Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood

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Not since The Beauty Myth has Naomi Wolf written such a powerful and passionate critique of American culture -- this time focusing on the hidden costs and vested interests surrounding pregnancy and birth in America. While in the grip of one of the most primal, lonely, sensual, and, in some ways, physically dangerous experiences they are likely to under-go, American women, Wolf argues, are offered condescending advice and damaging misconceptions about the nature of pregnancy, ...
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Not since The Beauty Myth has Naomi Wolf written such a powerful and passionate critique of American culture -- this time focusing on the hidden costs and vested interests surrounding pregnancy and birth in America. While in the grip of one of the most primal, lonely, sensual, and, in some ways, physically dangerous experiences they are likely to under-go, American women, Wolf argues, are offered condescending advice and damaging misconceptions about the nature of pregnancy, birth, and new motherhood.

Wolf's own first experience with pregnancy and motherhood took her aback, profoundly challenging her most basic assumptions about feminism, the nuances of abortion, and the easy expectations of freedom and equality that women of her generation hold. In a narrative that follows the nine months of pregnancy and the first few months of early parenthood, Misconceptions illuminates the conflicting feelings of inadequacy, fragility, and even anger that so many women experience along with their sense of anticipation and joy. So often these feelings go unvoiced because of women's fears of being seen as a "bad" mother. Wolf describes her own difficult path to first-time motherhood, and in doing so, critizies the failure of the medical establishment to provide pregnant women with a safe, effective, and emotionally supportive environment in which to labor. She shares riveting stories of postpartum disillusionment, as well as discloses the relationship struggles that even the most committed of couples fall into when faced with the demands of new parenthood.

In a dramatic interweaving of personal revelations and social commentary, Wolf shows that despite their much-touted reverence for families American businesses and society make few concessions to the emotional and economic needs of new parents and, in fact, place extraordinary pressures on them. Her conclusions, delivered with unflinching honesty, provide a telling and candid account of the journey to motherhood in America today. Misconceptions is sure to spark intense debate over the myths and expectations that underlie contemporary pregnancy and birth, as well as about how we can better offer mothers what they truly need.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Pregnancy and motherhood: two of the most written about, mythologized, and mystifying topics in America. In Naomi Wolf's Misconceptions, the reader gets a different perspective on them; Wolf attempts to rectify what she feels to be mistaken beliefs and endeavors to demystify a good deal of what women have had to deal with for so long.

The baby business continues to boom. The cottage industry that surrounds it, trying to entice expectant women to buy its various products, is indeed often missing the very things it claims to be selling us: caring, nurturing, honest, and straightforward information about our bodies, about the option of childbirth with or without drugs, and about those weeks and months that immediately follow childbirth.

Some of it we've heard before: the issue and arguments surrounding hospitals and doctors in relation to cesarean birth rates, the discussion about "natural" childbirth, and issues of mother/child bonding. Some have now been part of the feminist perspective for a long time. Still, the issues do not go away: They are not resolved, and women and their partners still sometimes feel as if they have been left to reinvent the wheel over and over again.

This book is a good place to start, both for those with a direct interest in the topic and for those who are more generally curious about maternity. Wolf's book is honest, and the questions it raises need to be asked again and again until they are answered. Questions such as: Why are women still left so unprepared for the likelihood of so-called "emergency" cesareans, and how "immediate" is the bonding process. Also, the ongoing discussion of midwife vs.clinical setting deserves careful discussion. All is eloquently addressed in these pages. (Elena Simon)

Elena Simon lives in New York City.

