We have a confession to make. We didn’t know what a doula was when we got pregnant. We thought genetic counseling was some kind of science fiction procedure for choosing your baby’s eye color in advance. We thought twelve hours of labor was a long time. Little did we know.
Soon enough, we were swept up in a tidal wave of information. The medical establishment, the alternative birth movement, the baby feeding, clothing, and products industries, endless experts touting conflicting theories, and ever-changing research made us feel bombarded, cornered, and forced to make decisions we never thought we’d have to make. Should I have an amniocentesis? Should I eat this tuna sandwich? Should I circumcise? Will my baby be more comfortable in a $37 organic cotton onesie? Seriously, will this tuna really hurt the fetus? And what the hell is a doula anyway?
Like most women, we found ourselves braving the road to motherhood without a decent map. We were shocked to discover that every piece of media we encountered on the subject of having a baby made us feel pressured to act in one way or another, rather than encouraging us to find our own voices as parents. There we were, newly pregnant, giddy with excitement as we browsed the bookshelves. To the right, the old-school medical advisory manual, bursting with what to freak out about when you’re expecting.
To the left, the wise-cracking Hollywood mom, wagging a manicured finger at us all the way to the hospital. Who else? The rustic midwife? The Belgian nun? The more we read, the more lost and intimidated we felt.
Please, we thought, please somebody help! We’d have shouted it if we could, but we weren’t even supposed to tell anyone for two more months, when it’s “cool” to announce that you’re pregnant.
Once you’re out of the closet, your private life is suddenly subject to public scrutiny. It can be easy to find yourself unearthing insecurities you thought you’d buried in your teens. Am I fat? Is this normal? What’s happening to me? Body changes, identity issues, social anxieties–pregnancy can give puberty a serious run for its money.
Then when the baby arrives, the shit really hits the fan (and the diaper, and that $37 organic cotton onesie), making a further mess of your former sense of self. Your mother-in-law thinks your baby’s hungry and your mother thinks you’re feeding him too much. One book tells you to let your baby cry and the other book tells you to pick him up. You don’t know what you believe, but you do know that the person previously known as you is clinging to a raft in a stormy sea of pastel burp cloths and bottle warmers.
What kind of mother am I? Who the hell am I and what is a “mother,” anyway? How did the nine zillion other women who did this before me deal with it? I need somebody to tell it like it is, not tell me what to do.
We just wanted a book that would guide us through the choices and issues we might face without pushing an agenda, being condescending, or using scare tactics. We needed a trustworthy resource with an approach we could relate to, and without judgment. We couldn’t find one. And that’s how From the Hips was born.
This book will show you the range of possible approaches and help you find your own way of having a baby. We’ll deconstruct the studies and delve into the controversies. You’ll hear from pregnant women, new parents, ob-gyns, genetic counselors, lactation consultants, pediatricians, anthropologists, midwives, “old wives,” and more–even the aforementioned doula (who, by the way, is a woman trained to assist and comfort new mothers during and after the birth process).
When we got pregnant, we were both living in the same city, going to the same parties; we were the same age, same shoe size, same bra size. We were friends. We bonded over the same physical dramas and difficult decisions. But we often took different approaches. A decision that left one of us completely wiped out was a breeze for the other. One of us set up the nursery months before the birth; the other didn’t buy a thing till the baby was securely in the house. One of us circumcised; the other didn’t. One coslept; the other had her baby in the crib right away. One of us was back in the office after a brief maternity leave; the other was home. Having babies brought us closer, but also put our differences in high relief. If two women with so much in common could have such different responses to pregnancy and parenting, the possibilities were clearly endless. We made it our mission to get input from as many new parents as possible. Hundreds of moms and dads gave their stories to this project. We do our best to avoid assumptions about our readers: We won’t imply that you’ve got the stereotypically clueless uninvolved husband (or even that you’ve got a husband). Parenthood is as unique an experience as anything else, no matter how much the media tends to generalize.
Not long ago, an eight-year-old girl was watching one of us alternately hug and struggle with a squirmy toddler at a restaurant. Taking in the scene, she asked, “So, is being a mom fun? Is it, like, so great you can’t believe it? Or is it so boring you can’t believe it? Or is it, like, UGH! I can’t stand it!” Well, as far as we can tell, it’s all of those things. Sometimes in the same week, sometimes in the same day, sometimes at the same time. This book is about both sides of the story: the warm, fuzzy baby blanket and the poop that gets swept underneath. It’s about the real world of new parenthood as we, and all the parents who contributed to these pages, see it. We hope it helps you on your way.
