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She was right — it does take a village!

Yesterday I attended my second (and final) Preparing for Childbirth class at Kaiser Permanente, and, upon leaving, my thoughts focused on the ohmygodcrucial need for a support group in order to make this a fully positive experience.

We live in a strange situation here at the beginning of the 21st century. Neither my wife nor I are particularly close to home (her folks are 1600 miles away, mine are 400), so it’s impractical for family to help out during the birth. For how long for humans was it simply a given that the family managed the birth (with a midwife?). No longer! In part because of this, we’re hiring a doula, so we can have another member of our team to help handle the ins-and-outs of the hospital where we’re having the baby.

“The hospital” points to the other strange aspect of all this, which is the medicalization of childbirth. I suppose we could have used a birth center, or performed a home birth, but because I’m a member of KP, it made sense to take advantage of their services. But the more you engage in the process, the more you realize that pregnancy and childbirth is managed almost like a disease or other medical condition, and not simply a process as natural to mammals as eating, sleeping, pissing, shitting, fucking, grooming. Obviously, it’s perhaps the most involved of mammalian processes, and, as such, complications are more likely to arise, but you know things are going overboard when you’re told that a woman in labor cannot eat solid food while in the hospital, and you find out the reason for this is because they have to treat her as a candidate for surgery, which requires an empty stomach.

The medicalization passage was a digression, though. Without family around, what we have are our friends. And as we prepare for parenthood, I’m realizing that I have to overcome my inclination to not ask others for help. I hate being a burden and a bother, but, really, you need others to help you through this. (And I also feel like a bit of a schmuck, ’cause I haven’t reached out to help friends who had kids recently, thinking they’d let me know how I could help. I realize now that you cannot wait for someone to ask for help. You just have to give it. Oops.)

It’s clear that child-rearing, particularly at the outset, all but necessitates more than 2 people being involved. I’m guessing that in Ye Olden Days parents didn’t worry nearly as much about lack of sleep and having all the right accessories because there was easy access to a close-knit community that looked after its own. Now, we need to scaffold your home with all manner of baby items, and rather aggressively reach out to others to make sure you’ll have the support you need. (And I consider us lucky, as Stacy has an extremely flexible job, so she’ll be able to take off as long as she needs).

I’m grateful for the close friends that I have, and for the happy coincidence of so many children being born in such rapid succession within this group. I will have to overcome my reticence in asking assistance, and you can be assured that I’ll be first to lend a hand to newly expecting friends.

We’ll see how this goes.

  1. HI Peter,
    I’m sure CA is just like NY in this regard, but legally all insurance providers in NY State have to cover home birth whether or not they are “in their network”. Our home birth cost us no extra money even though blue+/blue sheild didn’t have a CNM anywhere in their program that did home birth.

    The medicalization of birth is just the tipping stone. The culture of OB/GYN in this country is a crime. Please be warned that the entire system is bent on 1 concern and 1 concern only. Please don’t sue us. Yup. Forget about medicalization, the torts law surrounding birth is what is the biggest driver. Be careful of doctors using any phrases early on to scare you. Many OB’s (My wife is a labor & delivery nurse) will start talking about small pelvises and high fetal weights to start getting it into your head that a C-section is just inevitable.

    I recommend anyone going through birth to read either of the two books by the godmother of modern natural home birth, Ina May Gaskin. The stories (good & bad) she tells are just heart warming and eye opening. Further, there is a movie out called “the business of birth” featuring Rickie Lake. My midwife has a brief shot in it as well. (NYC is a small place after all).

    Anyway, I think your sentiment about “a village” is dead on. 2-years into this adventure and I have to say I’m still just treading water. This is the best and hardest experience of my life and if anyone is like my wife & I whom want to put our child before anything else in our lives, the current economic realities and culture of the work place (especially for men) makes that almost impossible. Fortunately, Peter, you are your own boss, well, you were until recently. 😉

    — dave

  2. Hi Peter,

    Best wishes to you and Stacy on this new adventure! Having just started our own (our baby Julia was born Jul 22), I wanted to share with you some things we’ve learned from the experience:

    * Birthing in a hospital will not be like birthing at home, but it _can_ be made much warmer if the people involved know what you want. Talk to your doctor(s) about how you want to be treated. We specified _in detail_ how we wanted the birth to be as natural as possible, with little or no drugs if possible, we described the surroundings we expected, etc. This made a big difference in how we were treated. It may be that your healthcare provider won’t be as accommodating as ours, but you have nothing to lose by asking.

    * Give up any thoughts about doing it on your own. Get help. Having a doula with you at the hospital is a wonderful idea; it’s what we did, and it helped humanize the experience. (She was like a shaman guiding us through the process; she knew the right things to say/do at the right times.)

    * The birth itself is only the start of it; you will need much help afterwards too. If you can, get someone to help at home – cleaning, cooking, etc. Jimena and I live in what is essentially a village, and we’ve had a lot of help from family and friends. We still had to get outside help!

    * Schedule time off. Baby is going to consume 100% of your waking hours for the next few weeks. (And you will have more waking hours than before. 🙂 )

    WRT the medicalization of childbirth, I am less cynical about it after having gone through a hospital birth. You are right to say that this is a natural process, akin to eating, sleeping, etc. However, it is also true that things can go wrong, and the impacts can be devastating in a ways that don’t compare to having a bad night’s sleep. Humans “in the wild” have a higher percentage of births that result in serious (and lifelong) health complications for the baby (and the mother), and possibly worse. Why gamble on this?

    You owe this new person – whose life you are responsible for – the best possible shot at having a healthy life. IMO the best way to do this in the early 21st century is to go with a healthcare provider that has Western medical training, in a facility that is prepared to meet any of the myriad possible complications that can arise. Aim for a hospital birth that is handled as naturally as possible.

    Again, we wish you the best!

    ~ Jorge

  3. Hi there.. was reading your blog and saw this and had to comment. I’m about halfway between you and Dave (got a 13 month old)

    re medicalisation: yep it’s rife here in Australia – and its a real downer at the time. I can remember getting quite frustrated at the staff .. “they just don’t care about how we feel!!” etc etc..

    in hindsight, we were really glad the staff could have a professional detachment, so that they could do their thing well when the time came. but there’s definitely plenty of room for service/experience design to help smooth that polarity out

    on the support side: it’s so funny – birth is like a phase change for the parents. I feel the same way about not reaching out to other new parents in my pre-parent days, but now we’re here it’s also just as Dave says, a full time job just keeping yr head above water.

    the advice flows thick and fast: but for me the best thing support wise has been a group of local dads I hang out with on Sunday mornings (with the kids!) it’s been awesome, and I’d totally recommend it.

    @BJMe : That’s great advice re the roles – the info overload onslaught (!) associated with parenthood makes for a lot of insecure inferiority moments (imho)

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