Birth Plans vs Birth Ideals: Knowing What You Want, With The Knowledge That Your Captain is a Newborn

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I love to learn new things. Anything really. Ranging from the completely superfluous skill (writing backwards and mirrored, faux tap) to something that I can utilise every day (tech stuff, mediation, faux tap). So naturally, when presented with the completely new world of pregnancy and an impending labour, I did my research. To me, knowledge is comforting, it makes me feel in control and worded up in an often unknown landscape.

Look, I didn’t overdo things (no magazines, a few great books and I may have stalked a bogan baby online forum), but I asked a lot of questions and read-up on what spoke to us heading into this new adventure. My husband Adam and I had strong ideas about giving the natural labour sans pain relief a go, and as our hospital offered a water-birth and I am a lover of all bodies of water – that had me at hello.

A Birth Plan was talked about from the very beginning, and it was around the time we were writing it up that I realised that a plan was all what it was. And we know what happens to the best laid plans. What I’d be taking into that birthing suite was a plan of attack, and during my pregnancy I’d read about and met people who were taking in Birth Ideals. This is about as pointless as writing a business plan and incorporating daily flowers in the foyer as part of your indicators of success.

One of our main points in the Birth Plan was (in addition to a water birth, as little intervention as possible and a big bouncy ball) was “get baby out safely”.  I know enough women who have given birth to understand the absolute luck of the draw when it comes to following a Birth Plan. This is where knowledge comes into play for me. I knew exactly what I wanted to when it came to a birth ideal, but when it came to the plan, I also found out what my options were should the baby take the decisions out of my hands and throw some us some curve balls. What would happen “if”? And knowing all of this didn’t scare me; if anything I felt it further equipped me to approach the labour with confidence and positivity.

In one of our birthing and labour classes the hospital provided, the midwife went around the room of first-time parents-to-be and asked three questions: What were their names? What week were they in? What reference materials had they accessed?

I would say that about 80% of a rather large group said they’d avoided reading too much so they didn’t scare themselves. Holy crap – THAT is my version of a nightmare. I can understand that to some people ignorance in this arena may appear to be bliss, but let me tell you, after going through labour myself I could not imagine entering that situation knowing the bare minimum. The biggest challenge you will face in labour is fear, and although this may not ring true for everyone – when you don’t know what’s happening and why and you’re experiencing pain like you’ve never experienced – fear will increase this tenfold.

A great resource for me was a book called “Birth Journeys: Positive Birth Stories to Encourage and Inspire”, compiled and edited by Leonie MacDonald. It may look a little hippie-esque from the front (nude pregnant women in a lovely strategically-draped scarf). It is full of positive birthing stories from Australian women, ranging from full natural home-births to high-risk caesarian sections. It reinforced that whatever way your labour goes, regardless of your Birth Plan, it can be a positive experience and not one to be judged by – either by others or yourself.

This meant that when my Birth Plan was quickly thrown out the window thanks to a combination of body, environment and baby – I knew what the options were, why they were there and when they would kick in. This meant that although I was disappointed I didn’t get my intervention-free waterbirth, I had such a positive birthing experience that it didn’t matter. It felt like the ultimate outcome was just a part of the journey to meet August. Whether he arrived via the official exit or the stage door – my experience was not lessened by its diversion from the planned path.

Welcoming August Gray

If I’ve been a bit quiet of late (though really, with Amy solely holding the fort with some cracker posts – you’ve got a pretty good reason not to have noticed), it’s not because I haven’t been carrying my weight (all 42 weeks of it) – it’s because that weight was finally converted to baby on the Nineteenth of March, 2014.

Introducing, August Gray Kennon. We think he’s a bit scrummy.

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In addition to a long labour, birth plan that went out the window and a longer stay in hospital than anticipated, well, you know, I have a newborn. It’s pretty much all consuming, and he has taken my time and breath away faster than you can say grazed nipple.

So I’ll be back in the swing of things with a post tomorrow, and since Amy has her own impending baby to birth, you might see a bit more of me when she disappears into the newborn haze.

I’ll leave you with the moment Hazel met August (this was taken just before August started crying and Hazel took the hands-off “I didn’t do it!” approach to baby-holding)

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A Prayer for New Parents

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May you give birth in the manner of your choosing;
And if not, may you avoid forever the acid tongues of those who did.

