Kate Figes, Life After Birth (1998)

Maybe I should skip the review altogether: suffice to say I didn’t enjoy the book at all. But maybe I should do other readers a favor and let them know why I didn’t find it worthwhile.

I have nothing against being honest about the difficulties of motherhood and the practicalities of childbirth, because basically I came to this book to get a higher view on the intense juggling exercise my life has become since Baby Smithereens’ arrival. I consider myself blessed because I have a loving husband who believes in equal parenting, a dependable nanny, a demanding but well-paying job, this whole combination making it possible and enjoyable, but it’s still a tough challenge.

Instead of talking about balance and remaining level-headed about all these changes, the book gave me 250 pages of whining, to basically let me know that my life was over. Of course, childbirth is not romantic and the early months of motherhood are a period of deep turbulences, but here I am, with Baby Smithereens’ now 10 months old: I work, he thrives, as you can see I read and blog (less time for fiction, but I’m sure it will improve), we still see friends and our home has reached an acceptable level of order and cleanliness (by no means perfect but it never was).

What annoyed me most is the unclear purpose of the book: it’s a mish-mash of psychological and medical advice, medical and social history going back to the Middle Ages, of personal experiences, of interview of other women arbitrarily chosen. It really isn’t an academic book, but even for a pop-psycho book it’s not structured enough. I found it messy and rambling. There are a lot of assumptions and generalizations about how couples react, how friends react during and after pregnancy, and in my opinion she underlines the negative aspects and not enough the positive. In that vein of literature I loved Ann Lamott’s Operating Instructions, which was honest, emotional but very uplifting despite the hardships she experienced.


5 thoughts on “Kate Figes, Life After Birth (1998)

  1. What you write here reminds me of a pregnancy book I got called The Friends Guide to Pregnancy. I got about a quarter of the way through this book and did throw it across the room. Way too many assumptions and generalizations about how women and men and society react to pregnancy. The worst part about this book in particular was that it was trying to be funny, which maybe pushed some of the stereotyping overboard, but I just can’t abide that sort of thing. I will steer clear of Figes’ book – thank you for the warning!

  2. I, for one, appreciate negative reviews as much as positive ones since it helps to ELIMINATE something from my tbr list! I will steer clear of this one – thank you!

  3. How interesting! I haven’t read this one – but curiously enough, your review makes me want to. The controversial stuff is good for the motherhood book! When my son was little, the book that regularly brought me to despair was Penelope Leach’s guide to bringing up children. My son never behaved in the way she declared he would, and I never felt the things she said I ought to, and so I always ended up feeling an abject failure on reading it. I imagine the Figes might be for women who ARE struggling – but it’s nice to think of you managing so very well, Ms Smithereens! Good enough is exactly what all mothers need to aim for.

  4. Verbivore -oh yes I heard about the Friends guide as well and decided last year to steer clear of it. I’m not saying to stay away from every depressing and/or gory piece of advice, because some of them are practical (eg. how to feel more comfortable in the first few days after, something doctors don’t tell you enough about in my experience), but even though childbirth is universal I don’t think we need generalizations!

    Courtney -I’m not sure you’re in the targeted readership for this one yet 😉 and it seems tailored for the UK: one more good reason for you to pass…

    Litlove -it’s not *that* controversial because it’s mostly messy. I’m not sure it’s comforting even for mothers who are really suffering. It might even increase their feeling of failure, because the author doesn’t just tell new mothers that they aren’t the only one, she makes generalizations on a wide series of problems that might arise (but surely not all of them for everyone). I’ve tried to avoid all bossy books about child-rearing so far, but maybe I’m missing on precious information as well!

  5. Pingback: Rachel Cusk, A Life’s Work: on becoming a mother (2001) | Smithereens

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