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Parenting

Ann Douglas, Author of The Mother of All Pregnancy Books, Offers Tips for Prospective Parents

Ann Douglas is an award-winning Canadian journalist and the author of 24 books, including the best-selling The Mother of All Pregnancy Books and The Mother of All Baby Books. Upcoming books in the US include The Mother of All Toddler Books, and The Mother of All Parenting Books. A parent educator and mother, Ann is also the co-author (with John R. Sussman, MD) of two other highly popular pregnancy books: The Unofficial Guide to Having a Baby (second edition coming in January 2004) and Trying Again: A Guide to Pregnancy After Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Infant Loss.

Ann lives in Peterborough, Ontario with her husband and four children ages 6 through 15. She has experienced infertility, miscarriage and stillbirth, as well as four textbook pregnancies.

Known for her lively anecdotes and real-world advice, Ann is a regular contributor to WebMD.com and PregnancyandBaby.com. She makes frequent appearances on both radio and television and is regularly quoted in such publications as Parenting, Parents, Fit Pregnancy, American Baby and Working Mother. HMHB recently spoke with Ann about pregnancy and prenatal care.

Q. What are the most common worries of pregnant women?

A. It might be easier to make a list of things the mama-to-be doesn’t worry about! (Of course, I say that from the vantage point of “Worrier in Chief!–someone who took the art of worrying to a whole new level during her own pregnancies.) Most pregnant women worry a great deal about their baby’s health and well-being as well as aches and pains they may be experiencing (e.g. “Is this normal or an indication of a possible problem?”). They also worry about how having a baby is going to change their life, affect their relationship with their partner, have an impact on their career and so on. Sometimes I think Mother Nature must have intended pregnancy as a nine-month-long apprenticeship in the art of worrying. She must have wanted moms (and dads!) to be really good at worrying by the time their babies were born.

Q. Have you noticed any new trends in pregnancy and childbirth?

A. I’ve noticed quite a few emerging trends in recent years, most notably the growing willingness of expectant parents to hire doulas to provide support during labor. As one mom put it to me at a recent baby fair, “I’m only going to be in labor a few times during my entire life, so I don’t mind paying for the support of a trained professional such as a doula to help me make the most of this experience.” Also, there is much greater diversity in childbirth choices than there was a decade or two ago. Couples today are researching their options and making informed choices about their baby’s birth, whether that means choosing to have a doctor or a midwife attending their baby’s birth; opting for pain medication during the delivery or choosing to have an unmedicated delivery; and making the decision to have a hospital birth or a home birth. This is very different from decades past when we seemed to go through birthing “fads”(e.g., in the early 1980s, there was tremendous pressure on women to opt for natural childbirth whether or not they felt that was the right choice for them). Today there’s much greater recognition of the fact that there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all birth–that there are all kinds of pain relief options (both pharmacological and “natural”) available to birthing couples.

Q. Prospective parents are faced with an overwhelming amount of information and choices to be made–should they opt for supplemental newborn screening, what type of car seat to buy, finding a pediatrician. What advice would you give prospective parents for making the best choices for their families?

A. Parents should research their options thoroughly so that they can feel confident that they’ve made the right decision. It is tempting to start second-guessing a decision after the fact when parents start getting hit with the flood of unsolicited advice from family and friends, which they will inevitably receive. If they’ve done their homework, they’ll be less likely to be swayed by any contrary opinions offered by other people in their life.

Q. What are some of the issues faced by prospective fathers? Are these different than those faced by mothers?

A. Fathers face unique challenges. Not only is there still a great deal of pressure on dads to provide financially for their families (even in this era when a significant number of moms are, in fact, the primary breadwinner for their families), they’re also being asked to play a much more active role on the fathering front than their own fathers typically did. While most dads derive a great deal of joy and satisfaction from their expanded fathering roles, they can also feel a bit overloaded at times (a feeling most moms can relate to!), so they very much appreciate the support and understanding they receive from their partners.

Q. What can family and friends do to best support new parents once the baby is born?

A. Friends and family members need to simultaneously give new parents the time and space they need to find their footing as new parents while being ready and willing to step in and lend a helping hand when appropriate. It can be quite the balancing act–knowing when to give the new mom and dad a chance to “babymoon” alone with their new baby and when to offer some hands-on help with laundry and other chores as well as some emotional support during this both joyous and challenging time for the new parents. (Note: On my Web site I offer a “Postpartum Survival Guide” with practical tips on making this period as stress-free as possible. Go to http://www.having-a-baby.com/article.htm#tip_pdfs.)

Q. There are many books available on pregnancy. What makes your books different?

A. One reviewer described my books as “gloriously non-bossy” and I took that as a huge compliment. I endeavor to present a lot of factual information in my books so that my readers can make informed decisions on a vast array of pregnancy and parenting topics without being spoon-fed by me. (There are enough bossy pregnancy books on the planet. I didn’t feel that the world needed another one!)

I think my books also stand out because they are extremely comprehensive and they don’t shy away from tough topics like infertility, miscarriage or stillbirth – which are unfortunate realities for significant numbers of prospective parents. Having lived through each of these experiences myself, I can tell you that it’s tremendously hurtful to come home from the doctor’s office after receiving the life-shattering news that your baby has died, only to have your pregnancy book tell you not to worry about stillbirth because it’s “extremely rare” (which, by the way, it’s not-it occurs in approximately 1% of pregnancies). That’s cold comfort indeed.

But even though I sometimes tackle heavy-duty topics, I’m not afraid to let my sense of humor shine through in my writing. Frankly, I think you need to have a sense of humor to get through a nine-and-a-half long period in your life when your belly balloons, your belly button pops and everything else about your body seems to go through an equally dramatic metamorphosis. And then there’s the whole issue of the emotional rollercoaster ride that is so much of the pregnancy experience….Oh, baby!

I figured out the other day that I’ve written well over a million words about pregnancy over the past five years, and yet I find I still have so much more to say about what has been for me the most dramatic and memorable experience of my life–becoming a mother. The challenge I face is to find a way to express the mystery and awe that surrounds pregnancy and birth. The look that you see on a mother’s face when she has just made it through the rigors of childbirth and met her baby for the first time simply defies mere words.