Monday, November 9, 2015

Smile, listen, agree. Then do whatever the f#$k you wanted to anyway. ~Robert Downey Jr.

          There are many magical things about pregnancy; taking that first positive test, seeing your baby’s profile via ultrasound, and feeling the little bean’s dance parties of one rollin’ around down there.  For some women, the most magical time might be the day they finally stop throwing up all the time.  One of the not-so-magical things about pregnancy in my experience so far, is the abundance of unsolicited advice from acquaintances and strangers on the topic.  The amazing thing about babies is that they are a lot like people… only smaller.  What I mean is that they come in a multitude of sizes, shapes, and personalities.  In fact, every pregnancy, even in the same woman, has its own personality and symptoms. 

Particularly in America, women are precious and fretted over when they are a vessel for a child and then are chucked out of the hospital in practically a matter of hours.  Then postpartum time is this sequestered thing that others aren’t always privy to.  We don’t have that “it takes a village” kind of society anymore, where everyone chips in and is exposed to infants on a daily basis and everyone has a similar child-rearing philosophy.  Part of this is good, considering what we know about communicable diseases today, but it almost seems that the less exposure we have to very young babies ahead of our own children, the more our one or two stories become the largest truths in our minds.  Combine this with very little mandatory parental leave and parents being faced with a decision to return to work or not, and early parenting has thus become the most commented on and criticized topic in the lives of women in particular.  Not only are doctors giving expectant mothers more restrictions on diet and health than ever, but the regular people want to chime in too.  Can you think of another context, for example, in which it is appropriate to ask where the people in one's home are sleeping?  It seems that when you make a person, people suddenly think they have some sort of free pass to make statements about your decisions as a family.  

It also seems that a large amount of people tend to forget the gamut of individual pregnancy and postpartum experiences when doling out recommendations and are just anxious to share their stories.  Most of the time, these are done out of love for one’s fellow man; i.e. “Learn from me!”  People don’t want you to be stunned by something that they wish they had known.  However, in my limited experience so far, I have some ideas of what could be left out and what could be included instead.  Though I think I have a lot of baby experience compared to the average bear, I haven’t done the whole baby-living-in-my-house thing yet.  What I can speak to here is what I think has been personally helpful to me as a mom-to-be.

Everyone from my mother, (appropriate), to my dental hygienist, (inappropriate) has put her two cents in to advise me on how I should handle my medical care or how I should raise our baby.  And yes, I say “I” here, because the husband has received none of this advice.  Zero amounts of advice for him.*  

          Let me give you an analogy about a new pet peeve of mine.  I have a friend who’s been a server at restaurants for years.  And by far, the most common everyday annoyance he has to withstand is that same old joke about empty plates he is clearing.  About 14 times a week, diners will indicate to said empty plates and say; “Well, I obviously hated that... [insert hearty chuckle]”.  Admit it.  You’ve done it.  We’ve all done it.  So in the same vein, let me say: Good People who talk to pregnant women; listen.  Resist the urge to commit the oh-so-easy, but equivalent, not-funny joke of pregnancy.

The pregnancy version of that default empty plate joke is; “Get sleep now while you still can!  Once the baby comes you’ll never sleep again!”  Hilarious, right?  I mean; “REALLY?!  You’re saying babies don’t sleep a full eight hours at a stretch?! This is shocking news!  I do wish I’d known this before I got knocked up.”  

Newsflash: I am aware, if not on a visceral level, at least on an intellectual one, that my sleeping patterns are likely to be very much interrupted going forward.  I am a person with an ardent love for sleep.  Any one of my friends can tell you that I have succumbed happily to many a plaintive siren call of a weekend sleep-in session.  If you think that I am ignorant of the fact that future little ones will rob me of my sleep, I can assure you I am not.  It is, in fact, one of the reasons I put off this whole procreating thing longer than I could have.  I’m not having my first baby at 22 years of age after all.  And I just don’t love people saying; “No, you have NO IDEA what tired is until you have a baby.”  Well, I have some idea of what tired is.  This world wasn’t exactly designed with my circadian rhythm in mind, where I would naturally go to bed at 1am and wake up at 11am.  My own mother says she did not sleep for two years after I was born, mainly because I was born and have remained a night owl.  I also didn't imagine this entire process to be like frolicking through a field of butterflies.  Of course I have no idea what it will be like to have another person added to my family.  That is part of the beautiful risk that one takes when making this leap.  We haven't even met the kid yet, so I don't know what it will be like for us.

It's perhaps also important to remember that many pregnant women are not dozing blissfully all night.  This could be due to heartburn, back and hip pain, and a myriad of other reasons, so maybe this shouldn't be everyone's go-to contribution to conversation.  For other ideas on not-so-sound input from acquaintances, see also: questions/comments on weight gain, horrific stories of labor, horrific stories of postpartum depression, and horrific stories in general.  I'm not even particularly afraid of labor because it's a very finite thing in a controlled environment, but you can just go ahead and leave those tales out of conversation for now.  Of course I want to know the stories of my good friends, and share their experiences with them, but if it was distinctly traumatizing, maybe we could wait until after I'm done with this whole gestating thing.  For the most part, I do know that labor is not the way it's portrayed in the movies, but movies are more fun, so people glob onto that.

If you are completely stuck on what nice things you can offer to a couple whom you know, who are expecting, here are some lovely things that I have heard said and have felt very well about:

- You're glowing. (One day, when someone said this to me it was surely a a very kind lie, because on the same day, someone else told me I looked tired.)

-I know a great website for maternity clothes!

-We'd be happy to bring over some casseroles you can freeze in the first few weeks.

          -In retrospect, infants don’t need a lot of “stuff”.

          -The first three months will be hard, but you’ll be running on adrenaline and you can do it!

          -I wasn’t successful at nursing and was so disappointed in myself.  I have accepted it and moved on though, so don’t judge yourself if something doesn’t go to plan.

          -Going back to work is hard, but if it is something you are particularly scared of like I was, you should know that my baby and I are doing really well with it.  She loves her caregivers.

          -If you have any questions or just want to vent, please feel free to call.

-I’m done having children, but I’m almost envious, because what you are about to experience is just such a wonderful journey.

          -You don’t need to listen to anyone’s advice.  In fact, you can cut someone off mid-advice.

          -You’re going to be a great mom/dad.

-Actually, I really don’t know why we waited so long to have kids.

So there you have it; my definitive advice on how to give advice to an expectant pair.  Feel free to ignore it, of course.  That is ultimately, your prerogative.

*The only advice that I am aware of the husband having received is; “Get a stockpile of alcohol your wife might like for after she delivers”.  I support this advice.