7 Books for New Moms

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A Note from Haley: While we’re enjoying vacation with no internet connection in the NC mountains with our extended family, my favorite librarian mama and dear friend, Katherine of shouting hallelujah, is sharing some of her favorite books for mamas. I may have a not-so-secret hope that Baby Gwen and Katherine’s young Pip (see below) decide someday that it would be a fine idea to marry. Ahem. Enjoy Katherine’s great recommendations!

I like to learn. When I was a kid, it was breeds of dog or places to stay on family vacation. When I was graduating college and preparing for a six-month mission to Uganda, it was every novel I could find set in East Africa. Then I became pregnant and became a full-fledged librarian, both at about the same time.

And so I lay in the fetal position, racked by morning sickness, and I read. And then I read with a book propped on my belly. And then I read by the glow of the e-reader as I nursed my sweet baby boy.

Here are some of my favorite books for motherhood.

  • What Mothers Do Especially When It Looks Like Nothing (Naomi Stadlen): I discovered this one through serendipity of the circ desk, which is to say, someone was returning it and I snagged it for myself. It’s hard to describe adequately, but basically Stadlen worked with London mothers and draws from decades of notes to point out all the ways mothers are underserved by the English language and our modern culture. Read this when you feel like you’re nothing more than a messy-haired milk truck and you’ll feel better.

  • Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year (Anne Lamott): Lamott, single mother and Christian convert, gives it to you straight. The horrors and joys and that sometimes you will hate your baby and that it will all be Cosmically Okay. It’s immensely comforting, but I’ll warn it is also sometimes a bit, um, colorful in its vocabulary. (I happen to also find that comforting, as anyone who’s ever ridden shotgun with me can attest, but to each her own.)

  • Spiritual Midwifery (Ina May Gaskin): A friend lent me her well-thumbed copy (Revised for the ‘90s!) when she found out I intended to attempt an unmedicated birth. Despite the kooky title, this is pretty much just a straightforward collection of pre-mommy-blog birth stories. The language is ridiculously dated, and there are a lot (I mean a lot) of bonus pictures of naked hippies. But I will tell you this — when I checked into the hospital and my labor slowed and I was cool with all those Bradley coping techniques but kind of just wanted to have this baby, I found a lot of strength in one of Ina May’s hippies’ declaration,  “Every time I had a rush [contraction], I relaxed and thought that it was fine and that I dug it.” And I relaxed and had my very own hippie baby.

  • Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way (Susan McCutcheon): This book is by no means perfect, but our Bradley instructors assured us that it’s much better than the dated Bradley original. Certainly, it lays on some guilt about the dangers of medical interventions in labor and prenatal poor nutrition. (Sure, you’ll never know how smart your baby could have been if you didn’t eat that bacon, but I did, and mine is pretty cool.) Overwhelmingly, though, it’s a font of useful information, and I think even if you aren’t taking Bradley classes and don’t plan on having an unmedicated birth, it’s worth reading to know what to expect of the birthing process.

  • Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother (Beth Ann Fennelly): A poet/mother/teacher exchanges letter with her former student over the course of the latter’s pregnancy. And it’s just pretty and real and comforting and perfect for reading when you’re early enough in your pregnancy that you don’t want the messy details of labor and can’t even imagine mothering a real, live baby.

  • Love & Salt: A Spiritual Friendship Shared in Letters (Amy Andrews and Jessica Mesman Griffith): I’m kind of sneaking this one in, as it’s not strictly about motherhood. More letters, these are between two women who develop a deep friendship as one shepherds the other into Catholicism, a friendship that endures their marriages, moves, career changes, and, yes, pregnancies. It’s such a holistic, raw, funny approach to loving God and building a family. I loved it.

  • Kristin Lavransdatter (Sigrid Unset): I don’t know how to talk about this briefly. I blame Haley.

What are some of your favorite books on motherhood or for new moms?

Katherine Bowers blogs about her adventures with an outdoorsy husband and bouncy dog at shouting hallelujah and as a librarian-type at The Cardigan Librarian.

