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Showing posts with label Labor. Show all posts

Tales from the Trenches: Parenthood means relinquishing control

The key responsibility of a Product Manager, which is my current job title, is to manage the road map for all the future features one plans to build for the product.  I guess, I was born to be a Product Manager, because my life has always come with a road map.  Sure, that road map has taken some sharp turns.  There was the turn it took when I fell in love with physics in college and abandoned the idea of becoming a doctor.  There was the swerve when I realized that academia was going to crush my soul and I dropped out of my Harvard PhD program with a Masters and never looked back. But those changes were ones that ultimately I myself initiated.

Motherhood, and the avalanche of changes it brought, threw me for a loop because I was in control of none of them.  Many of them were the usual things that first time mothers never expect but almost universally experience. I was rocked by the deep love and simultaneous fear I feel for my children, the depths of the ineptitude I was thrust into when trying to calm a baby's hours of crying, the expanse of guilt at largely irrational things that strikes in the wee hours of the morning.  But of course, every family's journey is also unique, and mine has had a heavy dose of the truly unexpected.

Here is just a brief list of the uncharted roads the self-driving car of motherhood has taken me on.

After nine months of working hard to prepare for a natural birth, my daughter was born by emergency C-section. All the prenatal yoga and hypno birthing classes were great at helping me cope with the pain, but did nothing to prevent her from being tangled up in her umbilical cord.   For the first 20 hours, my labor progressed normally... until it didn't.  The urgency with which the medical staff had to remove her from my body to save her life haunted my dreams in the months that followed her birth. The whole enterprise resulted in a lot of soul searching, with a side serving of PTSD.

When she was five months old, someone walked into the office building that houses her daycare with an active case of tuberculous.  This caused the Department of Public Health to mandate that all the children in the day care receive two months of prophylactic drugs. (The closest I've ever come to quitting my job and moving to a ranch with a shotgun was when we had to figure out how to procure and administer drugs not designed for babies... in the US.  Suffice it to say special pharmacies and mortars and pestles were involved.)

Finally, and most dramatically, when I was six months pregnant with my second child, my wonderful, fit, and healthy husband had a heart attack, just before his 33rd birthday.  He spent 10 days in the ICU and underwent open-heart surgery.  During the rest of my pregnancy, he went through rehab, which ended the week after my son was born.  At the time, as my belly grew, we joked darkly about him becoming more able bodied as I became more burdened with my pregnancy.  We joked because all the tears had been spent.

After all that life has thrown at me, it would be tempting, to try and and draw some grand life lesson. It's tempting to reach for reasons, rail at injustices, or search for karmic explanations. However, for better or for worse, my mind is not inclined to go in those directions for long. Sometimes shit happens and there isn't anyone to blame. Sometimes there is nothing to learn, except maybe the fact that I was not in control to begin with.

I am still the same person… and not.  I still love to work on interesting problems.  I still want to really dig into a juicy dataset that will reveal to me which feature our clients most need us to build. And I confess, that even in my personal life, I still like to make plans for the future.  But with all that has happened, those plans are fuzzy.  I’ve had to accept that there is no real road map any more.  I’ve had to learn on a very deep level that the future brings great uncertainty.  But then again, what is parenthood if not a lesson in great uncertainty, just one that some of us learn a little later than others?

Photo Credit to Victor - "A lost Couple learning the map" under the Creative Commons licence. 

Labor Day - Proceed with caution!!

When you're pregnant with your first baby, it's impossible not to wonder how your own labor is going to go.  Different people respond to this wondering in different ways.  Some don't want to hear anything about anyone else's story because they don't want to psych themselves out.  Others yearn to read/hear every story they can possibly get their hands on to prepare themselves for any eventuality.  Both of these are completely valid approaches.  Eventually your baby will come out of you and you will have your own birth story to share/terrify/encourage/regale others with. (It's generally considered polite to only share these stories when asked, btw.  It's also considered polite not to terrify first time mothers - just sayin'.)

