When you are pregnant, it seems like suddenly everyone starts telling you how to prepare. And, in this culture, a lot of that preparation seems to involve lists of things to buy. From the relative who swore that a certain style of swing would ensure my baby would sleep (it didn’t) to the friend who bought me a version of the body pillow that saved her own sleep (it was okay for me but not essential), to the checklists found on books and websites full of essential items to have on hand (I never did figure out what I was supposed to do with all those cotton balls), it seemed that the main thing you had to do to become a parent was go shopping.
But since I was a child, I’ve always been someone who prepares for things by going to the library and checking out every single book on that particular topic. There’s something comforting about knowing that other people have thought and written their way through the same situations, and have come back with wisdom to share. So when a friend of mine shares their exciting news with me, sure, I’ll buy something off their registry, but mainly I start recommending books to read.
It’s common for people to reach for “how-to” guides to pregnancy and childbirth, and those are helpful. But I think if you only read those, you can end up super prepared for pregnancy and birth, and then find yourself holding a tiny baby and struggling to wrap your mind around the idea of actually parenting. Parenting memoirs can help bridge that gap, with humor and insight, helping parents to envision the actual day-to-day of this new experience.
These are the three that I constantly come back to:
The Blue Jay’s Dance by Louise Erdrich
Erdrich is best known for her beautifully observant novels, often featuring powerful Native American matriarchs. Her memoir is a composite of her three babies, and drifts through the seasons both of babies and of the earth. Her experiences of motherhood are deeply connected to the natural rhythms of place around her, and the ways her own storytelling and writing are changed and deepened.
Waiting For Birdy by Catherine Newman
Toddlers are hilarious and Newman’s real gift here is transmitting how much fun it is to be the parent of an older kid. This memoir follows her journey through her second pregnancy while also describing the adventures and cute sayings of her toddler Ben. Newman is the wise friend of slightly older children that all first time parents long for — she’s realistic about the joys and frustrations of parenting and makes it seem somehow both real and possible.
Madeleine’s World: A Child’s Journey from Birth to Age Three by Brian Hall
This one can be tricky to track down, but is available from the Seattle Public Library. Hall is a novelist, and he directs his immense powers of curious observation and focus to lovingly describe the first three years of his daughter’s life. This is a beautiful description of a baby’s inner life and Hall’s ability to help us watch the world unfold through his daughter’s eyes is worth multiple rereads.
Next time you get an invite to a baby shower, I urge you to tuck one of these gems into your gift bag, along with that cute onesie. Chances are, the parents-to-be will be able to use it for much longer.
What are your favorite novels or memoirs about parenthood? Share your ideas for expecting parents in the Comments below.
About the Author
Polly Jirkovsky Gual is Community Connector for PEPS. Polly has worked at a variety of nonprofits in the Seattle area, working on issues of homelessness and harm reduction. She has led over 20 PEPS groups including Newborn, Baby Peppers and Little Peppers. Polly lives in the Central District with her husband, two kids and one rambunctious puppy. She is a voracious reader, an active member of her Quaker Meeting and listens to way too many podcasts.