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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

3.8 11
by Naomi Wolf

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In Misconceptions, bestselling author Naomi Wolf she demythologizes motherhood and reveals the dangers of common assumptions about childbirth. With uncompromising honesty she describes how hormones eroded her sense of independence, ultrasounds tested her commitment to abortion rights, and the keepers of the OB/GYN establishment lacked compassion. The


In Misconceptions, bestselling author Naomi Wolf she demythologizes motherhood and reveals the dangers of common assumptions about childbirth. With uncompromising honesty she describes how hormones eroded her sense of independence, ultrasounds tested her commitment to abortion rights, and the keepers of the OB/GYN establishment lacked compassion. The weeks after her first daughter’s birth taught her how society, employers, and even husbands can manipulate new mothers. She had bewildering post partum depression, but learned that a surprisingly high percentage of women experience it.

Wolf’s courageous willingness to talk about the unexpected difficulties of childbirth will help every woman become a more knowledgeable planner of her pregnancy and better prepare her for the challenges of balancing a career, freedom, and a growing family. Invaluable in its advice to parents, Misconceptions speaks to anyone connected–personally, medically, or professionally–to a new mother.

Editorial Reviews

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.

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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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Afterword to the Anchor Edition

The book you have read is the frankest possible account I could write about the struggles—as well as the joys—of adjusting to pregnancy and new motherhood. Misconceptions ends with the birth of my first baby, and an epilogue describes the birth of the second. Since the book was first published, so many readers have asked me heartfelt questions that I’m glad to have a chance to answer them in this new afterword.

My journey toward motherhood was at times a bumpy one; at certain moments it shook my very sense of self. For me, it was important to tell that story raw, unvarnished by retrospection. I lifted the dark moments as well as the light ones straight from a journal I kept at the time, and did not shy away from describing what I felt when I felt it. I wanted to be honest about the challenges of the journey—brutally honest, some would say—for two reasons. One is that so many people told me that time and love soften your memories of what you experience when pregnant for the first time, and I wanted the book to be unmediated by the mother love that would now never let me write about pregnancy—or remember it—the way I lived it. The other reason is that I wanted to write the book I could not find on the shelves when I was pregnant and a new mother—the book that would reassure me that I was normal and that my struggles were part of the preparation that many of us share as this amazing and humbling, and also ferocious and unnerving, force takes over a life.

When I describe my pregnancy, for instance, I ask, Who will I become? As it turned out, with motherhood I became a wiser, more patient, and I hope more compassionate person. In some ways motherhood is the best thing that ever happened to me. But when I was pregnant I did not know how that could be, and I believe it is important to honor the questions of the pregnant woman as one identity makes room for another, “mother” identity to be born.

One question readers have asked with some urgency is: What happened next? After the book ends? Meaning, I believe—Did it all work out? Readers who are pregnant or readers who have just had new babies want to know what life after my tough adjustment period has been like for me.

I owe them quite a lot of reassurance. Like the mothers I interviewed, I found the entry into motherhood a wild and sometimes overwhelmingly difficult rite of passage. Yet, the view from the other side is far more serene. The ending has been truly a happy one. Like besotted parents everywhere, I am, of course, hopelessly in love with our two children. As in any love affair, you think the details of your own love relationship are unique, your own beloved beyond compare. If I were to describe the firm conviction I have that there have never been two children more marvelous than our two, you would, if you were a parent already, of course understand, even if you couldn’t agree because you felt the same way about your own children.

With the perspective of time and distance, as well as so many rather worried questions from pregnant women, I want to clarify that my subject is the journey of pregnancy and new motherhood, not the destination of being a family with children. My focus is the treacherous waters between the shore of being not—yet—a—mother—(there is not even a word for it!) and the solidity of readjustment, as well as the knock-out, who knew, what-was-my- life-before-I-met-you love, that awaits the new mom on the other side. Still, I feel more strongly than ever that new mothers and new parents are best served by knowing what the dangers are—and knowing how best to traverse them. New mothers, new fathers, and new grandparents, too, have told me that they feel better prepared to welcome a baby, or better able to prepare someone they love to welcome a baby, by learning of or being reminded of, that difficult passage. All the readers who contacted me heartily agreed that a woman is not a mother just because she has had a baby, a mother is not born when a baby is born; a mother is forged, made.

