Monday, July 28, 2008

The impact of expectations

I just read an extraordinary story in the Irish Independent about the pernicious effect of unreasonable expectations of childbirth. In Scarred by motherhood, Jo Baker writes:
... After three days of labour, and two nights without sleep, I consented to an induction and, six hours after that, asked for pain relief. Within an hour of the drug being administered I was screwing up what was left of my concentration to sign a consent form for an emergency caesarean.

The baby was in danger, and that was all that mattered now. When they finally handed over my baby I didn't get that rush of love some women talk about. He lay on my chest, light as a doll, and I didn't know what to do with him. Though the midwife commented on what a neat job it was, my caesarean wound looked appalling to me.

But I had only myself to blame: if only I'd said no to the induction, if only I hadn't asked for pain relief, this wouldn't have happened. Other women managed it, why couldn't I? I'd failed as a mother at the first fence. And at every fence after that, it seemed.
These feelings of inadequacy persisted and Jo found an outlet:
Then, one day, as he was crying for his breakfast, the last sterile spoon slipped out of my hand, and something inside me cracked. I picked up the spoon, washed it, put it back in the steriliser. I opened a drawer, took out a knife, and cut myself on the forearm.

Afterwards, I covered the cut up and fed the baby, and pretended nothing had happened. But a few days later I was in the kitchen again with the knife in my hand. I took to wearing long sleeves. When my arms got too obviously scarred I started on my legs: it was easier to keep them covered...
Jo was shaken out of her self-blame:
At one check-up, impressed with the baby's development, the health visitor said I was doing a brilliant job. I was stunned. I knew my baby was amazing, it just hadn't occurred to me that it had anything to do with me. Perhaps I wasn't inadequate after all.
Jo had an epiphany.
Not long after that I went to cut myself for the last time. I was in the kitchen, knife in hand, when something made me glance round into the dining-room. My little boy was in his highchair, leaning to one side to see what I was up to. He smiled when he caught my eye, and I smiled back. I felt sick. I put the knife down. What if I hadn't looked round? What if I'd gone on, and he'd seen me do it? What if it had become his earliest memory? It was one thing punishing myself, it was something else entirely to hurt him, too. That really would be failing at motherhood.

And that's when the realisation sank in: so I was awful at childbirth. So what? It could just join the long list of things I do badly. All that mattered now was loving him, and fortunately it turns out I'm really good at that.
I'm glad that Jo realizes that loving her baby is far more important than how her baby was born. Hopefully, over time she will come to understand that she is not "awful at childbirth". The goal is to have a healthy baby. She did whatever was necessary to make that happen. That means that she was 100% successful at childbirth.

0 Old Comments: