Reading after Baby
A close friend recently posted a request for reading recommendations on her Facebook page. I responded with some admittedly embarrassing recommendations which I won’t list here again but, suffice it to say, they were mostly within the urban fantasy and young adult genres. I even may have noted the words “witches” and “vampires.” This is a smart, intellectual friend. We suffered through our doctoral programs together. So, she has smart friends and most of them recommended top quality literature. Think Hemingway, Woolf, Tolstoy and you get the idea.
So, what happened to me? Why did I have to fight the urge to post “yeah, Anna Karenina is great and all but have you tried Divergent?” To put it in context, my friend recently had a baby and was asking about books to read while nursing. I was remembering myself during my first 3 months (okay more like 6 months) post-baby. The notion of trying to read Hemingway, let along Woolf, during those months was hilarious. While every woman’s experience after childbirth is unique, mine was not one of endless quiet, reflective moments – the type well-suited to reading quality literature.
I am normally a pretty stoic person but, after my daughter was born, I cried about everything. I even cried over a commercial for Bounty paper towels because it featured a family eating together. I cried hysterically to a stranger from our hospital’s lactation line in response to the question, “how can we help you?”
Even worse than the emotional roller coaster was the sleep deprivation. E didn’t seem to believe in sleep. I don’t think I slept for more than 15 consecutive minutes in the first month and I wanted to slap anyone who told me how “wonderfully alert” my daughter was as a newborn. Unfortunately, unless she wasn’t being held, she was awake and crying. I still remember the unbridled joy when I discovered the baby carrier and realized that I could take time to brush my teeth!
And these issues were not just specific to me or to women. My husband also suffered the consequences of sleep deprivation. When my daughter was about 3 weeks old, he comes into the room where I’m lying with Emma. In his arms, cradled like a baby, is our geriatric cat whom Dan has mistaken for our daughter. I think they look pretty different, but judge for yourself:
So, Hemingway, Woolf, Tolstoy? No way. For me, the post-baby period was one in which I wanted to read entertaining and silly books — books with minimal ties to reality, that didn’t require much intellectual energy, and with no emotional triggers.
This sort of reading doesn’t just apply to the post-baby period. It can happen at other times that are stressful and that demand more of us psychologically and emotionally (moving, starting a new job, etc.). I’ve had such periods in graduate school, around grant deadlines at work, and around moving to a new home. For me these books are not guilty pleasures, they are “life is too busy” books. Escapism in books becomes even more important during stressful periods in our lives.
What do you think? If you’ve had children, did your reading habits change during the infant stage? If you don’t have children, are there moments in your life when you are less inclined to read literary fiction or serious reads? What kinds of books are your “life is too busy” books?