May your breasts be plentiful and hardy;
And if not, may you avoid forever the acid tongues of those whose are.

May you understand and accept, without reservation, that there is simply no such stage of human development called ‘sleeping through the night’;
And if not, may you avoid forever the acid tongues of those who are delusional on this matter (and bless them, for they are probably sleep deprived).

May you realise that the pram does not maketh the parent;
And in doing so, save approximately $1500.

May you find beauty in the post-partum body, without berating, parading or popular-trading the pinnacle of ‘motherhood’ as a toned, muscle-wrapped body;
And may you never venture to the Instagram accounts of Miranda Kerr or Rebecca Judd.

May you never resort to baby sign language;
For it is mumbo jumbo, I tell you. Mumbo. Jumbo.

May you sleep in whichever configuration works for you, your child, your life, your family;
And may you awaken most mornings at least mildly refreshed, without somebody’s feet in your ribs or wet nappy on your face.

May you realise that you are the most influential person in your child’s life and that it is your everyday actions (not TV, books or popular culture) that will ultimately shape their character;
And may they pick up at least one hilariously bad habit or embarrassing mannerism of yours to serve as a daily reminder.

May you find comedy in toilet training;
For there is tragedy enough in this world without finding it in poo.

May the parenting forums filled with judgmental, ill-informed and badly written ‘conversations’ eventually implode;
And may you have the strength to never go online until such time.

May you forgive yourself quickly for not enjoying ‘every’ little moment;
For it is a scientific fact that kids can be jerks sometimes and enjoying that would be weird.

May you go to bed each night knowing that your love and best efforts are enough, that YOU are enough, and that your child loves you just as you are;
And may you actually get some sleep.

Hating on Friends with Kids

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So here’s a thing that’s become a total THING. Hating on friends with kids. Especially friends who post things about their kids on Facebook. And I’m here today to tell you it’s weird, guys. Hating on people who have kids is weird.

Look, I remember 2007 like it was yesterday. I remember when Facebook was all travel photos and hilarious status updates that had to start with ‘is’. I remember being nervous about being tagged in photos from Friday night because I could barely remember Friday night. I remember being relieved to discover that although I didn’t remember it, I still looked (mostly) pretty hot. I remember giving myself the goal of posting one funny thing about cats every day. I remember. Oh yeah, I remember.

Then 7 years passed by, and a bunch of us did a few big ‘life’ things. Like getting married and having babies. And because those things were suddenly a lot bigger parts of our lives than Friday nights on the piss and LOLCATS (though for me personally, nothing will ever be bigger than LOLCATS. Nothing, you hear?) our posts started to evolve as well. We started posting about the things that were going on in our actual lives rather than, oh I don’t know, lying about going out on a Friday night when we weren’t. Or posting travel photos of places where we weren’t. Or disappearing off Facebook altogether in shame.

And the response to our change of social media direction? Haters. You may be shocked to hear that there are entire blogs dedicated to complaining about parents talking about their kids on Facebook. Entire blogs!

Haters, I’m not going to psychoanalyse what your problem is (well, I already have but I won’t present my findings in a public space), but if you’re offended/annoyed/disinterested by stuff that your “friends with kids” post on social media, I am going to give you just a dash of parental advice: you don’t have to look at it. Just like we don’t have to look at your lame selfies.

How you go about it is this: in your Newsfeed, identify a post containing a simply disgusting child who has the audacity to be starting kinder today. Hover over it and you should see a little downwards arrow on the right. Click on it and you’ll see the “I don’t want to see this” option. You can then opt to completely unfollow (without unfriending) a person who notoriously posts stuff about their abhorrent child.

How you don’t go about it is this: dedicate an entire blog to complaining about the thing you’re so offended by. It seems to me that it will actually make you far more involved in the topic that you apparently don’t like. As in, it would become your JOB to write about the thing you HATE. Where’s the logic? I ask you, where’s the logic?

These ‘friends with kids’ were presumably your ‘friends’ first and foremost. It’s not like total strangers are knocking on your door and parading their children in front of you and demanding you ‘like’ them. Why be so offended by a cute/funny/gross/uninteresting photo of a kid you know? Why be annoyed to hear that they just took their first steps? If you feel that there’s too much talk about them going on, seriously, just unfollow and stop being a jerk.

