Baby LoveAuthor: Robin Barker
Featured in the May, 2005 magazine
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PREPARING FOR PARENTHOOD
Babycare information is everywhere. Around the globe there are thousands of books that cover the same information as this book. ‘Parenting' magazines are flourishing, along with classes on breastfeeding, sleeping and settling, introduction of solids, discipline and so on and so on. Yet, the most common phrase heard from the lips of new parents, especially new mothers, is still, ‘Why didn't anyone tell me it would be like this?'
How's that for an optimistic start to one of the major events in your life? Please read on – the nice bits are coming.
Most new parents discover that preparing for birth is different from preparing for motherhood, which is different from preparing for fatherhood. Despite all the information available it is common for new parents to be left with the feeling that during pregnancy some information was overlooked – even withheld – that could have made a huge difference to their new baby experiences.
After years of working with families and babies, however, I am convinced that there is no way to totally prepare anyone for the incredible event of the birth of their baby and what follows. An element of mystery remains, which is impossible to anticipate or provide for. No two babies are alike; no two mothers or fathers are alike. This is why, despite the avalanche of information available covering the whole spectrum of babycare from ‘attachment-style babycare – never put your baby down' to ‘strict routine-style babycare – never pick your baby up', no-one can tell you what it will really be like for you.
Mothers and Fathers and Parents
The trend to use the word ‘parent' instead of ‘mother' is a hopeful way of suggesting that the work and lifestyle changes related to having a baby are now equally shared between men and women. While in some families this is so, the reality is that most of the babycare and the household administration is still done by women.
Baby Love is addressed mainly to women because when children are babies the mother and father role is not interchangeable for the vast majority of families. I hope fathers will forgive me for often not referring to them specifically throughout the book. The information is there for them too; it is set in a context which regards their participation as much needed, absolutely essential, in fact.
Baby Love is also intended for same-sex couples. Regardless of their situation, the ideal of a stable and functional family life is something most parents strive for and I strongly believe that it is possible to give children quality care, love and protection in a variety of family structures. I acknowledge that there are tougher challenges for same-sex parents and their children; however, as the vast majority of same-sex parents in Australia are women, one of the bonuses for them is that the care of their babies and toddlers is much more likely to be evenly shared.
Babies bring indescribable joy. They are funny, they make you laugh. Having a baby makes you feel like you've joined the human race. A baby opens up avenues of communication with other people – you become a member of an exclusive club. Caring for your baby and watching her grow gives you a great sense of achievement and is one of the most creative things you can do. Babies help you appreciate small things (like a good night's sleep). Babies change your priorities in life, develop your tolerance and have the capacity to bring two people closer by sharing an exceptional experience. Caring for a baby is fulfilling, rewarding and exciting. A baby brings unconditional love which motivates you in ways you never thought possible. Babies give us all a reason for living and hope for the future.
Before meeting your baby it is impossible to know how profound the feeling of love is and how intense the anxious feelings about your baby's survival and well-being can be.
The hidden surprises about life with a baby are usually centred around unexpected difficulties with babycare and feeding, lack of sleep, unrealistic expectations of the time and attention babies need, and the overwhelming conflict of emotions that are often very hard to deal with and quite unexpected.
I often ask parents to tell me the positives and negatives of life with a baby. Most parents find it much easier to talk about the negatives rather than the positives, even though most find the whole experience overwhelmingly positive. This book, in order to be of assistance, is full of information about the negatives – crying babies, sore nipples, sleep problems, relationship difficulties, stress, fatigue, anger, depression, crying mothers and so on and so on. Eeeeek! What are babies all about? How come everyone wants one? Does anyone have a nice time with their baby?
The answer is ‘yes', but the positive aspects are harder for many parents to express, identify and enjoy when they are trying to adjust to a completely new lifestyle that may place more physical and emotional demands on them than they ever felt possible. And a book like this has to cover the wide range of things parents may experience – including the possible difficulties – so they can get help or reassurance if they need it.
Certainly it's easy to get bogged down by the sleepless nights, the messy moments and the chaos and disorganisation that babies bring, but if life with babies meant only this the human race would have died out. Becoming a parent means learning how to savour and share the joys as well as the stresses and strains.
And the best thing anyone can do for another human is to be a true-blue, loving parent. The benefits flow on for generations. You deserve congratulations for taking the opportunity to grow and to help someone else grow as well.
Part of preparing for life with a baby is about realising and accepting the element of surprise and the unknown, but you can do plenty of practical things beforehand which will help you manage when things don't go according to plan. Here are some suggestions.
Attend childbirth education classes
Most of these classes are primarily concerned with the birth, however there are also many other advantages in attending. Attending puts you in touch with other people who are sharing the same experience. The classes are excellent resource centres which help you find out what help is available in your local community after your baby is born. You will also be taught relaxation skills that prove invaluable long after the actual birth.
Classes are held in maternity hospitals, some child and family health centres, some family care centres and by private organisations, some online. Courses run by government bodies charge a token fee; those run by private organisations charge more.
Is there a parentcraft class near you?
Unfortunately these are few and far between – possibly because it's hard to convince prospective parents that they are very helpful, and people who try to run them give up when no-one turns up! Parentcraft classes concentrate on the practical aspects of babycare such as bathing, dressing, nappy changing, equipment to buy, breastfeeding, crying and common worries and queries about the early weeks.
Many maternity hospitals, family care centres and child and family health centres run groups for new mothers after the birth. Some of the topics are also very helpful for prospective parents, so going along before the birth, listening to the talk and mixing with new parents can be useful.
Alternatively, if classes and groups aren't your scene, you can select something from the growing range of videos, magazines, books and internet resources dealing with parentcraft.
Borrow a baby!
Your baby will be blissfully unaware of your inexperience as a parent, but if you have a few babycare skills it can make the first few weeks more enjoyable for you. Being able to change a nappy, dress and undress a baby, and wrap and handle a baby with confidence helps you feel less nervous.
Of course, it's not always possible to find a baby to practise on. If your friends don't have babies and you feel very unsure of your skills, think about booking into a family care centre after birth. Family care centres are government subsidised places which offer help to mothers and babies. They have a pleasant, homelike atmosphere with an option of spending the day or staying overnight until you feel more confident about caring for your baby.
Family care centres are found in most capital cities but unfortunately residential centres are not available in country areas. Some centres will take mothers and babies soon after birth; others have a waiting time of a week or two. At the time of writing the cost is covered by Medicare.
Never feel inadequate or silly because you need to learn basic babycare skills. Babycare skills don't come naturally to most people – men or women – and usually have to be learnt.
Plan to live with fatigue
Extreme tiredness – both physical and emotional – is the most common problem in the first few months. It's worth taking the time to discuss with your partner what you both imagine will happen after the birth.
Speculate out loud (even if it feels strange).
• What will it be like when the baby cries in the middle of the night?
• What do we do when she cries incessantly and we can't sleep?
• Who will stay up with the baby?
• As the father, will you change nappies, do the shopping, cook sometimes?