From The Critics
The most shocking element of Wolf's memoir of her pregnancy is how little this professional feminist knows about the conditions of most women's lives. Describing her treatment by a mercenary medical establishment, her changing ideas about gender and reproductive rights and the power shifts in seemingly egalitarian marriages, the book veers between political analysis and poetic reverie. Despite the inclusion of a mother's manifesto at the end, it seems clear that Wolf assumes her readers are, like her, white, wealthy and heterosexual. The book includes some useful anecdotal information, but even the author's best points are made in a tone of baffled outrage, as if no one has written about these issues before. Wolf's "discoveries" about health care and motherhood have long been staples of diverse feminist critiques, and it's unlikely she doesn't know this (she takes care, after all, to comment on the excellence of her education). Perhaps despite its intent, the book demonstrates the limits of yuppie feminism by charting Wolf's slow recognition that even her lifelong privilege cannot mitigate the systemic cultural and economic devaluation of motherhood.
—Stephanie Foote

Publishers Weekly
In her latest work, the author of the bestselling The Beauty Myth and other titles attempts to employ her fiercely confident and uncompromising, rip-the-lid-off style to tell the painful truth of motherhood in contemporary America. Interweaving personal narrative and reportage and pouncing with particular vehemence on what she considers to be the dumb, patronizing misinformation in the bestselling guidebook What To Expect When You're Expecting Wolf reveals that birth in this country is often needlessly painful. In a portentously dramatic tone, she describes how difficult and lonely it can be to care for a child and to be a working mother. Indeed, Wolf finds new motherhood so difficult that it has rocked her celebrated feminism. "Yet here we were," she concludes "to my horror and complicity, shaping our new family structure along class and gender lines daddy at work, mommy and caregiver from two different economic classes sharing the baby work during the day just as our peers had done." Wolf says little here that hasn't been said before in books like Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Birth and Ann Crittenden's The Price of Motherhood. What stands out with embarrassing clarity is her emphasis on the sufferings of a privileged minority. In prose that often lapses into purple, Wolf describes the "savagery" of breastfeeding and the unsheltered wilderness of suburban playgrounds. This work is so unoriginal in its social critique and so limited in its portrayal of the hardships endured by mothers and children and families in this country that it comes across as a weirdly out-of-touch bid for personal attention rather than a genuine expos?. It is likely to alienate all but the newest and mostsheltered mothers. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Steingraber turns to embryology to follow the growth and development of the child she is carrying. While describing the intricacies of fetus development with lyrical prose, she notes a heightened awareness of environmental hazards that threaten the unborn. Our industrial society produces toxic substances that can cross the placenta and appear in breast milk. She issues a wake-up call in the tradition of Rachel Carson as she welcomes her daughter, Faith, into the world. Both of these books are excellent companions to mainstream pregnancy guides such as What To Expect When You're Expecting (Workman, 1996). Highly recommended for all collections. [Misconceptions was previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/01; for an interview with Wolf, see p.225.] Barbara M. Bibel, Oakland P.L., CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A familiar fulmination on the rigors-and epiphanies-of pregnancy, motherhood, and the medical conspiracy that puts women in labor on a clock geared to the hospital's convenience. With chapters organized from first month to ninth month, Wolf (Promiscuities, 1997, etc.) covers a lot of territory, from the horrors of fertility treatments and "selective termination" to the lack of social and government support for women in pregnancy and postpartum. Going back to notes of her first pregnancy, and supplementing with interviews from friends and others, Wolf uses the advantage of hindsight to wish that she had known about dulas and independent birthing centers and about the practice of such renowned midwives as Ina May Gaskin of The Farm, a commune in Tennessee. Figures about the unnecessarily high rates of Caesarean deliveries, of episiotomies, of fetal monitors, and the fact that no one told her how much childbirth really hurts are all incorporated into this personal memoir cum investigative report. (It should be noted that Jessica Mitford covered the investigative part better in The American Way of Birth, 1999.) Moreover, there are questions of fact. Wolf asserts, for instance, that half of all pregnancies in this country end in abortion, a serious misstatement. At another point, she proclaims that the main source of postpartum support for an American woman is her husband, which puts in question the reality of the ever-increasing number of single mothers in the US, not to mention their supportive families and friends. There are some insights on grieving the old, pre-motherhood self and on her struggle with acknowledging powerlessness and vulnerability. A chapter on the emotional complexitiesof breastfeeding also offers some fresh thoughts. Women like Wolf-independent, educated, and convinced of their uniqueness-who are facing pregnancy and motherhood, will find this information compelling, even a little frightening, but closer to the truth than most of the sugar-coated advice books for expectant mothers.
From the Publisher
“Ultimately, Misconceptions offers the possibility of a freer, more compassionate road to parenthood for women and men” -Peggy Orenstein, author of Flux