Haters, I’m sure you’d rather peruse your own profile pictures than look at photos of someone’s kid. And that’s cool. But the bottom line is this: Facebook was invented for people to connect with each other in their own unique way and talk about the things going on their actual lives. It wasn’t invented for YOU and only YOU to talk about and connect with YOURSELF and the people who think exactly the same way as YOU, are doing the same activities as YOU and are at exactly the same life-stage as YOU.

If we were friends on Facebook, I would unfollow you without ceremony. I wouldn’t start a blog about self-righteous and immature jerks, though. I’ll take this opportunity to rant about it, but an entire blog seems a little overboard. And lame. And frankly, I’m a parent now so I don’t have the time.

FFS Friday: The Havoc That an Unborn Can Reap

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1. This is just one of series of images that my husband took of my foot in which he had made an indentation with an inanimate object. In this instance, his thumb. Oh, the humanity!

Now, it wouldn’t be right to say that I’m renowned for having a well-turned ankle and a good set of calves – but I will say that I have always been happy with the shape, size and general look of anything below the knees. And for most of my pregnancy, indeed really all the way up to about 38 weeks, I thought I’d escaped the curse of the fluid retention.

Clearly, I was wrong.

So here we are, at 41 weeks with the legs resembling the trunk of a native tree and fingers the size of soy-sages.

And before anyone has a heart-attack about potential pre-eclampsia – I don’t have it. Blood pressure etc all normal – just storing up fluid like the Hoover Dam.

FFS

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2. How many towels does it take to soak up the overflow from a bath you left running after dozing off because that new book you purchased was SO BORING …. oh, about this many.

FFS!

 

Bodies and Babies – The Feedback Session

On a scale of one to ten in the “whelmed” department, it’s pretty safe to say that Amy and I have exceeded the numbers and have spilled into the “over” section.

Overwhelmed indeed.

What we’ve loved is the sharing of other people’s stories, and it has made it clear to us that these tough topics need to be discussed openly in a place without judgment, agenda or an intent to spark debate. I mean, we LOVE a good debate (don’t get me started on pyjamas vs au natural), but that’s not the intent here.

We thought that today it’d be nice to roundup some of the encouraging comments and feedback we’ve received from our last couple of posts that really seemed to resonate with readers. We’ve had strangers and close friends share their stories with us, with so much to be gained from this exchange of experiences.

There’ll be plenty more where that came from folks!

An Ode and a Farewell to This Baby Body

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“Hell yes to all that!!  I actually made the very bold statement to Dave the other day that, for the first time in my adult life, I actually feel sexy. And it all began when motherhood came knocking. Didn’t see that coming. Yay to a beautiful body, flaws and all, but most of all: yay to a newly refreshed mind, heart and soul.” Brooke

“After motherhood we accept our bodies for what they are. Amazing.” Hannah

Let the Tough Times Roll

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“This was beautiful Beautiful. Reading this has had a huge impact on me and helped me with something I’ve been dealing with in an unexpected way. No over sharing here but a case in point of how allowing people into you vulnerability can reflect their own and help them deal with it. Thank you!”  Richard

“Thank you for sharing your experience, I think the more women talk about these kinds of things, the better we can all deal with them. In my opinion, there’s no such thing as oversharing. I didn’t think I could like Hazel anymore than I already do, considering I’ve never met her, but am glad to be proved wrong! She’s wonderful, and so are you xxx” Leila

 

 

 

Let the tough times roll

Let the Tough Times Roll

Illustration by Lizzy Stewart for The New York Times.

There have been a few articles floating around on the interwebs recently about the potential effect of over-sheltering our children. Often named ‘Helicopter Parenting’ (great visual), it defines a style of parenting that, perhaps unconsciously, shields children from more than just extreme physical or emotional harm, but everyday discomfort or uncertainty. It’s being blamed for the inexplicable rise of depression in young people (aged 18-24) who report absolutely no past traumas or signs of inherent depression, and who describe their childhoods as ‘idyllic’. The rough conclusion is that by not allowing kids to experience problems of any kind, they grow up a little stunted in their ability to cope with and process the far-from-idyllic world of adulthood.

