Our Reading Lives

Pregnancy Books During a Pandemic Are Fantasy Reads

I hate pregnancy books. They’re packed with fear-mongering and judgment, even when they try their best not to be.

But more, as someone who is experiencing her first pregnancy in the midst of a global pandemic, pregnancy books are sheer fantasy reads.

I endured a long road to becoming pregnant. It was infertility paired with treatment being shut down, paired with medications that decimated my body and mind, paired with a traumatic experience during a procedure paired with too many people making really insensitive jokes about pandemic babies (which, by the way, any simple searching will tell you: there won’t be a baby boom, just like there wasn’t during the pandemic last century).

My long road was short, compared to so many others desperate to become pregnant.

Immediately upon learning I was expecting in August, I reached out to a few friends who I knew shared similar mindsets to me and sought book recommendations. I knew early on that What to Expect would in no way be helpful to me as a pregnant person who was fat and of “advanced maternal age.” It was hard enough becoming pregnant. I didn’t need to be reminded of all the things that could go wrong or all of the ways I was already failing my unborn child.

I also didn’t need to see image after image of thin people with cute baby bumps, as I knew that as a fat woman, it was likely my bump wouldn’t manifest in any similar manner (and it hasn’t—nearly half-way through this pregnancy, I’m still not showing).

I got some great recommendations, including Like a Mother, which I read cover to cover in about one sitting. Written by a woman of color, it was clear the book was meant to be a more expansive view of pregnancy and the realities of the experience. At the same time I picked that book up, I grabbed a few more recommended to me, and I’ve been making my way through them trimester by trimester.

But it’s hard not to find these books utterly depressing, disheartening, and complete works of fantasy.

My husband hasn’t been to a single prenatal visit with me. I endured all of the fertility treatment alone, and during the first ultrasound I had that didn’t highlight my body’s inability to follow typical reproductive patterns but instead rendered a teeny grain of rice with a visible heartbeat at 4 weeks, I was alone.

“Did you cry?” he asked after, when I texted him about how seeing and recording a heartbeat that early is extremely rare. I laughed, telling him no because frankly, I was more relieved to learn there was only one baby and not multiple.

Ultrasound two, ultrasound three, ultrasound four, I went alone.

At week 13 when I experienced my first spotting and began to panic about what it might mean, I was once again alone as my doctor searched for (and found!) my daughter’s strong and solid heartbeat.

That was when I cried.

I don’t—and can’t—imagine creating a birth plan like these books advice. I can’t imagine what the reality of going to the hospital looks like were I to become sick and need it before my due date, let alone what it might look like when I do give birth. I may or may not need to wear a mask. Were I to test positive for COVID, I may not be able to be with my baby for two weeks after her birth. My husband may or may not be find himself beside me for the entire process.

My birth plan is to make it to April without getting sick so that I can hold my baby in my arms when she makes her arrival.

Pregnancy books reiterate the importance of mom/dad/parent friends, of attending classes with other to-be parents who will have babies near the time you will, of going out to coffee with friends and talking about the realities of parenthood.

But right now, those aren’t options. Classes exist online only, if at all, and mom/dad/parent friends are, like me, nearly incapacitated with fear about getting sick or exposing their children or children-to-be to COVID. And going to a cafe or out to eat contributes to the fear and the spread of the virus in ways that are simply unsafe and not smart.

There won’t be a shower or other such celebration because gatherings are not smart, and the majority of both my husband’s family and mine are older and thus among the most vulnerable populations. We aren’t risking lives for the sake of cake and gifts, which for too many sounds like a radical stance, rather than a logical one.

I’m lucky to have a partner who is dedicated to his role as a parent. He reads to the baby every night, has picked out so many items for her room, and created a savings account so she doesn’t struggle with finances in the ways we sometimes have but instead is set up for more security. I’m not needing to follow the pregnancy books offering advice for how to make a partner more involved and for that I’m grateful.

Yet, not a single parenting book can offer insight into how to respond when he tells me how disconnected he feels from the entire experience because he’s not allowed to be part of it. When we can see people packing bars, going to Disney, attending sizable weddings, choosing to dine indoors at restaurants which have elected to ignore state orders to shut down such services, it’s impossible not to get angry. Impossible not to cry.

And impossible not to feel like there is no pregnancy guide out there, no matter how inclusive and insightful, that cant truly understand, empathize, or offer even a morsel of what the reality of being pregnant during a rampant pandemic looks like. I’m tired of the world moving around me in a fantasy world where there isn’t a disease impacting a hundred thousand plus people each and every day.

It’s a fantasy to me to find comfort in pregnancy books because they, too, exist in a world that no longer is.