“‘Misconceptions’ documents a . . . subtle psychological journey. . . . Wolf’s description of her own anguish and uncertainty can be as nuanced as good fiction.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Essential reading.” —Elle

“By laying bare one truth after the next–emotional, spiritual, psychological, pragmatic–this invaluable book gives women and their partners the information they so desperately need to make it through intact.”–Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon

“Combines intimate experience and expose reporting. . . . Everyone who is giving birth or getting health care should read this book.” —Gloria Steinem

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385493024
  • Publisher: Doubleday Publishing
  • Publication date: 9/18/2001
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.56 (h) x 1.11 (d)

Meet the Author

Naomi Wolf is the author of the best-selling The Beauty Myth, which helped to launch a new wave of feminism in the early 1990s and was named one of the most significant books of the twentieth century by The New York Times. More recently she has authored Fire with Fire and Promiscuities. She lives in New York City with her family.

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Read an Excerpt

First Month: Discovery

For us, how did it start?

In an improbable place. My husband and I were surprised ourselves at our surroundings: in Italy, in a farmhouse outside of Todi, a Renaissance town made of stone the color of baked bread.

We felt in those surroundings a bit like Twain's Connecticut Yankees in King Arthur's court—except that in this case the court was a wedding celebration of a friend of ours whose fiancee was the doyenne of a certain group of druggie glitterati.

The wedding preparations that we watched from the sidelines involved a ragtag carnival of New York's disaffected, pale young people with dark sunglasses who populated the edges of the art world. The old sweetness of the beds of lavender and dusty thyme, and the bending olive trees, made strange contrast with the lounging, cattily gossiping bone-thin hangers-on to the wedding party. Everyone seemed still sweaty from the plane trip and acrid-smelling from too many Marlboro Lights.

Behind the small veranda where we sat, louche ex-models were making pasta in the kitchen, dressed in black bikinis and the white high-heeled hiking boots that were having a brief vogue. They were chopping fresh basil on a century-old slab of white, gray-veined marble. The groom, a rakish young attorney, paced the sloping lawn where the ceremony would be held, looking pleased and scared.

During a lull in the conversation, I gazed at my coffee and then at the line of the distant hills. A guest at the wedding, a part-time photographer or a gallery employee or a curator, with lank overprocessed blond hair and sharp features-a woman who had said nothing remarkable in my hearing for threedays-suddenly leaned over toward me. She looked with a surprising compassion into my eyes and, still smoking ravenously, said, with absolute conviction:

"You're pregnant."

Was this some sort of conversation starter? Was this the New Age ramblings of someone who did not have much to say without resorting to the faux intuitive?

Nonetheless, something was going on. Was my cycle disturbed by travel? By the rich food we'd been eating? By the medicine I was taking to ease a sore knee?

When I went to wash my face some time later, my eyes in the mirror looked like nothing I'd ever seen before: yellowish and blurred, as if I were drunk. It must have been that which the wedding guest had seen. I thought maybe this had been caused by too much red Montepulciano wine, by jet lag, by anything, I half-prayed, but that thing.

After the pied-piper band scattered to make its way back across the ocean to Soho, my husband and I stayed on for a week to see a little of the country. But even as I waited, day by day, the question always at the back of my consciousness as we went sightseeing or napped in our high, white-plastered rooms, I felt something indisputable: a sickness in my gut. It was a kind of nausea that was entirely new to me: it had a richness to it, as if I had gotten sick by ingesting pure gold. If a mountain of sweets had been touched by Midas, I felt, that's what I had in my belly.

