Personal questions during pregnancy…
I knew they would come up. I’ve heard the horror stories from women who have been there, preparing me for the deeply probing questions about pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting that are inevitable when you choose to procreate. Clearly, there are some really insensitive people out there, with absolutely no sense of boundaries and/or decency.
Before my bump was showing, and before we announced our pregnancy to the broader world, I took some time to think of how I might deal with people who, frankly, have no business asking what they ask (obviously, this doesn’t include family and close friends, or other pregnant women, whom I am much more willing and sometimes eager to be open with). I figured I had a few choices:
1. Get all offended and crazy. This was (and sometimes still is) a pretty tempting choice.
2. Answer sheepishly (or confidently, depending on the day) but feel like a victim the whole time. With this choice I could complain to my wife, mom, sister, coworker, or whoever would listen later, and get lots of sympathy and confirmation that people are nosy and rude and insensitive.
The two choices above are solid. I would never judge any pregnant woman who makes either of these choices. Pregnant women are MORE THAN ENTITLED to their own reactions because they are building humans and enduring an onslaught of crazy hormones.
However, there’s another option, and it’s the choice I have tried to make most of the time:
3. Take the opportunity to dispel black and white thinking and unnecessary judgement (and if the person refuses to see reality, just take it worth a grain of salt and let it roll off my back).
Why I Try to Make Choice #3
Here’s the scenario, which (with just 5 weeks to go) I now know well. Someone comes up, eyes glued to my baby bump, and asks me a personal question about my pregnancy. A perennial favorite (and one heard by probably every pregnant woman ever) is “How are you going to give birth?”
Once I get past the “none of your (CENSORED) business” response my heartburn-riddled instincts are YELLING at me to give, I take a deep breath and think of it as an opportunity to wage my own little war on the judgmental black-and-white thinking that often accompanies choices about motherhood, childbirth, and parenting.
The following response is both a veiled way of saying “none of your business” and a statement that communicates that “black and white thinking is pretty dumb and how I choose to give birth doesn’t really matter as much as the end result”:
“I am taking a pragmatic approach. The end goal is that both baby and I are happy, healthy, and alive at the end of the day. How that birth happens is far less important in the scheme of things.”
For some reason, the person who feels justified asking this question is usually vehement about natural childbirth, and thinks she/he is supporting women by helping them realize their own power in giving birth. Their intentions are usually good, but here’s the thing: the judgement about all the things related to childbirth (and parenting) is destructive to women. Whether a mom gives birth:
- At home, in a birthing center, or at a hospital;
- Naturally, medication-assisted, or with a C-section;
- By allowing baby to start labor, planning a C-section, or by being induced;
…Is NOT as important as the person is. Make your choice for yourself, and respect other women for whatever choice they make. As Kristina Kuzmic says in one of her great videos, “you are a good person either way,” and your choice “will not make your child a criminal.”
Not only that, this harsh and freely dispensed judgement just isn’t rooted in reality.
Here are 3 childbirth realities I’ve built my pragmatic response on*:
*(having not yet given birth, the following is an example of wholly unqualified philosophizing, so take it worth a grain of salt)
Reality 1: You really don’t have all that much control over how it will happen. You can hope and dream and plan, and maybe it will work out. But sometimes, if you are rigid in that plan, baby and the universe will conspire to humble you! Either way, a pragmatic approach to childbirth is both realistic and self-loving, and makes you less likely to be disappointed or feel guilty after all is said and done. As someone with a real fear of clinical postpartum depression, I personally don’t want to add guilt to my plate in the early days of motherhood if I somehow don’t live up to a birth plan that involves being Amazon woman and delivering my baby while dancing with my wife in a tub of unicorn tears on a mountaintop. Instead, I choose to be proud of myself for carrying and delivering a human into this world. Period. End of story.
Reality 2: How you choose to give birth will NOT make or break your bond with your child. If you’re stoked to be a parent, you’re going to love that child whether or not you felt every ripping, tearing moment of his/her arrival. If you’re NOT stoked to be a parent, then how could going through all that POSSIBLY result in you being more bonded to the source of your pain? Yeah, doesn’t make a lot of sense. My mom gave birth to 7 children – 4 naturally, and 3 with an epidural – and I think I can safely say that she’s not more bonded with the 4 older “natural” children than with myself and my two younger “epidural” sisters. Know why? Because after each of us emerged from her womb in whatever way we emerged, we had a LIFETIME of opportunities to bond as child and parent. We’re all grown ass adults now and we’re STILL bonding with her. The labor/delivery experience is a tiny blip in that timeline of interactions – a beginning, yes, but not something that makes or breaks the rest of your life or your child’s. So I choose not to stress out over the perfect labor and delivery in favor of stressing out over how the hell I will do the actual work of PARENTING A HUMAN for the rest of my life.
