I seem to know a lot of people about to have a baby.
First up - I'm not responsible for any of them. I've kept a firm watch on my own pollen thank you. So no - I don't expect to find myself on a Jeremy Kyle/Maury Povich style show anytime soon denying that I have anything to do with it - whilst nervously twitching when they hold up the envelope with the paternity test results in them. I do recall a soap opera once where a woman stole someone's man-tapioca with a turkey baster (one can only imagine the logistics of that) and then impregnated herself - thereby cruelly tying him to her via an unwanted baby. That might sound a little Daily Mail for you (except in the Fail the evil woman would be a Muslim on a council estate - and the turkey-basting method would be alluded to as "allegedly Koranic/Halal") but I'm just putting out there on the off chance someone show's up at my door with a young child claiming it's mine.
Anyhoo - some of these expecting parents have nervously asked what it's like to have a new baby around. What can they expect? I've made some wisecracks about there being no concept of time anymore - how day and night are just one blurry, sleepless mess. I've mentioned that it's quite odd how selfishness vanishes. And I've mentioned how it is quite strange that you find yourself quite comfortable handling another person's turd-smeared crotch with love and affection for them - and it didn't even involve trawling Craigslist for the opportunity to do so.
A few people have asked if we used a baby book. We did have one - but for the life of me I can't remember what it was. We also half-jokingly looked at a weekly website that talked about general things you can expect in your new baby. And it was mostly filled with generic stuff about babies as a whole - trying to stress it's own uselessness by pointing out that developmental stages are so broad and varied, and child-rearing methods so plentiful - that a Baby Bible is almost pointless. Kids are just that different. Which has been firmly borne out by the fact my daughter was streets ahead physically and linguistically of my son at this age - and yet my son is well within the norm. But if you are going to get a book because you need one I recommnd this one.
But yeah - parenting is a complete minefield. Not from a parent-child relationship angle. If you're a decent person with logic, morals and love you'll all do fine. The minefield consists of all the other nosey bastards who are desperate to point out how bad a parent you are. Which would be fine if you are a bad parent (and we all know them and have vented about them - I just did yesterday on this blog after all). But you - a normal, everyday average vanilla-style parent are being morally-villified right now for your suspect ethics by several groups of people that think you shouldn't be allowed near a baby. Welcome to parenthood!
Everything is ethically bizarre in this way. Every aspect of parenting is dripping with judgement and moral outrage. You'll even find yourself in the position of invective spewer from time to time. Just try and chill out and realize you're doing it. Here's a good example. In the UK the government provides two diametrically opposed pieces of advice for pregnant women. In the, "what you can consume when pregnant" category expectant mother's are advised not to eat eggs, deli-meat or certain cheeses. This is based on the idea that if they are riddled with salmonella or some such thing - then your baby is at risk. Which is true. The point is that the risk of salmonella to you is exactly the same when you don't have a baby growing inside you. It isn't greater because you're pregnant. Nothing changed. But now you are strongly advised to steer clear. Therefore that seems somewhat alarmist - which is why other European countries and the US have totally different guidelines that allow for blue cheese and pastrami galore.
On the flip-side though are the accepted guidelines as to how much alcohol can be imbibed whilst pregnant. To me this is insane and I would have thought not drinking would make sense. But that's just me. It just seems odd to state that it's dangerous to eat a sandwich, but okay to have two glasses of Stella Artois a day. The idea here is particularly strange because it's predicated around the societal notion that you can't expect normal people not to drink alcohol. Therefore the right thing to do is to tell them to drink responsibly. Fair enough and that makes perfect sense in a free society. But that sounds particularly odd next to information strongly warning people not to eat eggs and cheese - and that they can't be expected to be responsible consumers of those.
