The Curse of Too Much Information

Early on, silly me, I promised myself I wouldn't open the pages of a pregnancy book. I had less than nine months to get in order my "to read" list of books--the ones I'd always wanted to but not gotten around to, the unfinished novels I'd had on my nightstand, the big ones, and the mindless ones. Each night, they stared at me from my shelves, and me at them. I counted them, I rearranged them, I read a few, and then I broke down and bought one--just one--book on birthing.

I learned my lesson about googling stuff online that involved pregnancy, after spending an entire Saturday afternoon, slumped over my laptop in the BP's bed, as he kissed me goodbye to go ride his motorcyle with a friend. I was beyond consolation. What I'd read were horror stories, and now they were in my head. And now I felt compelled to google more to undo them.

After that night, I called the BP when in doubt, had him look something up and spare me the gore.

But then I bought just one more book. A pregnancy bible. People swore by it.

Of course, there was the book on sleeping. And, I reasoned, getting sleep would pay off--reading about getting sleep while I still was able to get sleep seemed like a good idea and could potentially provide me with more reading time, even after the baby arrived.

Then I hired a doula, and she mentioned a book. She'd be with me during the crucial hours of my labor; I wanted to be on the same "page" as her so to speak. I put the order in on Amazon.

Before long, the novels on my nightstand disappeared beneath the books on pregnancy and birthing, sleeping and baby products.

"I never opened one of those books," a friend reported one day, ignorant to my recent growing library. Hearing the liberation in her voice, I silently vowed to stop. To return to my beloved short stories and travel memoirs. Now that I'd no longer be traveling--at least not in the foreseeable future--I could at least read about other people's travels, right?

But questions came up, and with so many resources around me, and my bad experience with googling, I quickly flipped to indexes, just to look up one thing. And I read chapters. And I compared chapters. And I skimmed. One book praised "attachment parenting" and cosleeping, while another strongly urged letting them "cry it out," another mocked the "sleep trainers" and the sleep trainers criticized the cosleepers.

I justified my consumption of this, telling the BP one night, that I now felt I had a good picture of all sides; I didn't quite know yet where I stood but, at least, when all hell broke loose, I'd have options.

On my nights off--when I'd reached my saturation point, or felt like I was toward the top of the curve, I'd guiltily pick up an abandoned novel, sitting there as a stark reminder of my freer, easier days.

One night, at dinner with my parents, my mother listened to me rehash facts about infant's nervous systems and REM sleep. "I don't know," she said, wistfully nostalgic, "I just got pregnant, my belly got bigger, and then we had you." I smiled at her. And then I immediately said, in my own defense, "There's so much information out there, and I feel obligated to be abreast of it." But it came out sounding like a weak excuse. "Women in China," my father casually reminded me, "squatted in rice fields and gave birth."

So was it my fault that I was part of a culture that exploited the vulnerability of parents with its marketing, making one feel guilty, irresponsible, risky, or even downright ignorant for not taking part in the frenzy of information hauled on us, as if ushering a life into this world from our wombs isn't, alone, enough to bear.

Even in the "back to basics" trend of clothe diapers, slings, breastfeeding until toddler-years, and natural childbirth, the industry has flooded our wishes to keep it simpler by selling us products that make things ... even simpler.

What is the real simple? Do I need to look to women in rice fields in China? My grandmother and mother's generation to find that happy balance of women's wisdom, collective wisdom, and maternal instinct over parenting books and birthing guides? While I'll admittedly reap the rewards of knowing it's no longer necessary to wake a child every two hours to breastfeed, I just wonder what price I'll pay--have paid--in my increasing paranoia, vulnerability, and often detachment from my own basic instincts--for the information I am given.


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