Our Reading Lives

Reading While Pregnant: How Pregnancy Has Changed My Reading Life

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Lily Dunn

Staff Writer

Lily Dunn is an avid reader and an intrepid explorer, and she has never met a cheese she didn't like. She lives with her husband in Hong Kong where she works a literacy teacher and goes hiking almost every weekend. You can read her musings on books, mental health, faith, and what it means to live wholeheartedly at lilyellyn.com or follow her travels and expat adventures at keeproamingon.com.

In March I found out that I was unexpectedly pregnant. Being a mature adult, I did what I always do when faced with an overwhelming situation: I pretended it wasn’t happening. I mostly pretended by reading as much as I could. Fast forward six months and I have somewhat come to terms with my new reality. But reading during pregnancy has helped me cope.

It’s hard to say whether the books I’ve read during this time have influenced my pregnancy, or if my being pregnant has influenced what I’ve read and how I’ve felt about it. My guess is that it’s a circle of life kind of thing. (If you just heard the song in your head then you’re welcome). What we read influences our lives, and our life experiences affect how we interpret and understand what we read. 

What I’m Not Reading

You might assume that reading during pregnancy has turned towards books about the miracle of birth or the beauty of motherhood. You would be wrong. In the past seven months I have managed to read exactly zero books about pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, or infant care. You know what I have read? Books about murder, rock bands, the prison system, C.S. Lewis’s wife, gender-swapped Sherlock Holmes, schizophrenia, and Manhattan circa 1746. Somehow, I think these will serve me better. 

All the Audiobooks

For the first few months, I couldn’t physically read much at all. My mind was racing all the time. When I tried to concentrate on a book, I found myself rereading the same page over and over again. So I tried to turn off the anxiety with audiobooks. Because no more wine.

I ignored my real life and let audiobooks whisk me away to far-off locales. I let the magic of The Ghost Bride, My Brilliant Friend, and Next Year in Havana wash over me. In the blissful moments that I wasn’t vomiting, I could ignore the thousands of questions hounding me.

I Call B.S. On Everything

Once I moved out of my first-trimester brain fog/panic/denial I started reading physical books again at breakneck speed. I would occasionally consider doing something more “constructive” with my free time, then push the thought away and pick up a book instead. 

I quickly noticed that my BS meter was running on high alert. For better or worse, my gut reactions grew strong and decisive. 

The man who knows his wife is a psychopath but still seems shocked that she would deceive him? Idiot. 

The couple who spends years hurting each other because they are incapable of having a straightforward conversation about what they want? Insufferable. (I’m looking at you, Sally Rooney). 

The woman who puts herself into obviously dangerous situations and then just hopes everything works out OK? Or calls on other people to save her. (*Cough* Queenie). I know, I know. In real life, we humans are inclined to self-sabotage. But right now, I have very little compassion for that nonsense.

There’s a lot going on in my mind and in my body right now. Ain’t nobody got time for stupid people (characters).

Zero Tolerance for Pregnancy Stupidity

Speaking of stupidity, I have also become hyper-aware of unrealistic or flat-out stupid descriptions of things related to pregnancy and birth.

Like I said, I haven’t read any books about pregnancy, but as pregnancy is a somewhat common occurrence, it shows up in plenty of books. It’s not that I think I’m an expert on pregnancy after a mere seven months of experience. It’s that if I can know these things are ridiculous after only seven months, how did these facts escape the writer or editor or all the other people who probably read the manuscript before it was published?

I was reading Jane Harper’s latest book The Lost Man (which I overall recommend) and the main character reflects on his ex-wife’s morning sickness, “It lasted not only that day, but for the rest of the week.”

Seriously? This was written BY A WOMAN. Even if she herself has never experienced pregnancy, does she not have a single friend or family member who has? Who has morning sickness for one week? Sure, some people magically escape it altogether, but if you have it, it’s not like a one-time event. I had constant nausea from week 6 to week 17. 

My other pet peeve is people who manage to hide their pregnancies from their partners for an extended period of time. I won’t name names here because I don’t want to ruin any plot points, but there are so many changes you experience from very early in pregnancy. I don’t think I could have hidden that something was going on even if I’d tried. Sure, not everyone has extreme symptoms. But if you manage to keep a pregnancy from your partner who you live with for so long that you can present them with an ultrasound and tell them the gender, you should consider finding a new partner. Because a human who is that unobservant doesn’t strike me as exceptional parent material.

These days I am at the tail end of my pregnancy, waddling around huffing and puffing elegantly. I still can’t believe this is real life. But you know what genuinely makes me feel better when I’m being kicked in the vagina by my offspring? Thinking about my daughter and all of the books she will get to read for the first time. That lucky duck.