Whenever I think about those nine months that are inevitable for many women, a feeling of dread washes over me—a deep, fatalistic, sobering dread. Pregnant women are expected to take off work for extended periods of time, be lazy, and self-indulge like there’s no tomorrow. And all without even a glass of wine? Mulling over this brings to mind a certain Kendrick Lamar lyric from his song A.D.H.D.: “Fuck that.” Well Emily Oster just came out with Expecting Better: Why The Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong – and What You Really Need to Know, a pregnancy book that’s nothing if not good news for the future me. Apparently eating sushi while pregnant, as well as drinking alcohol and coffee, is totally cool. Finally, a pregnancy book I can work with!
As a microeconomics teacher at the University of Chicago, Oster has honed the practice of decision-making. “Ultimately, this is what microeconomics is: decision science—a way to structure your thinking so you make good choices,” she writes in her book’s intro. So when she got pregnant, she utilized the same decision-making tools she has used all along: via economics. But applying this way of thinking to her pregnancy wasn’t as easy as she hoped it’d be. When Oster was given strict orders and rules that, to her, seemed arbitrary, she went searching for the numbers, only to come up dry. “What did the numbers say about how risky this was? This wasn’t discussed anywhere,” she lamented. Even the times when she felt like she was taking control of her pregnancy and making her own decisions, this usually wasn’t the case. “When it came time to think about the epidural,” Oster writes, “I decided not to have one. This wasn’t an especially common choice, and the doctor told me something like, ‘Okay, well, you’ll probably get one anyway.’ I had the appearance of decision- making authority, but apparently not the reality.
Since she couldn’t find any doctor that was “trained in decision making,” she took maters into her own hands. And what she discovered is that many of the findings and surveys claim causation, but are really based on correlations. The danger, as she states, is that these “weak studies can rapidly become conventional wisdom,” and they often do. For instance, she stumbled across one study that claimed light drinking during pregnancy leads to aggressive behavior in children. However, what wasn’t noted was the fact that most of the women in the study who drank during pregnancy also used cocaine. “We know that cocaine is bad for your child — not to mention the fact that women who do cocaine often have other issues. So can we really conclude from this that light drinking is a problem? Isn’t it more likely (or at least equally likely) that the cocaine is the problem?”
And so Oster had to delve even further into the surveys, conduct fact-checking, and eliminate the numbers that were baseless, such as the one mentioned above. And, lo and behold, most of the well-founded, reliable studies produced findings that contradicted many well-known and generally accepted pregnancy rules.
It’s a fresh take on pregnancy, one that’s logical, sound, and reassuring. As Oster mentioned, most of the pregnancy books out there “seemed designed to drive pregnant women crazy, to make us worry about every tiny thing.” Why is pregnancy the one time when women must blindly follow orders? Sure, take heed of your doctor’s advice, but don’t eliminate your own will. When it comes to pregnancy, Oster tells women: “It’s time to take control.”