Though hundreds of readers who passed the book to their friends seem to have felt it captured aspects of their true experience, other voices took issue with what I had to say. One common early complaint was that I—along with the women I interviewed— was “whining.” If complaining about something that is difficult or taxing, or expressing fatigue, loneliness, or sadness, or even at times feeling overwhelmed and sorry for oneself and saying so, is “whining,” we are certainly sometimes doing that. The complaint fascinates me because in the interviews I did for the book, once it became clear that I was open to hearing about the negative as well as positive emotions of pregnant women and new mothers, I could not stop the well of complaints from overflowing—and these were sane, stable, loving, reasonably well-adjusted women who loved their children and their men.

When Oprah recently devoted a show to new mothers who were encouraged to express both positive and negative feelings about their experiences, the post-show response broke records. Women clearly welcome the opportunity to express the full range of their opinions. My original premise has been confirmed: there is a taboo against the very idea of complaining about anything relating to motherhood. Not, as it turned out, that there is nothing legitimate to complain about, but, it appears, because complaining about motherhood is a subversive and destabilizing act.

Because if mothers complain, what next? Next they will be demanding flextime and maternity benefits, equal help from men, and reform of the medical system. I am glad to say that that taboo is gradually lifting. Misconceptions is part of a wave of books and articles, fiction and nonfiction, even a documentary, that dare to show the shadows as well as the light in the image and reality of motherhood.

Some critics have been concerned that the women here illustrate majority, not minority experiences. To that charge I plead guilty. I wanted to assess the experience of birth and family life that most women in America would have. In our country, eighty percent of women call themselves middle class. Ninety-eight percent give birth in hospitals; eighty percent have medical insurance. I did indeed piece together my aggregate of birth experiences from this core group. I should have been clearer that this was my intention. The births of women who are not in a hospital or who are not insured are different enough from the mainstream experience that the subject requires another approach and another book. Similarly, some have objected to the fact that most of the new parents I look at in Misconceptions are men and women in a marriage. I look at men and women in marriage, with a new baby, not because I want to slight lesbian mothers, single mothers or teen mothers, but because I want to write about men and women in relationship with one another, to look at new mothers and fathers in families and how their gender, when a new baby comes, can wrench them apart. The issues facing lesbian couples, single mothers, and teen mothers may be even more complex, but I respect the diversity of women too much to shoehorn very diverse situations into one argument; these families, too, deserve a book of their own.

What has changed since Misconceptions was published? In the wave of all these new voices, we have begun a long-overdue conversation, in which we can tell a bit more truth than we used to feel was permissible. Has there been wholesale reform of the medical complex that drives US women into terrible births? No, just as wholesale reform did not attend exposés by Ina May Gaskin or Jessica Mitford, or, more recently, by Henci Goer or T. H. Strong or Sheila Kitzinger. Some of my critics wondered why I didn’t educate myself, but in forty-eight states you still can’t find anything substantive about the record of your hospital or your doctor. You still can’t get the decent information you deserve about a specific hospital or doctor’s amnio outcome rates, C-section rates, epidural rates, episiotomy rates, or about your midwife’s decision-making power in relation to her OB, or about the duration of labor you will be allowed by the hospital’s protocols. The data is concealed; it is not available to you as it was not available to me, even though I consistently asked for it. If you don’t live in Massachusetts or Hawaii, good luck finding the C-section rate of your hospital on the Web. Those who charge that you can “just take responsibility for your outcome!” are in a state of denial about what is, in effect, a conspiracy of obfuscation and concealment. It serves the powerful AMA very well, and keeps pregnant women disempowered.

