A refreshing essay collection on the two years that flank a baby's birth, from 28 well-known writers, edited by novelist Kline (Sweet Water, 1993). Pieces by Allegra Goodman, Valerie Sayers, Mona Simpson, Naomi Wolf, and Meg Wolitzer, among others, are divided into three sections--``Anticipation,'' ``Initiation,'' and ``Child of Mine.'' Those describing their pregnancies in ``Anticipation'' remember fretting that they lacked the maternal instinct and fearing, as journalist Elissa Schappell put it, that they would join those ``other mothers who snacked [on] Cheerios out of tiny plastic bags, [and] smelled faintly of baby vomit.'' ``Initiation'' covers childbirth (``doing a marathon without moving an inch,'' quips novelist Sarah Bird), breastfeeding, and what editor/novelist Alisa Kwitney calls ``the eternal now'' of living with a baby. The final section touches on the terrors of babysitting, defining one's child's place in the world, and the child's effect on the mother, nicely symbolized by a worn bear in Susan Cheever's essay. Despite misgivings, marital discord, even encounters with violent eruptions of individuality in one's offspring, the writers present a nearly unified vision of hope. An infant may scream, poop, and tyrannize, but as political writer Helen Winternitz says of her son, he ``opened up a new continent for me, a territory of emotions as big and inviting and perilous as Africa.'' There is sadness at initial separations and some regret, but because most of the children discussed are still young, these emotions are largely anticipatory. One exception is novelist Abigail Stone, who raised her now-grown daughter alone and poor, and offers a moving confession of the ways in which poverty and her conflicting needs to be a writer and a mother affected her relationship with her daughter. For those who find pregnancy books disingenuous and friends with children too knowing, this book offers an alternative community--skeptical, worried, reflective, and grateful. Think of it as you sneak your two-month-old into the cineplex.