Pregnancy books for a feminist dad-to-be
July 3, 2019 6:18 AM   Subscribe

My partner is unexpectedly pregnant. We're both early 30s and contemplating keeping the pregnancy. It's the first time for both of us. I - a standard-issue cis white guy - want to read books for expectant partners, as distinct from other kinds of pregnancy books, but my god does that genre contain a lot of crap. Can anyone recommend books with good politics for partners-of-pregnant-people?

My SO and I both have pretty progressive politics and are steering in that direction in our reading materials, but I'm finding it unbelievably hard to find pregnancy books for my role that are not pretty garbage, politically. A reviewer on Amazon called them "'frat boy turned dad' books" and that rings really true - The Expectant Father, From Dude to Dad, We're Pregnant: The First Time Dad's Pregnancy Book, they're all terrible. I don't want to get advice on managing my partner's post-pregnancy weight, I don't need instructions on how to make a diaper out of duct tape, and I don't need any reassurance that I'm "no less of a man" because I'm "doing all the cooking now." Seriously, this stuff is garbage. (I should also note - the examples I mentioned are all aimed at expressly hetero couples, but I'm totally onboard with books that are aimed at any type of partner to a pregnant person.)

The reason I'm stuck on the partner genre of pregnancy books is because a lot of my questions are about what I, specifically, should be thinking and doing: what supports I should be offering that I haven't thought of; what kinds of questions I should be asking of my partner and of myself; and how to generally navigate being a supportive SO in a situation that's very new to me. This is exactly the kind of advice that is nowhere to be found in the books above, because what I view as being a supportive partner is not at all what Dude, You're Gonna Be a Dad views as being a supportive partner.

We have found all kinds of helpful general pregnancy books, like Expecting Better, but I can't find anything that speaks directly to what I should be doing. I've dug through the archives and couldn't find a question specifically along these lines - and this also seems like the kind of genre that will change, and hopefully has changed, over time. Please, MeFites, help me out.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
It's not exactly a pregnancy book, but consider reading When Couples Become Parents, which is about how (like the process and mechanisms by which) even progressive, egalitarian couples tend to move into traditional gender roles after having a baby. Understanding the process might be the first step in beating it.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:24 AM on July 3, 2019 [8 favorites]

I've said this in other pregnancy threads, but as a lifelong reader and someone who has used books as models for life, pregnancy and parenting is a place where I have found that reading is no substitute for talking to people with more experience.

So I would suggest that when you and your partner go to classes (go to several childbirth classes! it's great!) you pay a lot of attention to the person leading the class and ask questions about the areas where you have the most concern. The doulas my partner and I went to had a lot to say about how the non-pregnant partner could support the laboring person, and I bet would have had a lot to say about post-partum too. Talk to dads who are dadding in ways you like! Go to support groups with the baby (Give your partner a few hours to themself while you do this!) A group of new parents in a room is an... interesting place to be. It certainly helps to hear your own worries spoken by others.

In the immediate post-partum, the most helpful stuff for me, as the person who had labored and who was trying to learn how to breastfeed, was for my partner to literally wait on me hand and foot. Cook the food and bring it to me where I was (under the baby.) Refill my water bottle. Take the baby when I wanted to move my body (around the house, and eventually out of it - this took several days.) In the longer term, he remains the person who does most of the house cleaning and who cooks a lot. We trade bedtime and bathtime every night.

