Associate Professor Vanessa LoBue is a developmental psychologist whose research focuses on how emotion affects learning in young children and infants. She is director of RU-N’s Child Study Center and author of Psychology Today’s “The Baby Scientist” column. While she was pregnant with her first child, and in the nine months after giving birth, LoBue chronicled her journey as a first-time mother. The result is 9 Months In, 9 Months Out: A Scientist’s Tale of Pregnancy and Parenthood (Oxford University Press), an incisive 288-page look at pregnancy, child-birth and child-rearing from a personal and scientific perspective, combining real-time accounts with pictures, graphs, charts and diagrams to lend depth to, and illuminate, the process for readers.
LoBue covers a lot of ground in her memoir/manual, from heredity, fetal development, nursing, sleep-training and infant development to later concerns such as childcare, vaccinations and screen time. She also documents her own struggles with a number of issues, including breastfeeding, weight-gain, post-partum depression, and the impact of motherhood on her career.
We sat down with LoBue recently to discuss the book and her experience.
What inspired you to write this book, and what was your goal in doing so?
I’m a developmental psychologist, which means I study infant and child development for a living. When I started thinking about having kids, many of my friends would often ask how I thought my parenting experience might be different from other people’s, since I’ve spent my career studying babies. I thought, “Good question,” and decided that it might be fun (and hopefully useful for other parents) to have a real-time account of the journey to parenthood from someone who could provide useful information along the way about how the infant is developing.
There are so many books on pregnancy, child-birth and child-rearing. How do you see this book adding to the literature? What niche does it fill?
Most parents I know often talk to non-parents about how wonderful parenthood is. It’s not that I didn’t believe them, but I felt like they were omitting some of the more difficult details, which is easy to do when you’re not currently living through the most difficult times. I wrote my book in real-time as I was experiencing each month of pregnancy and the first 9 months of parenthood to try to capture both the wonderful and the difficult. In that way, the book is unique.
Pregnancy, child-birth and child-rearing are demanding on their own. How did you maintain the energy and perspective to also write a real-time account of your journey?
Pregnancy did take a lot of energy, but what made writing really difficult was actually having the baby. Limiting myself to one chapter a month—so that I was writing about each month as I was experiencing it—wasn’t too big of a burden to keep up with. It would have been harder if I was taking on the entire book at once instead of one chapter per month for 18 months.
What was your process: Did you map out the chapters beforehand, collate much of the related research materials, and then keep a journal and work from that?
I only mapped out a few chapters ahead of time based on some of the major milestones I knew that the fetus/baby would be reaching during that particular month. But for many of the months—especially after my son was born—I just went with some of the biggest changes I observed and structured the chapter around those themes.
All the science in the world can’t prepare you for actually having a baby. As a specialist in child development who has read widely on the subject, what were some surprises that you encountered during your own journey?
I think I was surprised by how different everyone’s parenting style is, and how different all of our experiences are, but despite all of these differences, becoming a parent is difficult for everyone, and we all want the same thing: to have healthy, happy kids.
You cover a lot of ground in this book, from pre-natal issues to infant development. You also tackle motherhood and the effects it has on career. What has your experience been regarding the latter?
Parenthood has definitely posed challenges for my career. I’ve had to become more efficient with the time I have at work so that I can enjoy the time I have with my kids when I’m not at work. The work-life balance is a constant struggle, one that I’m still figuring out and one that I have to reshuffle several times a year.
What do you hope new parents take away from your book?
Parenting brings with it a lot of difficulties, but they’re difficulties that all parents face in some form or another, which means that none of us is really alone on this journey.