Foreword to Pregnancy: The Mumsnet Guide
Pregnancy is, somewhat idiosyncratically, the second in our series of Mumsnet guides, following closely on the heels of Toddlers. And truth be told, at no time in our lives do we have quite so many burning questions as when we're pregnant, except maybe when we're three and just learned how to use the word "why?"; but, as said, that's another book altogether. You pee on a stick and suddenly you are catapulted into a whole, previously unknown, universe of responsibility, not to mention discomfort.
You'd be mighty unlucky to get all the "minor ailments" that are painstakingly detailed in most pregnancy tomes but if you got none, you'll most likely be preserved for the benefit of scientific research. As one Mumsnet member wrote recently: "Pregnancy might not be an illness, but if you had half the symptoms and you weren't pregnant you'd think you were dying, wouldn't you?" Whether it's exhaustion, indigestion, constipation, backache, nausea, piles, insomnia, restless leg or carpal tunnel syndrome, everyone seems to have a their own particular bugbear and most will have an unappetizing cocktail of them. And we haven't even mentioned the hormones yet – the ones that will see you weeping uncontrollably at the merest glimpse of an Andrex puppy.
Added to that, these days, it can feel like you need a 24-hour newswire to keep you up to date with the latest guidelines on WHAT PREGNANT WOMEN SHOULD NOT DO. Blink and you'll miss the fact that shellfish are off the menu. Then on again - but only if they are thoroughly cooked and piping hot all the way through… And without a degree in food science you might struggle to establish exactly which cheeses are pregnancy no-nos. If soft ones are off limits, how soft is soft? And what about Feta or, for that matter, the deliciously runny one at the local deli that claims to be pasteurised?
And those are just the first gusts in the hurricane of questions that will engulf you over the next few months. Should you bother with ante-natal classes? How much maternity leave will you need? What tests should you have – and what should you make of them? What kind of birth should you have? What equipment should you buy? Is Teal best for a boy or a girl? How will you know if you are going into labour? Or indeed how to ripen your cervix, if you're not? What on earth is a mucus plug anyway?
Every day the Mumsnet community helps a fresh battalion of prospective mothers navigate the perilous waters of pregnancy, from their first tentative post of "Could I be pregnant?" to the moment those very waters eventually break (usually over your best Havaianas).
If we at Mumsnet HQ had a pound for every Mumsnetter who'd lamented, if only they'd found the site earlier, when they were pregnant with their first rather than with their third child, I'd no doubt be writing this from a plush Kensington suite rather than a shed in Kentish Town.
Given that you're reading this, we hope you're one of the lucky ones who've discovered this amazing bunch of women (and a few amazing men) right at the beginning of your journey as a parent because, as one Mumsnetter memorably puts it, "once you deliver the placenta, they insert the guilt". Rest assured though, Mumsnet will be with you every step of the way.
All of which may leave you wondering why you are reading this book, and not sat in front of a screen chewing the fat in a Mumsnet antenatal club. It's true that to feel the full experience you need to log on and plunge in. But a while ago we realised that, without us ever planning it that way, Mumsnet Talk had turned into the most amazing archive of wisdom. Whereas the pregnancy manuals offered you the wisdom of a single Stoppard or Kitzinger, Mumsnet could bring you the collected wisdom of a million parents. Just as Wikipedia has rendered almost obsolete the Encyclopaedia Britannica, so we wondered if there was a way to capture the wisdom of this remarkable crowd.
We hope a Mumsnet pregnancy manual might be different from the usual in another way too. If Mumsnet was such fun to read that some members begged us to ban them because they were spending too much of their lives on the boards, might it not be possible, despite the piles and constipation, for a pregnancy book to be a good read too? Even with a thread on the grisliest of subjects, it is not unusual to find yourself chuckling over the keyboard. One member captured the wonderfully batty serendipity of the site a while ago: "You know, you start a thread about vaginal discharge and within a few posts you find yourself recommending a reasonably-priced shed or telling all about the little hotel you stayed at in the Cotswolds."
And if traditional pregnancy and parenting guides purport to reveal 'the right way' to give birth, our firm starting point is that there isn't one right way – most of the time – to do the parenting thing. If there were a Mumsnet philosophy it would be something along the lines of "There's more than one way to skin a cat", so read this as a book of optimistic suggestions, rather than a user's manual.
What we provide is a range of options compiled from the hard won know-how of what has worked for thousands of others; somewhere in here will be answers that work for you and if there's not we hope that at least we'll distract from your varicose veins for a while.
Justine Roberts (co-founder Mumsnet.com)
PS Huge thanks to Mumsnetter Boco whom we found hiding her enormous artistic talents under a bushel somewhere on our vegetable, pulses and wholegrains forum. She ignored and entirely reinvented translated my frankly incomprehensible briefs into the remarkable illustrations you'll find in this book, and only very occasionally told me I was being unreasonable.
PPS Mumsnetters go by a weird and wonderful array of pseudonyms. JackBauer, for instance, isn't the real Jack Bauer – or if he is, do bear in mind that you've probably only got 24 hours to read this book before some kind of particularly nasty, global catastrophe.