As last summer approached, I anticipated it with a certain dread: it was my turn to go “over the hill.” And indeed, I did turn forty. Fortunately, I have remained friends with several women since grade school, and we were all in it together. Each of us delighted in remembering the others’ birthdays and sending condolences. It was really pretty funny until my number was up. If you’ve been there you know. If you’re headed there, you can imagine. It’s not anyone’s favorite day.
I spent my twenties pleasantly enough. A little university, a little work, a little romance. I married at thirty, and spent the next decade (gulp!) enjoying the wife and mother role. Well, I rationalized, I might just come into my own at forty. Lose the gray hair and excess tonnage, find the cherry red minivan that we can pretend is a sports car that just happens to have four kids in the back . . . you know, really live it up. As we are so often reminded, however, God has His own way of looking at things, and the best laid plans…
And so it appears that my forties are looking a whole lot like my thirties, as yet another little Farrell makes plans to enter this world! I must confess, it has taken a little effort to warm up to the whole idea. Welcoming little Elvis Orinthal (don’t worry, that’s just a working title but it reflects our total desperation in the name department) is no problem. I’m honestly delighted. But getting there is a whole other story.
Several years ago I was expecting my last baby, I wrote a column that was very critical of home births without hospital supervision. I haven’t really changed my mind about that, but I should confess that I was soon paid back with the hospital birth from hell. I’ll spare you the details, except to say that it was a terrifying experience, and for the most part, unnecessarily so.
Experience and familiarity should contribute to an expectant mother’s comfort, providing the reassurance that all is well. A bad experience can undo all the positive, and speaking personally. All my kids have been born by Cesarean section, so I hold to romantic illusions about what to expect.
What can turn childbirth into a negative experience has nothing to do with whether the delivery is natural or surgical, or something in between. It is about acknowledging the dignity and significance of the mother as a person. Part of that is related to what takes place during the labor and delivery, which is where I had my difficulty, but perhaps the greater part is the post-partum phase.
Budget cutbacks have hit the maternity departments hard. Currently, mothers and babies are discharged within twenty-four hours of a routine delivery, and three days after Cesarean sections. That’s half of what it was less than three years ago. Even the nursery has all but disappeared, as mothers are expected to have round-the-clock rooming-in with their babies immediately after delivery.
This change in policy is sold to mothers on the basis of the need to bond with the newborn, which must set some kind of speed record for mother-guilt. Bonding is not interrupted by sleeping through a few nights. The disregard for the mother’s needs can have serious implications for babies. I am particularly concerned that new mothers may be sent home without adequate preparation or support. Their brief hospital stay does not allow for the nurses to evaluate their confidence and ability.
They have less opportunity to find assistance in establishing breastfeeding, and are surely more likely to become discouraged and give up. Although formula-fed babies do fine, poverty leads to diluted formulas or premature reliance on cow’s milk, both of which can cause serious nutritional problems for babies.
As natural as childbirth and motherhood are, we live in a society that is hostile in many ways to the mother and child relationship. Getting a bum’s rush out of the maternity ward
Is just one more example of the devaluation of this selfless contribution to society.
Far be it from me to be bitter, however, I am merely indulging in a certain crankiness which I feel is my due. So wish us well. I’m taking maternity leave and hope to return to these pages by summer’s end.