recommended reproduction reading

I have been through a hell of a lot of pregnancy and childbirth books. If you have already gotten pregnant, I recommend the following books:

1) England, Pam and Rob Horowitz. 1998. Birthing from within. Albuquerque: Partera Press.
2) Greenberg, Gary and Jeannie Hayden. 2004. Be prepared: A practical handbook for new dads. New York: Simon & Schuster.

I recommend these two books for both parents. The England book is good for birth preparation, but I would skip the end parenting chapter, where the author gets crusty and mean all of a sudden. England’s a midwife and her strength is preparing for and giving birth. The second book’s more about parenting. Even though the Greenberg book says it’s for dads, if you’re female and it’s been decades since you’ve last babysat, it’ll be helpful. I’ll update this entry when I find a good guide to breastfeeding. However, there are a million classes on breastfeeding.

If you are an American considering getting pregnant, I strongly recommend you read Naomi Wolf’s myth-busting Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood (2001). It’s essential reading for improving your ability to make thoughtful, informed decisions, and to recognize masked structural imperatives in the American system of reproduction that lead to hidden experiential and behavioral patterns.

The caveats to this recommendation are three. (1) Some sections of Wolf’s book are bound by a heavy uppermiddleclass persepctive, such as where women get isolated out in suburbs while the husbands are ensconced in upper-management tracks. It’s not that similar dynamics don’t operate for other classes, but you get a feeling that the circumstances are different, and they’re not really explored here. Many of us are not uppermiddleclass, and we’re still concerned about how American motherhood inexorably ends up slaving away for patriarchy and capital. But Wolf does at least work to explicitly point out class and race dynamics.

(2) A few of Wolf’s experiences are the result of her being an author, and more inclined toward neurotic, artistic, highly imaginative reveries than you might be, such as where she falls into obsessing on misogyny and death in a swimming pool aerobics session.

(3) In the end, Wolf has some social movement suggestions for improving health care and mothers’ and childrens’ welfare. But here Wolf is missing a big gaping problem in her proposed social movement program. She clearly possesses an insufficient understanding of American society, history, and politics. There have been Mother’s Movements in American history. These impassioned, organized movements resulted in weak and temporary social improvements, and thus fail to catch Wolf’s eye. But Ian Gough trenchantly observed in 1979: Social movements through history and around the world “have sought to substitute conscious allocation of resources to meet social needs for the unplanned operation of unregulated market forces. Behind these social movements, in turn, lies the strength of the organized labor movement. The example of the United States shows how powerful organizations of blacks, women, welfare clients and so on will fail to achieve lasting improvements in social policies in the absence of this bulwark against the power of the dominant classes”–a labor movement.

It is crucial that we remember that it is not just rational actor men or the state or human resources departments that need to be won over or overcome. There is a more salient force behind American society formation that we can never overlook. We need to study history to come to terms with capitalism.

What Wolf can’t see clearly enough from her study of contemporary uppermiddleclass women’s painful experiences in a suburb is that capital has for centuries fought viciously in the U.S. to destroy any institutions that threaten its tools of division and control.

Short of a profound social movement that incorporates an understanding not just of patriarchy and racism, but of class conflict and capitalism, and short of a structural weakening of capital’s class and state institutions of coordination, there will be no further improvements in the welfare of women, children, and families, there will be no development of the American welfare state, and corporations will not sponsor practices that give working people more control over their lives–even if these practices are only described as improving health care or women’s careers.

Capital is highly organized and employs legions of analysts, strategists, managers, publicists, lawyers, and a whole range of militarized police. It is only once in a blue moon that capital is temporarily fooled on the margins by a partial movement of reformists, and relying on that ephemeral improbability is not a social movement strategy. It’s been fairly futile for working people to stump for better working and living conditions in fractured, pro-capitalist bands of interest. Even when the elites give us a nice, compensatory library or museum, they do it for the tax break and only after an alarming bout of labor agitation.


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