Book shelf

September 2006

One mom's poignant memoir of postpartum depression Inconsolable: How I Threw My Mental Health Out with the Diapers, by Marrit Ingman, Seal Press, 2005; $14.95.

This book is not for the faint of heart. Author Marrit Ingman warns readers of this in the introduction of her no-holds-barred memoir of early motherhood-a time of sleepless nights, an unusually colicky baby who was eventually diagnosed with reflux, allergies and eczema and a mom with postpartum depression. It's not for pregnant first-time moms who have never experienced mental illness, those bothered by the f-word, suicidal fantasies or people who can't deal with someone else's rage.

Readers who brave it beyond the warnings are rewarded by Ingman's spot-on, surprisingly witty tales of postpartum depression, the isolation of new motherhood and feelings of maternal inadequacy. Ingman offers an odd comfort to any mom who has suffered through the struggles of early childhood, suburban malaise or even a playgroup in which she felt like the odd-woman out.

The book begins with an informative piece on postpartum disorders from the typical postpartum stress, an acute state of being overwhelmed and overloaded, to the very serious postpartum psychosis with symptoms of hallucinations and delusions, which requires immediate medical attention. "PPD is an observable disorder, not a weakness in character or flaw in logic," Ingman informs.

Next follows a series of essays in which she shares astute observations on this disorder, motherhood and society. Ingman's observations may make some readers uncomfortable but will reassure others: "And here was me … wanting to leave my family or hurt myself because there was no other way to go on. But if I couldn't do these things, I'd just have to fight harder. And then I'd have to forgive myself." With the help of friends, family members, medical professionals, antidepressants and many varieties of pie, Ingman survived the difficult period.

In the afterward, Ingman urges readers to be honest about the challenges and difficulties of raising children and stop promoting an unrealistic ideal "that any deviation of maternal bliss is abnormal or even pathological." If only Ingman had changed her name to Brooke Shields, this book would be on the best-seller list. Kim Moldofsky

Asian-American achievers share their parents' secrets Top of the Class: How Asian Parents Raise High Achievers-and How You Can Too, by Dr. Soo Kim Abboud and Jane Kim, Penguin Group, 2005; $13.

Just how do Asian-American students achieve incredible results in academia? The numbers speak for themselves: the populations of Harvard (18 percent) and Cornell (25 percent), among other top colleges, are made up of these pupils.

If you've attributed the Ivy League success to genetics, think again, say sisters and authors Dr. Soo Kim Abboud and Jane Kim.

Kim Abboud, a surgeon, and Kim, a lawyer, offer 17 principles and practices that moms and dads of any cultural background can apply. These were used by the authors' parents, who immigrated to the United States from Korea.

Some of the suggestions are obvious: heavy parental involvement from the start, making learning fun, managing a child's time so it's balanced between academics and hanging out with friends, and limiting extracurricular activities.

But other suggestions are unique. These include buying attractive school supplies, celebrating report card day with dinner at a favorite restaurant and tips on how to help children choose academically-oriented friends.

The authors also emphasize the need for parents to be role models who love to learn. Too many parents today lecture their kids about doing well in school, but come home from work and spend most evenings in front of the television instead of with a book, they say.

One point that may put off some readers is the sisters' emphasis on steering children toward careers that offer financial security, not just personal fulfillment. They recount how their parents urged Kim to go to law school because her dream of becoming a writer seemed economically unfeasible. She initially resisted their efforts, but writes that she is happy with her choice.

Finally, the authors are honest about the academic pressure many Asian-American children face. In the chapter "Where Asian Parents Go Wrong," they recount examples of kids who have been shunned for academic failure or turned off from learning by parents who have made it a chore. Samana Siddiqui

An expert's tender, humorous guide to multiple pregnancy Expecting Twins, Triplets, and More: A Doctor's Guide to a Healthy and Happy Multiple Pregnancy, by Dr. Rachel Franklin, St. Martin's Press, 2005; $14.95.

If you've ever found yourself face to face with an ultrasound that's blinking more than one heart, you'll appreciate author Rachel Franklin. She's poised to offer sage advice, since she's both an M.D. and a MOM (mother of multiples).

The book covers pregnancy through the early weeks of life with a bunch of babies. Highlights include a complete shopping list for setting up the nursery and a "rapid reference" section containing snippets on pregnancy and neonatal intensive care unit complications. Franklin also writes authoritatively about assembling a team of doctors, informing your boss and insurance company and caring for infants at home. Franklin's chapter on the neonatal care unit recognizes the helplessness parents feel; however, instead of sinking into despair, she offers an action plan for caring for yourself and being an advocate for your babies.

Franklin's style is easy, friendly and funny. She's the kind of gal you'd want to share some laughs with about mothering multiples, since she has 5-year-old twins. Her book is interspersed with her own diary entries, which further establishes her as someone who knows what having multiples entails.

While it's reassuring that Franklin's a MOM, it's sometimes distracting. Her blanket statements are often based on her personal experience and are not always universal. Also, her advice is not always specific to multiples. The trimester-by-trimester and labor-and-delivery chapters, for instance, could apply to those pregnant with a singleton, exposing the fact that she's a family doctor and not a high-risk pregnancy specialist.

For that sobering and important point of view, check out When You're Expecting Twins, Triplets, or Quads: Proven Guidelines for a Healthy Multiple Pregnancy, by Dr. Barbara Luke and Tamara Eberlein (HarperResource, June 2004). It is a more thorough reference on preterm complications and considerations.

While there are more serious books available, Franklin delivers a lighthearted and tender guide-which can buoy your spirits and stamina for pregnancy and beyond.

Jill S. Browning

Kids Eat Chicago

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