One mad mamma-to-be

HEATHER HAVRILESKY is a television critic for Salon.

I’VE NEVER KNOWN a thing about pregnancy, so once I got pregnant, I quizzed every mother I knew about what Mother Nature had in store for me. Instead of taking time out from their busy mothering lives to relive the biological roller coaster of creating another human being, every single one advised me to purchase “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” a hideous descent into the hell of gestation that outlines every possible malady and gruesome side effect ever experienced by any pregnant woman anywhere.

The grotesqueries listed therein, from heartburn to hemorrhoids to chronic dependence on adult diapers, are divided into monthly sections so that future mothers can savor a little dose of suspense-horror thrills and chills before bed each night.

But the most unnerving thing about “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” is the cover. Perhaps in an effort to offset the bewildering and unpleasant-sounding ailments inside, the book is pink and yellow and covered in some kind of flocked, flowery wallpaper or quilt pattern clearly meant to evoke the sort of stuffy, overheated, split-level homes in the Midwest that have “country” decorations everywhere, from porcelain milkmaid statuettes to framed pictures of white ducks with blue ribbons around their necks. A mere glance at that cover is clinically proven to give pregnant women hot flashes, cramping and suicidal ideation.


And that’s before their eyes rest on the main illustration. There, perched amid all those tiny yellow and pink flowers, is the expectant mother of every woman’s nightmares. On my copy, she has a perky bob haircut, the sort of molded, unmoving mom-hair that only a woman who stayed up all night baking brownies for the PTA sale would have the audacity to wear out of the house. Not only that, she’s clad in a yellow, Mr. Rogers-style cardigan and red polyester slacks that call to mind your fourth-grade Social Studies teacher, the one who gave an entire class of 9-year-olds night sweats by telling them that the Iran hostage crisis was sure to develop into World War III.

But that’s not all. The woman also has on terrible geriatric penny loafers, and she’s perched primly in a rocking chair, with this filthy, chipper smile on her face, like all she’s done for months is sit there, rocking back and forth, only occasionally stopping to peruse the “Debilitating Symptom of the Month” or to order more whimsical milkmaid statuettes for the dining room. You could pass out copies of this image at local high schools and instantly cut the teenage pregnancy rate in half.

You see, it’s not just the woman’s style that offends, it’s that peaceful, calm look on her face. This is clearly not a person who’s been suffering through bouts of heartburn and dizzy spells. This smug mutant is not waking up five times a night to use the bathroom, nor is she suffering from flatulence or heart palpitations or pre-eclampsia. This woman is living a lie. Most important -- and take this from someone who’s been told that she could give birth any second, which is a little like being told that you have a bomb strapped to your chest and only Mother Nature, that bitch, has access to the trigger -- this woman is not in her last month of pregnancy, because she bears no evidence of having random and unpredictable bouts of hormonal rage (listed merely as “mood swings” in this otherwise ruthless book).

You see, extremely pregnant women don’t sit primly in rocking chairs, looking satisfied and happy with their bad hair. No, they drive too fast on the freeway, screeching at passing cars, or they bellow “Helloooo?!” into their phone at the Home Depot worker who put them on hold for 20 minutes instead of explaining why the rug for the baby room hasn’t arrived yet and isn’t likely to until the kid’s third birthday.

A million new-mom manuals will never prepare most women for the fact that, in the last months of pregnancy, they’re not going to be smiling bucolically while folding onesies in the baby room. They’re going to be obsessively pulling weeds out of the frontyard while loudly berating their husbands for leaving the back door unlocked and forgetting to get the dog vitamins even though they were clearly on the list. The last month of pregnancy doesn’t just prepare a woman to squeeze out a child, it prepares her to wage jihad.

Recently, after bursting into tears over a yogurt lid that refused to pull off, I actually had to stop and tell my husband: OK, you probably haven’t been more of a snippy jerk than usual lately. Considering that my face is beet red and I’m sweating and weeping inconsolably over a cup of yogurt, the more likely explanation is that my nuclear reactor of a body, in its preparations for squeezing out our first child, is also preparing me to build bombs and wage hand-to-hand combat, if necessary.


So who belongs on the cover of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting?” Maybe Archie Bunker, his face flushed with rage, wearing a big, ugly maternity tunic made out of camouflage. Anything less is false advertising.