cover image HAVING FAITH: An Ecologist's Journey to Motherhood

HAVING FAITH: An Ecologist's Journey to Motherhood

Sandra Steingraber, . . Perseus/Merloyd Lawrence, $27 (342pp) ISBN 978-0-7382-0467-3

Steingraber (Living Downstream) offers the commonest of stories—how she got pregnant, gave birth and fed her baby—in a most uncommon way. A cross between the quirkily thorough detail of Natalie Angier's science-writing and the passionate environmental advocacy of Rachel Carson, Steingraber's style would have been insufferably heroic if the pregnancy had been smooth, mind-over-matter. Instead, it's one long tale of everywoman's worst moments—from the urge-to-pee problem to the terrible nausea of morning sickness followed by "round ligament pain" (these are "the bungee cords that anchor the uterus in place"), Braxton-Hicks contractions (which "rehearse the body for labor") and the general nuttiness of each trimester of pregnancy. Readers can identify with being ideologically opposed to, say, episiotomies, but then agreeing to one under the duress of childbirth. The climax, however, is not her daughter Faith's birth, but the dilemma over the safety of breastfeeding. The medical benefits of breast milk are compelling: it provides excellent nutrition and important immunities. But with rising environmental pollution, biomagnification implies that deadly toxins like DDT and dioxin will concentrate in human milk, the top of the food chain. The only answer: fight this pollution and make the world safer for nursing babies. With humor—Steingraber compares childbirth to rocking a car out of a snowdrift or angling big furniture through a small doorway—to leaven the scientific forays, this is a positively riveting narrative. Parents-to-be or anyone concerned with environmental pollution will want to read and discuss this—and act. (Nov.)