Monday, January 25, 2010

Accountability

I have referenced my somewhat ‘radical’ views on parenting before and how those views are received by the general public. There are common themes behind my stance on parenting; accountability, staying present and simply, putting forth the effort. I by no means believe I am a perfect parent nor do I expect I will ever be perfect but I take this knowledge and work harder rather than throwing my hands in the air and saying ‘what’s the point?’ At the root of most of my frustrations with a lot of parents today is that like marriage, they have entered into parenthood without any forethought, consideration or discussion about the responsibilities, commitments, sacrifices and compromises this endeavor will require (to do it well). It doesn’t take a genius to understand that parenting is hard work and a huge commitment, yet there are still people out there that believe that having children will not change their lives and they set forth to prove it to themselves and others, and then wonder why things aren’t turning out like the ideal they had in their heads. I like to say these people get into parenting for the Christmas card not to actually parent, they want to have the nice picture of a ‘complete’ family (whatever that’s supposed to mean) and not have to put forth the effort it takes to be a decent parent. Much like marriage, when you enter into parenthood without considering all the effort and responsibility, inevitably reality prevails and resentment rears its ugly head.

For a long time I said I didn’t want children, unfortunately most people took this to mean that I didn’t like children, in fact, it was quite the opposite. When I said I didn’t want children, I didn’t believe that I would ever be ready or willing to make the enormous commitment I felt needed to be made to be a good parent. Either because of my education, my upbringing, my empathic nature or maybe just my own insight, I always felt that I was one of those people that truly understood how difficult it was to be a good parent and how much time, energy and commitment it took without actually doing it myself. I used to say (and still believe) that ‘having a child makes every second of your life more work’ and I didn’t mean this as negative (ok, maybe in my 20s it seemed like a negative) but just reality. It all seemed so daunting and unachievable. I didn’t want to have a child and end up resenting them because I felt they squashed my dreams, ambition or freedom. Obviously this changed but not before a lot of soul searching and discussions with my husband, the other key factor in the decision making process. I absolutely refused to be one of those women that had a child with someone who wasn’t as committed to the job of parenting as I was, I refused to be a single parent like so many women who are actually still married and wondering why their husbands don’t help out more with the kids.

Ok, so I’ve only been a parent for 17 months and there is quite a bit of parenting left to do, but both of us have stepped up to the plate. We’ve rearranged our lives, made sacrifices and are making the commitment (much to the disillusionment of more than a few people in our lives) which means we are living off of one income now, not socializing as much as we or our friends would like and in general making our daughter our #1 priority. Overall, we feel we are doing a pretty good job, our daughter seems happy, healthy and thriving. I have heard more than one person insinuate that this won’t last long or that somewhere along the line ‘something’ will happen that will change our little girl into a demon beyond recognition. They use their own children as examples (obviously without realizing the assumed disappointment within their statement, whether their children are in ear shot or not) and then try and compare themselves to us. Now, this constant comparison is rather annoying anyhow because it is impossible to be the same person, parent, partner, etc. because of the multitude of variables, but to insinuate or compare our parenting to yours under a veil of ‘just you wait’ attitude is insulting to say the least.

It all comes down to accountability, which is a tough pill to swallow for many parents (hell a lot of people in general have a problem with the concept!). Of course every child is different with their own set of quirks that make them an individual and it is our job as their parents to figure out what makes them tick and from there go forth helping them interpreting the world around them including the boundaries, rules and expectations. Part of this is being an example to your children; you cannot expect from your children what you are not willing to do yourself. I will avoid specifics to protect the innocent but I will suggest that instead of throwing your hands in the air the next time you realize your parenting train is veering off the tracks, why don’t you take accountability for any mistakes that have been made (because we are all human and we ALL make mistakes…even in parenting!) and think about changing course. Instead of chalking it up to ‘we’ve tried everything,’ give it another go and see if there is another parent out there dealing with a similar issue that found a way to make it work, a resource on the internet that can offer advice, a parenting class or support group in your community that may offer an alternative approach or even seek professional help. I know it is difficult to ask for help, and when we are dealing with our overwhelming job of parenting it is really difficult not to let our egos get in the way, it is a job laden with guilt, responsibility and the possibility of having long-term effects on another person’s life. Which is why I think it is even more important to get help when you need it. Be willing to accept the fact that you may not know everything just yet.

