There’s no drug that can prepare you for parenthood
In giant letters, I’d written “No drugs”. Then, as an afterthought: “Perhaps an epidural if it’s as bad as everyone says.” There was to be no caesarean, no forceps and no bloody Enya on the CD player. I’d bring toffees. You need sugar when you’re, like, birthing another person.
There are few more laughable oxymorons in life than a “birth plan”. However well you think you know your body, all bets are off the second you have a contraction – presuming it is a contraction, of course, because nature also came up with Braxton Hicks, a pseudo contraction which, like much about the birth business, is nonsensically named after a man.
In the event, the birth went like this: 26-hour labour; failure to dilate; gas and air (useless); pethidine (useless). “Breathe,” says husband. “I am breathing, otherwise I’d be dead,” I reply. Baby’s heart rate drops; emergency caesarean. Me shaking with fear, or lack of toffees. Baby arrives; a girl. And in that moment of miracle, life begins anew.
These days, I struggle to remember the birth. How, where and with what assistance she was delivered is irrelevant. That babies enter this world safely is all that matters. Yet the vociferous debate over birthing (home, natural, calm, caesarean or, my personal fave, the car birth) continues to overshadow the real issue – namely, not how babies are born, but what to do with them once they arrive.
How odd that couples spend months in antenatal classes watching plastic babies being shoved through hand-knitted wombs, yet many of us leave hospital with no idea about how to wrap, feed and soothe a baby (or ourselves). My husband and I spent eight Tuesday nights learning how to breathe through a contraction (a skill he’s since found useful), but just one morning on baby care. “What do you mean you wrap it? Mastitis? Never heard of it.”
This gulf in information and support for birthing a baby versus raising it was brought home recently when I ran into a new dad. “It’s been overwhelming,” he confided, tears welling. His story is one suffered behind many closed doors: unsettled baby, exhausted parents, dislocation from work, drop in self-esteem, loss of “the two of us”. In my friend’s case, it culminated in his partner spending two months in hospital with post-natal depression.
When communities no longer raise children and the central tenets of a working life – productiveness, perfectionism, diligence – are misguidedly transferred to parenting, people falter. And while parenting has entered a new paradigm where people tend to grow their own lives before creating another, our support of that change hasn’t kept pace.
Recently I was moved by a speech from leading obstetrician Vijay Roach. A few days earlier, he’d met a couple with their six-week-old baby. Despite the brave smiles, the husband, a high-flying lawyer, was struggling.
“There’s no latitude for that man in the corporate world. That’s not acceptable,” said Roach. “I want you to put mothers and fathers back on the agenda. Think about the pressures they feel, the potential for depression. The responsibility to connect belongs to us all.”
He’s right. I remember one day when despair found me weeping under my clothes line. Inside, my baby was screaming and my toddler was crying. I phoned a friend. Alison arrived, scooped up my children, bathed them, fed them and put them to bed. Then she did what I needed most: she let me talk.
Catch Angela Mollard every Sunday at 8.45am on Weekend Today, on the Nine Network.
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