"Pregnancy is natural, healthy and fun, right? Sure it is, if you're
lucky. For others, it's an adventure in physical discomfort,
unachievable ideals, kooky classes and meddling experts.
When Monica Dux found herself pregnant with her first child, she was
dismayed to find she belonged firmly in the second category. For her,
pregnancy could only be described as a medium-level catastrophe. So,
three years later and about to birth her second child, Monica went on a
quest: to figure out what's really going on when we incubate.
Things I Didn't Expect is one woman's journey to make sense of
the absurdities, the harsh realities, the myths and the downright lies
about making babies. Monica explores the aspects of baby-making that we all want to talk
about, but which are too embarrassing, unsettling or downright
confronting. She also looks at the powerful forces that shape women's
experiences of being pregnant in the west, the exploitative industries,
and the medical and physical realities behind it all.
Along the way, she fends off sadistic maternal health nurses, attempts
to expand then contract her vagina, and struggles to keep her baby's
placenta off her hippy brother's lunch menu."
The presentation of the process of pregnancy and birth, particularly on the internet, tends to veer from an obsessively-photographed state of Zen-like bliss to a graphic portrayal of physical and mental decline. However, it is the former that is particularly pushed onto women, particularly through the popular media of television and magazines. Monica Dux's aim in Things I Didn't Expect is to debunk this perception using some of the latter (which, frankly, you'll only find online if you start digging deeper, as your friends who have had babies tend to only sing when they're winning), thankfully mixed liberally with a good sense of humour.
Dux is a great humorist who will have readers laughing out loud. Her relatively recent arrival in the publishing world means that there have not been many opportunities to see this yet, especially given that her work has mainly been publicised in Australia, and much less in other countries. Nevertheless, her cheerful and frank approach augurs well for the future and acts as a breath of fresh air in the arena of pregnancy and birth (she's like Helen Austin, but in prose form). The book is generally well-organized in the first half, exploring everything from the appearance of the vagina and getting your sex life back post-partum, to the perils of core stability exercises (although not everything in the blurb, strangely, seems to be explored in the book itself, although perhaps that has something to do with my copy being a free one from NetGalley - it's possible that these are abridged).
However, in the second half, while Dux addresses many interesting points regarding the feminist implications of the media's overly positive and pressurising presentation of pregnancy and birth, this is done in a far less snappy and organized way. Readers risk feeling a little bogged down and like Dux has diverted from her original purpose - i.e., to confront the realities of pregnancy and birth in a humorous way. Instead, we are taken on an ideological ramble that feels closer to her interests from her first book (The Great Feminist Denial, published in 2008). This all leads to the book ending in a rather abrupt and solemn way which again feels at odds with the project's original purpose, which does genuinely have value in today's society given the very valid problems that Dux presents. (This is not to say that the second half does not also have value - but the content and tone perhaps mean it would be better off saved for another book.)
Overall, though, Things I Didn't Expect is a worthy acquisition for anyone with an interest in birth and pregnancy - its laugh-out-loud moments, generally accessible style, short chapters and well-chosen anecdotes make it a volume to dip into at any time for a bit of Dux's characteristically cavalier humour and wisdom. One hopes that a similar book on parenting is in the pipeline - even if parenting doesn't suffer the same problems in the media as preparing to become one.
also by Monica Dux
The Great Feminist Denial (2008)
As a teacher, blogger, freelance translator, sometime student of Italian, onetime NaNoWriMo contestant and generally obsessive reader and writer, I think it's safe to say that language is my life. My side interests include documentaries, not tidying, and Double Stuf Oreos.