Recently, I was sharing lunch with two former clients and they asked me to write a post on the realities of the postpartum period. They gave a list of things that individually, and as a couple, they were not prepared for:
A loss of self
Loss of couple-ness
Living 24/7 with a tiny creature that is simultaneously helpless and all-powerful
The list went on…
Like many, this couple had prepared extensively for their first birth:
Weeks of childbirth education classes
Midwifery care appointments
Read lots of books
Research done on-line
Talking with friends
The list goes on…
And yet, even with all this in-depth preparation for labor and birth, they feel they were not prepared for the reality of post-birth life. It seems to me that they are not alone.
Imagine this: you diligently research childbirth preparation programs, you weigh your opinions, you carefully pick the program that seems best suited for you. The class is designed to have five separate, two-hour meetings for a total of 10 hours. You get to the first class, your belly baby full and your mind swimming. You settle onto the floor and begin listening. The instructor spends the first 15 minutes discussing childbirth. She then states that the rest of the entire series is on postpartum and parenting. What would you do? Walk out? Laugh? Ask for your money back?
The time it takes to get a child from conception to college is approximately 20 years.
Labor and birth generally take hours, At the most, it takes a few days. In the scope of your parenting career, labor and birth is really, really short. In truth, to think of child rearing as a mere two decades isn’t honest: parenting is for the rest of your life. Whatever happens, you are now changed for the rest of your life. If childbirth and parenting classes were temporally realistic, less than 15 minutes would be spent on labor and birth, and the next 9 hours and 45 minutes (longer for Bradley) would be spent on post birth reality. Who would go to those next classes? Would you?
While I think that birth education and preparation are important, I believe that the intense focus on childbirth education is part of our cultural fascination with events. As a society, we are much more event oriented than process oriented. Birth, like a wedding, is an event that is socialized, commercialized, and idealized. It is kinda fun to plan for an event. The real work starts afterwards.
Parenting, like marriage is a lot of work. It is often dreary, mind numbing, exhausting and painful work. And, parenting, like marriage, has the potential for unbelievable reward. I can think of nothing sweeter than the feel of my baby’s breath on my cheek, my mischievous toddler’s sly smile from across the room, my teenager making us a delicious Thanksgiving dinner…
In the many, many years that I have worked with pregnant women, I have yet to find a perfect way to prepare prenatal clients for what life with a newborn is really like. Maybe my teaching style and material could be better (probably). Maybe clients listen selectively, thinking that some of what I say won’t apply to them (probably). Maybe, the knowledge that most parents are overwhelmed by early child rearing is a cultural secret (definitely).
So maybe you can help me help parents-to-be: What are the things that you wish you had been told, had heard, had known before the birth of your child? How do you think that information would have been best presented for you to have heard, absorbed, learned? What would you tell your pre-baby self? How would you talk so that you would listen?
May all babies be born into loving hands