When I review certain books, I have often shared them informally with others–such as medical experts or even kids–to help me discern if they are good for the intended audience, or what their gut reaction is to a certain book.
I’ve decided to formalize this by sharing conversations to provide a perspective that’s unique, and give readers a chance to understand a little more about a genre of books from the intended audience.
First in this series of conversations is with an expectant mom and her unique perspective about two different books intended for new moms: the newly-released from Sarah Reinhard, A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy: Walking with Mary from Conception to Baptism and Donna-Marie Cooper-O’Boyle’s classic, Prayerfully Expecting: A Nine-Month Novena for Mothers to Be.
Both books are a worthwhile gift for moms-to-be, but because they are so different, a Q&A about them seemed in order. I had the chance to sit down one afternoon recently with Grete Veliz. Grete is a mom I’ve known for a long time, and admired for a grounded spiritual life, a healthy sense of community, and some of the cutest children around.
If you’re an expectant mom or looking for a gift for one, my hope is that this conversation may help you choose which one (or both!) of these worthwhile books would be best in your situation.
Q: Grete, tell me a little more about you and your family.
Grete: Mark and I have been married for eight years. We have four children living at home: ages 7, 5, 3, and 19 months. We have lost two to miscarriage and I’m pregnant and expecting a baby next March.
I’m just past the morning sickness part of pregnancy, but still tired. I’m growing a person inside and it’s hard work!
Q: Tell me your impressions of A Catholic Mother’s Guide to Pregnancy.
Grete: When I first got it, I skimmed through the whole book at once to get a feel for it. Then I started to read the week that I am in (right now, pregnancy (14 weeks).
The author starts each week with an anecdote or story from herself or a guest author. This week I really liked, because it is a little about how it’s hard to be pregnant for some people. You are struggling with not feeling well, with being tired. She invites readers to ask for grace in carrying that particular cross.
I have a lot of good impressions about the book: each week is a different mystery of the rosary; there’s also a faith focus and “one small step.” This week for me, the “small step” was to go to adoration, even for 15 minutes. I like those practical ideas.
My only concern was that for many weeks, the chapters began with what I saw as a negative story to tell about pregnancy, either from the author or a guest writer. They covered things like unexpected pregnancy, eating disorders, miscarriage, depression, stillbirth, and so on. I don’t feel you should leave those things out necessarily, but in my situation it became too negative.
I felt especially vulnerable spiritually because I am pregnant this time pretty soon after a miscarriage. I was approaching this pregnancy with fear; I had a lot of anxiety at the beginning about losing the baby again. What I really wanted was a book to help me pray daily and connect with our little baby.
Q. I think I know what you mean. After my first look at the book, I felt that if I had read it when newly pregnant with our oldest (after a miscarriage), it might not have been the best “fit” for me. I’m pretty sure it would have intensified rather than soothed the new-parent fears that my husband and I were experiencing. At the same time, reading it when I was pregnant with my third child would have been a truly great “companion,” like a friend commiserating with you on the good, the bad and the ugly about pregnancy and labor.
Grete: Exactly! I feel like A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy is more like talking to your Catholic “mom friend” who tells it like it is, and doesn’t hold back about the aches and the pains. You can really relate to that, but it has to be the right time for those kinds of conversations.
Q. So you took a look at Prayerfully Expecting. What’s good about that one?
Grete: Before I read through either book, I was really trying to figure out just what kind of book I wanted. I wanted to deepen my trust that God would provide for this pregnancy and for the baby. I really needed something to help me be more positive, because I was finding it hard to be positive at the beginning.
I love Prayerfully Expecting; it’s exactly what I need right now. If A Catholic Mother’s Companion is your Catholic “mom friend,” Prayerfully Expecting is like your spiritual director. It gives you specific guidance, by telling you to say these prayers to help you manage pregnancy, and reflect on these quotes, or this saint’s writing, based on where you are in pregnancy.
Every morning I want to read this one, and so I keep it nearby. For instance, today I prayed the St. Anne novena prayer for this month of my pregnancy. The author also focuses on different mysteries of the rosary; this month it is the Luminous Mysteries. There’s no personal stories from herself or other, just a brief, what’s happening to your baby, development-wise.
This book is structured by month, not week, and each contains quotes from encyclicals, Scripture verses, or saints writings. The author has a spot for notes and a journal throughout each chapter. I’m not much of a journal-writer, but it’s a nice mix–a page or a page and a half for each month.
Q. If you were a first-time mom, which would you choose?
Grete: Honestly, I wish I could merge both books. Both have strengths and weaknesses. For instance, Prayerfully Expecting doesn’t have anything about labor or after birth and A Catholic Mother’s Companion’s sections on labor and baptism are terrific. The labor section offers practical advice on spiritual practices for labor. Labor can be a lot of suffering, and Reinhard offers advice like praying the stations of the cross, using holy cards. I found that really helpful.
She also reminds parents in the time after birth to prepare well for baptism; sometimes that can be overlooked, especially for more experienced parents.
For this pregnancy, I’m definitely drawn much more to Prayerfully Expecting, but I gleaned a lot from A Catholic Mother’s Companion. I know it would serve well other moms or even myself during a different pregnancy.