Ordinarily, when I've had scares, I've felt panic. This time, though, I felt far away from it. Every time I realized I could indeed be pregnant, I experienced, in spite of myself, a little thrill of joy.

We were in Perugina, the town of candy. There were whole streets devoted to varieties of one kind of nougat made from an ancient recipe. And still I felt that sick sweetness, surrounded by sweetness.

We asked a pleasant young woman pharmacist for a pregnancy kit. She leaned over very patiently and showed us the instructions in Italian, a language we did not understand at all: "Questa . . ." she said, speaking as if to a two-year-old and pointing at a picture of the strip with one line, "SI. Questa. . . ." she said, pointing to a picture of the strip with two lines: "NO." I recall a sense of absolute peace coming over me as we left with the packet in a small brown bag; a sense of fatalism; something that people in my cohort scarcely ever feel—a sense of events moving beyond one's control.

What will happen will happen, was something like the thought. Or even: What will happen has already happened.

When we found out for sure, we were in a neighboring town, a smaller one. The town was built up around a dark, cool bath that a medieval woman saint used to swim in.

We found out and gazed at one another—"in wild surmise." Then we reacted very differently. My husband needed to go for a run—and think; and I needed to sit still and not think. Male and female, after our first amazement, we reacted spontaneously, like different elements.

I went out to sit by myself, perfectly, uncharacteristically becalmed.

I sat on an old stone bench looking out over a deep, green, shadowy valley that the sun had saturated for days without number. My first thought was this: Thank God I have traveled a lot in my life when I was young.

Because now I will have to sit still.

For who knows how long.

* * *

For fifteen years birth control had never failed me; and then, when my heart and body longed for a baby, when I was newly married, when it was finally safe—birth control failed me. Was this baby "planned"? Technology did not plan this pregnancy; indeed, technology planned against it. It seemed my heart planned it. Like many women I would hear from later, I had the strong intuition that will and longing had somehow altered chemistry; that mother love, the mother wish, had created a different alchemy, more powerful than the alchemy of the lab or the product trial.

We returned to Washington, D.C., where we were living in a small apartment in an old leafy neighborhood. I soon lost the quiet confidence I had briefly felt, newly pregnant on a bench in the Italian sun. Being home meant that I was inducted into a medical system that had very clear expectations of me—but little room for me to negotiate my expectations of it.

I visited a highly respected practice and endured a brisk, efficient pelvic exam with a cold-handed ob-gyn. His focus on me (or, I should say, "me," since his attention seemed focused on an interchangeable "it") was entirely waist-down. I felt slightly irrational for being bothered by his manner. Clearly I was in good medical hands. Did it really matter that the man did not look me in the eye? Did it matter that the doctor, a heavyset fellow with a middle-European accent, had reminded me of Helmut Kohl attending impatiently to a routine briefing? When we left, I had the sad, sinking feeling of someone trying to summon the energy to do something creative within a rigid regime.

A few weeks later I met another of the obstetricians in the practice. The obstetricians rotated their duties. I wondered at the reason for this—did it help them to keep a professional distance? Was that good?

I was glad to know that this one would be a woman. I had a lot of questions to ask. I had just finished reading Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Birth, a terrifying expose of medical intrusiveness in the birthing profession: soaring C-section rates, needless forceps intervention, routine epidurals and episiotomies, the technique of forcing the labor into a preordained bell curve-all practices that were performed far less frequently in Europe, and Europe had better outcomes.

My obstetrician that day was a glamorous woman with perfectly coifed suburban hair, a tennis-toned figure, and an office full of gleaming French Provioncial furniture. Her husband was a powerful local developer; I had seen their picture in the society pages. She gazed at me as if she were the president of a one-woman bank and I was a high-risk loan applicant. My husband and I sat opposite her mighty desk, petitioning.

She said curtly that I could go ahead and ask my questions.