I gotta say, it makes sense to me. We’ve become progressively nicer to our kids throughout the generations; once upon a time children were beaten openly for being naughty, seen and not heard, and treated with icy disinterest. Those kids didn’t feel too loved, so they grew up, had kids of their own, downgraded beating to smacking, indulged their kids in a few displays of affection, and were generally nice to them. Catherine Deveny does a cracking presentation about the ‘Benevolent Neglect’ of 70s parenting (read a few choice snippets here) which defines this style of parenting beautifully. Enter the Helicopters of the next generation who went one step further, banning all kinds of physical admonishment and treating their children like demi-Gods. It seems the spawn of these last parental specimens seem to have a few problems in the real world. Namely that nobody else thinks they’re as fabulous as their parents made out they were and they did nothing of merit to earn their fabulousness.

Now, this is a big and contentious conversation and though my sarcasm may give me away a little, I’m not in a position to judge how anyone raises their kid (though I do draw the line at beating). So instead of getting preachy, let me tell you a little story of my own. Though the sample size may not be huge or definitive, I think stories have such powerful potential for influence, far more than any study or statistic could ever dream. My story is a little sad, but fear not – all is well now.

When my daughter Hazel was 18 months old, I miscarried a baby just shy of my 12 week scan. Miscarriage is a sad but normal part of being a human, and I’m a rational gal; I knew I hadn’t done anything to cause it and understood that a huge number of pregnancies just don’t ‘take’ on basic genetic grounds. All in all, I was sad about a future that no longer existed for my family, but OK with the concept as a whole. My body, on the other hand, didn’t really know what to do with itself. I could feel the imbalance of hormones and chemicals in my blood as palpably and painfully as a flu vaccine pumping through my veins on repeat. And trying to take care of an 18 month old, a business on the verge of success, and a broken mind/body wreaked havoc on my life.

I just thought I was sad about losing a baby. Seemed logical. But it soon became clear that it was more than that. One minute I would be doing dishes, the next I would find myself folding like an accordion on the kitchen floor, sobbing without warning. Walking zombie-like through my days, frightened to answer my phone lest someone said something that set me off. On one accordion-sobbing occasion, Hazel toddled in to find me in my predicament. Her immediate reaction was fright, and my immediate reaction was fight: get up, wipe away the tears, talk normally, convince her nothing had happened. She can’t possibly understand, and it’s a far too grown-up issue to go into with a kid so young. The first few times I managed, but after a while, my body just wouldn’t get up off the floor and the tears just wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t form a basic sentence to protect her from the horror of the scene and she looked on, often in tears herself and obviously frightened.

Help was sought, enter my unstoppable husband and family who scraped me up off the floor (figuratively) and the long healing process began. I say long because it was – 12 months at least. But a funny thing happened. During this period, Hazel not only began to soften to my sadness, but became hyper-aware of it. She would curiously follow me into a room as I tried to hide, instinctively knowing I wasn’t doing too well. Often predicting it before it even happened, she would sit up urgently and ask me (as she had heard so many ask me) “What’s wrong, mummy?” If she saw me crying, she would climb right up into my space, rub my back and softly say (as she had heard to many say) “it’s OK.” Even her little face took on an almost comical, wrinkled-brow look. You have no idea the healing power of seeing a human so tiny exhibit behaviour so empathetic. It restores one’s faith in humanity.

All is truly well now. Another baby will join the family in the coming weeks. Hazel is a happy little Vegemite. Indeed, so am I. But now Hazel’s instinctive response to seeing someone cry, child or adult, is to kneel with them, rub their back, assume a face of reverence and say softly that it’s OK. At 3 years old she knows that sometimes, that’s all you can do for someone when they cry. There are people of 30 who still haven’t learned that. People who live their entire lives never learning that.

My instinct was to protect my child from the fright of seeing her mother vulnerable, but in the end it was allowing her into that vulnerability that created the strength and awareness that I doubt will ever leave her. We view children as precious and defenceless, but also selfish and unable to see outside themselves and their needs. In some ways that’s true, but strength, compassion and empathy are learned behaviours. How soon they are learned depends only on how soon the lessons start.

You can engineer good experiences for your children. You can orchestrate an idyllic childhood. The same can’t be said for bad experiences. All you can do is grab them with both hands when they arise and drag your kids along for the bumpy ride. If there is one thing I can say for certain, it is that you will experience pain, death, loss and misfortune at some stage during the 18 years that your child is in your care. For me, it’s comforting to know that I can make those experiences count for something, and that they will galvanise my kids for the uncertain wonder of life ahead.

And hopefully make them all the more able to understand and appreciate it.