My friend is having her first baby in September. I had my first baby last September. She recently asked me if I had any words of wisdom for her. My immediate reaction was "WISDOM? What wisdom? I am making this up as I go!" Of course, upon further reflection, I realize that IS a sort of wisdom. It is a trial-by-fire-in-the-trenches-let's-see-if-THIS-works kind of fearless (sometimes) experimentation that has yielded some good results. It has, admittedly, steered me wildly wrong a few times. But the path of parenthood seems to me to be an old-dirt-road-looking sort of thing. Lots of people have passed before me and the path is very well worn, but everyone takes a slightly different course and leaves a slightly different mark in their wake. Also it's bumpy.
So here it is. Everything that I have learned in the last 19 months since I conceived my daughter. Okay, not EVERYTHING, but some little tidbits that I wish someone had told me beforehand. I am also realizing how long-winded I can be, so this wil be first in a series. Some of this might qualify as TMI. You have been warned!
PRENATAL ADVICE FOR MAMAS-TO-BE
You just can't worry about everything. Everyone has another thing that could be harmful, that will be dangerous, that should be avoided. And the list is twenty miles long. You simply can't worry about everything. I am not saying ignore the list altogether (or the advice of your caregiver), but if you accidentally eat some non-pastuerized cheese or forget to nuke your deli meat till it steams, chances are everything will be fine.
Eat. Eat. Eat. But eat WELL. Don't be obsessive about the weight you gain. Your body needs to gain weight to support the pregnancy. As long as you are not packing on Haagen Daz or donut pounds, you are doing okay! Lean protein, veggies, fruits, grains, eat the good stuff. And then don't worry about it!
Don't look at the scale when they weigh you. It is just better that way.
That being said, there is only one time in your life that eating a pint of Ben and Jerry's in one sitting is cute (and pregnancy is IT), so if your health permits it, don't be a food nazi either.
Make lots of food beforehand and freeze it in single-serve portions. Or buy a bunch of microwave dinners (though the "real" food will be nicer - it will be like your mom is there cooking for you:-). Fill the freezer. Don't skimp. You will bless your forward thinking when Baby is 2 weeks old and there is not a scrap of fresh food in the fridge. And you will bless your forward thinking when Baby is 6 weeks old and there is not a scrap of fresh food in the fridge. Seriously. Freeze everything.
Consider your birth options. Do some research. Consider using a midwife for a home or birth center birth. Studies show that home birth - for healthy, low-risk mother and babies - is as safe or safer than giving birth in a hospital. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) and the insurance industry want people to believe that home birth is at best risky and at worst recklessly engangering the life of mother and baby. But this is simply not the case. The midwifery model of care (as opposed to the medical model of maternity care) is based on allowing a woman's body to work naturally. The link above explains it much better than I would, but midwives allow the process of birth to unfold naturally. They are well-trained professionals who know, understand, and HAVE WITNESSED the process of birth from beginning to end without intervention and therefore are an excellent judge of when something doesn't look right or when something is perfectly normal. My labor took 50 hours from onset of contractions to the birth of my daughter. FIFTY hours. Contractions were 5-8 minutes apart for more than 30 hours. I was dilated past the "you shoud go to the hospital" stage for about 24 hours. If I had been at a hospital, I firmly believe I would have had a c-section. Lucy's head was tilted up slightly and was therefore not pressing and opening the cervix as effectively as if her chin had been tucked. But my midwives knew that everything was fine. The baby's heartbeat was fine. I was tired, but not exhausted. I was eating, I was drinking and labor was progressing, however slowly. So we let it keep going. And everything was fine. She was perfect (Apgar score of 9 at 1 minute). She was beautiful. She was born in our family room, among our family, gently, beautifully, naturally. I also firmly believe that our breastfeeding relationship would have been toast if we had been in a hosptial. We had so much trouble at the outset that if either of us had been drugged, it would have been a lost cause. I could go on about this for a long time, so maybe I'll save the rest of it for another post. That you have a choice. Know your options, and make an informed decision. Some books to read:
The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth by Henci Goer. Very informative look at hospital vs. birth center vs home birth.
Obstetric Myths vs. Researc Realities by Henci Goer. Just what it says.
Ina May's Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin. Beautiful natural birth stores along with...well...a guide to childbirth written by one of the country's best midwies. Also includes a CRAZY picture of a baby coming out FACE FIRST! Not for the faint of heart.
Journey Into Motherhood - Inspirationl Stories of Natural Birth Beautiful, inspiring stories of women giving birth on their own terms.
Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife by Peggy Vincent. This book clinched my desire to have a home birth. Wonderful, moving, inspirational, heartbreaking, uplifting.
Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin. More from Ina May Gaskin - wonderful.
The Nursing Mother's Companion by Kathleen Huggins is a great breastfeeding reference. I still reference this book from time to time, and it was a lifesaver in the early months.
Ask questions of your caregiver. Get REAL answers, not the "that's just how we do it" crap I got from my OBs before I switched. If you don't like the answers, or if you liked what you initially heard and they start to change to something less palatable the closer you get to birth, switch caregivers. IT IS NEVER TOO LATE TO SWITCH. My friend switched at 37 weeks when her OB insisted on a scheduled c-section for her breech twins. 37 weeks. She found an OB willing to let her try a natural vaginal delivery, and that is just what she got. You are a consumer, not cattle. You have rights. Birth is a HUGE business. HUGE. A lot of hospitals are baby factories and you will just be another bed they want to empty out as fast as possible. Doctors want to cover their asses (often with good reason in our overly-litigious society), but it usually comes at the expense of mamas and babies. KNOW YOUR OPTIONS and YOUR RIGHTS. Make a decision, make a birth plan. Be willing to be flexible, but ask questions, ask why, be an active participant.
No matter where you choose to give birth, consider taking a birthing class. Even if you intend to show up at the hospital and immediately get an epidural, chances are you will be laboring at home for a number of hours before you are permitted to check in. If you have no relaxation or breathing techniques at your disposal, these are likely to be very long, uncomfortable hours. I took a Hypnobabies class and my labor - while inordinately long - was generally very comfortable. I had no pain (only what I would call discomfort), I didn't feel the baby crown (no "Ring of Fire"), and even though I tore, I didn't feel it at all. People swear by the Bradley Method, and there are many MANY other classes out there. Just don't think taking the class the hospital offers will be good preparation. From what I have heard, it is a "here's the epidural needle, who wants to sign up?" and admission procedures. I am sure this is not the case for every hospital, but everything I have heard from moms who have taken these classes leads me to believe they are not worth the time.
Take some time with your spouse/partner before the baby comes to talk about who you are and how you see yourself as a parent. It helps to be on the same page.