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?