"Can you tell me what the C-section rate for our hospital is?" I asked politely, respectful and curious.

She looked uncomfortable. "I think it's about thirty per cent, but that figure is misleading. A number of those C-sections are high-risk. Since the hospital gets the difficult cases, you can't judge from the number with any accuracy."

I had read that this was a standard response, one of many that made it hard for parents to judge C-section probabilities of any given hospital for themselves. I tried another tack:

"What about the rate for this OB-GYN practice?"

She flushed. "Maybe nineteen percent. I'm not exactly certain. But all of the C-sections we perform are done for a good reason, you can rest assured."

"Is there any way for us to find the figures? Does the practice keep records?" In my innocence, I thought perhaps she didn't understand where she could find the data I was requesting. I had not yet done the kind of reading that I would do long afterwards, so I did not yet know that an ideological war was being waged over births in mainstream hospitals. I did not know that these seemingly innocent questions of mine were, to my obstetrician and virtually everyone else in the medical profession I would encounter on the way to the birth, part of a minefield of litigation, politics, vested interests, money, and beliefs about who holds the power over the delivery room. I thought I was asking about a biological process. More fool me.

"Believe me," she replied heatedly, like a politician on message, "an OB-GYN at this practice is only going to recommend a C-section if it is the medically called-for solution to a problem."

"Okay . . . , " I said, taking a silent step back at her defensiveness. I saw I was going to get nowhere further with that question.

"Well . . . what is the rate of epidurals?" I continued.

At this she laughed at me outright, an angry laugh. A note of casual contempt for my naivete filtered through her otherwise well-bred, well-modulated voice. "Everyone wants an epidural. You may think you can do without an epidural, but my dear, one good contraction and you will be begging for the injection like virtually everyone else." Her contempt astonished me.

"So epidurals are routine in this practice? I've read that some nurse-midwife practices find that they only need epidurals in about 60 per cent of the first births."

"I didn't say they were routine," she snapped. "I said everyone wants one, and we are not about to go against that preference. Just about every woman here gets an epidural block." I did not yet understand why she sounded like a politician under scrutiny.

"What about the episiotomy rate?" I pressed on, feeling extremely uncomfortable.

"Again, I don't have numbers, but it is part of the standard of care at this practice to give episiotomies just about every time."

"I read that in Europe, the episiotomy rate ranges from three to six per cent." Jessica Mitford had given the reason for this low number: European practitioners avoided the need for episiotomies by using a gentle massage of the perineal area; some used olive oil. A Belizean midwife whom I would listen to years later would explain that a steady application of warm oil on the perineum allowed her to deliver over eight hundred women without anesthetic in the rain forest, without even one of them tearing. It was hard for me to imagine the woman in front of me massaging anyone's perineum, let alone with a condiment.

"That can't be right. Your information is no good, I've never heard of that."

I was slowly getting angry, as well as feeling humiliated and diminished. Not only was she dismissing my questions without addressing them, she seemed to be dismissing my right to ask. She was acting as if it were irrational of me to request hard empirical information. But the doctor held my baby's well-being in her hands; and I, thoroughly infantilized by this new relationship of dependency, said nothing. Why should her professional status suddenly strip me of my lifelong assumption that a woman has a right to know? I wondered. Yet I felt intimidated.

"We do episiotomies on everyone," she continued, the air in the room thick with her impatience with me. "Especially for first births. We do them because it is easier to mend a straight, sterile cut than—" and here she fixed me with a glare—"a ragged, bloody-edged tear." She paused and spat out with barely contained hostility: "Some tears extend all the way from the vagina into . . . the anus."

And that did, indeed, shut me up.

As I would eventually find out, the glossy, efficient practice, and the medical establishment behind it, had a vested interest in not telling me any of this. What I did not know at that time was my first gynecologist's assumption of high medical intervention—one that a first-rate Washington practice takes for granted—is part of a dangerous standard of care that is unique to America. My friends and I and the women I would later interview as a way to find insight into the trauma of my first birth experience were all prepped and directed into this self-same journey with the self-same landmarks. Yet each of us was encouraged to think—and indeed did believe—that this was our unique birth experience, with hardships unique to our babies and ourselves.

