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Why We All Need to Stop Reading 'What to Expect When You’re Expecting'

Photograph by Twenty20

When my wife was pregnant, we were obsessed about being prepared. We were paranoid and nervous. We thought one wrong decision—the wrong diet, the wrong nursery paint, the wrong birthing plan—would doom our unborn child. So, like many other parents, we took (what we thought) was the logical first step in becoming “prepared.”

We bought a copy of "What to Expect When You're Expecting."

It was the dumbest decision we ever made.

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Now I know that it’s an incredibly popular book, an international best-seller and almost EVERY mom I know either bought or received a copy of it during their pregnancy, so I’m not judging people for OWNING it. It’s a book that promises, in its title, to help new parents navigate all the scary parts of being pregnant. I get why it’s so popular.

However, I am saying that the majority of parents I know use the book incorrectly.

Because the LAST thing you should do with "What to Expect When You're Expecting" is READ IT.

No one should read it.

It would be like going on WebMD, searching “cough,” and ... within five minutes, you will think you have everything from leprosy to gout.

Why? Well, I know it looks like it, but "What to Expect When You're Expecting" is NOT a normal book. It’s a reference book. And there’s a big difference between the two.

A normal book is something you sit down and read cover-to-cover. There’s a beginning, middle and end, and you read it in a linear fashion.

If you try to do that with "What to Expect When You're Expecting," it will drive you CRAZY. Trust me, I know, because that’s exactly what my wife and I did. And it was terrifying—absolutely terrifying.

It’s a book that collects information on all of the what-if scenarios that can possibly happen during your pregnancy. But what we forget is that they’re not all going to happen to one person. One woman isn’t going to experience every single “well, this could happen” hiccup during her pregnancy. (Some will experience more than others, but no one is going to, in the parlance of "Pokemon Go," “catch ‘em all.”)

However, if you sit down and try to read "What to Expect When You're Expecting" like a novel or some kind of pregnancy owner’s manual, you will find yourself reading ALL of those “what if” scenarios, one after another, and they will freak you out.

It would be like going on WebMD, searching “cough,” and then reading descriptions of every disease that lists “coughing” as a symptom. Within five minutes, you will think you have everything from leprosy to gout.

Like Web MD, "What to Expect When You're Expecting" is there for you to REFERENCE, not read. It is there for you to refer to WHEN YOU NEED IT, not to tell you one long story.

I have some experience in this field. I was an editor for a publishing company that specializes in reference books for over 10 years. And, I can tell you, when we assemble reference books, we never anticipate that someone will actually read every page.

We know that people will dip in and out of the book. They’ll use it as needed. So, when we design it, we try to make the information self-contained and easily summarized. We make sure the indexes and table of contents are solid, because we know people just need to visit one specific section to get the one specific piece of information they need and get out.

They’re not going to read the whole chemistry encyclopedia. They’re just going to grab the data they need to solve their immediate problem.

But I know way, way, way too many parents (myself included) that treated the book like some kind of pregnancy bible.

So, the problem isn’t owning a copy of "What to Expect When You're Expecting." I totally get why you’d want to own one. It makes sense.

But I know way, way, way too many parents (myself included) that treated the book like some kind of pregnancy bible, like I wouldn’t be prepared for my wife’s pregnancy unless I’d read and studied every page in the book. So, I did just that and it made me a MESS—an information-saturated, jumpy, paranoid mess.

If you want to avoid my mistakes, here’s my advice to expecting parents: If someone gives you a copy of "What to Expect When You're Expecting," put it on your bookshelf and never open it. Keep it closed until you need it—really need it.

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If you have a question regarding something, try to contact a real person first (a doctor, a friend, etc.) and use the book as a guide to answer your questions if no one else is around. Start at the index, find exactly what you’re looking for, and then put the book down again. Resist the urge to browse through what “could” happen during your pregnancy month.

Trust me, it will make you much happier in the long run.

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