Introduction to Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth

If you are newly pregnant, or are close to someone who is, we hope this book will serve as a friendly companion through the months to come. From the first weeks of pregnancy through the “fourth trimester,” the months of early motherhood, Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth offers guidance to help you take care of yourself and make informed decisions. We hope that it will inspire you to feel more confident and comfortable about approaching motherhood.

Our primary goal in writing this book has been to offer guidance to women like you who are navigating the health care system at an exciting and somewhat vulnerable time. Like expectant mothers everywhere, you want the best for your own health and the health of your baby, but you most likely aren’t a medical expert—and you don’t have time to become one. That’s where we can help. The pages that follow present the best available evidence about the advantages and disadvantages of a range of maternity care practices that you may be considering. They also include the important warning that some common procedures are not consistently helpful to women in good health and might better be avoided in some cases. Informing yourself about these standard practices and their alternatives is an essential step toward creating a better birth experience for yourself and your baby.

How We Got Here

Pregnancy and birth have always been vital topics in Our Bodies, Ourselves, the groundbreaking women’s health “bible.” As we produced the thirty-fifth anniversary edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves, our editorial team realized that several topics covered in a chapter or two were ripe for more in-depth treatment. We decided to create new books on those topics, starting with Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause, which was published in 2006. Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth is the second new title to complement and expand on the work of our original book, which has been translated or adapted into twenty-one languages and has sold close to 4.5 million copies over the past four decades.

In this new book, we examine childbearing in greater depth than ever before—with up-to-date information about birth in the United States today. Like Our Bodies, Ourselves, this book features many women sharing personal experiences. It also combines trustworthy medical information with thoughtful analysis of the social, economic, and political forces affecting our health.

Beyond Self-Help

Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth gives a reader like you tools to take care of yourself, from tips on eating well during pregnancy to strategies for coping with stress and depression. But this book is about more than self help. It puts individual choices in cultural and political context. Many factors, from obstetricians’ training to insurance restrictions to the lack of paid maternity leave, are beyond an individual’s control. We can change these conditions only by advocating with others for policies and programs that protect the health of all mothers and babies.

From “I” to “We”

Throughout this book, women share their experiences of pregnancy, birth, and the “fourth trimester” of life as a new mother. Most of these first-person stories are told anonymously, set off in italicized passages in the text. Longer stories are set apart from the main text in boxes, each with the name and photograph of the woman telling her story. Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth uses the pronoun “we” to refer to all women, whatever our racial, ethnic, and class backgrounds, countries of origin, sexual orientations, or gender identities. The choice to refer to women as “we” rather than “they” reflects the early decision of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective to change the title of its book (initially “Women and Their Bodies”) to Our Bodies, Ourselves. By speaking about women’s bodies with the voice of personal experience, referring to “our bodies” rather than “their bodies,” the book rejects the distancing voice of some medical texts and celebrates that this is a book written for, about, and primarily by women.

From Us to You

On behalf of all of the women and men who worked on this book, we offer you, our readers, our congratulations and good wishes as you embark on the journey toward becoming a mother. May our book be one helpmate along the way.

Judy Norsigian, executive director, Heather Stephenson, executive editor, and Kiki Zeldes, editor, for the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (also known as Our Bodies Ourselves). Boston, MA, 2008.