But Misconceptions has had one very concrete effect. As I have heard from word of mouth as well as numerous letters and e-mails, readers of this book have sometimes mid-pregnancy-been moved to change care providers. Many have fled to birth centers and independent midwives, or learned what questions to ask a prospective OB to get a clearer sense of whether they will be treated with dignity during their child’s birth. I hope that they have had better, happier births than they otherwise would have. I have also heard that women and men have been inspired to prepare a better support system for the postpartum time, as well as to lower expectations of themselves (“I realized I shouldn’t expect to be superwoman!” is a classic remark) and to talk through and negotiate in advance the kinds of things that can be a stumbling block after the baby arrives.

One change is perhaps the most important one of all, because of the many thousands of lives it could help if it takes flight. There is a list in this book—a “motherhood agenda.” Critics—notably The New York Times—dismissed this as pie-in-the-sky list making for a world of supports for mothers that will never arrive. I am proud to say that in September 2002, a mothers’ lobby, called MOTHERS for Mothers Ought to Have Equal Rights, was founded with just such an agenda in its sights. Thousands of moms have signed on, and they are up and running. Thus we can hold our leaders’ feet to the fire for what mothers, fathers and babies really need; and together, we moms can change the world.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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. She has since authored several other books, most recently Vagina: A New Biography. Wolf is co-founder of The Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership, an organization devoted to training young women in ethical leadership for the 21st century. The institute teaches professional development in the arts and media, politics and law, business and entrepreneurship as well as ethical decision making. She lives in New York City with her family.

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Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book about 10 years after having my first child and I wish with all my heart that it had been available to me during that pregnancy. For those 10 years, whenever I was honest with someone about the horrible childbirth I experienced, I was made to feel that there was something wrong with me. I even had co-workers tell me that I must have failed 'Womanhood 101'. I vowed to never have another child again as the very thought of going through this painful and humiliating process of pregnancy and birth made me panic. I wasn't going to deal again with cold male doctors who mutilated me for the sake of a quick delivery or the feeling of panic at being strapped down to the table, legs spread, with no sympathetic professional to even PRETEND they cared what was happening to me. Based on the experience I had, childbirth felt more like a brutal rape than the beautiful moment I thought it would be. When I read Misconceptions I cried harder than I thought I could every cry at a book. Suddenly after 10 years of feeling like there was something wrong with me - that I was weak, that I was lacking some fundamental aspect of womanhood that should have guided me seamlessly through the childbirth and the months of recovery that followed the mangled 'little cut' that the doctor said would allow the baby to come out more quickly - suddenly I found that other women had been brutalized the same way and that I wasn't alone or weak or somehow lacking. Several reviewers have expressed concern that Naomi Wolfe is bitter about her own first childbirth. Perhaps she is. I know I am. But is the solution to have a nation of women suffering quiet pain over these too common experiences? For the women who complain that this book does not represent their own experiences, congratulations. I wouldn't wish them otherwise. But too many women DO have these negative experiences, and if we can't talk about them and bring them into the light of day then nothing will ever be done and more pain and suffering will be inevitable.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's true that this book takes a really hard, honest look at the way the medical establishment and society treats women in pregnancy and birth. It's hard, and it's not surprising doctors don't like it. But the truth often hurts. Clearly, Ms. Wolf has hurt about her experiences but it's amazing that she can share them and also actually LEARN from them. And, in this book, she shows other women how to do the same. The book is an excellent balance of first hand story telling and factual, scientific evidence to support what Ms. Wolf has experienced. The result is a book that virtually any woman can relate to and every woman should read. Ms. Wolf gives excellent sources and you'll be reading her book and then her references for months to come.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is fantastic. I read this book before the birth of my daughter this past January. Because I believed myself to be a highly informed consumer with 10 weeks of Bradley training and having my husband and doula by my side, I never thought I would experience the medicalization that Wolf describes. Sadly, the experiences that she details in MISCONCEPTIONS proved all too accurate when one nurse cornered my husband and attempted to coerce him into having me medicated, while another nurse worked on convincing me to agree to use an epidural. I highly recommend this book to anyone, but especially to expectant parents who want to go through the birthing experience with their eyes open and knowing what to REALLY expect.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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