Tiger Mom V. Mother Nature: a study in extreme parenting

Like all new mothers, I expect my firstborn will emerge from the womb healthy, happy, and pleased to communicate his desires exclusively in iambic pentameter. I anticipate the standard tasks of mothering an infant (nursing, diapering, practicing calligraphy together) with joy. Yet, even as I gather a collection of children’s literature with facing-page translations for our little one, I wonder if perhaps I’m being a bit idealistic.

IF, on the off-hand chance, the baby does not emerge from his uterine home with ease and delight, or IF he doesn’t take to his little Schroeder-style piano with alacrity, how should I proceed?

Recently, Zach and I have been on the receiving end of a lot of contradictory advice about our birth plan. (Yes, this post is going to discuss the process of labor. Let’s just get the awkward words out of the way: uterus, amniotic fluid, placenta, epidural, breasts, anesthesiologist! Onward!) A natural unmedicated birth is the goal, and our birthing classes are providing a lot of helpful information like different laboring positions, pain management techniques, preparatory exercises, etc. We’re learning a lot about the impact of pain medication on the mother’s hormones as well as the baby’s.  In addition to the class, I’ve checked out several books on parenting infants in order to get a broader perspective on the parenting choices spectrum. While we’re doing our best to make wise, informed choices for our child, we have yet to find a birthing/parenting school of thought not marred by extremism.

For example, many of our friends have recommended the book On Becoming Baby Wise. I know a number of mothers who swear by the sleeping/feeding system explained in this text. From an Amazon review: “The Babywise Parent Directed Feeding concept has enough structure to bring security and order to your baby’s world, yet enough flexibility to give mom freedom to respond to any need at any time. It teaches parents how to lovingly guide their baby’s day rather than be guided or enslaved to the infant’s unknown needs.” Sounds reasonable enough, right? I like the idea of the child being guided by the parent and receiving security from an established routine. The attitude behind the phrase “enslaved to the infant’s unknown needs” strikes me as a little odd, but it’s worth a look.

However, when I mentioned this title to the leader of my birthing class, a red flush crept up her neck as she struggled to spit out the following sentence: “I would NEVER recommend that anti-attachment filth to a new mother.” Whoa. Okay then. And what alternative would she offer?  She lent me a copy of Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering, authored by a physician named Dr. Sarah Buckley who has done her research on the impact of various natural and unnatural chemicals on mother and baby. From another review: “Using current medical and epidemiological research plus women’s experiences (including her own), she demonstrates that what she calls “undisturbed birth” is almost always healthier and safer than high-technology approaches to birth.” This book is primarily constituted of jargon-infused chapters on the ill effects of different pain medications and the safer, healthier, natural alternative.

It all sounds pretty persuasive until you read the journal-style birthing stories that are interspersed between technical chapters. In these deeply personal essays, Buckley shares some potentially beautiful, but ultimately disturbing tales about how each of her four children entered the world. By the third or fourth kid, labor and delivery was a family-only event that would culminate in a family gathering in the bathtub where Daddy holds the newborn (who came out feet first) while Mommy lovingly shows the other children the placenta. We won’t discuss the benefits of placental encapsulsation here because no one should ever have to think about that.

The research continues: another book warns against the evil “baby trainers” that operate under the assumption that babies cry in order to manipulate adults. Yet another guide to parenting insists that at some point, you’re just gonna hafta let the kid cry it out. What’s a mom to do?

I don’t really want our first born to be a poetic prodigy or anything like that: all I want is to make healthy, reasonable parenting choices that will allow Zach and I to nurture a loving, responsible, mentally stable, spiritually sensitive child. I know it can be done: I have at LEAST three friends who haven’t been in therapy to recover from their parent’s misjudgments. (And, after all, didn’t MY parents do a decent job of it?)

The question is how?

