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Down & dirty

The fertile joys of breeding

The vast pregnancy book landscape has just undergone a huge transformation. Comic writer and performer Diane Flacks (plays like Random Acts and Sibs, TV series like The Broad Side and Listen Missy) has written Bear With Me: What They Don’t Tell You About Pregnancy And New Motherhood.

For more than 10 years I’ve worked at Parentbooks, an independent bookstore that specializes in every aspect of kids and families imaginable and I’ve discovered that each pregnancy book is unique. For Flacks, pregnancy was a never-ending series of revelations and she doesn’t hold back a thing in her wonderful part memoir, part guidebook.

She opens by revealing a bit about her pre-baby self: “I was not only flippant, I was clueless. I would go to friends’ houses who had kids and lounge about while they made me tea. I did not bring a hot meal, or hold their baby while they bathed and had a nap. I didn’t understand that you shouldn’t call the parents of a newborn and say, ‘We haven’t seen you guys in a while. What’s up?’ And invite them to a movie in an hour. In effect torturing them with an offer of a social engagement they can only dream about.” The book describes Flacks’s steep learning curve into the world of pregnancy.

And in a lot of ways, it is a distinct world. If you’ve ever spent time with a pregnant woman you’ll understand the almost cult-like nature of the experience. Part of Flacks’s motivation is to blow the lid off the whole motherhood thing. Everyone has opinions and advice about pregnancy and no one holds back. It’s a time of intense learning and acculturation approached at the same time every woman fears she’s going to turn into her mother.

Flacks is hilarious when she talks about renegotiating her relationship with her pregnant body – it’s her but it’s not her. It’s as though the baby has already taken over. For Flacks, if the first trimester was about throwing up, not just in the morning but all through the day, the second trimester was about eating anything, even liver.

Which leads to the controversial subject of weight gain. As she puts it, “If you’ve put on a few, as I had, you’re in the interesting predicament of looking chubby but not pregnant. I got an audition somewhere around week 15, when I could still ‘pass’ as someone whose jeans must have shrunk in the dryer. I was conflicted about going because God knows casting directors think it’s a bigger blow to your career to be fat than to be knocked up.” She’s great at describing the ambivalence about the changes in her body; yes, her breasts became magnificently huge but damn they are hard to carry around.

And let’s not forget about the mood swings. Hormones are perhaps more powerful than drugs. From deliriously happy to full-on enraged, pregnancy is an emotional minefield for all in the immediate vicinity. “I had many days when the tears would just not stop. I cried at Bell commercials, reruns of Seinfeld and any birthday card with an animal on it. I was fully aware that I had lost all perspective.” This is a great book for partners of pregnant women because it explains much of the behaviour that is utterly baffling to the non-pregnant person. Flacks’s partner Janis Purdy could be the poster girl for supportive partners.

For all the barfing, belching, crying, self-absorption and lack of sleep, Flacks does a great job reminding us that having a baby is a pretty amazing thing. It’s life changing. It’s not just about the sleep deprivation, it’s the complete reorientation of one’s life that takes place when you add a child to the mix.

Perhaps the best thing about Bear With Me is how much I’m looking forward to putting it into people’s hands. This is the down and dirty guide to pregnancy with enough sentimentality to make it sweetly appealing rather than cloying.