years. And it seems that one thing they all have in common, culturally speaking, is someone who is out to scare the living crap out of them. Whether it's a doctor soberly intoning that the family cat can spell death to your fetus (toxoplasmosis!), or your coworker who cheerfully explains that one sip of wine will immediately transform your fetus into an FAS monster, or the witch doctor who insists that you stay inside at night, lest the moon's touch turn your baby into a literal lunatic.
Pregnant women are scared. Can you blame them? Especially the first time. It must be terrifying! Any new experience is scary. And pregnancy is about as new as it gets, for a first-time mother. It's also a high-risk activity for both the baby and the mother. How many women have died in childbirth over the millennia?
So why, for pity's sake, do we insist on making it worse? And what is it about pregnancy that brings out the kooks and the insufferably inexperienced?
Having skimmed the pregnancy books on the coffee tables of many pregnant friends, I was struck by how terrifying they were. They made me scared of stuff, and I wasn't even pregnant! But did you know that even if you're not pregnant and don't plan to be, you should be getting folic acid, lest you give birth to a monster? Even the un-pregnant can't escape the grasp of pregnancy book terror!