The past month or so has been full of intense preparations for giving birth. My nesting instincts kicked in, and I meticulously organized all the baby clothes and created a spreadsheet for all the things we need to buy. MR and I attended a round of birthing classes, and I started hypnotherapy in an effort to calm down about the impending labor. I have to say, the efforts have paid off well. I was nervous about giving birth (honestly, who wouldn’t be?), but now I feel much more equipped for it. Plus, the subsequent conversations with MR all this preparation inspired have made me feel even better.
By the time our last NCT class (or birthing class, for those of you in the States) rolled around, I was feeling downright cheerful about the whole thing. I had labor in hand, I felt–I had an arsenal of pain relief techniques, and if those didn’t work, I had an epidural. Whenever I went to appointments, the midwives always said I was doing really well, and I didn’t even have gestational diabetes, which I was sure I was going to get. Things were going to be ok.
I’ve planned to breast feed for awhile, really for as long as I’ve been planning to have kids. It just seemed like the best alternative. I don’t pass any judgment at all on women who choose to bottle feed, but as they keep saying how breast milk is best, it’s something I thought I should do. Also, nature seems to have over-endowed me in that area to the point where it’s a bit annoying, so I thought it would be nice to put the things to their natural use.
What I didn’t know was that apparently, it’s not as simple as it looks. This seems a bit unfair as other milk producing mammals don’t seem to have issues. Heck, humans make use of cow, sheep, and goat milk on a daily basis, which says they can produce enough milk for their offspring and then keep going. As I learned more about breast feeding, though, I learned that humans, for some reason, don’t have it so easy. On top of that, because we are self conscious, perhaps too much for our own good, there are all kinds of theories about it. Science says ‘breast is best’ which makes sense, but then some people take it to a whole other level and say that those women who say they have production problems simply don’t want it enough. That kind of language weirds me out, because it’s the kind of phrasing they use in the Olympics. “She’s extraordinarily gifted, but you just don’t see her wanting it enough.” But the last time I checked, there was no competition for breastfeeding, and it doesn’t get your face on a Wheaties box. (Sidenote: Are Wheaties still around? They tasted an awful lot like cardboard.) So then there are all these levels of superiority, and judging, and the implication that women who breastfeed are better mothers and much closer to their babies. It’s all a little too intense.
Admittedly, most of this I’m getting second hand, from a friend who struggled to feed and couldn’t manage it, and was subsequently subsumed by guilt and saw accusations towards bottle feeders everywhere, especially internet forums (never the place to go when you’re having a personal crisis). I can’t say I blame her for getting upset over what she read and heard and perceived–this post is essentially the same thing. Nonetheless, her reports were enough to start making me nervous, although I tried to say to myself that my experience may be very different, even when she was talking about how much you have to feed to keep your supply up. Maybe I wouldn’t have issues with supply?
But then other reports started to come in. Other women I knew who just had babies reported how hard and tiring breastfeeding could be. Then our NCT classes confirmed: pretty much for the first twelve days, the baby wants to eat every two hours, and will take a long time to do so, so you barely get a break between feeds. There are a vast number of scientific reasons for this: the baby is learning, the mother is learning, the milk supply has to balance out and meet the demand, but none of this reassured me. Instead raw panic gripped me. I was essentially going to be a cow, existing only to milk. I couldn’t type on my computer, or sew, or crochet, or do anything but stare zombie-like at the television and hope to catch half an hour of shut-eye in between feeds. Of all the things about motherhood, this is the one that actually terrified me. MR said I was having an existential crisis about it, which I think is pretty accurate. That description of barely sleeping and constant feeding made me feel like I would lose every ounce of who I am. Maybe I would get it back as things started to even out, but a fortnight of losing all sense of self is a rather terrifying prospect. For the first time I began to worry about getting post partum depression.
In thinking about it, I realized there’s a certain amount of betrayal in that description. I need some hope at the moment, something to look forward to. Labor is not an exciting prospect, however prepared I feel for it, and now that I’m counting down these last four weeks and three days, pregnancy is really getting old. I’m constantly uncomfortable, and can’t really walk anywhere. I’d like to be able to stand up without a monumental effort, or crouch down without my knees singing out in pain, or eat without having ferocious heartburn. I can’t remember what it was like to have a normal body. But the baby was going to be the payoff, and that was what I was hanging on to. To hear that the first couple weeks with her will turn me into a zombie was crushing, especially as I do not like anything zombie related. (No, I haven’t watched the Walking Dead, and I don’t plan to. It’s really not my thing.)
MR has mentioned before how new parents *love* to give advice and get all wide eyed as they impart dire warnings of impending misery. He also points out that despite this misery, people seem willing to subject themselves to parenthood multiple times over. This is something of a paradox. Except it’s not–people in general love to complain and feel uncomfortable gushing. And so I don’t even know if ‘experienced’ parents realize what they’re doing to people who are about to become parents. I mean, I know it’s not going to be a bed of roses. I’m going to have to deal with a lot of crap, both literal and figurative in just over a month, and that will continue for the rest of my life. But in a way, that’s kind of beautiful–this little person is coming into my life, and she’s never, ever going to leave it. No matter what happens, no matter how much she or I screw up, I will always be her mother and she will always be my daughter. It’s irrevocable. Early adulthood is full of fragile human bonds that seem to break so easily–fights with friends, relationships ending, and there’s an amazing security of parenthood.
Which brings me to my point–this isn’t going to be a horror movie. Yes, it will be hard. I’ve never done anything like it before. But I have been sleep deprived. I’ve pulled all nighters to finish papers; I’ve been on many, many transatlantic flights where sleep was impossible. And breast feeding is probably a lot easier to pull off on no sleep than making incisive points comparing the depiction of childhood in Dickens and Twain. I just wish people would *say* that. A little encouragement would go such a long way. Not the grim “You’ll get through it” that people seem to espouse as some form of motivation. It shouldn’t be that way. Tell me it’s hard, that’s fine, but also tell me that there’s some magic in there, something good. No, I may not be able to write, or do much of anything, but tell me that really seeing your baby’s face and seeing your own features or your partner’s reflected in it is incomparable. Tell me how happy all the relatives will be to meet the baby. Tell me that somehow it brings you and your partner closer. Tell me something good, for Pete’s sake. Don’t you think I need to hear it?
Ultimately it was MR who got me realizing that there would actually be good stuff in the midst of the two week haze. He said that whenever he announced a happy change, it was always met with an exhale of air and some dire warning. When he got engaged, everyone who was married said “There goes your independence.” When we bought the house, all the homeowners said “There goes your money.” I don’t know if this is a British thing, or just a people thing, but it made me realize–getting married was stressful (and was made more so by certain Departments of Immigration which may or may not be shut down by government crises at the moment), but even with all the planning and rushing around the two days before the wedding, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. The best to date, really. Moving house was again very stressful, and packing wasn’t much fun, but setting up our new house as distinctly ours was. We bought all this great furniture and painted things how we liked them, and it felt really good to do that and build a home with someone. And now I get to walk around the house and know that it’s *mine* (well, half of it anyway), and that I’m not answerable to any landlord. So clearly the same is going to happen when we have this baby at last…isn’t it? If you have any words of encouragement, I’d really like to hear them.