Even odder is the advice given by many midwives, doctors and "experts" not to co-sleep with you baby. First off the guidelines are split between those who think it's okay and those that err on the strong side of caution (hence the use of the term "child abuse" in that last one). Plenty of opinions on co-sleeping exist. But a theme from those who don't advise it is that even though the guidelines say not to smoke or drink if you do it - that people can't be trusted to really stick to the guidelines - so don't do it anyway. In other words - it's predicated around the societal notion that you can't expect normal people not to drink too much alcohol and sleep in a bed with a baby. So to combine those guidelines together - expectant mothers can be trusted to drink a responsible amount, but new mothers cannot and may roll over and kill their child. And that's usually illustrated by a story about someone who crushed their baby. Which is tragic - but entirely the wrong way to use that information. I'd point to the many thousands of people that co-sleep and keep the guidelines and everyone is happy. Pointing out the ones that didn't is entirely the opposite way to look it. "You are going to kill your baby doing that" is a demented thing to say when the statistical evidence of incidences would be so small as to be smaller than the margin of error.
See how emotionally disturbing that is? And that's just one thing. Everything - and I mean EVERYTHING about parenting is controversial in this way. It's exhausting. In every single arena of it one group will angrily tell you that one particular way is wrong because their way is right - with the counter argument made by another group. The part about that which is eternally frustrating is that it is all sort of true. So if I was going to give a new parent a Baby Bibile or advice it would be that trust your judgement. Make an informed opinion about whatever it is you want to do and then trust it. Just make sure you think about - and then have conviction. That was the single most important thing my wife learned with a baby and gave her the strength to be the great mother she is. Because someone will tell you that you are hurting your baby whatever you do. Normally it'll be your own parents pointing out that in their day they didn't faff about with all this co-sleeping hippy shit. No - the baby was put outside in a badger-den and learned not to cry the proper way or it would be eaten by predators.
Take a simple thing like washing a new baby. When we had our daughter we wanted to bathe her - as you would. Two different authoritative websites had completely different guidelines about duration between bathing. Both stated that doing it the other way was harmful. One quick perusal of a few parenting websites found aggressive exchanges between parents who simply couldn't believe that other parents who did it differently weren't being watched social workers to determine what kind of monsters they were. And that was just how often to wash the baby - not how to actually do it.
Here's a task based around something simple like feeding a baby. Go spend some time on a blog designed for mothers for half an hour. Find the breast feeding versus formula thread. It'll be right there near the top. Go on - toddle off. See!? The point there is that they not only want you to know that breast milk is better than formula - but that anything other than breast milk is like spooning arsenic-laced devil-fuel into your baby. To some people unless you're breast feeding then you might as well be pissing directly into your child's mouth. And why are they this emotional and empowered about this? Because breast milk is better. And breast feeding is better than bottle feeding. But the fervent tone of angry, "YOU'RE KILLING YOUR BABIES YOU HEARTLESS BITCHES!" seems to assume that these perfect mothers are so committed and vigilant in everything that they're always making the one right choice in every given situation. Which is asinine. I know a woman with very strong feelings on this who smokes - and did through her pregnancy. That degree of self-righteousness doesn't even begin to make sense. Look - I wish all new mother's breast fed. Some can't. Some don't want to for a variety of reasons. Either because it hurts, they don't like it, they are going back to work so it isn't convenient for them - whatever. But you shouldn't have some social stigma attached to you like a yellow star because you aren't going to breast feed. No one has a big chart assembled by an NGO with stickers placed on it for every not-the-best parenting decision made placed upon it.
My personal feeling on the matter when we had our kids was that, "I don't want to" doesn't really make sense when you have a child. It's just one of the responsibilities. You have a child so you must do certain things - and to us breast feeding was one of them. If my wife hadn't wanted to then that was her choice really. But she did and I agreed. But we radically changed our lives to fit that in. As in my wife didn't go to work anymore. We took a painful cut in income. A lot of responses we got about that were, "oh well - it must be nice to be able to afford that." Which was demented because I worked with these people - so ti should have been massively apparent how little money we had chosen to take in as a comparison to what they were making. But their reflexive defensive position about my own personal belief was to say that. It was simple - we believed in a certain way that we wanted to raise our kids. My wife believed in it so much that she joined breast feeding promotional groups and acted as an advocate to help women who wanted to do that. What she and I didn't do was crow about how we were absolutely right and that any other method was morally suspect. We would - if asked - inform people that the notion that formula is as healthy, beneficial and "good" (in certain areas) just isn't supported in any nutritional category. But that it did allow mobility of movement, allowed two-income families and all sorts of other quantifiable things.
