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Preparing For Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting

This post is the first in a series examining the principles of Attachment Parenting. The goal is to explore what the principle is, why it’s important, and what it looks like in different families and different homes. That last bit is where you come in! I can share how these things play out in my home, but I would truly appreciate hearing wisdom from your journey as well. 
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It’s hardly necessary to build a case for the first principle of Attachment Parenting. Preparing for pregnancy, birth, and parenting is not unique to those who practice AP. People of all different backgrounds and parenting philosophies are getting ready to start this life-changing journey every day. It is commonly understood that having children is hard work, and that the decision to become a parent is not one to be entered into lightly, and so we prepare.

“A parent has the potential to gain what is without a doubt the highest satisfaction a human being can enjoy-the gratification of nurturing the development of a child into an emotionally stable and mature young man or woman. There is no greater reward for the adult; there is no greater gift to the child.” 

Richard A. Gardner 
Preparing for Pregnancy

Annabelle’s conception, like that of roughly half of babies born in the US, was unplanned. If I am to trust the early ultrasound-based dating from my pregnancy, I conceived on the very same day that the daddy and I  got married in the courthouse without telling anyone eloped. I was prepared in the sense that I was in a committed, loving relationship with someone I intended to raise children with, that we were reasonably financially stable, that we had access to health care, and perhaps most importantly, that we had discussed how we wanted to parent.

The daddy and I could hardly be happier that Annabelle came into our lives, and our planning for her began as soon as we knew of her impending arrival, but I did not prepare in any specific ways for my pregnancy itself, since I initially intended to wait a bit longer to get pregnant. Preparation for pregnancy can be very beneficial, however, and will ideally involve a great deal of thought and soul-searching on the part of the parents-to-be as well as efforts to prepare the body physically. Physical preparations may include things like exercise, excellent nutrition, and the avoidance of substances that accumulate in the body and could be harmful to a developing fetus (types of fish that tend to be high in mercury, for example). Crystal at Prenatal Coach has written several great articles on the topic of pre-conception that are well worth the read. 
Preparing for Birth

“But what care have men taken to assist the child as it makes the most difficult adjustment of all, that of passing from one mode of existence to another? At no other period in his life does man experience such a violent conflict and struggle, and consequent suffering, as at the time of birth…it has grown in a place where it was protected from all assaults, from every change of temperature, in a fluid created for its rest. And in an instant it has changed this dark and silent home for the hostile air… The doctor handles it without any particular regard, and when it starts to cry in desperation no one takes it seriously…”

Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child 

While it is well worth every ounce of energy required, giving birth is one of the single most challenging things a woman will ever do, and ‘the business of being born’ is taxing for her baby as well. The decisions made in preparation for and during the course of a birth are a large part of what determine the outcomes, so they should be made with great care.
Parents-to-be will want to consider what type of prenatal care to seek and what type of care provider to use on the day of the birth. Many attachment parenting families make more “natural” choices, but there is nothing inherently wrong with choosing to birth in a hospital with an OB in attendance. I did
It can also be extremely helpful to educate yourself on the process of birth and what to expect from this challenging, rewarding, and life-changing process. Reading books like Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth or Dr. Sears’ The Birth Book, or taking a series of childbirth education classes, like a Bradley Method or Hypnobabies course can be a great help. Each of these will help you decide how you want to give birth, and how you would like your baby to be welcomed into the world. Learning about the potential benefits and the potential risks of each the many routine procedures that care providers may perform immediately following birth will help parents-to-be decide what to allow, and what to decline. A great way to make sure all of your birthing decisions are clear is by writing a birth plan, and talking it over with everyone who will be present at your birth.
I have talked a great deal about Annabelle’s birth here already, so I won’t go into detail on our birth preparations, but you can look at my posts on birth if you’re new to the blog and are interested to know more. I also have an article over at the Natural Parents Network called “Five Ways to Prepare for Natural Birth in a Hospital” and there’s a great piece from Luchska of Diary of a First Child with Tips for Preparing for a Natural Childbirth. What I may do in a separate post, particularly if anyone expresses interest, is share the “why” on each of the preferences listed on my birth plan. 
Preparing for Parenting

