Practical Advice for Planning Your Family
So You Think You are Ready for Kids? Think Again!
The jury is still out on this one:...
Why do we want and ultimately have children?
Is there an innate drive to have children, is it societal expectation, a desire to extend the love created in your relationship, a hope to solidify or save a relationship or a desire to be loved by someone completely in the absence of unconditional love?
If we are completely honest probably all of the above.
We often forget we are animals: pack animals with the biological wiring of pack animals. We generally live in packs, travel in packs, frequently return to the pack and have an innate drive dedicated to the survival of the pack. A large part of this survival is replenishing the pack - procreation.
Let's not confuse this with an instinct. An instinct is not learned and cannot be unlearned just as a spider does not learn to spin a web and does not seek out an alternative mode of transportation or hunting.
Humans on the other hand often seek out alternative operations. We weren't born knowing how to build a shelter, hunt for food, care for our young … these are all operations we had to learn and at times re-learn. We, unlike the spider, have choice. We can live alone, with family, with friends; we can hunt for our food, grow our own food or go to the market where someone has completed that task for us in neat and attractive packaging. We view parenting as an option not a mating ritual to be completed each spring.
Yet unlike the spider, we have societal expectations, restrictions and requirements.
Those expectations are generally intensified by the individual pack – the family. Each family has unspoken expectations and rules. It is not uncommon for family members to think there is a medical issue if a couple has not announced a pregnancy after two years of marriage. It is also not uncommon for questions or comments at this point from the pack themselves.
Who created this rule in the first place? And why do we adhere to it?
Shouldn't parenthood be the decision of the couple and not the pack?
But what if the couple can't agree?
What if one part of that couple is feeling insecure or that the relationship is not going in the direction they had hoped? So often couples have children with the goal of improving or solidifying the relationship. They fantasize about the beauty and romance of pregnancy, childbirth and co-creation. This is more like adding one more floor to the Leaning Tower of Pisa and expecting it not to finally fall over than it is co-creation!
And when the relationship does fail or is non-existent a baby is often looked to for that unconditional love we all crave. Yet a baby is a bundle of need completely incapable of empathetic response. And although they eventually learn to meet their own needs as well as the needs of others – they all eventually leave.
So lets say a couple decides to have a child for all the “right” reasons – to share their love for each other in an extension of each other, to share with a child all they have learned and have to offer, to bring into the world hope for the future.
Lets say they are ready to make the lifetime commitment to another human being regardless of the outcome; deformity, special needs, chronic illness, emotional or behavioral issues. They are ready!
So they thought. The impact of bringing children into a relationship is rarely discussed in an honest and realistic forum. It starts from the moment of the conception … of the idea to have a child. The pressure is now on. Sex becomes purposeful and goal oriented. Gone are the days of spontaneous, playful love making. This is business. Positions need to be considered for maximal reach and retention both during and after sex. Timing and precision are of utmost importance. It may not have started out this way yet after a few months of disappointment conception becomes the only focus for the couple.
In most cases conception is simply a matter of allowing nature to take care of things. Just relax and do what comes naturally. Yet there is an alarming increase in challenges and difficulties for couples trying to conceive. The pressure and stress in these circumstances places tremendous pressure and stress on the relationship. Each can experience feelings of failure, inadequacy or worse guilt.
They may have a history of substance abuse or of a termination believing they are now being punished for their past. One may become angry with the other for such behavior believing they are now being punished unfairly for what they see as crimes they did not commit. Of course none of this is true. But when you desperately want a child you grasp at straws looking for answers, even hollow straws.
The truth is there are couples that will never conceive even with all the advances in technology. And often they become ineligible as adoptive parents typically due to age after years of attempts. These couples suffer both personal loss and pain as well as couple loss and pain. This stress has the power to end relationships.
The alternative has the same power. Bringing children into a loving, established relationship with purpose and good intent can be devastating to a relationship. In the case of most planned pregnancies couples believe they are prepared for the challenges ahead.
Little do they know what truly lies ahead. The mood swings, hormonal changes and weight gain are expected and generally well tolerated by women but when experienced by men can throw him off his game.