—Rebecca and Ceridwen
Ten Anti-Rules for Parents-In-Progress
1. everyone’s an expert, but you’re the authority on yourself and your baby.
Once you get pregnant, everybody seems to have something to say about what you should (or absolutely should not) do with yourself and your baby. But everyone’s experience and perspective are different. The way you deal with pregnancy, birth, and your baby comes from who you are, where you’ve been, and what you believe in. So, while getting advice from friends, family, and other experts can help you along the way, keep in mind that what worked for your sister, your mother, or your best friend will not necessarily work for you . . . and vice versa. Experts–be they professionals or strangers–have ideas, but they may also have agendas. Take the advice that makes sense to you and take the rest with a grain of salt. The important thing is to be able to filter what you hear through an understanding of what matters to you and your family.
2. confidence is more important than instinct.
People often tell parents to “trust their instincts.” Go with your gut and you’ll be confident about your choices. But it takes confidence to trust your instincts in a world of conflicting advice! Nothing builds confidence like hard-earned experience, but in the meantime, you can help build yours by seeking supportive environments. Know yourself and what makes you feel safe and secure in who you are. Stay away from people who make you feel bad about yourself, and look for situations that make you feel stronger as a parent. Instincts are an indispensable tool, but they’re worthless without the confidence it takes to put them to use.
3. strive for imperfection.
When we’re pregnant, we are warned to hone our diet for ideal fetal development. We must advocate for the optimum birth and bonding experience–often fighting against the tide of hospital policy. Later, we learn tips to help our babies reach their milestones on time, or better still, early! The desire for children to succeed is as old as mothers. What’s new is the mile-long list of do’s and don’ts, and the mounting pressure on moms to make it all happen. An alarming number of studies focus on maternal responsibility. But no amount of fish oil, flash cards, and quality time can guarantee an A+ in motherhood. And the quest for perfection sucks parents’ energy and enjoyment, leaving resentment in its wake. You may think your child will feel only the benefit of your attention, but the pressure seeps through, too. If you’re trying to be a perfect parent, your child may think the same perfection is expected of him. Kids need permission to be themselves, not performers. Parents need to cut themselves some slack, maintain a sense of self, and be as wary of overparenting as they are of underparenting. We think
“good enough” parenting is not just good enough, it’s better.
4. parenting is out of control.
Becoming a parent inevitably means giving up some level of control. When you’re pregnant, you can’t control how your body responds–whether or not you feel sick, for example, or get stretch marks. And though you may be able to curtail some weight gain, we never met a pregnant woman who didn’t feel “too big” by delivery time. Birth itself is the ultimate exercise in letting go. Afterward, many people are desperate to keep the baby from disturbing the peace of their lives. They worry that they’ll be “chained to the couch” or “lose themselves,” or become “boring parents.” Having a baby will change your life whether you fight it or not. It’s not that resistance is futile–it can actually be healthy. But the happiest parents we know are the ones who learn to surf the waves rather than try to conquer them.
5. there’s no such thing asa “natural” mother.
People talk about “natural” mothering. Natural mothers breastfeed. It’s not natural to breastfeed your child beyond six months. It’s natural for babies to cry. Babies only cry when we resist our natural impulse to comfort them. For some women, it is natural to trust a doctor when it comes to their body and baby. For others, the natural way to give birth is at home with midwives and family. But one person’s natural is another one’s weird, or worse. We live in a culture with complex–and sometimes contradictory–rules, expectations, and ideals, and what feels natural to you depends on your point of view.
6. shift happens.
Babies grow, and growth means change. Sometimes this is a relief; you go to bed at the end of your rope and wake up to find that the problem has passed. Sometimes it’s frustrating; just when you think you’ve got the hang of things, the landscape shifts and your baby enters a whole new weird/wonderful phase. Either way, it means that whatever is going on, it probably won’t last forever, for better or for worse. Try not to despair when things are miserable, or get smug when things are going smoothly. Both babies and the world around them are in constant flux. If what you’re doing isn’t working anymore, do something else. Try not to get too attached to any one way. Keep your eyes and your mind open, and be ready to adjust your strategies accordingly. It’ll help you enjoy the ride.
7. babies are people, not problems.
Pregnancy, birth, and, to some extent, babies, are all too often seen as problems waiting to happen. Parents can be so anxious about what to expect and what’s “normal” that every hiccup becomes a potential crisis. Often, the real problem is unrealistic expectations. People expect their pregnancies and babies to develop in a certain way, and when they don’t, it can be hard not to panic and try to fix what may not be broken. It’s tempting to think that there is a simple, almost mathematical solution to whatever you may be facing with your baby, but raising a child is not a science. Babies are people. You can’t input the same data into every one and expect the same result. Techniques may work for you as promised, or they may not. Individual people have individual needs, in infancy as well as adulthood. We don’t believe in one-size-fits-all formulas for any other human relationship, so why would we expect one to work with babies?
