A Scathing Review
“Frankly Pregnant” Stacy Quarty
With Miriam Greene
St. Martin’s Press, $14.95
By Tracie Hotchner
What has our world come to, when a pregnant belly has become a fashion statement — so much so that there was even a report in The New York Times that the “un-pregnant” are now surreptitiously buying designer maternity fashions? This latter phrase, by the way, would have been unheard of not so many years ago, when the words “designer” and “fashion” could never logically have been linked in the same breath with “pregnancy.”
But the modern image of pregnancy has been changed by movie and television stars flaunting their burgeoning condition at every public opportunity like modern-day fertility goddesses, wearing those stylish clothes to accentuate their bellies.
It is a far cry from the long-gone era when pregnant women were kept entirely out of sight “in confinement,” or even the recent past when pregnant women walked amongst us but in maternity clothes that were concealing tents, revealing no contours or particulars. But now in the 21st century an expectant belly is delineated in skintight clothing or even peeks out in the nude below a too-small top and low-slung maternity pants.
And what has happened to our society when the perception of childbirth itself has been distorted into a celebrity “survivor” contest, a childbirth media event? The weekly glossies hovered voyeuristically: “Is Katie Holmes a hostage of Scientology? Will she be able to pull off the required Silent Birth?” (Especially given that Tom Cruise and his church have already pooh-poohed the whole concept of postpartum depression as a bona fide mental health crisis.)
Then the stakes rose with the whole “Brangelina” birth event, in which a movie star went halfway around the world to have her baby in Africa, “away from the watchers” (a publicity stunt that actually caused an intensified media appetite for news, thereby increasing her leverage to get insane amounts of money for photos of the newborn).
Old-fashioned pragmatists (knowing that Hollywood babies born at Cedars Sinai Hospital are fully protected from medical ill winds as well as prying eyes) might wonder what greater good could possibly come from Brangelina gambling on having an uneventful labor and delivery by giving birth in a country with the highest infant mortality rate in the world?
Only cynics appreciate the irony of Angelina’s historic recklessness, since a technically at risk, older first-time mother choosing to give birth in darkest Africa (as it used to be called) promotes a fantasy that all you need for a safe delivery is a right-minded attitude — leaving aside the fact that her personal obstetrician from the U.S. was at her side the whole time, in one of the few clinics in Africa with a neonatal intensive care unit.
On the simplest level, the societal concept of “natural” childbirth for regular folks has devolved into meaning that a woman’s partner is with her in a so-called “birthing room” in the hospital, where she has pre-requested epidural anesthesia so she can feel nothing at all as soon as possible, embracing all the medical preinterventions that come with it, such as a fetal heart monitor, an I.V., and synthetic hormones to move along the labor that often stops when anesthesia is in the bloodstream. This current topsy-turvy pregnancy landscape is the only possible explanation for the existence of “Frankly Pregnant” by Stacy Quarty, with Miriam Greene, a book so obnoxious in tone and demeaning to women that if 12-year-old boys could get pregnant, this would be their book of choice. Given that “grossing each other out” is an essential pastime for pre-pubescent fellows, this book would be as satisfying for them as it is grotesque to a mature female.
Billed as the author’s personal journal of her pregnancy and a guide for others, it is little more than a self-absorbed graphic depiction of a series of humiliating intimate details of the supposed physical eruptions and emissions that apparently plagued her on a weekly basis (in years of research I never came across anything close to what she claims issued forth from her body).
The author actually cites one of my books as one of the “standards” she read without satisfaction about the nitty-gritty of pregnancy — which presumably spurred her to compile this tasteless journal to “share” her weekly experiences about the physically vile things that befell her.
The whole tone of the book is “fart in a space suit” humor, best suited to the campfire at a boys’ camp. Somebody must have given poor Ms. Quarty the mistaken idea that the theatrical telling of embarrassing malfunctions of her own body was wildly amusing and would be common to all pregnant women. Instead, the barrage of sickening personal details is an insult to other women’s intelligence and an affront to their sensibilities. There’s barely a page where the reader isn’t assaulted by some revolting imagery.
For example, the tone is set early on from the glossary of the author’s personal pregnancy symptoms: “Cauliflower butt: If you’ve got three or more hemorrhoids and they become irritated and inflamed, your anus may end up looking like a piece of purple cauliflower. Cheeseburger crotch: . . . my friend Grace and I fondly coined the term because that’s what it looked like she had stashed in her panties during pregnancy! Cocktail-wiener toes: retention of fluids in the lower extremities can leave you with toes that resemble overcooked cocktail wieners.”
Should you doubt how juvenile or irritating her writing can be, when the author wants to express frustration that she has found out she’s pregnant but can’t tell her husband immediately, she writes simply: “Arrrrggggghhhhhhhhh! I needed to tell someone! I was bursting.” This follows the equally mature and telling reaction just a few pages earlier when she writes about her reaction at age 7 when she asks her mother how the egg is fertilized by the sperm: “I learned that the man puts his penis inside the woman’s vagina to insert the sperm. Eeeeeeeeeeewwwwwww!”
This is a precise quote and a comment on Stacy Quarty the writer, rather than about the birds and bees. I think it gives compelling evidence that between 7 years old and whatever her current age may be, Ms. Quarty got arrested somewhere. Or perhaps should be — by the editorial police.
Other than being a potential source of delight for young boys who are drawn to being horrified at the revolting stuff our bodies are capable of, the only redeeming feature I can find in this sorry little book is that it may be the antidote to celebrity pregnancy and the myth of glamorous childbirth. “Labor” is called that for a reason, and is an intense and painful process that often leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth — not unlike reading this book, the difference being that with childbirth you come away with something precious of lasting value.
—Tracie Hotchner wrote the million-copy best-seller “Pregnancy & Childbirth” as well as “Childbirth & Marriage,” “Pregnancy Pure & Simple,” and “The Pregnancy Diary,” and has appeared on the “Today” show and “Oprah” as an expert in the field. Stacie Quarty lives in Southampton.