Way back in the dim past when The Boy was still just a large bump between my boobs and my knees, I took a childbirth class. The class was in Hollywood, and run by a lovely woman named Margie, because that is not her name. I was thirty five going on thirty six, a single mom-to-be, and nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, and there I sat, beside my good friend Mimi, listening to Margie speak lyrically about the joys of natural childbirth at home.
The idea of a home birth with no drugs left me completely and utterly cold. Months ago, I sat in the doctor’s office. “It’s positive,” she said. “What do you want to do about it?”
“I want to keep the baby,” I said. “And I want to have it in the hospital, and I want to have drugs.” Nothing in the intervening months had made me question this decision.
Next Margie showed us a film of a home birth. The images of various women walking sweating, panting red-faced, and weeping while family members offered happy chat and children ran by frightened me. Call me slow, but until that night it had somehow escaped my notice that what was in my belly was going to have to come out. And my belly was very, very large. It seemed impossible.
The movie ended, and Margie started around our circle. Elegant Hollywood mothers-to-be and their glowing husbands described their “birth plans.” They involved things like hot tubs, home births, music, and family. They sounded lovely. Nobody was having drugs. I realized I was in the wrong childbirth class.
When Margie got to me I blurted, “I’m going to the hospital, and I’m having drugs.” I could feel my face turning red. Margie laughed. “The important thing is that you feel good about your plan,” she said. “Everybody’s different.”
I fell in love with her right then, because that was absolutely what she believed.
Later that night, she said something else that has stuck with me. “There’s something about a pregnant woman or a new mother that makes people want to give advice,” she said. “It’s like you’re a magnet. Total strangers will come up to you and tell you all sorts of things.
“You don’t have to take all the advice. Just smile, say, ‘Thank you. That’s good to know.’ Think it over later, and if it makes sense try it. If it seems crazy, just let it go. Mostly people mean well.”
As the rest of my pregnancy passed, and then my years of being a new mother, I discovered that Margie was absolutely right. I got a lot of advice, both from strangers and from family members. Some of it was good. Some of it wasn’t. It took me longer than it should have to realize that I need not feel guilty about not implementing every bit of “received wisdom” that came my way. Once I remembered that, The Boy and I were much happier, and did much better.
How this will all play out in the future I don’t know–The Boy is fifteen, so we still have some way to go before I can offer an opinion on how my child-rearing stacked up. What I do know now is this: When I was trying to please the advice-givers by using discipline methods I didn’t feel good about to enforce values in which I did not believe I was an inconsistent, unhappy, guilt-ridden person. I was not a terribly good mother.
When I acknowledged that, for me, many of the rules and shibboleths of child-rearing simply don’t make sense, and need to be abandoned, when I focused on lovingly and consistently teaching my son the values in which I could believe, we were both much, much happier. Mostly, when I remembered that a child is a gift, and I took the time to enjoy our little family, and to simply love my son, I knew that I was being my best self, and the best mother I could be.
And so here’s MY unsolicited advice. Take it or leave it, as you will. Love your baby. Hold it. Talk to it. The time passes far too quickly. Enjoy your family. Let the rules you need to live peaceably and happily together evolve as you need them. Don’t do anything simply because you’re told that it’s what you should do. Keep it simple. Start with the love. You’ll figure the rest out.