8. frustration, resentment, anger, exhaustion, exasperation, aggravation, jealousy, nostalgia, regret, etc., don’t make you a bad parent.
Every parent (well, almost every one) has bad feelings at one time or another. Sometimes it starts in pregnancy, when you’re too big and tired to climb the stairs to your bedroom. Sometimes it starts in labor when you feel like the baby is ripping you apart. And sometimes it doesn’t hit you until the baby’s screaming through the fourteenth night in a row and you really, really wish you could just go out for a margarita, or read a book, or take a bath, or take a nap. Or even just sit down for five seconds without a baby in your arms or screaming in your ear. Whatever the trigger, we all have our bad days when we wish for a fleeting moment (or more) that things were a bit more like they used to be. How could we not, considering the havoc a baby wreaks on our lives? But then we look at the adorable little thing and are overcome with joy . . . rapidly followed by guilt. Well, we’re here to tell you that you can love your baby and hate how your life has changed at the same time. Pretty much everyone feels this way sometimes, even if they won’t admit it. Feeling mad or sad about what you’re going through doesn’t make you love your baby any less, and it definitely doesn’t make you a bad mother or father.
9. look forward, not backward.
“Life as you know it is over.” From the minute you’re visibly pregnant, strangers on the street will stop to remind you of the radical, lifealtering reality of having a baby. Certainly some aspects of your life will return to a semblance of “normal,” but it’s true that your old life isn’t coming back. Of course, you’ll miss it sometimes, but the important thing is to mourn the losses and move on to the gains. Challenge the old, depressing, and oft-repeated notion that your life “is over” by thinking toward the future. Your life isn’t over, your old life as a nonparent is over–and your new life has only just begun.
10. there is no right way.
Remember, no matter what anyone else says, there is no across-the-board evidence that any one way of parenting is better than any other way. The best way is whatever works for you.
Pregnancy, for us, was quite a trip. Our minds were opened to a whole new world of bodily functions (and dysfunctions). The monthly to weekly examinations, the parade of minor and major discomforts, the talk of germs and genes made us realize how very human, or even animal, we really are. As our bodies chugged along, our brains were busy playing catch-up, trying to absorb all that was coming in just a few short (endless) months. What would our births be like? What would our babies be like? What would our lives be like? Pregnancy gives parents plenty to worry about, if they’re so inclined. New studies come out constantly, reiterating and revising the mammoth list of warnings for expectant parents to heed in the interest of optimizing their unborn children. Some take it all to heart, considering the restrictions a small price to pay for a little more confidence. Some take a more moderate approach in the interest of balance (or sanity). The two of us had very different ways of handling this anxiety. One lived pretty much by the book, the other was a little looser. Here, we’ll try to accommodate both impulses: the desire for maximum information, and the freedom to make your own choices.
Pregnancy is not like a head cold that gives everyone who catches it the same basic symptoms. Different babies, different bodies, and different lives mean that pregnancy experiences are all over the map. This section will talk you through some of the changes, emotions, and options you might encounter on your way.
FIRST TRIMESTER (WEEKS 1—13)
THE 40-WEEK CALENDAR OF PREGNANCY
Because it is not always possible to know the date of conception, pregnancies are dated from the fi rst day of your last menstrual period (LMP). Using this calendar, pregnancy usually lasts about 40 weeks–including the 2 weeks or so before you even conceived.
SOME EARLY PREGNANCY SYMPTOMS
See Bodily Byproducts of Pregnancy, page 45, for more on all of these.
• Missed period
• Nausea and/or vomiting
• Feeling PMSy
• Super sense of smell
• Sore boobs
• Tingly boobs
• Bigger boobs
• The need to pee a lot
• Constipation, a lot of gas
• Skin changes
• Cravings and aversions
TESTS YOU MAY BE OFFERED
See Prenatal Screening and Testing, page 31.
• Initial prenatal blood work (first visit with your provider, or shortly thereafter), including blood type, antibody screen, hepatitis B surface antigen, STDs, cystic fibrosis screening
• Pap smear
• Urine culture
• Genetic testing, if appropriate
• Ultrasound (may happen at any point or at each visit)
• First-trimester screening: blood screening and nuchal translucency ultrasound
(10—13 weeks, varies)
• CVS test (10—12 weeks, varies)
• Last menstrual period (LMP): 40-week pregnancy calendar begins.
