Early Parenthood: Heaven or Hell
In Early Parenthood: Heaven or Hell Dr. Beverley Chalmers describes some of the ways that women react to the experiences of conception, pregnancy, birth, and the period of early infant care. The author strives to present a balanced non-idealized view of early parenthood. A central theme in the book is that choices associated with early parenthood are best made on an individual basis. For example, in the 'Preface' the author makes the following statement:
"There is no one way, or 'right' way, to have a baby. Each person's experience of birth is different. What is 'right' for one mother may well be 'unbearable' for another. As with all human behaviour, the experience of becoming a parent is subject to a multitude of influences. It is unreasonable-and in fact, incorrect-to advocate a single, ideal, pathway to parenthood" (p. vii).
Chalmers aptly points out that parenthood involves both memorable and difficult, feelings and experiences. She discusses the stereotypic dichotomy between "good" and "bad" mothers, in which the "good" mother is characterized as "gentle, giving, loving, sincere, blissful, fulfilled and caring." The "bad" mother is characterized as "overprotective, pushing, jealous, selfish, neglectful and responsible for causing all neurosis and unhappiness in her child" (p. 193).
Chalmers states that in their role as mothers most women "exhibit some of the 'good' and the "bad' mother characteristics at different times-probably to the benefit of the children" (p. 193).
Chalmers' discussions about the unrealistic dichotomy of good/bad mother are insightful. Her desire to present parenthood realistically is potentially helpful to new parents who may occasionally judge their parenting skills harshly against an idealized norm. In this respect, the book is supportive and helpful to parents. But, the volume has serious shortcomings.
Chalmers clearly states that her goal is not "towards 'changing the system'" (p. vii), rather she asks the health-care consumer to conform to the system. She at times lays the greater part of the blame for malfunctions within the medical system on the consumer (see p. 23). Occasionally she cites potentially contentious issues without discussing them adequately. For example, she mentions that "the medical value of an episiotomy is debated in the literature" (p. 65). She then proceeds to argue one side of the debate (p. 65-66) without referring the reader to literature that either supports or refutes her opinion. The author includes an extensive bibliography (p. 239-244) which she invites (p. 26) the reader to review, but she does not cite any of the reference material in the text.
The book has been written as a manual or reference book for the nonmedical reader. Its subtitle-'A guide to the woman's experience of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood'-reflects this intended function. Unfortunately, the book does not have an index. This shortcoming diminishes its usefulness as a manual.
Black and white line drawings accompany all but one of the chapters. The drawings are intended to be humorous, but for the reader who does not find the illustrations entertaining, they are annoying. The illustrations are uniformly unflattering to those people who are depicted in them, and at times in poor taste (for example see p. 163). A disjunction exists between the text and the illustrations because the former is not written in a humorous manner. Consequently, the effect of the drawings is to detract from the information provided in the written text. If Early Parenthood: Heaven or Hell were the only book that a woman read during pregnancy, the illustrations would leave her largely misinformed about pre-natal facts. With one exception (the inclusion of four photographs) there are no realistic or informative illustrations in the book. There are four clinical photographs of a newborn infant which contrast starkly with the previously mentioned drawings.
The book's concluding chapter 'Miscarriage, Stillbirth, Neonatal Death and Infant Abnormality' is not illustrated. The chapter is the most readable one in the volume-the reader's attention is not detracted from the text by the visual sidelines.
In conclusion, while Dr. Beverley Chalmers' book contains a wealth of information and insight, and reflects her extensive experience, this reader found the overall effect of the volume disquieting.