My wife is a very strong woman. She is independent, intelligent, fierce-spirited, and dedicated to her ideals: all reasons why I love her, right? When we found out we were having a baby, we were elated. But, we also felt afraid, small, and uncertain – and rightfully so!
When we became pregnant, my wife decided she wanted to have an all-natural birth. I supported her completely, but we both understood the limits of human willpower, so she made me promise that no matter how much she begged, I would not let her have anything but a natural birth. She was afraid that drugs might affect the baby during the birthing process, stop her heart, or somehow cause nervous system damage. We were afraid that an epidural would wear off too soon, or that somehow it would cheapen the experience for her. We had a ton of very real fears, very strong reasons, and an extremely robust dedication to having a natural birth. So when she asked me to make sure she didn’t take pain medications, I was willing to let her gnaw my arm off through the pain, if need be; she was NOT getting pain meds.
Before I explain the result of our commitment to a natural birth, no matter what, I want to tell you about our ob/gyn.
She was more than a doctor; she was a coach, counselor, and confidant who understood that we were scared to death. And she was with us the whole way, not with random Internet searches that “sound scientific enough” and “just make sense;” she was there with real, evidence-based medical science and the latest expertise she could give us. Still, I couldn’t bombard our doctor with questions 24/7. Where is the next best place to get all the answers about anything in the known universe? That’s right: I turned to the great Oracle of our time!! The Internet. You and I both know that the Internet is a ravenous, all-accepting beast, hungry for content and contributions. As such, information of all kinds regularly makes its way onto the Information Highway. Hopefully, we can also agree that the Internet is an “equal opportunity employer” of information – it doesn’t judge what kind of information gets added. Biased, un-biased, true, false, hoax, evidence-based; all of these are words that are becoming more popular and more important during our lives as we continue to search for answers to our parenting questions. When we do, we find that there is a HUGE amount of heated argument and competing information regarding “natural births,” vaccines, and everything else. I got sucked in, and we made our decision about an all-natural birth no matter what out of fear rather than scientific knowledge.
So here’s what happened. We stayed fiercely and totally committed to our plan to the very end—and the end came after seventy-two hours of labor. My daughter was born one and a half weeks late. My wife’s total labor time was seventy-eight hours: three days and six hours. The last twelve hours was back labor. After seventy-two hours, at approximately 3:30 in the morning, my wife looked at me. Pale. Grey. Exhausted. At that moment, she was the very picture of “Bad Ass” to me. Throughout it all, she had never even mentioned pain medicine. And I had stayed true as well; I never suggested it. Instead, she used a yoga ball, walked, and did the exercises that we’d learned in classes. I massaged her, brought her water, arranged pillows, hugged, held, and supported her during our endless slow walks up and down the hall.
But after seventy-two hours without sleep, she said, shaking, “Dear? Would you be mad at me if I asked for an epidural?” I smiled, and I cried. I kissed her forehead, and said, “Dear, if you don’t, I’M going to.” I called the nurse and she had an anesthesiologist within twenty minutes. She was shaking so bad, the doctor was afraid he was not going to be able to insert the needle properly. When he went to insert it, I had to sit down, I was so nervous. I almost blacked out. But, within ten minutes, my wife had relief, and she slept. And I did too, for a brief, lovely four hours. Thank Science!!!
My little elf, all orange, pointy-eared, and endearingly stubborn, was born at 10:06 am. And I swore I’d never allow myself to let her down by ignoring reasonable options or clinging to what I felt to be true in the face of well-tested, modern, scientific evidence to the contrary. My wife and I had a great and respectable conviction. An ideal. A belief that the way we wanted to bring our daughter into the world was the right, perfect, healthy way. Our doctor explained afterward that we really had made the right decision. It wasn’t about our ideals; it was about my wife’s health, as well as our daughter’s. At that point, we truly understood that we were not “expert” enough to make those decisions without help.
