On not losing one’s mind.

If you can tell where the crib and changing table fit into this picture—


(Image courtesy of Hodgepodge)

—CONGRATULATIONS, you have won the honor of coming over and helping me ready our apartment for a baby.

We are back in Hamilton, facing maybe the newest kind of new year to date.  I'm just at 35 weeks, and starting to feel like I'm carrying a whole person around inside me all the time, though in a cozy rather than creepy kind of way.  We completed the first of three all-Saturday prenatal cram courses run by Ontario Public Health yesterday; I think I can safely say it was the first time I'd gathered in a room full of people where one third of the population was invisible. 

I am deeply grateful for the extent of Ontario's maternity health care—prenatal, natal, and postnatal.  Especially after comparing notes with my friends at home in the States, I appreciate the length of my provincially supported maternity leave, my option to use a midwife with the full support of a hospital, my option to use a certified Baby-Friendly Hospital, and—particularly as we don't have a local network of family support—the availability of nurses and midwives for postnatal home visits through the first six weeks.  The existence of an infrastructure like this, it seems to me, makes a huge difference in how individual women are able to navigate the barrage of ideological imperatives that attend reproduction.  For example, take the breastfeeding thing.  Every new mother I know in North America (and I seem to know exponentially more of them by the day) feels the pressure of a general, polymorphous "breast is best" cultural current.  But it seems sadistic to subject women to the blanket expectation that they will exclusively breastfeed in a society (USA, I'm looking at you) that might grant them six unpaid weeks off work (just enough time for one's milk to come in—convenient), where babies are routinely delivered via major medical interventions and whisked off while mothers recover from surgery, where lactation consultants are not covered by health insurance but free samples of formula are readily supplied by hospitals through deals with the corporations that manufacture them.  This is what in the classroom I'd call contradictory cultural imperatives, but which here I'll call mixed damn messages

So, I trust it is clear, I prefer the Canadian system.  But a better integrated public initiative presents its own set of challenges, which we're dealing with now.  A better instituted pro-breastfeeding policy, for example, means a more centralized, more powerful ideological voice promoting that particular agenda, for better and for worse.  Just because one opts into a particular ideological position doesn't make it any less ideological, and the voice of ideology is impossible to converse with.  Next week's prenatal class covers the unit on breastfeeding, and we have been promised that we will learn that "all your friends who say they 'tried' and 'couldn't' breastfeed" were LYING, most likely because "they are more willing to put energy into decorating their nurseries than into NOURISHING THEIR BABIES."  I am not making this up.  And I am going to have to internalize my rage for the duration of this lesson in how women—new mothers in particular—are terrible, selfish people as I try to cull the useful information from the debilitating fantasy of the state's ideal maternal creature.  D sent me a link to the tumblr Feeding the Baby, which collects stories from women figuring out how to feed their babies, and the multitude of voices represented there seems a necessary antidote to all the disembodied recommendations and directives.

We did this small-group exercise in prenatal class yesterday where we discussed and listed our fears associated with having a baby—how much it will hurt, the chance of the baby being born on the side of the 401 during rush hour, the seeming likelihood that the nursery won't be painted, that one will drop the baby on its head, etc.  I told D last night that, having thought about it, I'm not scared of pain, or of sleep deprivation, or of the pragmatic challenges of keeping a baby alive and well, but I am scared of losing rational perspective while I'm experiencing all of these things.  Reason seems to be the number one thing pregnant women and new mothers are culturally exempt from, but I'm not willing to relinquish my claim to it.

2 thoughts on “On not losing one’s mind.

  1. Back in my day of having babies, breast feeding was sort of frowned upon; however, we could not afford formula, and there wasn’t WIC, so I breast feed. It wasn’t a walk in the park, not at first, but after my nipples firmed up and the babies learned that they were not going to starve to death so they didn’t have to hang on for so long and clamp so hard, it wasn’t so bad. I breast fed my daughter until she was close to two and my son about the same length of time. My friends bottle fed their babies and I have to say that I cannot tell the difference between their kids and mine: some kids get colds, and ear infections, and some don’t–boobs, I don’t think, make that much difference.
    Now, dropping on the head has the potential to do some damage, but I think you guys can hold on to a baby. I advise putting a recieving blanket inside of the baby’s tub until you learn to get control of the slippery wet baby. Also, it helps to have one wash and pass off the wet baby to a dry parent where he or she will wisk it off to the changing table. The screaming and quivering little chins can be nerve wrecking, so two can get through that better than one.
    Get cloth diapers, not for the enviornment, but for the expense. Plus, more babies develop rashes from the disposable and those rashes are really painful to the babies.
    Other than that, there is no difference in a baby and a adult: keep them dry, warm, fed, and entertained and you should do great–plus, I know for a fact you and D are pretty responsibile folks. Plus, it will be one beautiflul little baby.

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