Parenthood Part 2: Preparation for Birth is Not Preparation for Parenting

When a woman becomes pregnant, if she’s an educated, thinking woman, whatever she thought about before, suddenly, everything in her life becomes about Doing Pregnancy Right — mostly out of fear of Doing Pregnancy Wrong. This is understandable if you believe that the next nine months worth of actions strongly impact someone else’s life in ways you’ll see and feel the consequences of more than any other nine months you’ve ever been through. Fetal alcohol syndrome, spina bifeda and 1000 other dire monsters all lurk in your subconscious as things you might do to harm your baby. Fat, stretch marks, and the tearing of some pretty important private bits are all the considerations we have for ourselves if we “do it wrong”. Our vanity. Our child’s health. Those are some pretty powerful demons to beat a person with.

The problem is, both the risks and how much you control them are highly exaggerated. For your vanity, there’s just not much you can do. Stretch marks are mostly genetic. Genital tearing at birth may have more to do with circumstances beyond your control in the birth (fetal position, skill of the midwife) than anything else and unless you are hella obese you HAVE to gain SOME fat weight. I’m not saying you shouldn’t care about these things, or try to mitigate them, but beyond eating nutritious food and getting exercise, there’s not much for your vanity you can do.

Then there’s the fears of birth defects. Fear and avoidance behaviors need to be tempered by how much you can rationally expect to do about them. Are you willing to abort in mid pregnancy? If not, why scare yourself with a bunch of tests? And if you’re under 40, the risks are pretty damn low. No. I’m NOT saying you shouldn’t do an amnio or anything else you need to do to sleep at night. But listen to me. A pregnant woman between 35 and 40 has something like a 1 in 400 or, listed another way, .0025% risk of having a child with developmental problems. And as hard as I’ve looked, they don’t break those numbers out in terms of life style. This means, if you are watching nutrition, not smoking, drinking or doing drugs, you have to be at somewhat lower risk than that because mothers of crack babies, alcoholics and the seriously medically impaired are lumped into the numbers they give you. They don’t say “the AVERAGE WOMAN WHO DOESNT DRINK OR SMOKE”. Age bracket is the only measure anyone really gives. Upshot: you do whatever reduces your fear and gather whatever information you’ve got the willingness to act on. Tests for tests sake are not useful.

In summation of the earlier part of this post: so much information is given to a pregnant woman about ways of increasing her chances of having a healthy child. And that advice is good, but apart from a few major points about maternity nutritional needs and specific exercises to do and not to do, most of it is straight up common sense and a few good tips on how to be comfortable. Not useless at all, and well designed to promote your sense of understanding of what’s going on with your body since your control is limited. Understanding does, after all, combat fear.

But all of this is actually preamble to my major point for this post. What’s completely missing, and this is my big beef with the system is that no one talks except in the vaguest most wishy washy terms about all the things you CAN control that will hugely affect your quality of life with one of the biggest fear factors of all; namely, how well you’re set up to handle life immediately after the baby’s arrival. Everyone says as sort of a foot note to their completely huge and inundating chunks of information about prenatal woman care “Gee, you should get some friends to help out when the baby comes” and “Fill up your fridge with food.”

Where, I ask you, are the classes in the range of normal developmental behaviour for infants? Where are the specific, organized pre-birth discussions of the range of potential female outcomes and what post partum experiences can be like?

I know that part of the problem is that what is normative in a post partum experience is an incredibly wide range of experience. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need to talk about the most effective coping strategies. Something freaky happens to you, it’s probably normal, but you probably don’t care if it’s normal or not half so much as you care what you can do about it. We spend so much energy talking about people’s fears of birth and birth defects. Fear of life once the baby shows up is not addressed in any class I’ve ever seen and it’s at least as important.

A list of the things I think pregant women should be told is not going to happen this post, but by the time I’m done, you’ll have heard it all. Next up on the hit parade, one of the following, either: When the baby comes home what are you afraid of? What SHOULD you be afraid of? or maybe What hurts most each month of the first 2 years?

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