Books

Published on January 5th, 2017 | by Heather Jackson

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Finally—A Guide for Expecting MUTHAs Who Just Aren’t Feeling WHAT TO EXPECT: Heather Jackson Interviews the Creators of BABY & ME

I got pregnant in high school at the very end of 2000. My daughter just started high school.

I remember when I was pregnant and how scared I felt. First of all, I wasn’t married, I was a teenager, and I was scared to tell anyone about the growing fetus. I felt like a failure. I looked into all my options and at one point visited an adoption agency. They lent me a book, What to Expect When You’re Expecting. This is a popular book; my mom even had it when she was pregnant with her two children after she remarried. Let’s get real about this perennial bestseller: it is not inclusive, at all. It is primarily aimed at middle- to upper-class married straight women. While some of the information was helpful (I found out what that weird mucus plug meant!), it still didn’t offer all the information that would have been super helpful to me. At the time I read it, it let out alternative options (such as doulas and midwives) and didn’t even have a resource page. In editions since, What to Expect may have updated resources to reflect the wealth of its audience consuming broader options for pregnancy support. But it remains elitist and inaccessible to those on the other side of the class divide.

Baby & Me, now in its 5th edition, seems to be the book I could have benefitted from when I was pregnant. But no one gave it to me, then. Why? It’s written at a 6th grade reading level and helps people who may not have gone to school, struggle with reading, or people who speak English as a foreign language. (There’s also an edition in Spanish). It also provides accessible information on alternative options as such midwives, doulas, and has a most excellent resources and glossary section. The artwork reflects a diverse group of people. They also change the pronouns of the fetus/baby during each chapter.

Currently, one of my jobs is a part-time case manager for pregnant and parenting teens in a medium-sized city. All of my clients are in high school, a GED program, or trying to re-enroll, many are English language learners, all are on public assistance, and the majority are single. This would definitely be a book I would recommend. In fact, I plan to ask my supervisor if it’s possible to get a few copies of this book to lend out to clients or at least keep them in my resource box in my office.

A critique of this book could be that the language is super easy. So if you are annoyed with that, this may not be the book for you. But whether it’s the book for you, Baby & Me needs to exist for many MUTHAs.

I interviewed the authors about their writing process, events that encouraged them to write this book, and what inspired them. – Heather Jackson

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MUTHA: Can you give me an overview of what you each do?

Deborah Davis Stewart: I am a writer with a specialty in the health and safety of pregnant women, infants, and young children. I have been involved in these fields for almost 40 years. Writing for expectant and new parents who do not read well has been a passion for me for much of that time. I have tried to remedy the lack of books and other materials that can be easily understood by people who are not well educated or for whom English is a second language. Of course, making my work available in Spanish has been part of this effort for at least the last 25 years.

Jenny Burris Harvey: I also have a focus on early parenting and infant health and safety, but my role is primarily as an educator. I have a background in family support and health education in both hospital- and community-based family centers, and community events. As a professional safety educator, I’ve taught, written, and created training materials for a variety of clinical and nonclinical professionals on a local and national level. My passion, however, is working to empower new and expectant families through support and education. I currently teach infant safety classes for Great Starts, a program of Parent Trust for Washington Children.

MUTHA: Are you parents?

Deborah Davis Stewart: I have one grown daughter (who was born a preemie — 5 weeks early — and is now 46) and two grandchildren whom I have helped care for.

Jenny Burris Harvey: Well, when Deborah first asked me to come on for this version of Baby & Me, I had a new baby daughter, and now that it’s been off the press, I’ve got another one! This update was a true labor of love! My 3-year-old loves “reading” the book and recognizing all the illustrations.

MUTHA: What was your mission when you started this book? In other words, was there a particular event made you decide to write this book?

Deborah Davis Stewart: I served in the Peace Corps in the 1960s, working in maternal and child health in India, so I began adult life with a focus on public health and prevention. As a young mother, I because an advocate for child safety seat use. Then, about 25 years ago, I became aware of how much can be done through prenatal education and lifestyle changes to prevent prematurity. Having had a premature baby myself long before, I was strongly motivated to help other moms avoid that outcome. Baby & Me has been my “baby” ever since, going through five editions.

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MUTHA: What went into developing this guide?

Deborah Davis Stewart: Throughout my years of writing and editing, I have always aimed to make the language and presentation of the book, which we’ve now published for 25 years, as appealing and easy to understand as possible. I have included the essentials that new parents need to know in the first few months after birth, to assure that the family gets a really good start.

The focus has always been on ways to encourage parents to prevent problems from developing during pregnancy and the first few months of life. So much of prevention is rather simple, if not always easy, like eating right and going to regular checkups. I prefer to leave medical details of what to do after a serious problem arises in the hands of each individual’s health care provider.