And we carried it further - we believe that it just makes more sense for one of us to be home when the kids are a certain age instead of giving over my entire salary (and it really is that much) to someone else to look after both the kids. Logically that made no sense to us. And from a parenting perspective we thought it made no sense. So in one sense we both lament that modern western society has evolved into a situation where it seems almost crippling to have a parent at home because average income levels on a societal level are measured based upon two incomes. But any mention of that had people eying me suspiciously as a caveman trying to tie his submissive wife to the kitchen sink and a baby. When we swapped roles and my wife went to work it still persisted in some people's minds that we were just nuts - and that it must be nice to be able to afford the luxury of one income. Oh you shove her off to work while you stay home and do nowt. Yeah - that makes sense. And let me rephrase your 1950s statement about stay-at-home Moms being lazy into what you actually mean - if you stayed home with the kids you would do nowt. I seem to be endlessly busy. Apparently you are a lazy bastard.
What I want is the honesty part of it. It should be okay to say that you aren't going to breast feed - and to acknowledge that it would be better if you did - but that it's okay that you aren't going to because there are better ways to do almost bloody everything. In other words in the same way that it would be better if the militant, tit-Nazis on the mothering boards should also be able to admit that not eating that extra slice of cake, or the potato chips and chocolate bars - but rather only ever eating fruit and vegetables would be better. Organic, super-duper pomposity-infused asparagus is better for you than french fries. Obviously that's all they eat. It would be better environmentally if we didn't drive cars shitting pollution all over the place. It would be better in one sense if all my kids clothes weren't made by twelve year old Chinese boys (they're not made in China - I just keep a group of Asian kids in the basement, beating them thrice a day to make me more extravagant outfits). So yes - breast milk is better. And yes - I think formula is insipid evil shit. But it's a sliding scale and it should be okay to pick one without being vilified as a monster for it. Because seriously - if you smoke, drink, drive or do anything at all ethically or morally suspect you don't get to grandstand in that manner.Which means everyone.
I'm not mental - there are obvious parameters and societal norms for "good parenting." But within these parameters people should mostly just shut the hell up. I cannot express (there's a free joke for you all....) how irritated I am after all these years of the whole debate around just one issue like breast feeding. I know that the powerful emotion behind it is based on wishing someone important would stand up and say that formula isn't as good or anywhere near as equal. Then what? Do you want it banned? Because we all know the answer is yes. After that what? 1930s-style Soviet communal milking stations in factories so that women can mother and work? With out-of-work unskilled workers hired to stir the milk-vats so that they don't curdle? Do you see how annoying you must be that I agree with every single point you make about it and still wish you would shut up about it? David Cross used to do stand-up bit where he pretends to be someone who is about to have an abortion. They get a phone call from someone from ten states away that tells them they can't do it because they don't believe in it. After the pregnant person says that they do believe in the "right to choose" the telephone caller chuckles and says, "yes but I don't silly - so you can't do it." The point for me being that the level of angry emotion in the milk debate shouldn't be anywhere near as white-hot as the abortion one. And yet it is.
Let's face it anyway - drinking milk out of a cow is just weird. And yet we do that without blinking. Which is why - just to piss off people who behave as if their narrow behavior on one issue should dictate everyone else - I pledge to only drink dog milk from now on. After all this is the USA where the only thing that everyone from all backgrounds seems to blindly agree on is that eating horses is evil, and that dogs are more sacred than babies.