I’ve long said that LGBT parents and non-LGBT parents are more alike than different. There’s no “lesbian” way to change a diaper, for example (unless perhaps you make them yourself out of old flannel shirts). It should come as no surprise then, that a new book about the first year of parenthood, aimed at a mainstream audience, happens to have been written by a lesbian mom.
The Sh!t No One Tells You: A Guide to Surviving Your Baby’s First Year, by Dawn Dais (Seal Press), is a funny, no-holds-barred look at the early days of motherhood. Dais uses her own experience as a jumping-off point, but weaves in the perspectives and advice of 16 friends, her “moms on the front lines,” or MOFLs, as she calls them. This is not a reference manual for raising an infant, nor a memoir, but rather an anecdote-driven romp through some of the harsh (yet humorous) realities of baby-rearing.
Dais’ first chapter, “And You Thought Pregnancy Was Hard,” sets the tone for the whole book, which includes chapters like “Breastfeeding Is Really F’n Hard,” “You’ll Never Sleep Again,” “You Can’t Afford This,” “Your Body Is Ruined,” and “You’ll Probably Want a Divorce.”
That sounds dire, but Dais tempers the gloom with a large dose of humor and an ultimately positive view of the joys that come with the poop, spit-up, and sleep deprivation. She is always careful to provide a balance of opinions and to encourage readers to make up their own minds about controversial topics such as how long to breastfeed and whether to vaccinate. “You can spin yourself around in circles trying to make the right choices for your kid,” she writes, but concludes that, “I love my kid and I want the best things for her. I look out for her interests above my own and give her as many kisses as she will allow. And you know what? That might be enough. At the very least it’s not a bad place to start.” Calming words for nervous new parents.
Dais also skillfully handles what few other parenting books (or parents) even acknowledge: that some mothers may not find an instant bond of affection with their children, what with the stress and hormones that come with childbirth. Give it time, she assures readers. You are not a horrible person, and you are not alone in this.
Additionally, she offers timely advice about the helpfulness—and limits—of finding parenting advice online, and why you should be skeptical of other parents’ relentlessly cheery Facebook posts about their kids.
The book’s blend of humor and “telling it like it is” anecdotes brings to mind Vicki Iovine’s 1997 book The Girlfriends’ Guide to Surviving the First Year of Motherhood, which I read when my own son was born. The Girlfriends’ Guide, however, was clearly aimed at mom-dad families. It was funny and useful, but I found myself jolting over the word “husband” a lot. The SH!T No One Tells You, while written for a general audience, never assumes its readers are straight—and that’s refreshing.
It is not the first parenting guide written by an out lesbian for a mixed audience, however. That honor goes to Louise Sloan’s 2007 book, Knock Yourself Up: No Man? No Problem: A Tell-All Guide to Becoming a Single Mom (about which more here).
Dais is open from the start about being a lesbian, and even discusses the differences in her and her partner’s parenting styles. Her only real reflection on what having two moms means for her family, however, is to note, “I am very lucky because my partner is a woman. A woman who had previous experience with babies to boot. That meant I had a lot of support.” That’s a bit of a slam against male parents; I leave readers to decide if it’s justified.
The book focuses more, though, on the experiences that transcend sexual orientation and bind us together as moms. It has the potential to build a lot of bridges by highlighting our many commonalities.
The book is clearly aimed at biological mothers who had traditional hospital births, however, regardless of orientation. Dads and non-biological mothers may want to read it to find out what their co-parent is going through, but will not feel like they are the primary audience. Adoptive parents, even those with infants, may also want to skip the sections on post-baby body, post-partum depression, and breastfeeding—although they may find the parts about lack of sleep, time, money, and space still relevant.
Dais’ humor, while for the most part coffee-out-the-nose funny, occasionally wanders into touchy territory. For example, she writes, “Dear scientists of the world, let’s skip over all that silly cancer research and get on figuring out how to store up sleep!” Sleep storage sounds lovely, but calling cancer research “silly,” even in jest, might not sit well with readers who have lost loved ones to the disease.
Despite those caveats, The SH!T No One Tells You is a hysterical, LGBT-inclusive guide for biological moms (and their partners) who are realizing their new bundle didn’t come with an instruction manual. Prospective parents should read it, too—if they still want to proceed with parenthood after hearing Dais’ thoughts on what it really entails, then they’re probably cut out for the job.
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