Monday, May 30, 2016

Baby Catcher by Peggy Vincent

It was an accident! I really didn't mean to deviate from my Mount TBR plan, but I was at the library and I just ran across this book and I thought, "Oh, I'll just flip through it a bit." Well, that's not what happened. Baby Catcher by Peggy Vincent caught me as well. I was fascinated by the tale of a young woman in nursing school in the early 1960s finding her way to Obstetrics Nursing and then on to Midwifery. Just as Vincent unexpectedly became mesmerized by the world of Labor and Delivery, I was mesmerized by her telling of it.

I was hooked. I thought if I saw lots more babies born, perhaps I'd discover that missing bit of information, the secret of that enchanted moment when one person suddenly becomes two people.

Vincent wasn't the only one evolving during this time. During the 1960s, '70s and '80s, the philosophies surrounding birth changed dramatically. No longer were women being knocked out and waking to find a little stranger in their arms and Vincent found herself right in the middle of the revolution in Berkeley, California.

Women's bodies have near-perfect knowledge of childbirth; it's when their brains get involved that things can go wrong. When we force external rules on laboring women's behavior, their births may veer off track. The intrinsic intelligence of women's bodies can be sabotaged when they're put into clinical settings, surrounded by strangers, and attached to machines that limit their freedom to move. They then risk falling victim to the powerful forces of fear, loneliness, doubt, and distrust, all of which increase pain.

Vincent became part of the first group of nurses to labor women in Alta Bates Hospital's brand new birth center. These new methods ran hard up against the traditional practices of some of the doctors in the hospital, but she could see how well it benefited the women. Eventually she attended midwifery school and started her own private, home birth practice and even becoming the first Certified Nurse Midwife to have privileges at the hospital where she began her nursing career.

The stories Vincent shares of births she has attended both as a nurse and then as a midwife are wonderfully written and had me positively transfixed. This post would go on for days if I shared them all with you so really the only thing I can recommend is that you find a copy of this book and read it for yourself. It is fantastic!

I'll leave you with this one final quote while I wonder if maybe a career change isn't too late for me:

A midwifery school classmate once said to Vincent:
"As midwives, we meet wildly interesting people and stay up all night with them. We ask them questions about their sex lives, eat their food, feel inside their bodies, snoop around their houses, drink champagne at all hours, and best of all, we get to catch delicious little naked, wet babies. What I can't figure out is, why doesn't everyone want to be a midwife?"

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Such a Pretty Fat by Jen Lancaster

I am making excellent progress through my TBR pile! No really, it may not look like I've read tons and tons, but do you know what this challenge has made me do, besides read stuff I've had forever? It has made me be honest with myself about whether or not I'm actually going to read some of the books I have. And you know what? Some of those books I bought years and years ago at library book sales? I'm never going to read them. They may have been must-have books at $2 each, but there is a reason that every time I've picked them off my shelf and thought about reading them that I have then put them back because they just didn't appeal to me. There are far too many really good books out there to finish bad books. I used to power through even when I didn't like a book because I didn't want to miss something that might get better. And I didn't want to be a quitter, but I'm a grown up now (can it be true??) and I don't finish books I don't like. And you know what else? There are far too many really good books out there to even start bad books. If I have picked up a book numerous times and I still don't want to read it I know that I'll probably never want to read it and that has freed me to finally clear out my shelves a bit. It's quite liberating. I highly recommend it.

Ah, but on to my latest book from Mount TBR: Jen Lancaster's Such a Pretty Fat. It has been years since I read Lancaster's first book, Bitter is the New Black, but I really liked it. I can't tell you how long I've had this one, but it was about time I got to it. Oh, Jen Lancaster is hilarious and it's a bit frightening how similar our inner monologues can be. In her first book, she and her husband were fighting through a difficult financial time. In Such a Pretty Fat, Jen is fighting to lose the weight that has somehow appeared on her plaid-and-pearl-wearing frame. She admits that she may be a bit in denial about her appearance: 

I'm a hundred pounds heavier than I was in high school, my veins are full of creme fraiche, and yet I look in the mirror, take in the hair and makeup, and think, Damn baby, you fiiine.

When her doctor finally tells her that she absolutely has to do something about her weight, she is yanked into reality:

In painstaking detail, Dr. Awesome describes the number of agonizing, wasting ways I will die if I don't change my eating and fitness habits, like, immediately.

After several unsuccessful attempts at the Atkins diet, Jen realizes that the only way she will actually take her weight loss seriously is if she has a deadline and some accountability. Remembering a friend's suggestion that she write a weight loss book, Jen makes a book pitch to her agent in which she will detail her journey. Once her book is approved, her determination really does improve. She can't stand the idea of letting anyone down. If you think this will be another book where someone determines to loose weight and it is suddenly gone and you-just-need-to-try-try-try-really-hard-and-it-will-happen-for-you,-too, kind of books? Don't worry because it isn't. Jen experiences the same frustrations and hunger pangs we've all felt while trying to resist our favorite foods. And she also calls out the crazy that so often surrounds the weight loss industry.

This book was funny and entertaining and also motivating. I may not be quite a hundred pounds heavier than I was in high school, but I am interested in being healthier and I love the path that Jen chose. It's reasonable and achievable and still somehow funny. I will definitely be reading more Lancaster in the near future. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan

Years ago I was a huge Amy Tan fan (that's fun to say!), but it's been a while since I've read anything from her. In my efforts to work through my TBR stacks, I picked up Saving Fish from Drowning. I bought this book from a library book sale so long ago that I can't even remember how long I've had it. It features a tour group of twelve people visiting China and Burma. Unfortunately, the person they all have in common, their tour leader Bibi dies just before the commencement of the trip and a substitute guide must fill in. While on this vacation, eleven of the tourists become lost in the Burmese jungle.

Interestingly for the reader, the story is told from the point of view of Bibi's ghost. This allows the reader to not only view the action as it takes place, but also to understand many of the motives as well as much of the history behind the scenes. Bibi watches as the new tour leader misunderstands the reasons behind the original itinerary and she understands the reasons behind all that befalls her friends. On the one hand, this allows the reader to understand so much more than what the characters understand. On the other hand, the reader gets an awful lot of information. This book was interesting, but it seemed a little heavy to me, as though I weren't making much progress. It held my interest and I wanted to read it, but I also often wanted the author to get on with it a bit. I feel terrible saying such a thing about Amy Tan, but this was not my favorite book of hers.

The one thing that can always be said of Amy Tan's books is that they bring a vivid visual of Asia and its many different cultures to the reader. There is nothing like reading one of her novels to make me want to book a flight on Cathay Pacific.