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  1. Kaitlin @ More Like Mary says

    What a great list! I LOVED Great With Child. I think I read it one sitting. My doula was also the doula for the author, which made me love it all the more.

  2. Lois says

    True Story: I read the first 2 books of Kristin all at once before getting pregnant, but then I had to put it down and couldn’t pick it up again until was pregnant. SO much motherhood, pregnancy, birth, babies…it was making me sad.

    Thanks for all the other recommendations.

  3. says

    My mom gave me her copy of Spiritual Midwifery when I was pregnant, but I never read it…now I’m tempted to go read as well as all the other hippie pregnant lady books she gave me , lol! (And for the record my mom was pretty much the opposite of a hippie but was a big fan of natural birth and actually had me and all my siblings naturally, at home.)

  4. luisaagnes says

    Thanks for the list! When I was pregnant, I loved “How to Really Love Your Child” and the “Parenting Book”. They were light hearted and more framework philosophy on how to usher your children to seek what is good and true and be happy.

  5. Isobel says

    Excited to check some of these out! I heartily second Kristin Lavransdatter, though I think it should come with a warning label (Contains Unflinching Truth about Life, Not Suitable for Those Looking for Escapism). I read the trilogy while nursing my second son and it rocked my world and then crushed me. One of the best books I ever read, one of the best books ever written. I would feel nervous about recommending it to a new mother full of hormones who’s not Catholic and/or wouldn’t understand that the ending is really a joyful one on an eternal level.

    A book that I doted on when my first son was born is “A Thousand Days of Wonder: A Scientist’s Chronicle of his Daughter’s Developing Mind,” by Charles Fernyhough. It’s a poetic-scientific memoir that made me cry and really increased my sense of awe for my new baby (which was an important turning point in my spiritual life). I can’t count the number of copies I’ve given to my new-mom friends.

    • says

      Yeah, Kristin is a tough read, but I loved it so much more — because it was real — than this terrible Catholic pregnancy devotional I tried while morning sick, that seemed so darn cheerful about pregnancy that I felt like a monster.

      I’ll have to try the Fernyhough book. I’d love to read something written by a father. (And to cover my fatherhood book bases, I’m in line for the Dad Is Fat audiobook at our library!)

      • Isobel says

        Katherine, I just finished “What Mothers Do especially when it looks like nothing” and I cannot thank you enough for suggesting it! How I wish I’d had it when I was a brand-new mother. But it was still amazingly comforting and empowering. I wish I could buy a crate of that book and send it to every young mother I know!

  6. Elizabeth says

    I found my mum’s copy of Spiritual Midwifery when I was twelve years old and read it cover to cover–naked hippie photos notwithstanding. I loved thinking (even at a really young age) about pregnancy and childbirth in such a natural way. It all became sort of demystified to me and I credit that book for my openness to life now.

    This is a brilliant list!

    • says

      Thanks! Your preteen self was tougher than my first trimester self, Elizabeth! All the first birth stories I read shocked me. You still tore! You still labored for hours and hours! It took awhile to calibrate my expectations.

  7. nancy says

    Don’t forget The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League…by far the best book to read prenatally.

    • says

      I still haven’t read that one! I majorly over-prepared for birthing my baby and under-prepared for the transition of mothering. Luckily, I had a husband who was 14 when his parents adopted his baby sister, so someone was able to pick up the slack 🙂 — We were also blessed enough to have an easy transition into breastfeeding (though there I was helped by living in Hippieville, where there’s a ton of support).

  8. Adele says

    Ina May has a new book that’s more updated. She also has a breastfeeding book coming out. Just in case someone is interested in a little less hippy. But Spiritual Midwifery is a wonderful book.

  9. Bernadette says

    I second “Heaven on Earth”!! And in the same vein, “You are Your Child’s First Teacher” and “Whole Parent/Whole Child.” The first two are practical suggestions for birth-six, and the latter is more philosophical/mystical about parenthood, although it also has some good practical ideas.

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