Shortly before we became parents, I started learning exactly how much I don’t know. About anything! Especially vaccines! The doctor wanted answers to questions I just didn’t know. There were recommended vaccinations in infancy I didn’t know existed; HepB, MMR, Hib – they all had scary names, and the sheer volume of them, combined with the knee-jerk reaction of “needles + pain + my new baby = No! Just… No!” All the information I’d read or heard about merged to make me feel like one hell of a small, unprepared, uneducated nothing unfit for parenting. And my wife and I were college educated with high GPAs, fairly successful careers amidst a major recession, and international living experience. Still, here we were, practically kicking our toes at the dirt with nervousness, embarrassment, and shame. I really didn’t feel confident in my ability or knowledge to be making these choices – and we waited specifically until we felt “ready” to have a child!
I can’t say that feeling goes away. But, my daughter has become my reason to continue educating myself through real, scientifically based, expert sources specifically because of that moment. Of course, I will never be able to protect her from everything. And, there will always be the chance of fluke weirdness affecting her. I can’t predict that. But, I can train myself to recognize what is highly likely and what is pretty far-fetched. Yet, the BIGGEST danger is not in trusting science. The BIGGEST danger is me trusting in what I don’t know, but “believe” to be true.
As soon as I stopped trying to believe that I was smarter than the medical and scientific community, I felt my daughter was a lot safer because those people really do care – enough to dedicate their lives to trying to better civilization, society, and the medicine and science that enhances the world. They have done the work and study that I have chosen not to do; I chose to study how to be a teacher. They have gone through years of rigorous training, both practical and academic, and disciplined themselves to study and absorb the most complex and cutting edge science that has been viciously reviewed and examined – and rejected, when it was deemed unsupported – by the scientific community at large.
Maybe like you, I just do my best to figure out which media sources are reputable and read a lot. Still, no matter how well I separate the biased from the unbiased, and the reliable from the unreliable, I’m not as well suited to make medical and scientific judgments as those who are experts in those fields. They are collectively more scrutinizing, wise, and capable than I could ever hope to be on my own, and I am eternally grateful for their dedication.
As I’m writing this, the Internet consists of 4.74 billion pages. And, as soon as we accept the title of “parent,” we get the additional responsibility of judging the accuracy of the information we see – any of those 4.74 billion pages – and use what we learn from it to properly parent our children. We get the responsibility, but no additional training for the job. I don’t know about you, but that made me panic a little. How could I possibly figure out which information was false or true all of the time? Especially when I’m tired, and she’s hurting and crying, and my wife’s tired, and I’M TIRED, AND SHE’S STILL HURTING!!
Luckily, someone once shared with me four important words: Stay calm, stay rational. I started reading a lot about how to stay calm, and how to be more rational – that is, how to logically evaluate information, because I wanted to make sure I had the best information outside what I could get from my doctor. That made a big difference because I started learning about thought “tools” – processes that helped me evaluate truth and falsehood. So, I started learning more about logic and what “rational” really meant, and it turned out there was a lot to learn. Still, taking the time to learn even a little more about being rational has made me panic less and less. And, staying calm helped me take the time to learn.
All of the fears that come with parenting are understandable and very real. But, as Spock says, “Fear is irrational and illogical.” Let’s explore our fears rationally together, and most important– talk to your doctor about them! Doctors want you to be informed and want to help. They definitely do not want to see you make uninformed decisions because you “just didn’t know.” But, doctors cannot know what you’re afraid of if they don’t hear it from you. Just do them a favor: treat them rationally and listen openly, with the same respect and dignity that they give you. They don’t try to call you names when you ask them questions, so try not to do it to them, even anonymously on a comments thread.
Ask them about what you’ve heard, or what you’ve read, and see what they have to say.
You’re doing the right thing by trying to learn as much as you can, and it’s okay to admit only the experts are experts. And it’s okay to let evidence change your opinion – that’s what being rational is about. Work together with your doctor calmly, rationally, and kindly, and you’ll make the absolute-best choices for your new addition.
Chris Low is a proud husband, father, and teacher who likes writing and helping people. He currently teaches English in Japan, leads charity efforts, and volunteers as an elected representative for the Association of Japan Exchange Teachers. To find out more about Chris visit his website at www.christophermlow.com