Wednesday, 30 January 2013

What To Expect When You're Expecting / The First Year / The Toddler Years Review

Yesterday in the bath Hunter said ‘bubbles’ (well, bubooow- but I knew what he meant). He also has graciously used the word ‘Ta’ when handed objects of desire, such as a biscuit or a toy teapot. I decided it was time to go through my What To Expect: The Toddler Years (by Heidi Murkoff) book and see what I should expect Hunter to be doing by 19 months old. I was pleased and slightly surprised that he was not just right on-time for developmental activities such as talking and understanding, but in the ‘May even be able to’ category for all skills. What a champ (takes after his mum!)- although to be sure, a few months ago he was behind in many categories (taking after Dad...?!).

Have you heard of the What To Expect series before? It’s so popular you probably got given three copies at your babyshower, but in case you haven’t, here’s my two cents worth.

The first title in the series, What To Expect When Your Expecting is about pregnancy. It’s written in the vaguely cutesie/inadvertently condescending tone that I imagine Martha Stewart would use in polite company. It is chock full of information, most of which was never relevant to my pregnancy (but would obviously be relevant to someone else’s) but this did not mean I didn’t read all of it. Every single page.

I imagine a more neurotic person would, on reading the whole book as I did, imagine every ache and tummy rumble to mean certain doom. I’m not particularly paranoid, but there were a few times when, thanks to the book, I stared wide eyed at my tummy wondering if I had just inadvertently maimed my as yet unborn child (soft cheese/sushi/food court food/food made at home/any type of food really=death, running for a bus=death, hot weather = death, cold weather = death etc).

That said it is a book written by a MOM. Not a mum, not a doctor, but a MOM. One of those white toothed automatons from the Stepford Wives. I’m sure Ms Murkoff had good intentions (and she probably isn’t an automaton), but when ‘advice of a general nature’ is formulated in a culture where the dominant ideology is that pregnancy is an illness, that advice is written in such a way as to freak you the fuck out. It is a shame that the tone of the book is one common to all American publications on pregnancy: horror and dread (“Childbirth is considered to be a deviant condition whereby women have to conform to the medicalisation of childbirth. If women resist, their behaviour is considered abnormal and risky ...” Not sure what I mean/interested to read more? Check out this link), because apart from this pervading sense of unease and fear the information is reasonably good. I say reasonably because even though the cover says 'edited for Australian audiences' what that means is some of the spelling has changed from American English to plain old English. It hasn't been edited to reflect that in Australia most women give birth in a hospital with one midwife to help, or that most Aussie women have vaginal births instead of caesareans, or that our pre-natal checkup schedule is less intensive and invasive than our American counterparts; consequently a lot of the 'what to do this month' is misleading or downright false.

The second book in the series What To Expect: The First Year is slightly less odious, and yet still manages to convey the idea that your child is weak and could at any moment perish in a tragedy of epic proportions. Clearly I do not agree with this viewpoint. I think, as do many other Aussie mothers I speak with, that a baby is born strong and more capable then we give them credit for. Again, the editing for Australian audiences is in language alone, we don't have (or can't easily access) half the foods recommended (kale, powdered peanut butter, blue or white corn, marshmallow spread etc) and our monthly checkups are not monthly at all. Our checkup schedule is the same as our Immunisation Schedule, which is also different to that stated in the book.

The second title intrinsically writhes with conflicting advice: specifically the introduction says “don’t compare your child with others, each child develops at their own pace”, yet this sage advise is then abandoned in favour of a layout which enforces the idea of comparison and competition. Each chapter begins with a list of what your child should be doing at this age and what follows is a how to guide that inspires a burning need to define your child as being ‘faulty goods’ if they dare walk/talk/sleep through/ later than recommended. I steeled myself against this type of thinking, and focused on the advise being ‘general in nature’. Armed with both the knowledge in the book, and the knowledge that the book was arrogant and suffering from over catering to all possible plights (and Google. Lots of Google) Hunter and I survived his first year.

The third book, What To Expect: The Toddler Years suffers from all the faults outlined above, and yet I still find myself referring to it occasionally to see how hunter is progressing and if there is any advice in the book worth reading. You’ll note I went from devouring every page of the first book to now using the third title only when I am too lazy to Google.

Overall I can see the value in having knowledge at hand 24/7 (for instance, the power might fail in flood conditions like we are experiencing now, and the 3G network could fail leaving me with no option but to read a book) but am glad I picked up my copies from Lifeline Bookfest for $1 each instead of paying the exorbitant retail price Australian retailers add to US RRP’s.

I can’t wait to see if next month Hunter has surely developed a rare and serious condition, or become a baby genius, or whether it’s possible that he is just a happy little guy getting ahead one day at a time.

Expect great things,
Sandi D

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