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?