But when you listen to women talk about birth, their horror stories about the medical profession are about something deeper and more fundamental than too much intervention; the thread that unites many is a telling, subtle, but distinctive lack of compassion.

My friend Yasmin, who lived upstairs, was five months ahead of me, vastly pregnant when I was still just queasy and struggling to get into my clothes. When I confided in her my qualms about my icy gynecologist, she told me about a similar experience. Early in her pregnancy, she had called her GYN about spotting. She got back one of those enraging, condescending, What-To-Expect kinds of answers: "It's nothing, it's nothing—but nonetheless, don't do any physical activity."

The OB-GYN's answer to Yasmin's question about spotting had only confused her further and, scared, she had begun to cry.

"Oh . . ." her OB-GYN had said, with ill-disguised horror. "You're upset."

Another new mother told me that after she had delivered twins through C-section, her doctor had come in to check the scar. She had gained fifty pounds because of a nausea that had restricted her food choices and was feeling self-conscious about it. The doctor checked the incision, explained that the incision was called "a bikini cut," and then went on to say that she didn't have to worry about it because she wouldn't be a candidate for a bikini anytime soon.

Copyright 2001 by Naomi Wolf
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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Pt. I Pregnancy
First Month: Discovery 13
Second Month: Experts 23
Third Month: Baby Values 27
Fourth Month: Losses 59
Fifth Month: Mortality 73
Sixth Month: Birth Class and Hospital Tour 85
Seventh Month: Mysteries 101
Eighth Month: Powerlessness 115
Ninth Month: Waiting 125
Pt. II Birth
Giving Birth 135
Behind the Birthing Room 145
Pt. III New Life
Joy and "Blues" 207
Calling It Fair 225
Making Mothers 265
Epilogue 275
A Mother's Manifesto 283
Afterword to the Anchor Edition 289
Resources 295
Endnotes 303
Selected Bibliography 323
Acknowledgments 328
Index 330
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Reading Group Guide

1. Our nation has the highest postpartum depression rate in the developed world. Some people might argue that the rate is a direct result of our equally high rate of C-sections, while others might wonder if the rate stems from better reporting, or from doctors being more willing to make the diagnosis. On the other hand, many doctors are perhaps too willing to lump postpartum symptoms, whatever their cause or most appropriate treatment, under one convenient (and conveniently dismissable) umbrella. Discuss this and other instances you might know about, examining how a diagnosis of postpartum depression, or the condition itself, affected you or people you know. Why do you suppose the incidence is so high in this country, and so much lower in others?

2. “It was one thing to experience a loss of self in a prefeminist culture that at least assigned a positive status to motherhood… it is very different to lose a part of one’s very sense of self to motherhood in a world that often seems to have little time, patience, or appreciation for motherhood.” (page 8) Discuss this assertion in light of Wolf’s claim that motherhood has been sentimentalized in our culture. Explore the ways in which a charming, rosy picture of pregnancy and parenthood might trivialize this challenging experience. End your discussion with a quick look at maternity clothes.

3. Wolf writes touchingly and persuasively of the loss of self experienced by women who bear children. Considering that the notion of “self” is itself culturally flexible, try to define “self” as Wolf might define it, and take a look at how the author’s own definition of theterm shifted over the course of her pregnancy and new motherhood.

4. Part of what makes this book so worthwhile is the author’s keen insight into aspects of her readers’ lives, aspects that readers themselves might overlook or take for granted. One such insight has to do with the “fatalism” Wolf felt upon purchasing a pregnancy test, fatalism being “something that people in my cohort scarcely ever feel--a sense of events moving beyond one’s control.” (page 15) While some readers might be of similar cohort, others might be more accustomed to the spin of the unexpected, the unalterable press of forces outside their control. Describe what you feel must mark the biggest difference between the two sets of people. What is it that most assures that one person’s life might be free of fatalism while another person’s life seems to depend on it?