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10 Comments

Filed under Domesticity, Marriage, Mothering, Reading

10 responses to “Tiger Mom V. Mother Nature: a study in extreme parenting

  1. Janet Schamp

    Shortly after Allison Edwards was born, I found Trish nearly in tears after church one Sunday following two consecutive interactions.
    Well meaning advise-giver #1: “Have you got her on a schedule yet?” (tone of voice: if you haven’t you should!).
    Well meaning advise-giver #2: “You’re not trying to put her on a schedule are you?” (tone of voice: that’s the worst thing you could do).
    I decided then and there to take everyone’s advise with a huge grain of salt and follow my own path. Large doses of grace and prayer and scripture. I think we did a decent job despite inevitable misjudgements (gerbils for example)….but I give God the credit.

    Also, I hate to mention this, but shouldn’t that paragraph say ‘that will allow Zach and me’? It’s probably the affect of hormones….

  2. Amy

    I didn’t mean to heap these hormone-incenses debates upon your peaceful daydreams! I guess it’s inevitable… There’s all the Danielle Bean philosophy: “do what works for your family.” You know where I fall in the categories, but the other side is VERY gung-ho for their position. Whatever you do, go with your gut. When something isn’t working for you guys, try something else. It’s a lot of trial and error, what fits with your personalities, and your baby’s personality. You’ll be a great mother. I have no doubt. The goal of infancy is to get a healthy, rational child and enjoy the process. That always comforts me.

  3. I think you mean “an effect” of hormones, Mom. :o) (You asked for it)
    I have to agree that the gerbils were a mistake…though more because of their traumatizing, mysterious disappearance. Dad has never told me what he did with them. And maybe I don’t want to know.

    Amy, thanks for the balanced perspective. I’ll be coming to you for advice way more often than you’ll be comfotable with, I’m sure. 🙂

  4. It’s sort of funny to me how many books I read about pregnancy and labor and how few I’ve read about actually raising children. I would encourage you that from what I’ve seen, babies are surprisingly good at communicating! They are little people and they are born with personalities. Like adults, some thrive in a more structured, predictable routine. Others don’t. But you will both share your lives with your baby so I do think it’s important to know what helps you function better. I don’t think there is a book or parenting philosophy that I can wholly subscribe to but I’ve learned a lot by watching Rosemary, making mistakes, and talking with friends I trust. It might sound a little hokey but there are things that you will just know when your baby arrives. Don’t jump to decide on your approach before meeting your boy. I just know so many parents who were totally sold on an idea that just didn’t end up working for them or their baby at all. You guys are going to be great parents. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

  5. A Hillsdale friend sent me your blog, and I love it. Your voice is so entertaining, thoughtful, and distinct.

    Ok, not to descend into flattery: Also wanted to comment on your post. Just had a lovely baby boy 4 months ago, and we did the “natural route,” too. I highly recommend it, those 9 hours of strong labor notwithstanding. It can be tough, but I think you will be very happy you did it that way. Giving birth in our midwives’ baby center (really a big cozy bedroom with attached whirlpool bathroom) was better than any hospital. And I recovered uber-fast.

    Our little guy is just awful about “schedules” and sleeping. He is not an easy baby by any stretch (although very cute, which makes it ok). I think you and other posters are right that it just depends on the family and baby (also: nix on that weird placenta encapsulation and water/family birthing. Yikes. Although the only thing that made me feel better was a nice hot bath during labor, so I really recommend it! Don’t forget–I was almost losing it and just a big simple bath calmed everything down.). Seriously, I would put him on a schedule if he wouldn’t scream about it incessantly. And it’s just hard emotionally to know he’s hungry and deny him when there’s an easy fix and he’s too young to be “obese” or eating for a reason besides hunger.

    But, really, I have no answer to your “how.” It seems a little like salvation: To be worked out with fear and trembling. Ok, so maybe just flying by the seat of your pants. 😉

  6. On Babywise: I used the book and the method with Vierra, and she was sleeping through the night by four months. I couldn’t use the method with Leo because my husband was there with his “what are you doing? He’s hungry! You gotta feed him!!!” five times a night, and Mr.Leo still wakes up several times a night, at four years. That’s my personal experience.