Reality 3: Women and babies used to die in childbirth – and sometimes they still do. This is reason enough not to judge a woman’s choices or realities about how she gives birth. We have come so far, medically, as a society that we forget how scary and difficult it used to be. Check out this graph if you don’t believe that childbirth was super dangerous (like one childless woman I spoke to, who actually insisted that birth-related mortality was never all that bad, and that I should be Amazon woman and deliver my baby while dancing with my wife in a tub of unicorn tears on a mountaintop). Women used to write their wills upon learning they were pregnant. When Queen Victoria, who ascended the throne after her cousin died in childbirth, announced her first pregnancy, officials responded not with congratulations but by urging her to immediately appoint someone to raise her child (should he/she survive her) and manage the affairs of the kingdom in the likelihood of her death. As recently as 75 years ago we were facing high maternal mortality rates, and 3rd world countries STILL face this reality. But here we are, privileged AF to live in a time and a place where we actually think the worst possible thing that could happen in childbirth is to get an epidural or end up in a C Section. Detached from reality (which, by the way, has been made possible by science and modern medicine), we judge ourselves and each other for anything less than a perfect, natural, birth that eschews modern medicine. Ladies, we should be spending every second we have toasting each other for surviving, in whatever way we survived, what used to be the most deadly endeavor a woman could undertake. Seriously.
How I respond to the other personal questions
Questioner: Are you going to breastfeed?
“I am taking a pragmatic approach. I am definitely going to try because I know the benefits, but sometimes it doesn’t work out, and my plan is to make sure baby is fed one way or another.”
Questioner: Are you going to let baby sleep in your bed (this one is tricky, because the person could be EITHER vehemently for or against)?
“We are taking a pragmatic approach. Baby will be sleeping in a bassinet in our room for at least the first 6 months to one year, as suggested by the American Academy of Pediatrics in their report late last year. Beyond that, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Questioner: Are you going to be an attachment/free-range/helicopter parent?
“Um, we don’t believe in labels. We believe in being loving parents and hope to raise strong, empathetic, curious, responsible, confident children who know what it feels like to succeed AND fail and be loved either way…and we don’t think any of the so-called parenting methods have all of that nailed.”
Questioner: Are you going to vaccinate?
“Yes. We believe in science and our role in the greater societal good.”
What I do when the nosy stranger refuses to see reality
Blog about them of course (SEE: childless woman I spoke to, who, after listening to my pragmatic response, actually insisted that birth-related mortality was never all that bad and that I should be Amazon woman and deliver my baby while dancing with my wife in a tub of unicorn tears on a mountaintop. Ok, I may have embellished her words a little, but you get the point – she crazy!).
And/or use them as an example when people think there really aren’t militant “natural childbirth only/breast is best/attachment parenting until they’re 23” people out there who respond to my pragmatism with fire and venom.
Or, at least I share the crazy interaction with my wife before letting it roll off my back with a healthy dose of laughter. This is the way I theorize I will survive childbirth and parenting – cause this is just the beginning of the judgement and personal questions, right?
Disclaimer (please read before responding):
None of this means that I haven’t done my research, prepared myself, and thought through what I hope for on the day my child and I finally meet, as we attempt breastfeeding, and as parenting begins. I would encourage EVERYONE facing the reality of parenthood to do the same. My wife and I have taken the classes, read the books, informed ourselves about the benefits of natural childbirth and breastfeeding, and know the side effects of epidurals and C-sections and formula-feeding. We know what forceps look like. We’ve talked about what we want together so that either one of us can make choices as they’re presented to us because we know we’re on the same page. We’ve filled out a birth plan and hired a doula (who is also a music therapist!). And I’ve dreamed of blogging about my perfect natural birth, which will take place at a hospital that, unfortunately, doesn’t keep unicorn tears in stock, but, being in Utah, is pretty much on a mountaintop, and does indeed have some tubs. Ultimately, though, we are in agreement that how it happens is far less important than having a healthy mom and healthy baby at the end of the day.
(ok, now respond away if you feel so inclined).