In my last post I extolled the joys of antenatal classes and learning about pregnancy anatomy and the stages of labour. The last few classes, which I’ll cover here, actually were more mind blowing to me. The biggest topics covered were feeding; the interventions that are sometimes needed to deliver a baby; and where to birth. Oh, and I got to find out a little bit of what it’s like to be pregnant (hint: not that fun).
Some people got upset from my previous post where I commented that I hadn’t known exactly what the uterus or placenta were for. Well, as it says in the subtitle of this blog, I am literally clueless when it comes to babies, so that shouldn’t really come as a shock. But really, if it offends you that a guy doesn’t know even the basics of babies and birth, this probably isn’t the blog for you. I am absolutely as ignorant as someone could possibly be, but trying my best to change that, and that’s the entire point of this blog. As they say, you don’t know what you don’t know.
Wearing the pregnancy belly
I’ll start with the fun bit: finding out what it’s like to be pregnant (well, sort of). Each week one man in our class had to wear the pregnancy belly. It’s just a big heavy bag (14kg precisely) of something with straps and you put it on and it’s supposed to simulate what it’s like to carry a baby in your belly. I tried it for one class, and it really was pretty tough. Liv was delighted: finally I got to experience the agony she’s going through! Here’s what you definitely can’t do while wearing it: tie your shoe laces; get up off the ground; roll over while lying down; pick anything up; stand in one place for longer than five minutes. So, it gave me an appreciation for how tough it is for women late in pregnancy, and made me extra vigilant about helping Liv with things like tying her shoe laces and picking stuff up off the floor.
I was a little apprehensive about wearing the belly because my back has been a bit dodgy lately and I didn’t want to put it out. Well, I put it out. The next morning, I got out of bed and walked to the bathroom and my lower back just jolted and spasmed and I had to get on the floor and get in the downward dog position because otherwise my back was cramping and it just hurt so much. I was like, ARGGHHH, I can’t go to work today! And Liv was laughing at my misfortune (in a loving way, of course). But honestly, I couldn’t move! It was freaky. And then I cursed myself for wearing the stupid belly because I KNEW this would happen and here I was on the floor wondering how the hell am I going to get up?
Eventually (after 10 minutes, so yeah not that long) I managed to sit up and then stand, and after a while it actually came right so I went to work in mild discomfort, but nothing major. Still, it was a good reminder to do the back exercises the physio has given me because I don’t want to be an old, unfit dad lying on the floor because he carried his son wrong, or something. I’m getting old, I guess.
One of the things that surprised me most about antenatal classes is how neutral they were. I expected a bunch of anti-medicine, pro-breastfeeding propaganda pushing the Ministry of Health’s line that Breast is Best and anything else is the devil (ok that last part I added on, but it’s how I perceive it). Of course, breastfeeding is amazing and the ideal and we all want that, but when feeding was covered in our classes, I was surprised and relieved at how balanced the information was.
Our educator started by giving us the basics on formula: what it is; why you might use it; how to give it to your baby; and what equipment you need to formula feed. Some of the reasons to formula feed included not being able to breastfeed (a relative minority of mothers); difficulties breastfeeding; and just not wanting to. All reasons are valid, and this choice wasn’t made out to be an inferior one. I really liked that our educator just presented us the facts and didn’t try to push us into breastfeeding. It’s nice to think that we can make an informed decision based on facts rather than having other people telling us what to do.
The second option is mixed feeding, where you give the baby some milk from the breast and the rest from a bottle containing breast milk. The argument for this is that it gives mum a break and dad can help out, but the argument against is that baby can become confused between teat and nipple and have problems feeding.
The third option is exclusively breastfeeding. We did spend most time on this, but mainly because it’s so complicated. I had no idea how technical breastfeeding is and how much you have to get it “right”. Firstly, it’s breastfeeding, not nipple feeding. The baby does not suck on the nipple – the nipple goes all the way inside the mouth and towards the back. Also, if it hurts, you’re not doing it right. Those are the main things I remember. In class, our educator got the mums to go off to another part of the room and talk about God-knows-what while she got all us guys – about seven of us – together to teach us how to breastfeed. The idea is that we would then teach the mums, and bring that knowledge home so we can help out a bit more when we haven’t got someone there to tell us what to do. I really liked this technique, because it makes me a bit more involved in a process I’m otherwise excluded from.