    I think what matters for schedules/unschedules is that you know you’re the one (with Zach) making the decision, whether the decision is to let your baby cry sometimes or to respond to his cry with feedings upon every whimper, not random chance. Having thought it through, and allowing for additional hands-on learning experience, you create some sort of plan and go with it. Which is what you’re doing. Good job 🙂

  7. Tami

    Hey Laurel!
    I’ve been enjoying catching up with all the reasons for joy in your life since I found your blog last week. Congrats to you and Zach on your marriage and Little Good!
    It’s funny how pregnancy and parenthood opens up a whole new world of literature. I, too, got lots of conflicting advice after our little guy was born, everything from “Be sure you let him know who’s boss. He needs the crying to develop his lung capacity,” to “He’s been in constant contact with you for nine months. He’s going to feel neglected without your touch and attention at all times.” After hearing such strong opinions, I’ve decided to put down the books and exercise prayer and prudence. It’s been easy to wonder whether I’m creating a needy little tyrant or starving him of important affection, and there have been times when I’ve let him cry only to find that he was complaining because of gas pain or when I’ve felt like I’ve lost entire days to holding him even while he naps. The biggest encouragement I’ve gotten, though, was from a lady at church who commented that she could tell by the way he responds to people that he “expects to be loved.” Whatever decisions you make in how to parent your baby, I know that they will be filled with love and that you and Zach will be amazing parents!

    P.S. I second Joy’s suggestion of a warm bath during labor. I would have spent the whole time in the tub if the midwives would have let me!

  8. Thank you so much for all of your encouragement, ladies! It’s so comforting to remember that all parents were new parents once and that no one feels like they do a perfect job of it the first time around.

    Joy – Thanks for your kind words: I appreciate it! I don’t know if our birthing suite will have a tub, but at least a shower will be available. I’m big on water therapy: I remember that one of the worst things about dorm life was the lack of decent bathtubs (I was a Mauck girl for the most part)

    Anya – Your comment made me laugh: I imagine Zach will be a lot like Dmitri in that way. His parting words to me when I drop him off at work in the morning are always “I love you. Be nice to the baby.” You’re right though—I imagine that having the ability to make a real decision about how to care for the child makes a big difference in a new mother’s sanity in the long run.

    Tami – So good to hear from you! And congratulations on your little boy. What’s his name? Just from thinking of your warm, nurturing personality I can picture how secure and loved your little one must be. I hope all is well with you and your family these days. Thanks for reading!

  9. Casey Baruzzini

    For what it’s worth, as a mother working on Baby #3, I have to agree with what these ladies are saying. I was going through all these same confusions and emotions the first time. Never mind that my mother and mother-in-law have the exact opposite ideas about raising children. We won’t even go there. Well, the first child Lucy slept through the night at 2wks old (a true blessing from God) where as baby #2 Max wouldn’t sleep though the night until he was 1yr old (and I mean he slept like a newborn, up every 2 hrs, until then). This was obviously payback for child #1. I think I tried every method in the book on him and NOTHING worked. He just randomly did it all on his own one night and didn’t go back. As for nursing, Lucy wanted almost nothing to do with me (I convinced her maybe 1/2 of the time to nurse until about 6mths of age) and loved the bottle. As you can probably guess, Max couldn’t let me go and never touched a bottle. So now that I’m on to Baby #3 due in April I’ve come the same conclusions as those above. Don’t stress (at least as much as possible) and just see what happens between you and the baby naturally. Just know the more you have the less you will worry about all the fine details because you realize babies really aren’t as complex as all those baby experts want to make you feel. In the meantime enjoy your sleep and all the diapers you are NOT changing.

  10. Tami

    Thanks, Laurel! His name is Laeth (pronounced like faith with an l), which means “lion cub” in Arabic or “barn/farm/homestead” in Old English and Swedish. We’re wondering whether barn may be the most applicable meaning as he’s a big kid! I’m so glad that you’re blogging. I look forward to lots of thoughtful, beautifully-written posts!

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