• Day 1 of gestation: Sperm meets egg (conception).
• 6—12 days after conception: Fertilized egg implants in the uterus.
• Weeks 5—10: Period of greatest risk of birth defects HSee Timing and
Risk, page 63.
• Weeks 5—7: Heartbeat can usually be detected on ultrasound monitor.
“The 41⁄2 week old embryo resembles a prehistoric animal more than anything else.”
– Lennart Nilsson, A Child Is Born
Your baby is about the size of a grain of arborio rice (about 1 ⁄4 inch long).
• You might look exactly the same to the outside world, or your bigger boobs and/or thicker middle might have people asking you if you’re pregnant almost instantly.
• Your first visit with a healthcare provider will probably take place when you’re between 5 and 10 weeks pregnant. See Choosing a Healthcare Provider, page 27.
SOME THINGS THAT MAY BE GOING THROUGH YOUR HEAD
See The Pregnant Brain, page 79, for more.
• Isolation, especially if you’re not telling See Talking About It, page 24.
• Fear of miscarriage
• Worry about what you’re getting yourself into
• Worry about how your relationships might be affected
• Wonder how you’ll get through 9 months of feeling like this (you probably won’t have to)
• Ambivalence, second thoughts, anxiety . . . and guilt about not feeling just plain happy
• Disbelief, doubt that it’s real
• Week 8: Webbed fingers and toes develop, the placenta forms and begins to function during month 2.
• Week 10: Embryo becomes fetus (all organs are developed).
• Until 11—14 weeks: Embryo/fetus has tail.
Your baby is about the size of a fava bean (1 inch long and less than 1 ⁄ 3 ounce).
See The Beginning, page 24.
See Decisions, Decisions, page 27.
See The Endless No, page 62.
Your baby is about the size of a small deer mouse (21 ⁄ 2 to 3 inches long and 1 ounce).
SECOND TRIMESTER (WEEKS 14—27)
SOME MIDPREGNANCY SYMPTOMS
See Bodily Byproducts of Pregnancy, page 45, for more on all of these.
• Increased energy
• Diminished nausea, vomiting
• Increased libido (for some)
• Shortness of breath
• Slowed digestion
• Continued breast changes
• Abdomen achiness from stretching ligaments
• Increased vaginal discharge
• Bleeding gums
• Faster pulse
TESTS YOU MAY BE OFFERED
See Prenatal Screening and Testing, page 31.
• Alpha-fetoprotein test (AFP) for neural tube defects if nuchal translucency was done in first trimester (15—20 weeks) or triple screen/quad screen if nuchal translucency was not done
• Amniocentesis (15-plus weeks)
• Ultrasound (at any point or at every visit)
• Targeted ultrasound/anatomy scan (18—22 weeks)
• Glucose screen for gestational diabetes (24—28 weeks)
Your baby is about the size of a ham-and-cheese croissant (6 to 7 inches long and 4 to 5 ounces).
• 14—17 weeks: External genitalia can be seen on ultrasound.
• 18—22 weeks: Movements become more coordinated and deliberate (although the baby has been moving reflexively since about 10 weeks).
• Sensory apparatus develops.
SOME THINGS THAT MAY BE GOING THROUGH YOUR HEAD
• Am I still pregnant? (after you stop feeling sick but before you start feeling movement)
• More excitement about the pregnancy now that you’re showing
• Irritation due to other people’s advice now that you’re showing
• Worry about prenatal testing
• Worry about all the other important decisions you’ll have to make HSee Decisions, Decisions, page 27.
• Relief if you don’t feel sick anymore
• The miscarriage rate is much lower from now on.
• Your pregnancy will likely become visible to the outside world at some point during this trimester.
• The placenta takes over hormone production during weeks 14—17.
• Fetal movements can usually be felt somewhere around 20 weeks.
• Depending on availability in your area, you may need to start thinking now about any support people you would like to have around during or after your birth. See The Birth Support Team, page 156, and Postpartum Support, page 168. H See The Pregnant Brain, page 79, for more.
Your baby is about the size of a bottle of shampoo (10 inches long and 1 ⁄ 2 to 1 pound).
Your baby is about the size of a lobster (12 inches long and 11 ⁄ 2 to 2 pounds).
• Fetus is covered with fur called lanugo and slimy white stuff called vernix to protect the skin and aid in warmth.
• Babies born at 24 weeks have a 50 percent chance of survival.
• A 27-week-old fetus can respond to touch and light.