Personally, I like the idea of mixed feeding because it will give Liv a break, and give me some time to bond with the baby in this way. We know breastfeeding is the best option, but we’re also open to other options in the name of making life a bit easier for us. I also don’t think formula deserves the bad rap it gets. Many babies are raised on formula – myself included, save for a couple of weeks at the start – and don’t suffer adverse effects. As I suggested in a previous post, the pressure to breastfeed can place unnecessary pressure on a mum and cause mental health issues, so it’s best just to let people do what they want to do.
Where to birth
This was a big dilemma for us. We have two options: birth at our local maternity hospital, or have it at Middlemore Hospital. To help us make this decision, our antenatal classes included a tour of our maternity unit. We’re really lucky to have a birthing hospital in Pukekohe: it’s five minutes from our house; it’s not overly busy so you can stay a bit longer than the standard three nights if you want to; and the staff and facilities are pretty good (or so we’re told). We got a really good vibe from the place from the time we spent there – it’s kind of in a rural area so it’s super quiet and peaceful with sheep grazing in a paddock right outside the main building. It’s an interesting unit in that it’s also a rehabilitation unit and a hospital for the elderly. So you’ve got people beginning, and ending, their lives at the same place. They’re in separate parts, of course, but I appreciate the juxtaposition.
There are drawbacks to a maternity hospital, though, mainly to do with the lack of medical interventions available. If you’re birthing there and want an epidural, or need something more dramatic like a c-section, they have to whisk you up to Middlemore. That takes 25-40 minutes depending on the traffic, and Liv isn’t too keen on an ambulance ride if there’s something potentially wrong with the baby.
I love the idea of birthing at our local maternity unit. It’s a lovely place and it would be just so convenient to take a quick drive down the road when we know the birth isn’t far away. However, Liv’s peace of mind is the most important thing here – she is, after all, the one having the baby, and she must feel good about it. A full hospital like Middlemore provides the security of doctors and the interventions they can provide if needed. At the end of the day, that trumps convenience for us. We’ll still head back to our local maternity hospital once the baby’s born and Liv can recover there and learn to feed and all that. This could all go out the window if labour progresses really fast, of course, but this is our plan for now.
This section could also be titled ‘what could go wrong and the horrifying ways to fix them’. Yeah, a spontaneous, natural birth is ideal, but the reality (and the life-saving magic) of modern medicine means interventions are relatively common. Our childbirth educator took us through a bunch of things that might be used during the birth of our kid, and none of them are terribly desirable, to be honest.
First, I needed some statistics to reassure myself that an intervention isn’t likely, because ideally we wouldn’t need one. In 2015 (the most recent data available), 68.7% of women had a spontaneous vaginal birth; 16.3% needed the help of some sort of an instrument (not a saxophone – that probably wouldn’t help much); and 14.9% needed a c-section. Fewer than 6% needed to be induced. So, phew! Encouraging numbers. Here’s some of the options for intervention:
- Induction: This is trying to get labour going if it hasn’t already started. One of the common techniques is to artificially rupture the membrane that holds the baby, breaking the waters and prompting contractions to begin.
- Forceps: They’re basically huge BBQ tongs that the doctor puts inside the mum, up behind the baby’s head, and they just yank the baby out pretty much. They can leave some marks on the baby’s head (I was a forceps baby, and I still have a little dent in my head, but no big deal).
- Ventouse: This is like a vacuum cleaner that attached to the baby’s head, and when it’s turned on it sucks the baby out.
- C-section: They literally cut the baby out. This requires a few weeks of recovery, as opposed to a few days for a vaginal birth. If there’s enough time, they will give the mum an epidural and she can be awake for it, but if not they have to do an emergency one which usually involves her going under general anesthetic. This is a bad result because mum can’t experience any of her birth, and even dad has to leave the room usually.
These are some of the more common interventions mums will need, and our childbirth educator made a really important point about them: if you have one, in no way does it mean your birth was less successful or meaningful. As I said in my Supermums post, there’s a lot of pressure for women to birth naturally now. Some midwives even push the natural birth line to the extreme, avoiding interventions even when they would significantly decrease the suffering of the mother. These stances are unhelpful and belittle the experiences of women who must have interventions. I’ll never fully understand, but I like to think a woman can have whatever she needs to get through birth and not feel like it wasn’t a “real” birth. She should feel proud and accomplished no matter how it happens.
Basically, our birth plan is this: have a baby. I’ve been told many times to avoid having a rigid plan because babies don’t follow one, and the likelihood is it’s going to go out the window anyway. So being flexible seems like the best way to get through it, however it happens.
And that’s all I have to say about that.
Listening to: Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (2017 remix) by The Beatles
Reading: Running Blind by Lee Child
Watching: House of Cards Season 5