Photo Credit: hopealso on Flickr
Used by Creative Commons License
While a great deal of parenting is instinctual, the way society has ‘evolved’ has caused parents to become increasingly disconnected with these instincts. This leaves us with the task of rediscovering many things that should come naturally, like how to breastfeed. There are many paths toward this type of discovery, but the biggest and most important thing is simply to ensure that you’re ready to welcome a child into your life and to sacrifice whatever is necessary to accommodate their needs. A beautiful piece on mental and spiritual preparation for parenting is “When it Takes Time for a Reason” by Arpita of Up, Down, and Natural.
Preparation for parenting doesn’t stop when a child arrives. As parents, we constantly have to change, learn, and adapt to meet the evolving needs of our children. Personally, I’m always attempting to prepare for each new stage and challenge by reading parenting books, keeping up with a handful of inspiring blogs, and using the amazing mothers in my community as a resource. Attempt is the key word, and I can’t do it alone-I’m incredibly thankful to have mothers to seek advice from.

One of the most valuable tools I have found for parenting preparation is writing. This blog is immensely helpful to me as I explore new ideas, reflect, and examine my own successes and failures as a parent. The responses I receive from readers give me insight that helps me grow as a parent each and every day. I’m so thankful for this community!

In addition to personal preparation, the importance of making sure you’re on the same page as your co-parent, if you have one, cannot be overstated. If one parent wants to co-sleep and the other doesn’t, or one plans to spank and another plans to practice gentle discipline, there will undoubtedly be problems. The daddy and I talk much and often about how we want to address certain things and why. We talk about what our goals are as parents, and what we want for Annabelle. We’re not perfect, however, and oftentimes issues come up that we haven’t thought to talk about. When this happens, his immediate reaction and mine are seldom the same and until we have a chance to discuss the issue at hand, I sometimes find myself feeling like we’re anything but on the same team. Communication is a huge part of our preparation for parenting, and it helps us connect with each other as well as with Annabelle.
As with pregnancy and birth, there is no prescribed way to prepare for parenting, and there is no way to be prepared for everything. We simply do our best. The underlying principles of respect for our children and their changing needs, and a desire to foster our connections with them is what leads each of us along our individual paths as parents. 

How did, or do you prepare for pregnancy, birth, and parenting? What worked, and what didn’t? What do you wish you had done differently?


For a wealth of resources on this topic, you can also visit the resource page on the Natural Parents Network

8 Responses to Preparing For Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting

  • MJ says:

    Another thoughtful and inspiring post :). My first was as western as you could get– in a hospital, with meds, though with a doula, quite terrible. Of course I have regrets, but I didn't know any better. I was pretty mainstream, no questions, blind trust. But, I made the decision to have a completely different experience with #2. I purchase hypnobirthing cd's and video and hubs of course, my coach. He was wonderful!! And the breathing and hypnobirthing helped until about 7cm, which I then went into the tub and stayed until I was ready to push. We birthed her naturally in a birthing center, surrounded by wonderful midwives. I held her and nursed her immediately. We stayed in one of the bedrooms for hours before going home. Completely different experience form #1.

    As far as parenting goes, communication definitely is key. I have found that hubs and I can't parent effectively, kindly, and respectfully, unless we are straight, honest and kind with each other. The kids see everything (well almost-wink-) that happens between us and we model how to treat others. Gosh I could go on but don't want to take up so much space!! Thanks for another wonderful post Melissa!!

