baby proof: what to read when you’re expecting, part III.

June 16, 2020

Last summer, when I learned very much to my surprise that I was pregnant, I settled myself into the reality by diving into books about motherhood and parenting. Some of what I read, I’d read before, but inspired by essays from Huma Qureshi, Angela Garbes, and Parul Sehgal, I decided that this time around I would more actively seek out books written by women of color and Black women in particular.

This week, in solidarity with Amistad Books’ Black Publishing Power Initiative to fill bestseller lists with titles by Black authors, I thought there’d be no better time to share some of the books by Black women that I read over the last year. The ask of the Initiative is simple enough: from June 13 through June 20, buy any two books written by Black writers with a goal to “Blackout bestseller lists with Black voices.” So, if you’re looking for books to add to your own lists, here are a few of my humble suggestions for books focused on pregnancy and parenting, written by Black women.

Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys in Race, Motherhood, and History by Camille Dungy

This is hands-down one of the books I most loved reading this year. It’s a beautiful book of essays that shift deftly between subjects—the environment, parenting, career, motherhood, and chronic illness—while also demonstrating how all of those things are tightly bound together. I adore Camille Dungy’s prose as much as I do her poetry and this books feels like equal parts both.

Motherhood So White: A Memoir of Race, Gender, and Parenting in America by Nefertiti Austin

This book illustrates the disparity of experiences between Black mothers and White mothers head on by challenging the motherhood genre itself. Nefertiti Austin writes about adoption, the foster system, and becoming a single Black mother by choice. That this book cracked open for me a whole world of experience, choices, and customs I had never read about before speaks to how essential it was that I finally did.

The Bold World: A Memoir of Family and Transformation by Jodie Patterson

Jodie Patterson’s book had been on my list of books to read for a year before I finally read it in the very last days before Calder was born. Jodie writes intimately and honestly about parenting her transgender son, and in doing so offers a master class in courageous parenting and humble learning and unlearning. I want to live in a world where every kid has parents who have read this book and taken its lessons to heart.

We Live For the We: The Political Power of Black Motherhood by Dani McClain

I can’t think of a better book to read this month than this one. Dani McClain’s work as a reporter on race and reproductive health is brought to bear in this deeply analytical and rigorously researched book. Parts of this book shook me to my very core, making me feel challenged, changed, and mostly, deeply grateful.

Woman of Color by Latonya Yvette

The fact that this book was written by one of my very dearest friends shouldn’t discredit my recommending it. While it doesn’t exclusively cover motherhood or parenting, lessons of both are interwoven in Latonya’s own stories and the interviews of other women featured in the book. Her chapters on pregnancy and loss offer particularly poignant portrayals of Black motherhood.

Nurture: A Modern Guide to Pregnancy, Birth, Early Motherhood by Erica Chidi Cohen  

My wholehearted recommendation of this book remains steadfast: “If you’re someone still hoping to find order in the chaos, this is the manual I’d recommend. Erica Chidi Cohen is a doula and founder of Loom in Los Angeles. Her book can help to guide new parents through just about any question they might have about pregnancy, birth, and most-poignantly, recovery. It’s hefty, which means a whole index worth of subjects for scanning in the wee hours of the morning when you might most need a helpful voice to guide you along. No matter what path your birth takes, there’s comfort to be found in this book. In Cohen’s words, ‘conformity, competition, and comparison don’t belong in the birthing space or dialogue.’ More of a resource than a story, this is my choice for anyone feeling overwhelmed.”


If you’re looking for a place to buy these books, please consider supporting a black-owned bookstore like Café con Libros in Brooklyn. Here’s a longer list of Black-owned independent bookstores that you can support, too, just don’t forget to be patient! Many of these small shops have been inundated with orders so fulfillment and shipping might take a little longer than typical this week!

What else have you read and loved? Please add more of your own favorites in the comments!

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  • Reply Kathleen June 16, 2020 at 6:33 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing these recommendations. I have made an effort in recent years to read more novels by Black authors and have also read a few books (with more on my TBR list) about anti-racism and similar topics. But I have not read many memoirs by Black mothers so I am excited to buy a few of these now.

  • Reply Clara June 16, 2020 at 6:37 pm

    Child, Please-How Mama’s Old-School Lessons Helped Me Check Myself Before I Wrecked Myself. By Yolanda Gault Caviness (2015)
    I bought this book soon after it came out, not because I have kids (though I hope to soon!) but because I’ve spent most of my working career counseling and working with children and families and always look for interesting and diverse perspectives on parenting and family.

  • Reply Lauren June 17, 2020 at 8:24 am

    I finished ‘woman of color’ in one sitting , such a phenomenal read!

  • Reply Sally June 17, 2020 at 11:42 am

    Thank you for letting me know about Motherhood So White! I’m interested in fostering and have never heard of that book until today. It’s so important to hear from Black women about adoption and fostering b/c the whole process is complicated and so many resources out there come from a place of white saviorism. So many focus solely on the adoptive parents and the child, but leave out the important role the biological parents play and how htey feel and the societal and structural reasons that have led to the situation.

    Also, this is not by a Black writer but for anyone who is also interested in having a family by adoption, I also recommend “Brown White Black: An American Family at the Intersection of Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Religion” by Nishta Mehra:

    Adoption and fostering can so often be left out of the conversation when it comes to mothering so I thank you for including that book!

  • Reply Lexie June 17, 2020 at 2:57 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing these recommendations. I am in my second trimester and am gobbling up books, especially personal experiences in motherhood, and it is so nice to be able to expand my list.

  • Reply anna maria June 18, 2020 at 11:47 am

    I wanted to pass along another resource – it’s an online docu-series of stories of having a baby while Black in the United States. For those that like listening to podcasts/stories it is a wonderful series:

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