Saturday, October 9, 2010

Members Only?

One of the things about pregnancy and childbirth that nobody tells you about is The Secret Club. You suspect it might exist, you try to get chummy with the major players, but nobody wants to let you in on their tete a tete. Then, suddenly, BAM, you get pregnant and it happens: you find yourself engaging in conversation with people you never had much in common with before about topics you never thought you'd find yourself bringing up in polite discourse (let me give you a hint: it starts with p and rhymes with "coo"). Yes, there is a Parenthood Club. Membership often includes gift exchange, inappropriate conversation, and forgiveness for all manner of social indiscretion.

Let me list some reasons why I think The Club exists:
  1. You assume nobody else cares to hear about the crazy diaper blowout that happened in the grocery store line*
  2. You fear meeting these needs with your non-parental friends because you'll turn into That Mom Who Never Stops Talking About Her Kids, or That Martyr Who Can't Get Over The Pain Of Labor **
  3. You've got something in common with other parents and parents-to-be, and the truth is, it's a profound commonality
*You might be right
**I am extremely guilty of this one

Personally, having been excluded while seeking membership in The Club, I'm not a fan of withholding conversation about childbirth or childrearing just because someone hasn't personally gone through it themselves. It's time for another list. Reasons why I dislike filtering conversation for different people:
  1. Exclusion sucks and invariably causes pain; even if you think your masking strategy works, the person you're talking to is probably well aware that you are withholding the full story or glossing over what's really important. If someone wants to know, I say tell 'em, all the terrible and glorious details.
  2. I could not tell you the number of times I've had a personal reaction in the realm of "Well why didn't anybody tell me that?!". Now I know a few small things, and I'm sharing. I hope those who know more will share back to me.
  3. I run a real danger of losing my former identity (Rachael) to my new identity (Jack's Mom). Categorizing the people I encounter and the subjects I speak about would only make those differences stronger.
Clearly, a balance must be struck. I'm no expert by far, but here's my opinion on this matter. You've got to be honest, but you've also got to remember your audience: give the gory details, but only hit the forbidden topics of pain, sleep deprivation, and Things That Exit You Or Your Baby's Body if they ask. Never take it for granted that someone does or doesn't know where you're coming from. Be sure to talk about non-parental topics with Club Members, too, and don't shy away from saying that you're happy or you're sad, even that happiness or sadness is out of line with what your conversation partner expects. Basically? Be yourself. Be honest. Oh and don't generalize -- because that's just annoying***.

***See current paragraph for good example of bad generalization.

Allow me to let you in on another little secret. There's an additional reason why The Club is so very necessary:
  1. You need support. You really, really, really need support, because deep down, The New World is a scary place. You are both terrified of being rejected by your former friends and desperate to be accepted by the new crowd, and you will do (or talk about) whatever it takes to be liked.

After becoming a parent and relating to other parents on a different level, I found that many of the experiences I thought were unusual were actually well on the spectrum of normal. But I didn't find that out until I was actually a Club Member and these new channels of conversation were open to me. In the spirit of illuminating touchy subjects that are often avoided in mixed company, I'm going to be blunt about three items:

- The Challenge of Pregnancy: everybody's different. My pregnancy was absolutely fabulous, despite many obstacles before and during gestation. I'm not afraid to say that, in the right context. I enjoyed being pregnant and I miss it. I know women who had challenging pregnancies, and their stories are just as important. The point here is that everybody's experience is different, and it's important to not have a solitary expectation of such an important event.

- Pain of Childbirth: I found the pain to be beyond belief. It left me unable to do anything but let out primal screams (I stopped being capable of breathing through contractions at about 4cm, 6 hours before he was born). I was ill-prepared for the blood bath, and so, for interested persons, I tell them the truth of my personal experience: it was like someone proceeded to rip out my fingernails, drive thumbtacks into my spine and tighten a vice grip around my midsection while playing "it's a small world after all" as I violently and uncontrollably threw up... for 1 minute at a time, every 5-8 minutes, for 12 hours. Oh and the thumbtack part was constant. Really, I can't come up with a description to do it justice. Was it worth it? Absolutely. I'd do it again. But that's the honest to god truth, and I wish someone had warned me.

- Joy of parenthood: I'm so happy. I know I'm supposed to be sleep deprived and stressed out, and there are plenty of those moments... but being tired is not what I will remember about these early months. I hesitate to be that annoying "parenthood is awesome" person... yet it really is the truth, for me, in this very moment, and I don't think I should cover up my joy. I've had a conversation with a woman who explained, quite bluntly, as she happily kissed the top of his playful, 6-month old head, that she never bonded with her child after birth. It took her months to really want him. I gained such respect for her after our conversation and I had the impression that she appreciated hearing my story, in spite of how polar opposite it was to her own experience: we were honest with each other, and that was the most important thing.

I hope that my bluntness does not come off the wrong way: these were my experiences, and yours were or will be different. What else is a blog for, if not an outlet for ideas that need further working out? I know that there are quite a few people reading this blog, from a broad spectrum of experience. Feel free to chime in.

1 comment:

  1. I just want to say thanks for not hiding stuff from people that don't have children. I am still not married and I really would love to have kids (my bio clock is breaking for them), but it always hurts worse when people exclude me from their baby stories. I know they are busy and sometimes it is the last thing they want to talk about, but it hurts when people say, "You will understand when you have children". I wish they would just take the time to explain. Sarah Humphrey