I find it particularly interesting that when a child grows up to be a success in whatever way that family defines success, it is always attributed to the stellar parenting that child received. Yet, when a child ends up in jail, on drugs or even just not successful, there is always someone/something other than the parent to blame. This of course is one of the many things that weighed heavily on my mind in my journey to parenthood, because I know that whatever the outcome, I am responsible for this new person and how she turns out will be a direct reflection on me and my parenting (along with my husband’s of course). There comes a time when we all must accept the job we did as parents, both the good and the bad, and hope that we have equipped our children with the tools to navigate this world in a safe, genuine and capable manner. If something turns out differently or you find yourself looking at your grown child with disappointment then maybe it is time to turn the judgment on yourself and accept that you are not perfect either and if your children are not grown yet, you still have time to change course. This would be a lot more constructive than trying to criticize what other parents are doing.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mourning a loss, does it really ever end?

The Summer I turned 30 was grueling, my grandmother had suffered a stroke that April and even though I was able to celebrate with friends for my birthday in June, it really was just a respite from the weekends spent in the car making the 3 hour drive to Dallas to be with my grandmother and father, who had put his life on temporary hold, in the hospital ICU, then the rehab center and finally the nursing home. It was a devastating loss for me even though I knew she was better off after suffering for nearly 4 months hooked up to machines and unable to speak her wishes, I knew she didn’t want to live this way, we had many conversations about it. My grandmother was a very independent woman after enduring an abusive relationship with my grandfather, raising two boys on her own in the 50s/60s and working nearly everyday of her life. I admired her perseverance and her ability to love unfailingly.

She and I always had a special relationship since she never had a daughter and I was her first granddaughter (and was the only one for 16 years). She lived with us at one point in my childhood when my parents were still married and when my father was trying to provide a home for us after the divorce while he traveled for work, I lived with her again in middle school. There were many nights where it was just the two of us, we talked about her family growing up, how close she was to her father and sisters and how protective she was over her baby brother. She told me stories about my father and uncle’s antics growing up and I saw her undying love and pride for her boys. There was even I time when I thought I wanted to be a single mother because of her stories, even though I know there were hard times and it was probably the most difficult thing she ever did.

Her death was the catalyst that started our discussions to have a baby. Even though I didn’t expect her to be attending my child’s wedding, I did always believe that she would be there for the birth and would know that I was a mom. When that was no longer an option I was filled with great sadness and then fear…there was no guarantee how long my father would be around and I most definitely wanted my child to know him and more than just a memory in a photo. I find it ironic now that my daughter whose middle name was in honor of my grandmother resembles her in many ways. I am not a religious person but I am a spiritual person and I believe that my grandmother is with me in one way or another. I still miss her, deeply, and still have moments where I think about calling her and it’ll be five years this August since she died. I don’t think I will ever stop missing her and wishing she was here for me during this journey through motherhood. I wish I had asked her more questions, I wish I had visited more; I wish that my daughter will understand the importance of grandparents and realize the time you get with them is precious and should not be taken lightly.

I don’t know if it’s the pregnancy hormones or just my natural cyclical way of mourning, but I have been thinking about her a lot lately and missing her all over again (more than usual). Maybe it’s the whole life/death thing, while pregnant and dealing with all that goes along with bringing a new life into the world, I can’t help but think of death too, those that will not be here to meet this little one, another child I will have the overwhelming task of trying to convey the stories of a person they will only know in photos. It seems like I am never really done mourning my losses, is anyone?

The Business of Being Born

I watched the documentary The Business of Being Born Monday night as it has been recommended by more than a couple people who know my stance on natural birth. It presented a lot of really good information (albeit, nothing I didn’t already know), but I think the best thing about this movie is the representation of the normalcy of the people seeking natural, un-medicated, uncomplicated births, specifically home births. I think most people think those that choose natural birth are more than a little wacky and those that choose not to give birth in a hospital by a doctor are just plain nuts. This documentary does border on continuing to portray that image but manages to present a good cross section of people that show that those that are choosing these ‘alternative’ options for their child’s birth are normal, educated, informed consumers that have weighed all the options and chose the one that they feel is the safest and most comfortable for them.

