My friend Jen is about to have her first baby and is somewhat anxious about what going into labour and giving birth will be like. This is of course a very natural and normal thing to worry about.
One reason we spend a lot of time thinking about labour and birth is that it is a complete unknown. Even if you have done it before, even if you have been present at someone else’s birth, the birth of this child will be different. Like snowflakes, no two births are the same (who really has actually decided that fact about snowflakes?).
The stories and advice you get from other mothers can actually add to the stress: “Oh I was in labour for 27 hours, it was awful….but I am sure you will be fine”.
Therefore, I find myself saying to Jen and other mum-to-be statements along the lines of ‘you have the advantage of being born in modern times in a first world country so even if the unlikely event it all goes wrong, you can get the help you need’. I sound like an airplane’s safety announcement.
The Perfect Introduction to Parenting
So I have made a decision to approach this in a completely different way. Labour and birth are the equivalent of being thrown, screeching, by an arm and a leg, into the deep end of the pool. There is no option to dip your toe in the shallow part.
Having a child is in fact the perfect introduction to what being a parent is all about. It is completely out of your comfort zone, fill of things you cannot control and often leaves you physically and emotionally vulnerable. This precisely describes how I feel about being a mum.
Unfortunately this is also not that helpful to Jen, who would still like to be able to have some semblance of control and order. I can completely understand – I am the organisation queen of the world. Here are two examples of how I have tried to put structure around both the labour process and child-rearing. Compare and contrast:
The Birth Plan
First Step: Write out a birth plan. Feel better that you have a plan and it sounds reasonable. Pack it in your hospital bag.
Second Step: Go into labour and forget to look at plan. When you are fumbling around the bag for that squeezy stress ball that you threw in you find the birth plan piece of paper. You read the first couple of lines, get another contraction and rip it up in a huff of annoyance.
Third Step: Way down the track, when your infant is quiet for a moment, get another copy of the birth plan and have a good chuckle at how ridiculous it was and that it didn’t even come close to how you imagined your baby coming into the world would be.
Conclusion: Realise that the ONLY guarantee with labour and birth is that it will not follow your birth plan.
The Bedtime Routine
First Step: Decide on a bedtime routine for your older baby/ toddler that includes a basic structure and a set bedtime.
Second Step: On a typical weeknight watch your structure and bedtime fall into an abyss as you get home from work late and watch your toddler eat so slowly that glaciers have formed in the interim. He then has a massive splashy tantrum in the bath because the ‘Thomas’ towel is in the wash and insists on reading the same book four times. Result is eventual slumbering by 8.30pm (me not my child – who knows when he fell asleep).
Third Step: Decide that the bedtime routine is a merely a loose framework and that a win is defined as getting some semblance of dinner into toddler (even half a banana) and being asleep before me.
Conclusion: Realise that the ONLY guarantee with the bedtime routine is that it should be viewed as a lofty goal, not a structure set in stone.
The Helpful Bit
I realise that the above scenarios do not really help the worried mum-to-be, except perhaps to add a little amusement to her day. So I have three things to add. Firstly, organisation, routine and structure are still things to aspire to as a parent if you like that sort of thing. I am not telling you to give up on them completely. When, on the rare occasions, Dylan is actually in bed by 7pm, I feel like a rock star.
More importantly, we need to remind ourselves that the only things that we control in this little place called Earth, are our own feelings and reactions. You do not have to feel miserable that the bedtime routine was in complete disarray for the third night in a row. Or you can choose to feel a bit annoyed and then let that emotion pass. Either way, be kind to yourself, you are only human, just one imperfect parent, and you always will be.
Parenting is filled with real stress, regrets and worries. But having a child is one helluva wacky, wonderful and surprising journey. You cannot control where the rollercoaster takes you, but you can choose to enjoy the ride. And the best way to do that is remember that at the core of it all is love. And love doesn’t conform to lists or rules. It often doesn’t make much sense at all. So embrace love and embrace the chaos.