I should have been having regular pedicures. I should have been having regular manicures. I should have had a monthly – or even better weekly – facial. And full body pregnancy massage. I should have cooked exquisite organic low fat meals every day. I should have eaten more of this, and less of that. I should have had my eyebrows tinted. Except that dying hair is out of bounds. I should have worked for an employer who allowed time off – with pay – for things such as prenatal yoga, facials, massage, pregnancy aqua aerobics. I should have had a job which allowed me to pay for the facials, massages, and pedicures. I should have napped when I needed rest. I should have spent more time lounging on my bed, with dappled sunlight falling through the window, staring lovingly at my unborn child, reading it stories and playing gentle soothing music while stroking the belly. I should have written a birth plan.
And then after the baby was born, I should have used this sterilizer. I should have used this sterilizer as well. And I should have breastfed exclusively for 6 months. And I should have worn a silk negligee in hospital to help me feel sexy again (hello????????) And I should have eaten this, and that, and a little more of this, and a little less of that. I should have played this music. And I should buy these videos. But I shouldn’t let my child watch videos. I should have used this toy in the cot. And this one in the stroller. And this one in the living room. I should have used this spoon and plate set. I should have used this dummy. I should have used these nappies. And these wipes. I should have used cloth nappies. I should have made my own wipes. Except dummy’s are out of bounds, so I should have used this as a soother. But then again this dummy should have been used as well. I should co sleep. I should get the baby into a good routine. I should feed on demand. I should feed at strict times of the day. I should have photographed my baby every day and kept every memento of their life in a nice neat album instead of an old box under the bed. I should have read to them every single opportunity I had. I should use cue cards. I should let them learn of their own accord. I should have enrolled the baby in gym classes. And swim classes. And music classes. And language classes. And drama classes. Aunty Cookie has some great views on all of this.
Because if I don’t do any of this, my child will be so far behind developmentally, physically and emotionally, that I will be forever held to believe that it was all my fault if they do not turn out to be happy bright sparks who make friends with ease and never throw a tantrum.
Bollocks. Oh. I wasn’t supposed to say that was I. Yet, if you pick up any general pregnancy/parenting magazine on the newsagent stands, the entire magazine will sprout this philosophy to you. Read carefully, and every single item is phrased in such a way that to not do what they’re asking is tantamount to endangering your child and stifling their development. And the contradictions from page to page are no-ones business. Not only are you led to believe certain products are better than others – and yes I do acknowledge some products for some things are better – but to suggest that some products will make your child happier, healthier and brighter is really misleading.
But none of this comes even close to the anger and disappointment I have with many of these magazines in the way birth, and to a lesser extent, pregnancy, is portrayed. There is one popular pregnancy magazine commonly available in
For many women these magazines are a life line through their pregnancy, a wealth of information about what to expect, what choices they have, and the medicalisation of birth demystified. And there is a lot of great information in there, if you sift through and back up anything you read with further research and information. But turn the corner and look at some of the discussion boards on popular sites like Babycentre, and you’ll realise that dissatisfaction with birth outcomes due to lack of preparation and information prior to, and during, birth play a huge part in birth outcomes. Despite the wealth of information out there, women are still giving birth disillusioned and unsure of what happened and why.
And then we wonder why the statistics for PND are so high or greatly underestimated, and why women struggle to accept birth outcomes, and why women feel like they “failed”. This is a really personal thing for me. I have long held that antenatal classes teach the wrong things, and that there is a general fear of letting women know the reality of some births because we as a society have placed so much emphasis on natural birth. In addition, we as women have come to expect that because we choose natural birth, it will automatically happen, and we often turn a blind eye to potential problems. No longer is natural birth a natural occurrence – it is a thing which is planned and controlled: You did the yoga, you did the massage, you bought everything the magazines told you to buy, you bought the birthing ball and you have the essential oils all packed. Hell, you even got the cot ready at 34 weeks – look how prepared you are!! I know one woman who said to me that she had good thigh muscles because she’s been doing yoga, therefore she will, of course, have a natural birth. Good thigh muscles have little to do with a baby and body clock divorced from the preparations you have made.
When I did my first lot of antenatal classes with the hospital in London when I was pregnant with Max, I asked in the first class whether we would cover the potential problems of various forms of intervention and pain relief – it’s all very good telling us what options are available, but what of the consequences of those actions. The teacher looked at me aghast. Why No! We would not be doing that because you will all have natural births. Okaaaaaaay. Yes – we all were planning natural births, but the likelihood of us all actually having natural births was different. To suggest we needn’t cover other birth forms and their impact on us because we chose otherwise is really debased. Her version of what constituted important information for birth was spending two hours teaching our partners how to massage out leg cramps (true!), that was one class out of 4 gone, and another class spent going over and over how to ring the hospital to tell them you were in labour. After the entire class insisted on having some information about basic baby care post baby (apparently post baby stuff is irrelevant. Never mind none of us had held a baby before and had no idea), that left one 2 hour class to discuss birth. I don’t need to say it was fairly pitiful. Luckily I had booked in for NCT classes at my own expense, and they covered so much more, in so much detail, that I don’t think anyone there would have felt unprepared for various outcomes. NCT is very pro natural and that’s why you choose their classes – but they also know things go wrong, and that to be prepared for that is a part of their role as educators. Natural does not necessarily mean without drugs, without intervention - it can also incorporate understanding, and knowledge of cause and effect and being empowered to deal with whatever situation is presented at the time - planned or unplanned. We covered emergency c-sections in one class. While every one of us probably put a lot of that information away in a file in our head labeled ‘Not Needed”, I can tell you that when I did have to have an emergency c-section, knowing how many people were in the room and why, and what they did, and how long it would take and what generally was going on was a huge relief. I could focus on other things rather than why 11 people (yes 11) were introducing themselves to me. And I understood how I ended up there too.
I know I come at this from a slightly more technical background, and therefore my perspective is slightly different to other people, but because of that I also feel for the lack of real information which is given to women, irrespective of how they plan to birth. I did my Architectural design thesis on a birthing centre attached to a large teaching hospital in
I don’t intend this post to be a negative slur on being prepared and making whatever preparations you feel necessary. I personally had a monthly facial from 5 months during my first pregnancy because I had such a horrid time that I needed something nice for myself. I don’t intend this to be anti natural birth or to take away from those who have had a great birth experience natural or otherwise – on the contrary my views are very pro natural and they continue to be despite the traumatic birth I had with my first child. I would just like to see a little more realism and understanding, and for women to acknowledge realism in birth outcomes and expectations of them as mothers. And to allow women more trust in themselves as good parents without magazines telling them what is best for their child, or pushing certain parenting ideals. It’s about taking pressure off ourselves.