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Finding The Happy

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natural birth

Birth plans: this century’s oxymoron

The first time I read about drafting a birth plan, I thought, “Geez. Anal-retentive much?” (Don’t get me started on how inappropriate and ironic that statement is. It has dawned on me since.) Birth plans, as it turns out, are tremendously in vogue. They are the done thing in my day and age, part and parcel of the whole pregnancy shebang. Like an internet plan with a new home, so is a birth plan with a new pregnancy. What? Your house didn’t come with ethernet ports and fibre to the premise? Get with the programme, dah-link.

Except, I still don’t quite get it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen the templates and the samples, and I can see how some of it can useful. But the biggest thing that’s doing my head in is the fact we’re encouraged to think we can control what’s going to happen, when it happens, how it happens, and why. Some of the birth plans I’ve come across read like Hollywood scripts. The baby emerges with a lusty cry after a natural, calm birth, minimum tearing and no episiotomy. Mother and child bond at once with skin to skin contact. Breastfeeding ensues. Exchange of lovey dovey looks with birth partner. End scene.

But birth plans I’ve come across seldom include the following scenarios:

  • very early arrivals
  • very late arrivals
  • babies in distress
  • mothers in distress
  • birth partner out of action (late, still trying to park the darn car, fainted on the floor)
  • I-didn’t-quite-make-it-across-the-parking-lot-help!
  • emergency c-sections
  • “no room at the inn” (overcrowding at birth centre, private ward)
  • complete and utter exhaustion coupled with zero physical strength after XXth hour

and most importantly,

  • crazy changes of the mind, because you’re in the most gawdawful and intense pain you’ve ever known in your thus-far sheltered life.

Are we in danger of setting ourselves up for a huge disappointment – and literally a world of pain – if it all goes to crap? Are we fooling ourselves into thinking we can control almost every moment of our child’s birth? Every older woman I talk to almost snorts in derision whenever they hear the words ‘birth plan’. “Yeah,” they chortle. “Good luck.” (The polite ones mock you only with their eyes.) I can see why they’re sceptical. The birth stories I’ve heard so far have all to do with reacting to the moment and doing whatever works, and hardly resemble anything the mother envisioned or articulated beforehand.

After a bit of scrounging around, I learnt that the whole birth-plan idea emerged around the 1990s with the return-to-natural-birth movement. Great. I actually like the idea of NOT being confined to the bed, on my back, whimpering softly and breathing like a choo-choo train (hee-hee-hoo!). I think there’s much to be said about birth positions that capitalise on the laws of gravity, and I’m all for involving Tony as much as possible in this tremendous journey. But as with anything the world comes up with, I am inundated with conflicting messages.

On the one hand, we’re told that we are each entitled to a natural birth, that having a baby vaginally is within our control, and that we can each facilitate a less painful birth if only we knew how.

On the other hand, we’re told that natural birth is all about losing control and letting go. Wanna have your while baby squatting on one leg and bellowing the Haka? Whatever works, hon! Wanna have your baby in the bath while the lullaby rendition of Rocky’s theme is playing softly in the background? Whatever floats your boat, ma’am. Take off ALL your clothes while you’re at it. None of us are strangers here. (Except, the doctor, the midwives, the anesthetist…)

So… wrest control and lose control. Got it?

I’ve heard of birth plans referred to as birth wishlists. In some ways, that’s even worse. My wishlist would involve any of the painless births I’ve had in my dreams – with no tearing, no pushing, and midwives in my bathtub with 1950s showercaps on. It might also result in birthing a cuddly black labrador puppy instead of a healthy baby. (Don’t ask. I don’t even want to know where my subsconscious got that bit of inspiration.)

So, where to from here?

As much as I want to bag out the whole birth plan idea, I think there’s merit in visualising success before entering into any challenge. And perhaps our birth plan can help Tony and I scenario-test the less desirable situations and talk about what worries us and what helps us cope. Hope and pray for the best, prepare for the worst. Pray for strength regardless.

As for my preliminary list, here’s a few nuggets.

