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It seems like the setup for a punch line: a pregnancy manual penned by a former Playboy playmate. Vicki Iovine’s The Girlfriends’ Guide to Pregnancy: Or Everything Your Doctor Won’t Tell You is just that, but it’s not half as funny as one might expect. Iovine proudly lists being a “four-time delivery room veteran” as her sole qualification for writing the Guide, and her book is filled with the kind of practical advice and no-holds-barred descriptions that are absent from mothering manuals circumscribed by good taste.
Noting that most pregnancy literature often confuses, frightens, or depresses pregnant women, Iovine sets out to address those questions that are simply too embarassing to mention to a memberof the medical profession. “When a book told me that I would have a discharge after pregnancy,” she writes, “I was in no way prepared for the fact that I was unable to go the four feet from my hospital bed to the bathroom without leaving a grisly trail that looked like a murder had taken place.” She rightly observes early on that women get most of their information about pregnancy from other women; accordingly, the Guide is a gossipy, anecdotal compendium that combines the practical (like a detailed explanation of the mechanics of baby car seats) and the scandalous (like the tale of a much-admired girlfriend who gave her husband a blow job at the hospital mere hours after her caesarean).
Iovine, the wife of record industry mogul Jimmy Iovine, is no Everywoman, and a sense of humor is necessary for proper enjoyment of the Guide. Dictums like “Financial worries are the exclusive domain of fathers-to-be” don’t apply in most households, and the reader’s knowledge that Iovine has a personal assistant whose duties include scheduling her children’s “playdates” is unlikely to evoke feelings of solidarity. On the other hand, the book’s incidental revelations about the author’s lifestyle serve to make the Guide more amusing. She suggests, for example, checking out other women’s post-childbearing breasts “in the communal dressing room at Loehmann’s,” and warns newly pregnant moms that “you will need to color your roots more often than before.” (Fashion-conscious Iovine is particularly eloquent on the subject of maternity wear. She notes with distaste that maternity jeans should rightfully be called “denim-free jeanlike pants” and is quick to issue aphorisms like “sleeveless and pregnant don’t mix.”) She also includes periodic notes to husbands in the text: “Attention Husbands,” reads one, “The Girlfriends’ Guide heartily recommends that you show up with a gift of some sort shortly after the baby is born. You will almost never go wrong with jewelry.”
Almost in spite of itself, the Guide is an entertaining and eye-opening read. (Perhaps too eye-opening: This is the only book I’ve ever read whose descriptions of pregnancy’s physical effects are gruesome enough to make me think twice about childbearing. The government should hand it out at high schools.) As Iovine intended, the book has a disarming conversational tone; the author fudges medical terminology, repeats favorite points, and makes frequent departures from the subject at hand. More important, she dispenses the kind of lurid information that’s just not available anywhere else. For instance, “sexual stimulation and orgasm can trigger a nursing mother’s letdown reflex. This means that, right when things are getting good during sex, you might start squirting milk all over the two of you.” Who knew?