In case it hasn't been obvious from spending 30 seconds on this blog, I was definitely in the "tell me all the things" camp when it came to preparing for my own labor.  The problem with this, of course, is that most sources of labor stories are friends (I have a limited number), websites like Baby Center (where most of the stories lack coherence or punctuation), your birth class (which has the agenda of not wanting to scare you).  For this reason I absolutely loved the well written, well curated, beautiful and brutally honest stories in the anthology Labor Day: True Birth Stories by Today's Best Women Writers.  To be honest, none of the writers's names jumped out at me as ones I recognized.  But also to be honest, I cannot say that paid all that much attention to their names - so engrossed was I in their stories.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I read this book in between my 2 pregnancies (perhaps had I read it while pregnant with my first, I may have had a different response).  My first labor was difficult and had some unexpected twists and turns (everyone came out healthy, see the many pictures of my daughter on this very blog).  I cannot say that I entered my second pregnancy relishing to give it another go.  Perhaps for this reason I found reading these stories so cathartic.  Some experiences described here were like my own, some were not.  Some choices were not ones I would make or have had to make.  Some of the stories in the book were quite tragic (the table of contents does tell you which stories to avoid if you are pregnant and want to avoid the tragic ones). However, the great take away I got from reading this book is that birth, no matter the trajectory or outcome, is so deeply and profoundly transformative for all women that it occupies our thoughts even decades after the fact.  In this I found my solace and my community.

If you're reading this review while pregnant with your first (or contemplating this path), proceed with caution to this book.  Know thyself.  Regardless, if you are pregnant, soon you will have your own story to carry with you.

Pregnancy Books for Dads (and non-Dad-partners)-to-Be

Ok, parenting stuff for Dad is pretty dire in general, and doubly so for the pregnancy stage of things where everything assumes you're Family Guy's Peter Griffin or anyone who has appeared on CBS since 1994. An Amazon search of books for Dads-to-be includes a hearty helping of the word "Dude," advice to stop cheating on your girl / take your job seriously, and backwards-for-the-1970s expectations on gender roles.

I found two books that rose above the crowd.

I am not a bro-dad.
Don't be this guy.
First is The Expectant Father. Annotated with New Yorker cartoons (yeah, I feel like that makes the point about this book better than any other way), author Armin Brott goes month-by-month through the pregnancy covering the basics on symptoms and fetal development, sure, but also gets into your emotions, her emotions, how to react to her emotions, and dozens of other things. Sections include thinking about work-life balance (and how to talk to peers/superiors about your desire to be actively involved in your child), your relationship with your own father, baby gear, and sex life during pregnancy. It does a good job of covering some of the more "traditional" topics of finances, life insurance, and the like too.

Note: I read the 3rd edition before my daughter was born and the 4th edition has come out since then.

Also note: Brott has a whole series of books covering the first years of childhood as well as some other special circumstances. I enjoyed The New Father though it went longer between updates and the 2nd edition that I read was dated by that time. I imagine the brand-new 3rd edition is wonderful.

My second recommendation is The Birth Partner. This book is written by a doula about how to be the best companion for a woman in birth, either as a father/partner, parent, friend, or doula and was an invaluable resource for both births. The book is heavy on natural birth but entirely non-judgmental about those who opt for (or otherwise need) more interventions. 

Important point about "natural birth" that is often lost: We tried natural twice and wound up with a boatload of interventions both times, but having all the tools to try a natural birth made both of us (mostly her) more able to handle the various surprises, complications, and delays that made both of us (mostly her) need to fall back on various coping mechanisms. It also made the laboring "at home" portion before the hospital much more palatable (for her) that would otherwise be the case. 
Helpfully, this book is sorted by topic rather than month/trimester and key sections have pages with color edges, which makes it a great resource during labor. For this reason, I would recommend the print copy over the eBook one, even though I'm normally ambivalent about format.

Photo credits - Bad Dad: Rolands Lakis under a Creative Commons license