Read the same books your partner reads, and talk them over together.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 6:47 AM on July 3, 2019 [14 favorites]

The best advice I got while pregnant is don’t read too many pregnancy baby and parenting and communication books. Pregnancy is like ring on a train - sure, it helps to know where the bathrooms are and what pillows to bring but it’s the destination that makes or breaks you as a couple.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:59 AM on July 3, 2019 [9 favorites]

The Birth Partner, 5th Edition is refreshingly non-hetero/cis normative. It mostly focuses on childbirth, but also has a bit on late pregnancy and immediately post-partum.
posted by damayanti at 7:00 AM on July 3, 2019 [10 favorites]

Perhaps not exactly what you're looking for, but I wanted to suggest Rad Families by Tomas Moniz. It's a really great collection of experiences from parents of all kinds. Tomas Moniz also edits a zine titled Rad Dad, which has a good number of issues.
posted by miserable-mild at 7:02 AM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

A couple suggestions, as someone who has recently been in roughly analogous situation (previously):
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 7:35 AM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

What I found most helpful as a recently-anointed-dad was - consume the resources aimed at moms, not ones aimed at birth partnership or whatever for the soon-to-be-dad.

Since you have decided to do something different than the mainstream default (good for you! that's a pretty low bar!) then you are on your own here. As far as I can tell, and I read pretty widely in this genre, the resource you're looking for does not exist (because there's no market? because authors and publishers despair of true equality? who knows).

But you don't need a special resource, and you don't need to have your information curated for you through someone else's lens of "what a father needs to know." You are having a child just as much as your partner is. True, you will not birth the child or breastfeed it, but there is no reason you can't learn about those processes--and once you learn how those things work, the supporting roles become pretty obvious (IMO). You need to know everything your partner does, and then the two of you can talk through what your respective roles will be.

So read all the pregnancy books together. Then get reading some decent parenting books so you can both be prepared for what parenting is - pregnancy is just a blip on the way to raising a whole person. Since the biggest traps for couples, especially straight folks, all have to do with emotional labor, household labor, and communication, start working on those things and you will be on the right track.
posted by epanalepsis at 9:22 AM on July 3, 2019

Most of the Dad pregnancy books are garbage so you'd be better off ignoring them. Read Birth Partner and Rad Families by Tomas Moniz (both mentioned above) instead. I liked Hungry Monkey but that's not so much about having a baby as being a dad who likes to eat and wants to encourage their kid to be an adventurous eater. I'll ask my doula wife this evening if she has anymore recommendations but the first two are good places to start.
posted by Ashwagandha at 9:32 AM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

I started reading Dad's Guide to Pregnancy for Dummies when I was pregnant, and I really liked it. I found it less gender-normative than other pregnancy books aimed at pregnant women* - I was really annoyed at the sidelining of partners within those and happy to find this book which assumed that a father/partner is an involved parent, too.

(The title isn't ideal, but they were stuck with it as part of the larger brand).

*I was going to write "pregnant people" to be inclusive - but then realized that would have been false, as none of the resources I found were. They didn't even seem to be inclusive of gender-non-conforming women, let alone non-binary people or trans men.
posted by jb at 11:39 AM on July 3, 2019

I echo sentiments that you should just read the same books she does and focus more on parenting and developmental books to discuss with each other rather than just pregnancy and labour books.

That said, one book I’d recommend for you both to read is Your Baby Skin to Skin It starts from labour and each chapter is dedicated to a stage in the baby’s first year. The chapters start with an invitation to think back on evolution and the early days of humans to understand baby’s behaviours and physiology - because they haven’t actually changed that much! Each chapter also has little sections called “partner ponderings” that empathise with what you may be going through and how you can be supportive to the birth mother. I quite liked this book, it tries to instil confidence in first time parents.

I also enjoyed Brain Rules for Baby and Elevating Childcare: A Guide to Respectful Parenting. The first is as the title implies, about a baby’s brain development from pregnancy through the first year of life along with guidance on how to support their growth. The second is more about the REI style of parenting which isn’t for everyone but I found it useful as a discussion topic with my husband.
posted by like_neon at 1:41 PM on July 3, 2019

My husband read Expecting Better after I became pregnant. It's aimed at women but not particularly so. It was great because he remembered all the stuff about why some fish were bad and others were fine (high mercury content) and could reassure me that I really didn't need to worry about deli meat etc.
posted by peacheater at 2:31 PM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

vermouth has your best answer. Just read the best pregnancy books you can find, period. They will all be marketed toward women.

