Review: Up the Duff: The real guide to pregnancy (new, revised edition 2016) by Kaz Cooke

Up the Duff cover image

If you’re a regular Lectito reader, you may have noticed a distinct lack of posts from me of late. This is partly because we’ve just moved house for the second time in three months (blerg) and partly because of what we Adelaideians fondly refer to as ‘Mad March’ (when the Adelaide Festival of Arts and the Fringe Festival come to town and our sleepy lil’ city briefly becomes one of the buzziest places on the planet). But mostly it’s because for the past three months I’ve felt as though I’ve been routinely chloroformed while pitching about on a tiny boat in rough seas with the worst hangover of my life and outwardly trying to maintain the appearance that everything is just peachy. In other words: I’m pregnant. (!!!) I’m feeling slightly better now the morning sickness has pretty well passed (touch wood), and I’m going to try my darndest to get more regular posts happening again because I’ve been reading some fantabulous books that I’m busting to gab about, but I also have a scary amount of work to get done before the bub arrives in September and most days after work my brain doesn’t seem capable of much beyond binge watching Project Runway re-runs, so compromise may be the name of the game.

I’m a bit of a control freak and don’t deal at all well with Unknowns. Which makes pregnancy super fun. I figured if I could just gather as much info. as possible, I could get a handle on everything that was happening and everything that was going to happen and it would all be okay. (Mums, I can hear you laughing. Shut. Up.) It took me about 2.5 nanoseconds to figure out that the Internet is brimming with crackpot advice and I didn’t have the energy or inclination to sift through the bullshit. So I hit the books. I started with the latest edition of What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff. I’d heard it was one of the more informative tomes around and its general heft was reassuring. And also, it’s the book everyone seems to talk about.

I didn’t make it beyond the first trimester chapters. To be fair, it is brimming with useful information, and I was learning a lot. But it’s also really targetted at US readers and a lot of the information isn’t relevant to an Aussie mum-to-be (for starters, our healthcare system and costs, as well as our maternity leave rights and benefits are completely different). That I could have moved beyond. More troubling was the way Murkoff made me feel guilty about how I was handling things. I found the way she talks about what to eat, exercise and how to manage weight gain particularly problematic. Eg: it just felt mean being told that my craving for, I don’t know, cheese pizza was really my body calling out for something sensible, like more carbs (but not too many!), and instead of giving in, I should make for the kitchen and whip up a batch of whole wheat bran muffins, despite having spent the past half hour ingloriously flomped over the toilet and barely having the energy to order Uber Eats. As did the suggestion that continuing regular exercise was a must! It would give me energy! And make me feel SO much better! Let me just say this: I’m an active person. I actually like exercise. Pre-pregnancy, I went for a 7km run most evenings and did yoga and power pilates. However, during the first trimester, a gentle, hour-long walk (which I tried my darndest to keep up) more often than not left me feeling drained, nauseous and infinitely worse than I did while lying on the couch. And the mere thought of running was totally laughable. Murkoff also takes great pains to emphasise that you should not be gaining a lot of weight in the first trimester, in fact, many women actually lose weight early on—which is totally what you want to hear when you can no longer get the zip all the way up on your favourite skirt and the only things you seem to be able to keep down that day are sour gummy bears. Look, I get it: you need to stay healthy and active and look after yourself and your bub during pregnancy. BUT, I’m not convinced that necessarily involves measuring out exact serves of everything, comprehensive exercise plans and regular weigh-ins. In Murkoff’s defence, she does throw in a lot of ‘listen to your body!’ and ‘everyone’s different!’ and ‘there is no ‘right’ way to go about things!’ but the underlying vibe I got was that there most certainly is a Right and a Wrong way to do pregnancy—even if she doesn’t directly come out and say as much.

Also, Murkoff’s tone is condescending AF. Project Runway binge sessions aside, I’m pregnant, not brain dead. And being told my kid-to-be is currently the size of a cute lil’ plum (and a weird array of other fruits) or to think about all the cuddles I’ll eventually enjoy with my bouncing bundle of joy while I’m puking my guts up, was decidedly unhelpful. I found there was a lot of emphasis on how much I’m going to love and adore this baby, which seemed oddly presumptuous given it’s really not that simple for many women. Honestly, the more I read, the more it stressed me out, and stress, as Murkoff kept emphasising, is bad for the baby. Also, I don’t need to feel like a guilty mum before I’m even a mum, so I gave the book the boot.

But I still wanted info. A number of friends with kids confided that they’d also thought Murkoff needed to remove the giant stick from where the sun don’t shine and instead recommended Up the Duff by Kaz Cooke. I’d been seeing it in bookshops for years, but always found the title off-putting—it felt too far in the opposite direction to What to Expect When You’re Expecting: flippant, dumbed down and potentially riddled with other cringy, dinky-di colloquialisms that I’ve never heard an actual Australian actually use outside Kath and Kim. And look, there are a few too many ‘blimey’s for my taste, but that was my only real criticism of the entire 535-page book (which, incidentally, I read in its entirety in less than 24 hours).

Cooke packs in a tonne of useful information, broken down week by week. And she includes the first few weeks after the birth as well, which is incredibly helpful because the prospect of having a completely vulnerable creature being entirely dependant on you is utterly terrifying. Each chapter also includes a fictional pregnancy diary (which I found hilarious and endlessly reassuring) and points readers towards a bunch of additional resources (apps, books, websites, etc.) where you can learn more.

As well as all the big physiological and psychological stuff you’d expect, Cooke also talks a lot about the little day-to-day stuff: offering tips for dealing with the endless torrent of unsolicited advice, horror stories and belly-grabbers who regard a pregnant woman’s body as public property to be poked and commented on at will. Also, picking value-for-money maternity clothes and baby gear, telling people you’re pregnant and dealing with well-wishers who think it’s totally cool to drop by whenevs once the baby is born. What’s more, all the info. is tailored for Australian readers. There’s a lot of advice about healthcare and birthing options (and also about costs and what Medicare will cover), which is super handy. But even little things, like having the baby’s developing size and weight given in metric units, are helpful (and save you having to measure stuff in your fruit bowl).

And Up the Duff is funny. Which is so completely refreshing when you’re feeling sick and exhausted and your body is doing all kinds of freaky shit that you’re completely unprepared for and don’t understand, and you’re also being constantly poked, prodded and bombarded with (un)helpful advice and warnings about the squillion things that can go wrong. Honestly, the whole thing feels so completely absurd that you kind of have to laugh every now and then to keep yourself sane, and anyone or thing that encourages that gets a big fat tick of approval from me.

But mostly I loved Up the Duff for the way Cooke reassures her reader that it’s okay to feel like a hot mess and to lose your shit every now and then. She doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that pregnancy is often uncomfortable and overwhelming, and that you are perfectly entitled to feel uncomfortable and overwhelmed and shouldn’t have to pretend that it’s opened your eyes to a whole new wondrous aspect of womanhood if that’s not your experience. She emphasises again and again that women shouldn’t feel guilty for eating the odd slice of cake or extra Tim Tam, if that’s going to make their day that little bit easier, that it’s not their fault if something goes wrong and that it’s totally normal to be anxious and scared at times.

Basically, for me, reading Up the Duff offered a lot of comfort and practical info., and had me breathing an epic sigh of relief.

Five stars

See Up the Duff on Goodreads and purchase through Booktopia or Book Depository.

Thanks to Grammarly for picking up 11 critical issues and twenty advanced issues in my draft of this review. If, like me, you have trouble with typos, do give Grammarly a go!

—Margot XO 

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