One study suggests 25 – 52% of all men experience pregnancy symptoms. Why is uncertain – lifestyle changes during pregnancy appear to be a contributing factor as does neurological changes. Regardless, when daddy-to-be starts vomiting in the morning, has urinary urgency and starts growing boobs … he is generally more than slightly unsettled.
And his “baby weight” … not as easily lost as mom's!
Let's first look at the slightly less than one year of gestation. As mentioned above mood swings, hormonal changes and weight gain are relatively typical and well tolerated. But what happens when those changes impact your daily routine?
Women have reported to me vomiting daily and violently for the entire pregnancy, having acne worse than a 15 year old, experiencing severe exhaustion to the point of being bed-ridden, swollen legs, ankles and feet requiring shoes two sizes up!
What happens to the support of spouses, partners, family, friends and co-workers when these conditions go on for almost a year? What happens when your fears take over, when you question the source of every morsel and/or liquid you put in your mouth; when you imagine parasites attacking your fetus from that last trip overseas, when you wonder why you insisted on painting the nursery exposing your unborn baby to noxious fumes?
If you share these feelings you will feel completely crazy but if you don't they will make you feel completely crazy! These fears are normal and to be expected! You aren't crazy you are pregnant and experiencing parenting. You are now responsible for the life of another human being. What you do or don't do from the moment of conception will impact the life of this person growing inside of you. What a monumental responsibility!
In most cases you are not alone. Remember we are pack animals, this is the time to look to the pack for support. Your partner, the female elders – lean on them for support and guidance during this time.
I recently attended a baby shower that had one activity – not a bingo game or a guess the baby weight game. It was a ritual of women coming together to support and honor the experience of the mother-to-be.
We each selected a stone/crystal from a beautiful bowl placed on a table where the mother-to-be was seated. One by one we sat with her taking a stone from the bowl holding it in our hands as we infused a wish, a thought or some gained wisdom into the stone. Then sharing that with her the stone was placed in a jeweled box for her to keep as a reminder of the support of her tribe. To bathe in, the meditate with, to hold in her hands when she needed the reminder of the tribe during those times of anxiety, challenge or sorrow.
How often do we need the support of our tribe and how often is it actually there for us?
And what happens when “It's time!” ?
Is there panic, anxiety, excitement, paralyzing fear?
Is there a medical emergency or is this moment a relaxed and gentle transition from pregnancy to birth?
Who is with you? Is your partner at your side, is your family down the hall, are you alone and afraid?
Are you tolerating the meds or are they increasing your anxiety and panic?
Were you told you will bleed in large clots or are you now afraid you are bleeding out?
Do you have the strength to hold your baby or was the birth so draining you can't even lift your head let alone a baby?
Are you already feeling depleted, disappointed and guilty that you have not welcomed this little life into the world as you “should” have, as you imagined?
Are you comparing yourself to friends who immediately post pictures of the new baby being held by a fully made-up mother with every hair in place while yours hasn't been washed in the last 36 hours of full on labor and delivery?
I would say to you at this point – breathe, relax – you just gave birth! Sleep while you have a full staff taking care of you and your new little one. That situation is about to change and change drastically!
Immediately major life decisions need to be made. And so the conflicts begin. Decisions that do not have a reset button as there is no undoing a circumcision!
When both parents are feeling the effects of hormonal and neurological changes as well as exhaustion these decisions can create conflict and stress during what they had hoped to be an exciting time. It is one thing to make decisions with the baby inside of you but once the baby is in your arms the situation can look vastly different.
This is normal! All of it is normal.
It is perfectly acceptable to change your mind or to delay a decision. The baby might not look like a Herman after all, maybe he is more of a Cole or a Drew. Maybe circumcision sounded logical but now you worry about risk of infection or the impact of pain.
Take the time you need to make these decisions – they cannot be reversed and you want to do what is right for you and your new baby. Here again societal expectations, restrictions and requirements rear their heads. They are self imposed – you and your partner have the final say. That is an important lesson and one you will need to remember for the rest of your life in your role as parent.