  • Annicles says:

    I was very, very lucky that a friend suggested an ante-natal class that she has attended when she was pregnant that had been absolutley brilliant. I started by attending both this class and the hospital one but quickly dropped the hospital one as it focussed on the drugs available and was quite negative.
    The one I enjoyed was for both partners if it was a partnership and for the birth supporter if not. We learnt how to breath through contractions and exactly what was happening at each stage of labour and all the different options for pain relief.
    However, the most important part of the course was learning how to position a baby for breast feeding and general "how to look after a newborn" lesson. a real newborn was introduced and we watched as he had a bath and how to dress him etc. I was a lot more prepared for the reality of having a baby than a lot of other friends were.
    Even when the birth didn't go as planned I didn't feel like a failure and was able to breastfeed immediately and have skin to skin contact.
    After we got home form the hospital we had a visit from Ruth, the lady who ran the course who was also a breasteeding councillor and when Abi was about 2 weeks old she had new mum classes where we went and ate biscuits and drank tea and talked. It was wonderful. Testament to Ruth was the all but one mum fed their babies until they decided to stop and the one that stopped kept trying for 6 weeks but had terrible mastitis right from the beginning.

  • Melissa Kemendo says:

    Your second birth sounds wonderful! I read Hypnobirthing and it was probably the single most influential thing I read during my pregnancy. I was so relieved and liberated by the idea that my birth didn't have to be painful. In the end, I took the hypnobabies home study course and I was so very glad I did!

    You make a great point about modeling, too! It's easy for me to forget that one, because I don't see the immediate effects of how we treat one another in Annabelle's behavior, but I have to remind myself that she's still watching and it will make a difference.

  • Melissa Kemendo says:

    I had the same experience with the hospital course, Anna! It's unfortunate they don't provide more well-rounded preparation. The course you ended up with sounds wonderful. Your point about not feeling like a failure is an important one. You really can't plan a birth, as so much is out of your hands, but understanding what your body is going through and making informed decisions throughout can have such a huge impact!

  • Thebluladybug says:

    Nothing worked with my first, my Dr. was super conservative in a better not take a chance kind of way. I had a crazy pregnancy and birth, sorta intimidated into doing things I didn't want to do. It was always, "Well, we just want to guarantee a healthy baby right?" I was also young and naive. My second I switched Dr.'s she was amazing and let me pretty much do whatever I wanted. However I had a TON of early labor and severe bleeding with my daughter so we did have more medical interventions, but I was able to say when and how much. Now, I can't find a midwife who is willing to take me on as a patient. However, I am more confident and educated. I wish there had been natural birth classes in my area. I wish I had the confidence to stand up for myself, but that comes with personnel growth. I applaud you for educating people on the many different choices out there. I can name several things we are going to do differently the next time because of yours and a couple other blogs!

  • Annicles says:

    One thing that occurs to me is that when you are pregnant with your second baby there is no support at all beyond the midwife visits, and these are being vut to reduce costs. However, I know a lot of women who would like to make different decisions for the second child. Also, there is the question of how it all effects the first baby and how the family will change. The coming of the second baby was the gardest adjustment for me, yet there was no support or advice available. The best I could do was to try and make friends with other mothers, but they are all going through similar issues plus any other issues like relationship troubles etc so one cannot rely on them too heavily. So motr support and education would be good for all babies, not just the first!

  • Melissa Kemendo says:

    You're definitely not alone! Stories like your first, where the power is taken from the birthing mother, are far too common. Kudos to you for learning from your first experience and having a better one the second time around, and for educating yourself even more in preparation for a potential third.

    You know the ups and downs, probably better than I do at this point, but if you want to try another preparation course next time, I definitely recommend the hypnobabies home study course. There were no classes here, so I had to go with the at home, but there was a super active email group that really made me feel like I was part of a class, too!

  • Melissa Kemendo says:

    That's another great point, Anna! I can scarcely wrap my mind around the idea of how I would handle two at this point! Lauren (aka Hobo Mama) wrote a great post for PhD in Parenting recently that focused on preparing an older sibling for a birth. http://www.phdinparenting.com/2011/03/23/preparing-an-older-sibling-for-a-new-birth/

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