5. Discuss the “will and longing” that Wolf feels played a role in her conception
while on birth control, and on the conceptions of other women, many hitherto infertile, whose stories are included in this book. (page 16) Would you be more inclined to ascribe such events to the “dark, ” “medieval” undertow marking Wolf’s appreciation for the mysterious aspects of our being, or to physiological, scientific phenomena not yet entirely understood? Clearly, Wolf herself entertains both views, holding the light of folklore to the light of the scientific, and vice versa. Where do you stand? How do you choose to make sense of the things that spook you?

6. Describing the “absent-faced, white-coated” staff in the “bowels” of the “vast, squat” facility where she went for her sonogram, Wolf indulges any writer’s instinct to select a vocabulary that will advance her messages and themes (for starters, decode the “blond concoction” worn by the technician.) (page 27) Now find other passages in MISCONCEPTIONS where such skills are most apparent, and take a minute to assess the influence on you.

7. “Something irrational happened, ” Wolf writes, “a lifetime’s orientation toward maternal... over fetal rights lurched out of kilter.” (page 28) Discuss the several shifts in her political thinking that accompanied Wolf’s pregnancy, and describe similar shifts that may have accompanied yours if you have ever been pregnant. Do you consider such shifts to constitute a loss of self? Why? Why not?

8. Wolf is one of our most articulate and philosophical thinkers on issues concerning women. Yet not until she herself was pregnant did she begin to feel that it was “brutal to be content with a feminism that was content to fit into [a] traditionally masculine definition of accomplishment.” And as she readily attests, only then did she realize that “true revolution would come about only when we demanded that the world conform to our needs as women.” (page 121) What does this tell us about the prospects for the child care system in America?

9. ) Pregnancy, birth, motherhood--not only are such topics lightning rods of controversy and debate, but they are conceived of differently by members of various cultures. What’s more, an individual is likely to have conflicting, sometimes contradictory feelings about these subjects at various times in her or his life. Therefore it is to be expected that any book or work of art about pregnancy and motherhood might contain ambiguities, placing one sentiment in unlikely juxtaposition with another, or entertaining what might look like mutually exclusive ideas. Do you find such ambiguities at play in MISCONCEPTIONS? If so, did they increase or decrease the author’s credibility? In what way do they serve the integrity of her work?

10. Test your memory of the facts and theories presented in MISCONCEPTIONS:
-Name two labor practices that Wolf feels increase the likelihood of a C-section.
-Why do hospitals insist on the use of fetal monitors even when such monitors have been shown to have no conclusive benefit?
-What’s the difference between “arrested labor” in the eyes of a hospital and in those of a midwife?
-Exactly what is an epidural and what does it accomplish?
-Describe a typical hospital labor as it occurs in the U. K.
-What is an episiotomy and why do hospitals encourage them?
-Some C-sections save women’s and babies’ lives, but some are medically unnecessary. What are the risks presented by C-sections?
-According to the proponents of natural childbirth, what causes the pain of childbirth?

11. Even prior to labor, some women actively elect to have C-sections. For what reasons do you imagine a woman might make such a decision?

12. In Wolf’s estimation many forces, chief among them the medical establishment, the insurance industry, and the legal industry, unite in urging women to go through labor quickly and “efficiently.” What are some of the other institutions that you feel exercise significant influence, undue or otherwise, on women in labor?

13. American doctors have “medicalized” normal delivery processes while labor classes have prepared women for what hospitals promote as “routine intervention, ” Wolf convincingly observes. Might it be said that American medicine treats death in a similar fashion, applying uncalled-for technology to that phase of our lives as well? Have we been conditioned to expect “routine intervention” whenever we find ourselves in a hospital? How does this differ from what you know of medical practices in other cultures?

14. “Most birthing and postnatal care settings... leave out the womanliness in the woman.” (page 196) Discuss.