We have taken great care to assure that the advice we offer is based on current best practice and scientific evidence, not on popular trends or beliefs.

Many expectant parents in this country find overwhelming the wordy tomes that are most pregnancy books. I have long experience writing educational materials at a reading level that is well within the comprehension of the general population. Even very well educated people have expressed to me their appreciation of having a basic book that they can easily follow during their busy months of pregnancy. When they need to know a lot more, they can turn to other books for reference.

The appealing look of Baby & Me is very important to the overall experience of the book. It is designed to be easy to follow and pleasant to read. The messages carried by the illustrations are especially important to me. Making sure the drawings portray people of various ethnic, racial, and age groups is essential. The illustrator with whom I work, Christine Thomas, has the extraordinary ability to draw people who look real and natural and reflect the wide, wide range of people in our country.

Jenny Burris Harvey: This 5th edition is the first that I’ve been a part of, so it was really exciting for me. Baby & Me has always covered many of the important topics around preconception, pregnancy, birth, and baby care. My focus was to bring a fresh perspective on the latest research and practices, as well as incorporate some newer topics and trends that have come up recently. I also really wanted to expand the information on family planning, surgical birth, breastfeeding and infant feeding, perinatal mood disorders, and postpartum health. I’m lucky enough to be connected to some amazing birth and postpartum professionals in the Seattle area, so we were able to invite a variety of midwives, physicians, doulas, nurses, childbirth educators, social workers, lactation consultants, and other maternal/infant care providers to review and offer insight into this latest edition. We had about a dozen expert reviewers for this edition! We’re so thankful to each and every one of them.

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“31 weeks pregnant,” Photo by Jerry Lai / Creative Commons License

MUTHA: How do you use this guide?

Deborah Davis Stewart: We encourage its use in prenatal clinics, hospital birth classes, teen parent programs, school parenting programs, and also in literacy programs. Partners, who often may feel at sea with more complicated books, can gain a lot from Baby & Me in terms of practical knowledge and active involvement. And the book can serve as a wonderful refresher for grandparents-to-be, since best practice for pregnancy and newborn care has changed dramatically from their days as young parents. I’ll let Jenny cover this in more detail.

Jenny Burris Harvey: Baby & Me is really a great option for anyone looking for an easy read that covers everything they are likely to need to know all in one place. The book covers pre-conception health and family planning, pregnancy, birth (including surgical birth or “c-section”), newborn care, breastfeeding, postpartum care, and adjusting to parenting and family life. Each chapter is broken down to talk about the main topic, tips for partners, fill-in sections for prenatal visits, and a sort of journal section. There’s a glossary in the back of commonly-used terms users might need to know, especially when talking to their care providers. We’ve included a whole chapter of resources at the back of the book that not only includes tips for how to find reliable information in the community and online, but also has a list of reliable books and websites on just about every pregnancy and parenting related topic.

The reader can follow along through the pregnancy or read ahead to know what to expect and plan ahead. Pregnant people can read it on their own or together with their partner or support person. It can be a good tool to bring along to prenatal checkups for talking to care providers.

It’s also a great book for teen health programs, pregnancy clinics, school nurses, public health clinics, family centers, home visiting programs, or any other setting with potential for supporting people who may benefit from an easy-to-read book that covers everything. We’ve even had birth education programs and clinics use this book as a curriculum for its birth classes for teen parents or parents who speak English as a second language.

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The midwives, doulas, and client educators at the Rainier Valley Community Clinic in Seattle, WA, use Baby & Me with their new and expectant families.

MUTHA: Did you think of particular populations this book might be helpful for?

Deborah Davis Stewart: I have always sought to make the language of Baby & Me inclusive of single parents-to-be and teens as well as married couples In addition, from the beginning, the book has been translated into Spanish. While many young Latinos are fluent in English, there always are new immigrants as well as the older generation that may not be comfortable with English. With this edition, thanks to Jenny’s involvement, we have worked to speak as well to people of the LGBTQ community who are having families. That is a typically underserved population.

Jenny Burris Harvey: We’ve worked really hard on this edition of Baby & Me to make it a really versatile book. This book is written at a 4th-6th grade reading level, which means it’s just about the easiest-to-read book on perinatal care, birth, and baby care on the market.

One of my particular passions for this edition of the book was to make it as accessible and inclusive as possible. Everything we put into this edition, from the words we use to the illustrations we’ve created, has been chosen with great care to include people of all shapes, sizes, genders, and ages. We want it to feel like this book was written for you, regardless of what your family, home, or bank account look like. We’ve tried to acknowledge that some readers may have tried desperately to get pregnant, while others may not have been thrilled to learn they were expecting. This book is for you, no matter who your partner is, how involved they’ll be, or if you have one at all. I really wanted this book to be full of empowerment and free of judgment, while still reflecting safe and accurate information.

