Culture And Traditions
2:23 pm
Wed July 6, 2011

Love It Or Hate It, Pregnancy 'Bible' Has A Lot To Say

Originally published on Wed July 20, 2011 3:52 pm

Since it was first published in 1984, What to Expect When You're Expecting has changed the way millions of women have experienced pregnancy.

With advice on everything from indigestion to postpartum depression, it's a detailed guide to virtually every moment of pregnancy — some say perhaps too detailed.

Dawn Baker didn't get the book at her baby shower last month, and she wasn't disappointed.

"I've actually been told that it's not a go-to resource anymore for modern-day women," Baker says.

'Is It Normal?'

Young women these days may not need a book to get answers to their questions about pregnancy. After all, they have the Internet for that. Even so, the latest edition of What to Expect still sits at the top of the New York Times best-seller list, and it's been there for more than 500 weeks.

"I think one of the smartest things I've ever said was 'This is a really good proposal. I think we should do this book,' " says Suzanne Rafer of Workman Publishing. Rafer has been editor of What to Expect since the very beginning.

"The proposal just was smartly written — the idea of taking a woman through a pregnancy one month at time," Rafer says.

The woman who wrote that proposal was Heidi Murkoff. Two hours after dropping it off at the publishers, she went into labor with her first child. She says she had no idea what to expect when she first got pregnant and so went searching for answers to her own questions.

"There might have been five books on the market back then," she says, "and I found that they didn't answer my questions. They didn't offer me the reassurance that I was craving."

Before writing the book, Murkoff circulated questionnaires in doctors' offices to find out what pregnant women were worrying about.

"The theme is always 'Is it normal?' And it might be: Is it normal for my palms to turn red? Is it normal that my mouth tastes like I've been sucking on a penny? You know, it's that metallic mouth. But then again, is it normal that I haven't felt the baby kick yet? Is it normal that I felt the baby kick last week but not this week? And the list goes on and on," Murkoff says.

Some women in pregnancy crave all that information. For others, it may be a case of too much, too soon.

Worst Case Scenarios

At Circle Yoga in Washington, D.C., a group of new moms gather for a yoga class with their infants in tow. Young mothers like this are the target audience for What to Expect, so it wasn't hard to find several who had consulted the book during their pregnancies. Ariadne Stanciole had just moved to this country when she became pregnant with her now 6-month-old daughter, Sabine.

"I had no friends, no one, no family, so I said, 'I will buy this book.' I saw in so many movies — must be the bible of the United States. So that's how I bought it," Stanciole says.

Stanciole says she used the book as an encyclopedia and a dictionary for English terms she didn't understand. But Angie Hoffman, mother of 8-week-old Dean, says she couldn't finish it.

"It scared me to death, and I said, 'All these awful things are going to happen to me? I can't read it any further.' So I put it down until my nine-week appointment, and then I picked it up again and I was like, 'I have to put this down again — it's scaring me again.' " Hoffman says.

Hoffman says she was put off by the worst-case scenarios in the book. But Melissa Saura, who is due in a couple of weeks, says she found the book helpful as long as she took it in small doses.

"I didn't want to know too much because I didn't want to scare myself. So with the first month I read the first month and with the second month I read the second month. I've been doing that all along. I didn't want to read too much further ahead," Saura says.

Jill Keane, mother of 4-month-old Siobhan, says reading the book all at once is a mistake.

"I had a friend who warned me: 'Do not read the book from cover to cover as if it were a novel. Otherwise, you will be looking for certain things to happen to yourself. And really, do not miss your own experience,' " Keane says.

Over the years, Heidi Murkoff says she has responded to readers' concerns, making changes in diet recommendations that people found too strict, for example, or moving detailed information about serious complications to the back of the book. But, Murkoff argues, there really is no such thing as too much information when it comes to pregnancy. She says there's TMM — too much misinformation — as well as conflicting information and confusing information.

"The important thing is to get the correct information," she says.

And of course for all those modern young women used to getting their information on the Internet, the book now has its very own Web site.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The book "What to Expect When You're Expecting" was published in 1984. Since then, it has changed the way that millions of women experience pregnancy. As part of our series on women and childbirth called Beginnings, we take a look at this bible for pregnant women.

It offers advice on everything from indigestion to post-partum depression, and it is a detailed guide to every moment of pregnancy, perhaps too detailed, as NPR's Lynn Neary tells us.

