“Is it normal to be turned off by sex after [giving] birth?” is probably not a question many women feel comfortable asking their doctor — or perhaps even a close friend. Linda Geddes, a science writer based in London, has asked the experts on your behalf. (The answer: Yes.) In “Bumpology,” Geddes answers an array of questions about pregnancy and a baby’s first year. The subjects range from the serious — “How much alcohol is safe to drink during pregnancy?” (Excessive drinking is risky, but “the truth is that no one really knows what constitutes a ‘safe’ amount.’ ”) — to the funny-but-you’re-too-embarrassed-to-utter-aloud — “Why don’t pregnant women topple over?” (It has to do with the shape of the spine.)
Of course, Geddes is not the first — nor probably the last — writer to wade into this territory, but her book is refreshingly frank and often funny. It also benefits from Geddes’s constructive outrage over the misinformation and sensationalism that she says plague much of the writing about the subject. “Every week, expectant parents are given new things to worry about. Pregnant women mustn’t eat too much, as it may raise the baby’s risk of obesity or diabetes, but we mustn’t diet as that could have a similar effect. Neither can we exercise, for fear of triggering a miscarriage. It’s enough to raise your blood pressure just thinking about it, only we mustn’t get stressed, because that’s bad for the baby, too.”
So Geddes, who wrote much of the book while pregnant with her second child, digs through the studies and talks to the experts and breaks down her findings into accessible, thorough explanations. As she admits, the science of pregnancy and babies — like all science — is constantly evolving. For real-time news, you can check out her blog.
In 2007, scientists writing in the British medical journal the Lancet caused a stir when they ranked 20 often-abused drugs in terms of their degree of harm. Few readers had objections to the scientists’ naming heroin as the worst drug, or khat (a stimulant popular mostly in the Arab world) coming in as least dangerous. What raised hackles was their uncompromising evaluation that alcohol was worse than cannabis, which in turn was worse than LSD; and that the street version of the synthetic narcotic methadone was worse than any of them.
The scientists said they were trying to “help society to engage in a more rational debate about the relative risks and harms of drugs.” In her new book, “Demons: Our Changing Attitudes to Alcohol, Tobacco and Drugs,” Virginia Berridge aims to take this discussion deeper, looking at how public opinion of different substances has been affected by research, politics and social mores. The book tells a complicated tale involving opium dens and absinthe, Prohibition and medical marijuana, and offers fascinating insights for a world where teenage binge drinking, legal marijuana, anti-smoking fervor and e-cigarettes are in the headlines.