Baby & Me is probably most popular with people who are already pregnant, maybe in the early months of pregnancy. But, it’s also a great book for someone who is of childbearing age, may be sexually active, and may or may not be planning on becoming pregnant. It has some great sections for partners, on both how to help the person who is pregnant as well as things they might benefit from themselves, so it’s also a good option for partners who just want one go-to book.

MUTHA: I enjoyed your “tips for partners” section/s. What made you decide to include that?

Deborah Davis Stewart: That section is an innovation that Jenny came up with. While I had included partners in the text in earlier edition, having a special section in each chapter helps to remind users that partner involvement is very beneficial throughout a healthy pregnancy.

Jenny Burris Harvey: We know that partner support – regardless of who that partner is – is so important during pregnancy and labor, but also in getting breastfeeding going and those first months of baby care. So, I wanted the information to be easy to find and identify for partners to be able to flip to that section in each chapter, to increase the chances of them reading it.

Many other books, classes, and care providers may be telling partner how to support the birthing parent – and we included a lot of that, too – but we also tried to include things that would be helpful for the partner. How to feel connected to baby, self-care during labor and after baby is born, and the importance of putting care into talking about things like planning for the future, what kind of parents they want to be, and even sex before and after baby. Relationships are hard when you have a new baby, so we’ve tried to offer some support there.

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“La esposa de Miguel” by Jen Garcia / Creative Commons License

MUTHA: Great resource list! Do you have access to additional resources (i.e. website, etc)?

Deborah Davis Stewart: Unfortunately, not at this time, although we considered doing that. We know that young people often turn first to their smart phones or computers for information. However, we have heard that people like having a trusted resource they can hold in their hands, flip through easily, write in on journal pages, and read together with their partner. All that’s easier with a book.

Jenny Burris Harvey: We have some ideas for the next edition, but for this round, we urge our readers to go to any of the wonderful resources we’ve listed for current and reliable information. Look for us in the future, though, to have some more exciting ways to use the book!

MUTHA: I also really liked how you incorporated spaces for note taking, questions, journaling (even for the partner). What inspired you to do this?

Deborah Davis Stewart: At least 30 years ago, I worked with Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies of Washington State on a very basic keepsake book for preventing common problems during pregnancy. It was mainly comprised of journaling pages and brief reminders oriented toward encouraging young women to go to their checkups and eat right, etc. So the idea for journaling wasn’t new. But Baby & Me, from the first edition on, went much farther in terms of providing information while taking the journaling aspect seriously, as an integrated feature.

Jenny Burris Harvey: People get so much paperwork from care providers, and get information from so many different places, it can be hard to keep it all straight. With so much information being electronic, it can be hard to quickly put your fingers on notes, bookmarks, lists or things like that. Having a book that has all of the information, resources, questions to ask at appointments, and notes from checkups all in one place means it’s easy to just grab one thing and have what you need. By being prompted to share some thoughts and feelings along the way, we hope that it helps people take a moment to slow down and reflect, but also to have something to go back and look at later, to remember what a process it was.

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“Art Journal Page: Pregnant Silhouette” by Elizabeth Cooper / Creative Commons License

Are you a mother/MUTHA/healthcare provider or anyone who works with parents and wants to check out this resource? You can purchase the book and watch for updated editions direct on the publisher’s website — or at that one online bookstore (you know it) — and also at Strand Books in New York, and Grass Roots Press! (Go indie). 

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About the Author

Heather Jackson

Heather, a former teen mom, is now a 30-something single mom of a teen. She is often mistaken as her daughter’s friend or sister! She is a former site producer of girl-mom.com. Currently, she works as a birth doula and an early childhood counselor in New England. She recently published a chapter in The Bakken Goes Boom regarding the change of maternal health related to the oil boom in North Dakota (where she grew up!) and finished co-editing, Feminist Parenting, an anthology through Demeter Press (http://demeterpress.org/). She is now co-editing Motherhood and Abortion and Motherhood and Social Exclusion, both also through Demeter Press. Her writing has also been published on thepushback.org, hipmama.com, girl-mom.com, books, and zines. She loves bike riding, going to the beach, doing crafts, reading, going to shows, making zines (find her zines here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/ramonegirl?ref=hdr_shop_menu), guacamole, and writing.  She recently took up guitar and started an all-female queer punk band. She could talk all day about abortion access, anarchism, and cute animals. Perhaps someday she will have an anarchist-y farm with a lot of animals and a huge garden! Find her on twitter: @heatherjoyj or email her: heatherjoyj@gmail.com!



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