I have to say though, watching this has only opened up the wounds that I thought had nearly healed completely from my own birth experience. Even though it did not end up being the labor and birth that I desired I had convinced myself that the interventions that occurred were necessary and in the end I had a beautiful healthy baby girl, and isn’t that what this was all about anyhow? I can’t say that I haven’t replayed the events leading up to her birth over in my head, wondering what went wrong or what I could’ve done differently… I was laboring fine on my own at home, from all accounts I was in active labor for a good 5 hours (early labor for 24 before that) before heading to the hospital where I found out at check-in (to almost everyone’s surprise) that I was dilated to 6 cm, I thought ‘this is going to be a breeze!’ Then the interruptions and interventions began…

I had become pretty swollen towards the end of my pregnancy, although all I really noticed was the size of my feet and lack of ankles, so the first order of business (getting the hep-lock in a vein) proved difficult. I do have to state here that although my doctor is one that supports natural birth the hep-lock was the one point of contention that she would/could not budge on, the whole point of me not wanting an IV was because I didn’t want a needle in my arm so the hep-lock, in my opinion, was no better than being tied to an IV. Two nurses who must have just gotten out of nursing school each tried twice digging around in my arm to find a vein the needle would stay in before finally calling an anesthesiologist to put it in my hand (real comfortable!), this ordeal went on for about an hour where they would leave and come back and while I waited for the anesthesiologist I even began to hope they had forgotten about me…no luck. Needless to say my labor stalled almost immediately, I was still having contractions but they had slowed down to the point where I was able to take a little nap and never really picked up after that. The ‘cascade of interventions,’ as those in the know call it, began. After 6 hours with no progress the decision was made to break my water, 6 more hours with no progress it was time for Pitocin and consequently an epidural. When the baby ‘didn’t react well’ to the contractions induced by the pitocin resulting in turning it off almost immediately, the decision for cesarean was made.

My story is one of many where things are going smoothly until getting to the hospital and you’re put on the clock. There are several theories as to what causes this, some believe the change in venue or the actual act of being transported is enough to interrupt labor causing it to stall. Another theory, which I believe is what happened in my case, is the fight or flight reaction we mammals posses. When any mammal in labor feels they are in danger or that they are in a situation where their newly born off spring won’t be safe, something is triggered that causes their labor to stall. I think it is difficult for most humans (male or female) to feel safe and comfortable in a hospital setting, it’s loud, there are people poking and prodding you at all times of the day or night, the staff are constantly changing, etc. So is it any wonder that when a woman arrives at such an environment in the midst of labor, a very emotionally and physically charged event that is known to make even the most composed woman feel vulnerable and out of control, her body sends a message that she and/or her baby are not safe? Most that are educated about natural birth agree that when they suggested breaking my water I should’ve gotten up and gone home. But, like most people, I didn’t feel that was an option and at that point I was so exhausted from missing two nights of sleep and being in active labor for over 12 hours I was willing to go with the suggestions of my trusted doctor. In my opinion, even if I had walked out and let labor commence on its own again at home, I would’ve eventually had to go back to the hospital and what would make that trip any different than the first?

No one can make this important decision lightly (unfortunately I think the majority do by assuming they have no options) but look at the facts and do a little research. It is hard to overcome the cultural pressure we all feel to go to the hospital to give birth. In my processing of my own birth story I admit to my own visions of what I pictured as giving birth and the hospital bed, the nurses, the nursery, visitors coming to the hospital, they were all part of what I had always envisioned as normal. There are plenty of resources out there that highlight the risks and benefits of all the possible options and interventions, one of my favorites is Henci Goer’s The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth. In it she highlights the ins and outs of maternity care and half the book consists of the extensive research and professional references she used in writing the book. The Business of Being Born presents a lot of the important information about the maternity care system in our country in a way that is easily digestible, but be forewarned it is clearly supportive of the out of hospital birth, but given the facts… it’s hard to argue with the facts.