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Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood Paperback – February 4, 2003

3.3 out of 5 stars 126 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In her latest work, the author of the bestselling The Beauty Myth and other titles attempts to employ her fiercely confident and uncompromising, rip-the-lid-off style to tell the painful truth of motherhood in contemporary America. Interweaving personal narrative and reportage and pouncing with particular vehemence on what she considers to be the dumb, patronizing misinformation in the bestselling guidebook What To Expect When You're Expecting Wolf reveals that birth in this country is often needlessly painful. In a portentously dramatic tone, she describes how difficult and lonely it can be to care for a child and to be a working mother. Indeed, Wolf finds new motherhood so difficult that it has rocked her celebrated feminism. "Yet here we were," she concludes "to my horror and complicity, shaping our new family structure along class and gender lines daddy at work, mommy and caregiver from two different economic classes sharing the baby work during the day just as our peers had done." Wolf says little here that hasn't been said before in books like Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Birth and Ann Crittenden's The Price of Motherhood. What stands out with embarrassing clarity is her emphasis on the sufferings of a privileged minority. In prose that often lapses into purple, Wolf describes the "savagery" of breastfeeding and the unsheltered wilderness of suburban playgrounds. This work is so unoriginal in its social critique and so limited in its portrayal of the hardships endured by mothers and children and families in this country that it comes across as a weirdly out-of-touch bid for personal attention rather than a genuine expos‚. It is likely to alienate all but the newest and most sheltered mothers.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Steingraber turns to embryology to follow the growth and development of the child she is carrying. While describing the intricacies of fetus development with lyrical prose, she notes a heightened awareness of environmental hazards that threaten the unborn. Our industrial society produces toxic substances that can cross the placenta and appear in breast milk. She issues a wake-up call in the tradition of Rachel Carson as she welcomes her daughter, Faith, into the world. Both of these books are excellent companions to mainstream pregnancy guides such as What To Expect When You're Expecting (Workman, 1996). Highly recommended for all collections. [Misconceptions was previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/01; for an interview with Wolf, see p.225.] Barbara M. Bibel, Oakland P.L., C.
- Barbara M. Bibel, Oakland P.L., CA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1.5.2003 edition (February 4, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385497458
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385497459
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (126 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #180,778 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book has some good aspects but feels like it needed more research or more time in introspection. Sure it is great to have a well known respected feminist writer say the things that Suzanne Arms, Ina May Gaskin, Sheila Kitzinger, etc. have all said before(and somewhat better in my opinion) and women will pick up this book, because it is Naomi Wolf, that wouldn't otherwise buy a book about birth and mothering. That is all to the good!
I see strengths in the chapters describing the truly typical dismissive prenatal care most OBs give (I say this as an experienced childbirth educator/labor support person/mother of twins - the dreaded "high risk" pregnancy that wasn't). It clearly says that there is no basis in fact or simple human decency in such a birth culture. The Post Partum Depression chapter is worth the price of the book. Honesty on that topic is often lacking! I actually liked the stories about women trying to negotiate changing marital relationships. Some have found them whiny, but they sound like some of my girlfriends conversations and rang true to me. I think she is overly pessimistic. Some of us find a good balance with our mates and are truly happy(rather than resigned) with the results.
It is true that a sense of entitlement doesn't render this a truly representative book. Where are the Latino, African-American and immigrant birth experiences. If she thinks hers was bad, she has no idea how truly bad it can get! I once consoled a sobbing 19 year old at a health fair, who told me how her nurse and OB literally yelled, "shut up!" to her repeatedly when she asked questions during her birth. I was horrified at Wolf's indefensible comments on LaLecheLeague. I want to know what meeting she went to (I suspect she actually didn't go to one).
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Format: Hardcover
As a pregnant stay-at-home mother, I've experienced first-hand the extent to which society devalues motherhood and pregnancy. I therefore found the concept of Naomi Wolf's book, "Misconceptions," intriguing: Wolf purports to "show how the experience of becoming a mother ... [is] undersupported, sentimentalized, and even manipulated at women's expense." Sadly, the book's whiny, self-pitying tone and unrelenting negativity will undoubtedly alienate the people Wolf seeks to convince.
Let me start by saying that Wolf does make many valid points about the unsupportive and often negative way American society treats pregnant women and new mothers. For example, she rightly points out the stinginess of most employers when it comes to maternity leave; the unreasonable difficulty in determining important statistics like a hospital's rate of maternal death or percentage of patients who ultimately get C-sections; and the unwillingness of society to deal straight-on with the less romantic aspects of pregnancy and motherhood. And Wolf's critique of the patronizing "What to Expect When You're Expecting" (which is a minuscule portion of the book, but has received disproportionate emphasis in many reviews) is dead-on accurate.
Unfortunately, the important and thought-provoking parts of the book are far outweighed by the book's flaws: (1) for every one well-reasoned argument or analysis, there are at least two or three that are questionable or even plainly absurd. For example, is Wolf seriously suggesting that what a pregnant woman sees or does can somehow "imprint" on her unborn fetus? Consider her response to the morally ambiguous and extremely complex issue of selective termination: "What sort of violence might the surviving siblings remember in that place below memory?".
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Format: Hardcover
I picked up this book with great anticipation, after hearing that Naomi Wolf had just given a reading in Seattle. My midwife friend who attended the reading told me it was clear Wolf had a lot of anger, still, about her birth experiences. As a sociologist writing a book about the doula movement, (professional labor support), I was curious to see what Wolf could add to the volumes of social science research out there about the American way of birth. There is still work cut out for those of us who take all this for granted. I can only hope that this book will attract readers who will be inspired to do further research on their own, who would otherwise take the system as is, unquestioned.
I was disappointed that Naomi Wolf failed to cite more of the research that shows how skewed American obstetrics is toward pathologizing normal reproduction and protecting itself against a litigious consumer base. I was disappointed that Naomi chose (again) to represent her own upper middle class experience as the gauge against which our social treatment of reproduction and motherhood should be measured. And yet, her story shows that even women with resources and education are left blindsided by their transition to motherhood...
However, I was touched by the emotional voice that she shared--one which cried out for what should be (but really isn't) the right of every woman going through pregnancy and childbirth--unconditional emotional support, information geared toward her particular situation and effective advocacy at the birth itself. I felt the book did not go far enough in showing women the kinds of resources available for finding this, once the problem had been identified. There are many Internet parenting websites that contain a full spectrum of information regarding childbirth options.
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