Although parenting began about 10 months ago, it doesn't really sink in until the drive home. Your little bundle is safely secured in the rear facing position in your back seat unlike babies of years past who were escorted home in a car bed or on the lap of mom!
What is a car bed you ask – it is the bed portion of the carriage that you carted with you everywhere. It wasn't secured to anything and neither was the baby. Oh how times have changed. Women also had an 8 to 10 day hospital stay compared to that of today's typical 2 days. Imagine what that car ride home felt like after over a week of rest and 24 hour care. Very different I'm sure after only 2 days of rest and care.
Rest and self-care are key over the course of the next few months as your body returns to it's pre-pregnancy state. It is also key as you transition into your role as parent. Unless you have a 24 hour baby nurse, rest and your ability for self-care will abandon you! And when I say abandon you I mean you will experience exhaustion at an entirely new level.
Some clients have described this state as debilitating.
I think that sums it up adequately. If you are one of the lucky ones it will typically last about 6 months give or take until your little one adapts to sleeping through the night independently. If you aren't one of the lucky ones it could last for years!
So what does sleep deprivation do to your relationship?
Every couple I have ever worked with regarding this issue has responded differently yet the underlying theme is resentment. Inevitably one parent will feel they are doing more, not getting the support they need while the other will feel neglected and abandoned. And the truth is one parent is generally doing more with regard to hands on child care and probably isn't getting the support they need. And yes the other parent probably is being neglected and has been abandoned.
So let's take a look at a few different yet all too common situations.
Both parents agree mom will stay home to raise the children while dad maintains a full time out of the home position. Dad is somehow under the impression that mom will be taking care of everything in the home – cooking, cleaning, laundry, childcare, errands, repair calls, dispute calls etc – while he goes to work. He is also under the impression that mom will transition out of her sweats and mom bun into a sex goddess maintaining the same intimate activity level pre-children!
Both parents agree mom will stay home to raise the children while dad maintains a full time out of the home position. Mom is somehow under the impression that after commuting two hours and working a full day dad will get up with the baby during the night so she can catch up on some sleep and will complete any tasks she was unable to complete during the day to give her a fresh start the following day.
Both parents agree mom will return to work after a 6 week maternity leave. Dad is under the impression mom will assume childcare duties upon her return home from work and he will engage in more of a supportive role.
Both parents agree mom will return to work after a 6 week maternity leave. Mom is under the impression dad will share all childcare and household duties equally.
I hope I am not the first to mention this – there is no equality in parenting!
One parent typically carries more of the parenting role than the other – not surprisingly it is usually mom! Enter sleep deprivation and physical/mental exhaustion and the stage is set for marital stress and resentment. This resentment can trickle to the children themselves. It is not unusual for parents to resent their children for not sleeping through the night, not cooperating with and adapting to the parent's schedule, not “giving” the parents a moments rest or time for intimacy. These thoughts are clear indicators that you are in desperate need of support from your pack!
If your pack is unavailable then hire one!
If you aren't in the financial position to do so then reach out to friends. They may be feeling the same way and you can support each other through these trying times.
It is vitally important for you and your partner to communicate your needs, fears, resentments, frustrations etc during these difficult times as parents to avoid the many pitfalls of silence. All too often parents feel as though they are parenting alone lacking the support required for successful parenting. Talk, talk, talk and then talk some more.
Within these conversations there will be answers, solutions and positive results!
Talk when it is quiet and you have your partner's attention. So during the playoffs might not be the optimal moment nor while mom finally has a moment to herself to soak her weary bones. If need be schedule time to talk. Keep an open mind and leave judgment at the door. No accusations of non-participation nor lack of invested parenting. Simple, honest talk about your needs, view of yourself as a parent and fears. Listen as your partner shares their needs, views and fears. Work together to find solutions. It was just the two of you before this screaming, demanding insomniac came into your lives and it will be just the two of you when they move out! Find each other in the process.
So it may sound as if I am trying to sway you from having children. Quite the opposite – I want you to be prepared.
Parenting is one of the most exciting, chilling, joyous, frustrating, fulfilling and depleting opportunities you will be given. You will never be truly prepared. Yet with good intention and a heart full of love and hope you will find joy beyond your expectations!