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Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, And The Unexpected On The Journey To Motherhood

"Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, And The Unexpected On The Journey To Motherhood," by Naomi Wolf. (Anchor Books/Random House, 2003; 340 pages; paperback, $14). This is certainly not your traditional book about pregnancy and motherhood. In fact, one of its purposes is to critically examine what best-selling author Wolf says is lacking in most books available to pregnant women today. Wolf relies on the journal she kept during her first pregnancy as well as conversations with many women who share the trials, pains, and life-altering forces, both good and bad, of pregnancy and new motherhood. She looks at how the role of motherhood is perceived in our society. She also describes how being newly pregnant affects her feminist views, her stance on abortion and her sense of self.

Much of the book is an extremely critical review of how the medical community treats women, of what she says is the sterile --- both clinically and emotionally --- hospital setting where epidurals and episiotomies are the norm and compassionate, empowering deliveries are not. She embraces the idea of caring and skilled midwives. She describes old-time methods of allowing women to self-pace their labor, acknowledge and deal with their pain, and find delivery poses and methods that work for individual women and not for the convenience of a health care system.

Saying she is not writing a "Hallmark card," she details many problems she says other books gloss over: postpartum depression; the loss of liberty that comes with breastfeeding; the way society expects women to unflinchingly sacrifice themselves for the good of their children; the pain and lingering bad feelings of a cesarean birth; and more.

For all the bad, Wolf, in the end, holds onto the good. She describes both the challenges and joys of nursing, and shares how she falls in love with her baby: "Even with the rude lessons in how low my status had become, there was abundant recompense: a love that flayed me with its tenderness. To put my cheek against hers, to be able to still her cries, was a joy and a privilege." Later, she says: "It is no dilution of our great love for our children to honor the effort that women make."

What does she say is the answer for pregnant women and new mothers, whom she calls "the front-line warriors for our species"? She calls for more flextime that allows both parents to cycle in and out of the workplace, compensated for time off with a kind of Social Security; at least six months of paid Family Leave; on-site day care; an overhaul of the "birthing industry" to support midwifery with obstetrical backup; and more.

Wolf calls for a "Motherhood Feminism," a vocal movement to push these kinds of changes, including creating new social structures to bring children closer to work. "Women should not have to choose between two such starkly exclusive worlds as 'work' and 'home with kids.'" And when women are home with their newborns, they should not be penalized financially.

"The real transformation is one of the heart," Wolf declares. "It will be a revolution when we don't just say that mothers are important. It will be a revolution when we finally start treating motherhood and caring for children in general as if it were truly the most important task of all."

This book is at times depressing and overall very critical of the health care system and of society in general. However, even if you do not agree with every detail of Wolf's exposition (for example, you may not have had as bad an experience with your own hospital deliveries), you will still find plenty to contemplate in her narrative. It is densely-packed with issues you can debate with others (like the status of mothers and the future of working women) and will have you examining your own life.



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