With the greatest respect to honourable crack whores everywhere – to reassure our partners when in the last stages of pregnancy, I’ve heard the line “even crack-whores have healthy babies”, used to comfort and relax a mother who is recovering from the guilt of the odd glass of sauvignon blanc or slice of triple-cream brie.
We all try to do the best for our unborn offspring, especially our first born when the words of wisdom from the on- and off-line encyclopaedias of childbirth are followed most strictly. Now, we’re finding that the second time around is a far more relaxed affair; no birth classes, pelvic floor exercises or bans on carrying heavy objects (like the first child) and not so much reading – not because we think we know it all, and not because this birth isn’t a unique experience but because we’ve been there before and, like watching vegies grow we know roughly what to expect – unless disease, seed quality or bad luck play a part.
I think a lot of men find it comfortable to go through life with a low expectation of outcomes, I know I do. After an interview, I don’t get too excited until I hear the result, preferring to be excited by unexpected good news rather than disappointed by unexpected bad news. Like a lot of other prospective fathers I spoke to at the time, my greatest concern during our first pregnancy was that there would be something wrong with our baby – I’m over 45 (“children are almost twice as likely to die before adulthood if they have a father over 45”), my partner is over 35 (“1 in 440 pregnancies of women aged 35 or more end in utero, as opposed to 1 in 1,000 for younger women”), my partner threw up all the folic acid supplements during morning sickness, she slept on her back one night, etc. etc . Our work is done and the main thing we get anxious about is that our contribution of our healthy sperm was actually healthy enough. I could not fully relax and enjoy the first pregnancy until it was over and we had a squeaky clean little bundle of new life with ten fingers and ten toes. Perhaps we are hard-wired for this and are prone not to get too excited until we see our own baby with our own eyes. Well, this time around I’m enjoying it more because I’m more relaxed about the outcome too.
This became apparent to me recently. My partner had gone to the doctors for a regular check-up and he had heard a slowing of the heartbeat – both he and my partner were a little concerned. We quickly drove to hospital, irrationally considering all possible scenarios on the way. There we had a heart monitor attached for 2 hours to listen to the baby’s heartbeat. All was reasoned to be okay but for a moment I considered a less than perfect outcome and surprised myself by being okay with it.
You know when you buy a particular car or a shirt, and it seems like you suddenly see that type of car or shirt everywhere, well I recently had that experience with my fear of having an unhealthy baby. After our trip to the hospital, we saw disabled children everywhere we went for the next day or so. In a café at the next table to us, a severely disabled child strapped into a pushchair was wearing a helmet for her own protection, and while my heavily pregnant partner smiled uncomfortably, my three-year-old daughter watched and wanted to know “why?” – a very difficult question to answer indeed.
Being born without any disability is of course no guarantee that one can live a life without disability; there are so many things that can go wrong at any time if you are inclined to worry about them. It can be a worry that the inability to draw a circle or use speech with plurals at the age of three might be a sign that ‘normal’ developmental milestones are not being met. After birth though, once you find out, then you are already in love. I imagine that once your baby is in your arms you’re going to do the best for it. The fear is only the parents; I think the child is usually happy (if not in pain), it’s the parents that are unhappy that their child isn’t going to experience life like others – which must put an extraordinary strain on the relationship – but the goals of helping them reach their maximum potential and giving them every opportunity possible are still absolutely valid.
It’s a tough subject. The toughest. But it can do only good to talk about the elephant in the room, even if the elephant is profoundly lame.
So, with the greatest respect and admiration of any parents of a child born with a physical, cognitive, mental, sensory, emotional or developmental disability – I’m not so scared now if we discover a disability in our child, although obviously I hope it’s not the case; but if it is, I will get on with raising our new baby with love and good grace knowing that she is – for her – just perfect.
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