I plan:

  • not to swear like a sailor, no matter how painful things get.
    This is actually harder than you think, because I can get pretty potty-mouthed like the best of them when under crazy-stress. And this will be crazy-stress.
  • not to take my pain out on Tony through verbal abuse and blame.
    The whole “Deees eees YOUR FAULT!” may be tempting – and practically a given in Hollywood births – but is unfair to the poor chap. And I know he’ll try his hardest to be there for me on the day. It’s going to be a special kind of hell for him while his wife is baying like a wounded animal and he cannot do much about much. He’s going to hate that.
  • to trust that things will work out.
    Am I nervous? Oh yes. We had an antenatal class this week where they passed around the epidural needle and my hair was already standing from that. But I am holding on to the promise that we will not be tried beyond what we cannot bear. So meanwhile, I’ll try not to rule anything out and enjoy as much of it as humanly possible.

And you know I’ll keep you guys posted. :)

Only in my sleep

I have a huge curiosity for what Blobette will look like at full term. You have to bear in mind that pregnant women get inundated with unflattering images of growing in-utero babies with swollen heads and teeny arms, and all the proportional grace of a T-rex without the claws and the sharp teeth. It takes a while to get used to the fact that eventually, out pops an actual baby. Who will hopefully look like the best version of both of you because – let’s face it – we are all secretly rather vain creatures.

I must be mulling over this more on some subconscious level, because I’m finally starting to see her in my dreams. Usually in semi-nightmarish situations. For instance, there was that time I dreamt I could not breastfeed.

Here I was with the newborn, first day back in the house, and… nothing. I plop her on, and she’s looking at me accusingly as if to say, “Is this a joke? You know I’m not falling for that again.” And then… nothing.

And because my perfect newborn baby girl is a mutant with a brain of epic proportions, I’m asking her for feedback. “How about if I do this?”  I ask. “Or this?” And she’s looking up at me and shaking her head. Nup, she telepaths because she can. It’s not working, man. Let it go

Or how about the other dream where I’m giving birth. Except I’m still in the house in the main bathroom with the tub, and there’s two midwives with showercaps on, who insist on getting into the tub (fully-clothed, thank heavens) with me. Of course, there isn’t enough space for the actual birthing mother to stay in the tub, so I step out… only to turn around and face my newborn, sitting on the counter next to the sink, ensconced in the corner between my Clarins Younger Longer moisturiser and the tissue box.

Except she’s HUGE. One moment, she looks like she’s 4 months old, and then she looks like she’s actually 4. And she’s also fully clothed and clean and kinda looking expectantly at me.

And I, too, wait. Any moment now, I think. I’m gonna feel this rush of maternal love and goodness wash over me and I will be overjoyed. Except nothing happens. She’s sitting there like a lump, and I’m standing there, looking at her and willing myself to love her. It’s the most dreadful feeling. Meanwhile, I’m wondering why her hair is black and coarse and spiralling like tight corkscrews, and why her mouth looks a little like Tony’s mouth – except fixed on upside down. And wait… hang on… she looks like a cross between two very Chinese classmates from primary school.

And looks nothing like either Tony or me.

And I wake up both times with a HUGE inadequacy complex. I cannot give birth, cannot breastfeed, and cannot love my child because I am a shallow, shallow woman. I am going to be a stinky mother. STINKY!

Guilt has already set in.

Momma’s comatose. No, really.

Had pre-natal yoga today, and got minorly empowered-yet-creeped-out when the Calmbirth instructor was talking about how natural and instinctive childbirth should be – and pointed to the example of the woman in the US who gave birth to her baby naturally while still in a coma.

Whoa.

Dug around on the interwebs and found a couple of examples of babies born while the mother was in a coma:

There are probably many, many other bad-news stories that don’t make the news – but these are the few good ones that do, and made me understand just how frightfully well-engineered our bodies are.

And then I read the one about the Swine Flu victim who got induced into a coma because of suspected Swine Flu barely a few hours after she found out she was 33 weeks pregnant.

Yes. 33 weeks pregnant. And she didn’t know. Talk about a state of unconsciousness.

How do you NOT know you’re pregnant? An extremely cruisy pregnancy, I guess. Perhaps a slight self-delusion that all the bumps and kicks from Week 22 was Just A Lotta Gas. Some women spot through their pregnancies, which might explain the Where Did My Period Go? mystery. But then I got to reading about women who get the shock of their lives when they deliver another human being after “a massive tummy ache”, and yeah. It’s not just the big-boned who hide the pregnancy so well, even they can’t see it. Skinny ones can have absolutely no idea either.

I don’t get it, but it seems to happen often enough… so who am I to judge?

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