(my belief, sixteen years after having needed one, is that all pregnancy books are basically just worry stones, but there's nothing wrong with finding one you like.)
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:32 PM on July 3, 2019

1. I second going to a birthing class for couples. As the woman I found the class useless and annoying, except that it clearly helped my husband, with concrete practical suggestions for things he could do to help during the birth. And while it's not guaranteed, at least our class was visibly populated by dads committed to being a full partner and that was the baseline assumption.
2. I can't think of any resource to help for during the pregnancy itself that is both pregnancy and male-partner specific. Emotional support, listening, etc aren't pregnancy specific, and being aware of physical symptoms you should get from books aimed at women (and, honestly, I skipped and would advise skipping the books, which will make you anxious about things that won't happen and complacent about things that will. Any time I had any symptom, I googled it. The first results are actually usually pretty level-headed, not the stereotype of WebMD fear-mongering, I usually knew within five minutes how concerned I needed to be. Pregnancy is hugely variable and it would piss me off every smug book telling me it was the second trimester and I was probably done vomiting now and glowin with happiness instead, like it really made me want to punch people).

My only pregnancy note is: the exhaustion, no book can capture the constant day to day bone dragging grind of the exhaustion. Everyone makes (annoying) jokes about how you should get some sleep before the baby comes, but as exhausted as I was post-partum it was an improvement on the pregnancy itself, because nursing wasn't as draining as hosting a literal blood-sucking parasite inside of me 24/7 with no reprieve optimized to steal oxygen from my blood and hijacking my immune system while giving me insomnia and making what sleep I got poorer quality. It minimized me down to my most basic functioning. And it's not as visible as the other symptoms, not as obvious or acknowledged (see: obnoxious jokes about getting some sleep). Yet every pregnant woman I've ever spoken to had it.
3. John gottman has a book, "and baby makes three", about the transition to life as parents from life as couple. I have not read it, I've just read others of his books and they were good and blessedly free of your standard garbage about men from Mars etc.
4. Very very strongly seconding the advice that you focus more energy on reading parenting books than pregnancy books. You will have so little time and mental energy for them after the baby is born, plus, everything will be more up close and personal and hard to think about objectively, it is so, so helpful to read them in advance. And discuss them! Talk out what you like and don't like. Get some for babies, some for toddlers, some for general parenting. Be aware that the situation on the ground in reality will be constantly changing, so don't get too attached to an approach before rubber hits asphalt, but get informed now.
posted by Cozybee at 10:36 PM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Expectant Dad here, seconding The Birth Partner. It is exactly what you've described, and as damayanti points out, the 5th edition even uses language like "birth partner to a pregnant person". It doesn't cover earlier stages of pregnancy, but my experience was that I didn't have any specific role in the earlier stages, beyond general supportiveness. I think there's another aspect, coming to terms with the possibility of parenthood on an emotional level, but I don't think that's fundamentally different for the pregnant person versus their partner.

Also seconding the advice to hire a doula if you and your SO decide to continue with the pregnancy. Ours has been generally fantastic with late pregnancy advice, and given us some physical exercises I can help my wife with. If you're in the Boston area, MeMail me for a recommendation.
posted by serathen at 8:01 AM on July 4, 2019

Yes, just read pregnancy books, and The Birth Partner Handbook (linked above). The only thing you might not get are the things that they wouldn't necessarily bother to spell out for pregnant people (e.g., that they are feeling more tired), but assuming you're the kind of person who listens to your partner and asks how you can help, you'll cover that angle.
posted by slidell at 8:11 AM on July 4, 2019

Not a book, but check out

Yes, yes, it’s an Internet forum and I have been reading it as a recent mom to a now one year old, but it’s full of stories of new moms who are struggling, either with parenthood or partner woes, etc. It may help give you a glimpse into life once baby is here.
posted by elisebeth at 12:16 PM on July 4, 2019

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