LYNN NEARY: One of the time-honored traditions of pregnancy in this country is the baby shower, where friends and family of the mother-to-be gather to ooh and ahh over impossibly tiny shoes and ridiculously cute baby clothes.

Unidentified Woman #1: Oh, this so sweet.

NEARY: For many years now, a standard baby shower gift has been a copy of "What to Expect When You're Expecting." But when Dawn Baker didn't get the book at her shower last month, she wasn't disappointed.

Ms. DAWN BAKER: I've actually been told that it's not necessarily a go-to resource anymore these days for modern-day women.

NEARY: Young women these days may not need a book to get answers to their questions about pregnancy. After all, they have the internet for that. Even so, the fourth edition of "What to Expect" still sits at the top of the New York Times bestseller list and it's been there for more than 500 weeks.

Ms. SUZANNE RAFER (Workman Publishing): I think one of the smartest things I've ever said was this is a really good proposal. I think we should do this book.

NEARY: Suzanne Rafer of Workman Publishing has been editor of "What to Expect" since the very beginning.

Ms. RAFER: The proposal just was smartly written, the idea of taking a woman through a pregnancy one month at time.

NEARY: The woman who wrote that proposal was Heidi Murkoff. Two hours after dropping it off at the publishers, she went into labor with her first child. She says she had no idea what to expect when she got pregnant and so went searching for answers to her own questions.

Ms. HEIDI MURKOFF (Author): I don't know, there might have been five books on the market back then. And I found that they didn't answer my questions. They didn't offer me the reassurance that I was craving.

NEARY: Before writing the book, Murkoff circulated questionnaires in doctors' offices to find out what pregnant women were worrying about.

Ms. MURKOFF: The theme is always - is it normal? And it might be is it normal for my palms to turn red, is it normal that my mouth tastes like I've been sucking on a penny? You know, it's that metallic mouth. But then again, you know, is it normal that I haven't felt the baby kick yet? Is it normal that I felt the baby kick last week but not this week? And the list goes on and on.

NEARY: Some women in pregnancy crave all that information. For others, it may be a case of too much, too soon.

Unidentified Woman #2: So go ahead and just take a comfortable seat. Wherever babies are is a great place for them to be.

NEARY: At Circle Yoga in suburban Washington, D.C., a group of new moms gathers for a yoga class with their infants in tow. Young mothers like this are the target audience for "What to Expect." So it wasn't hard to find several who had consulted the book during their pregnancies.

Ariadne Stanciole had just moved to this country when she became pregnant with her now-six-month-old daughter Sabine.

Ms. ARIADNE STANCIOLE: And I had no friends, no one, no family. So I said I will buy this book. I saw in so many movies, must be the bible in the United States. So that's how I bought it.

NEARY: Stanciole says she used the book as an encyclopedia and a dictionary for English terms she didn't understand. But Angie Hoffman, mother of eight-week-old Dean, says she couldn't finish it.

Ms. ANGIE HOFFMAN: It scared me to death and I said, all these awful things are going to happen to me, I can't read this any further. So I put it down until my nine-week appointment, and then I picked it up again, and I was like, I have to put this down again, it's scaring me again.

NEARY: Hoffman says she was put off by the worst-case scenarios in the book. But Melissa Saura, who is due in a couple of weeks, says she found the book helpful as long as she took it in small doses.

Ms. MELISSA SAURA: I didn't want to know too much because I didn't want to scare myself. So you know, with the first month, I read the first month and with the second month I read the second month. And I've been doing that all along. I haven't read too much further ahead.

NEARY: Jill Keane, mother of four-month-old Siobhan, says reading the book all at once is a mistake.

Ms. JILL KEANE: I had a friend who warned me, who said, be careful not to read the book from cover to cover as if it's a novel. Otherwise you will be looking for certain things to happen to yourself. And really, do not miss your own experience.

NEARY: Over the years, says Heidi Murkoff, she has responded to readers concerns, making changes in diet recommendations that people found too strict, for example, or moving detailed information about serious complications to the back of the book.

But Murkoff argues there really is no such thing as too much information when it comes to pregnancy.

Ms. MURKOFF: I would say there is - I'm about to coin something different - but TMM, which is too much misinformation and conflicting information and confusing information. So, the important thing is to get the correct information.

NEARY: And, of course, for all those modern young women used to getting their information on the Internet, the book now has its very own website.

Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.