15. Wolf’s insight into the inadequacies of most playgrounds is an eye-opener for those of us who take for granted such inadequacies without bothering to question or challenge them. What should the ideal playground include?
Now imagine a gift shop for babies and new mothers stocked by Naomi Wolf. List some of the merchandise, keeping in mind the quote from above.

16. How do you suppose your grandmother would react to this book?

17. How might things be different if men were the ones to bear children?

18. After she and her husband became parents, “a shocking gentleness engulfed us, ” Wolf writes, describing how it felt to become a member of the cult of unconditional love. (page 142) Note that gentleness is not often called “shocking, ” nor is it considered to “engulf.” Wolf’s use of phrases like these helps us all to understand the nature of a feeling that might otherwise go unnamed. Discuss the “shocking gentleness” of parenthood as you know it.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 10 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2004

    Would not recommend this book.

    I thought this book was horrible. I read it after the birth of my first son and was absolutely horrified at what I read. If I had read this PRIOR to my giving birth, I would have been scared to death to go into labor. I think the author is very bitter towards her own birthing experience and generalizes it to 'everyone's experience' which I can assure you is NOT the case. I would NOT recommend this book to any expectant mother as the MISinformation in the book would scare the heck out of her.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2003

    A biased and bitter perspective on motherhood

    As I read this book, I was struck by the appropriateness of the title "Misconceptions." However, I feel the author Naomi Wolff is the one with the misconceptions... about the medical field, and the experience of pregnancy, labour, delivery, and breastfeeding. I feel qualified to make this criticism, as I am both a female family physician with experience in obstetrical care, and a first-time mother of a healthy 4 month old son. I would not recommend this book to anyone. The author is clearly bitter and resentful about her own experiences during her first pregnany. As a result, she makes broad and inaccurate generalizations about pregnancy and childbirth, and comes across as an angry and selfish individual. Any attempts she makes to share important factual information with the reader are overshadowed by her own bias. Like Ms. Wolff, I too had a C-section delivery of a breech baby. However, my own experience was very different from hers. I enjoyed an excellent and trusting relationship with my physician, and received wonderful care in our small rural hospital. Breastfeeding my son has been an unexpected joy. Certainly there were hard days during pregnancy. Having major abdominal surgery is painful. Caring for an infant is a lot of work. Having a good support system of family and friends, and excellent medical care is of vital importance. In this regard, I agree with Ms. Wolff. However, in every other aspect, the author is bitter, biased, mistrustful, selfish, and often misinformed. In my opinion, this book is terrible, as its bias and bitterness far overshadow its educational value.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2002

    Dark, but Well Conceived

    Ms. Wolf comes across as a bitter woman through the majority of the book, dark and depressed. Her information is well researched and fully informed perhaps for NYC or Washington, but certainly is not true for all cities or communities in the US. She is right on regarding the status of mothers in the workplace and community, and I commend her call to form a Mothers Lobby. Although I would recommend the book, please read it with an open mind to your own experiences.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2002

    I Loved It

    Naomi Wolf is right on the money with her analysis of what's going on in the baby doctor business. She is also funny and scathing as she exposes the phony 'oohs and aahs' of having a baby. She makes a point of describing birthing options that you didn't know existed thanks to the medical machine that runs the show. At the end, she proposes the sane and correct answer. I enjoyed every page.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2002

    Amazing book

    This book is great. If you have ever thought about having a child read this book. What she says is so true and will open your eyes to what is really happening in the medical profession.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2002

    Disappointing! Wait for paperback

    I had heard much hype about this book, and couldn't wait to read it. While it's was okay and a quick read, it felt to me like the author was just a bitter woman. I understand that there are bad doctors and hospitals out there which is very scary but all she did was focus on the negativity of pregnancy and childbirth, nothing about the beauty. I have a few more chapters to go, so maybe she brightens up. I would have rather waited for paperback, it's not worth the $20.00

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