Friday, October 5, 2012

Going against the norm

I've noticed it's not uncommon for parents to try to do things differently, "better," the second (or third) time around.

"My first baby was induced a week before her due date, I got an epidural because I couldn't handle labor, and we almost had to get a c-section.  This time, I hired a midwife so I can give birth at home."

"We used disposable diapers last time; no one ever told me cloth was so much cheaper and easier!"

"We used a cry-it-out approach with our first, but I've read so much since then...  This time, we'll be using a gentler approach."

I think it's easier to try something new, something less "mainstream," when your first experience was a bad one.  You have time and conviction on your side.  What I don't hear many people talk about is how hard it is to buck tradition with your first.  When you don't have bad memories, complications, regrets, or even vague doubts on your side, it can be hard to deal with others who don't understand why you're not just doing things the "normal" way.

We chose to have our son at home, and I firmly believe that the only reason we didn't get more grief ahead of time was because we didn't really tell anyone.  Afterwards, most of the responses we got were positive.  Some people called me a rock star for having a baby without drugs at home, omg, while others congratulated me on sticking to my convictions.  Interestingly, most of the negative responses I got were from medical professionals; the pediatrician I took Little Bug to for his three-day checkup seemed unable to comprehend why I would voluntarily give birth at home, while the one I saw a week later took less issue with the birth itself than with the fact that I didn't transfer to a hospital afterwards.  When I went to the emergency room to get my Rhogam shot (this was the easiest way, since I had stopped seeing an OB months ago), the triage nurse looked at me like I was crazy and asked, "But it wasn't planned that way, right?"  My stock response became I had a very fast labor, providing an explanation without any further information, neither confirming or denying my reasons or lack thereof.  Amazing how quickly I learned to give vague answers and let people draw their own conclusions.

Even before the birth, my "alternative" ideals came up against opposition.  I knew long before I got pregnant in the first place that I wanted to go natural; no epidural for me.  It didn't take long for me to stop vocalizing that idea to others.  "Oh, everybody says that the first time around," well-meaning but condescending women would tell me.  "Trust me, you'll want the epidural."  I knew what I wanted, and I truly believed I could give birth with out medication.  But against that kind of all-knowing negativity, with no experience on my side, what am I supposed to say?  End result was that I softened my stance a little, even while knowing the truth on the inside.  I was at least going to try, I said, and even that was met with a nasty little smile.  "Just you wait," they said.  I was strong enough to ignore those comments, and smart enough to stop openly verbalizing my ideas without first feeling out my audience.

But in retrospect, there's something very sad about being uncomfortable talking about things without first knowing that my thoughts would be well-received.

It's so easy to have doubts, even if in your heart you believe you're doing the right thing.  I did not have a single ultrasound during my pregnancy.  Not one.  They are so commonplace nowadays that many women get one at every appointment.  My insurance didn't cover them unless they were "medically necessary," and the OB I was seeing early on volunteered to "make up" a reason if I wanted one!  So many people don't realize that, in many cases, an ultrasound isn't necessary.  They are a relatively recent technology, and women have been growing babies for most of human history without them.  One of my books told me that for the baby in the womb, undergoing an ultrasound is similar to being in a subway tunnel; the decibel level of what the baby hears is that high.  I also read that there really haven't been any long-term studies on the fetal effects of ultrasound.  (Don't ask me where I read these tidbits.  I read a lot of books and web articles and blogs during my pregnancy.)  I knew that I didn't want an ultrasound, although I would have willingly undergone one had my midwife thought it necessary.  (Interestingly enough, at one point she did.  My fundal height didn't seem to match the estimated due date, and she was thinking we might have it wrong.  My appointment was for the day after I ended up going into labor.)  And yet, even with all I knew, all I had read, I still doubted myself, deeply and frequently.  What if there was something wrong?  What if my baby was malformed?  What if there was some disorder that could be detected through an ultrasound?  Some days, I felt like I was trying to reassure myself that I had made the right decision.  When everyone is asking how the ultrasounds looked, asking me to post pictures on my Facebook page or posting their own, when I didn't know a single person who didn't get an ultrasound themselves during their pregnancy, it was easy to doubt myself.  

Of course, everything turned out fine.  Ten fingers and ten toes, no problems whatsoever, a picture of health.  But that doesn't mean I didn't doubt myself.

When it comes to dealing with these subjects that I worry will garner negative responses from others, I find there are three main ways I talk about them.  The first is to not talk about them at all.  I didn't talk about my decision to have a home birth with many.  I (wisely) didn't mention to any of Little Bug's pediatricians that we were co-sleeping.  Sometimes not talking is a good decision (it's not worth the lecture from the doctors), but sometimes I feel like my reticence is contributing to the problem.

Sometimes I give vague answers, like my stock response about having a fast labor, and let others think what they will.  When the pediatrician asked if he got the vitamin K drops at birth, my response was that the baby got "everything he needed" at birth from my midwife.  (Again, not worth the lecture.)  

And sometimes, more frequently than I'd like, I try to blow things off.  So many people seem to think that babies need to be fit conveniently around their own schedule that heaven forbid we inconvenience ourselves for them.  Cloth diapers?  So much cheaper than disposables, and when they're nursing they're so very easy to wash!  Babywearing?  Much more convenient than lugging around a stroller!  Baby-led weaning?  I've no time for pureeing foods, and letting him feed himself is much easier than bothering with a spoon.  Co-sleeping?  I get more sleep when he's right next to me; it's so much easier to get him back to sleep after he nurses when I don't have to put him back in a crib!  I have a friend who practices elimination communication (which we dabble in), and the only time I've seen her publicly mention it on Facebook was with the caveat that it saved on diapers.

Why do we do this?  Because we don't want to get lectured by the "professionals."  Because parenting issues are already so polarizing and we don't want to be drawn into arguments.  Because our family might not approve.  Because we have doubts about our own decisions.  Because it's not what "everyone else" does.  Lots of reasons, I guess.  

I, for one, would love to be able to have more honest, open conversations about the choices I've made and the things I do for my baby.  And yet, there are so many topics I am simply uncomfortable discussing, even if I know I'm making the right choices for me and mine.  I can only hope that as I get more parenting experience under my belt, I will become more confident in my decisions and more willing to discuss these things with others.  Otherwise, how will some of these things become more acceptable in the mainstream?


  1. i'm really glad you're posting all that you have -- I know when the time comes for me, I'll be coming to you with a LOT of questions, looking for advice. I love how happy you and D and Little Bug are together, without running around trying to force him into a schedule developed by "experts." I really respect you both!

    1. Goodness knows I love talking about pregnancy and birth and baby stuff, so I am definitely always here to talk about anything you want/need to talk about! (Someday, once Little Bug is a bit older, I'm going to become a natural childbirth educator.) We're just doing our best to listen to our instincts and be the best parents we can be. :)