What do you mean, I'm giving birth the wrong way?

My friends arrogantly insist I should have my next child at home

By Cary Tennis

Published December 20, 2011 1:00AM (EST)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

A sort of continental drift between my friends and me over parenting suffered an earthquake last month, and now the chasm between us seems impossibly wide. I need advice about friendship and forgiveness, or maybe I need advice about staying strong and letting "friends" go, at least until the kids are grown. All I know is that I'm sad and resentful, and possibly overreacting.

The drift: 10 years ago, my now-husband and I lived across the street from one of my best college friends and his now-wife. Then we got married within two months of each other, had our first children within nine months of each other, and generally supported each other through these two very big and wonderful experiences. Then the last four years happened.

My friends moved to a progressive, Midwestern college town so he could complete his Ph.D. and she could have two more wonderful children in quick succession. She had uncomplicated pregnancies, had those babies at home, breast-fed like a champ, and is now interested in private (Waldorf) schooling for the children as they enter the preschool years. All the while they've had the financial support of retired, secure grandparents to make some of these things possible that wouldn't be on a graduate student stipend alone.

My husband and I had our delightful daughter in a hospital setting, I went back to work when she was 11 weeks old (also breast-feeding and pumping for a year plus), we pieced together childcare from the generosity of my sister, neighborhood baby sitters, and finally a daycare close to work and now a great preschool. None of those events happened without difficulty -- financial and emotional - but we passed through them and have a loving, happy little family.

It's been four hard and wonderful years -- interspersed with a significant illness on my part that delayed trying for a second baby (and trying, and trying) until -- yes! -- I was finally pregnant and ready to share the news with my good friends (who had since moved only an hour away when my friend secured a professorship at a nearby college).

The earthquake: We go up to their house for the weekend, our kids go off to play, I share that I'm pregnant and then ... well. Questions about how my daughter was born (didn't they know? I thought I told them?) turned into a strong push for my husband and me to consider having a home birth for this new baby. And they weren't particularly nice about it. They made it clear that the birth of my daughter was an awful experience (if only I would recognize it) and that I clearly hadn't done my research (I did). When it was evident from my shaking voice and tearing eyes that I was upset, and as I attempted feebly to defend my goddamn "birth experience" and my intelligence, they (sort of) dropped it and we all played a game of Balderdash. I so desperately wanted things to be OK that I pretend that they were.

But they're not, obviously. One game of Balderdash does not restore a friendship. Neither does my friend's post-earthquake attempts to "like" everything I post on Facebook. I never told them how much they hurt me, but I also have no desire right now to see them. I would rather lick my wounds alone, grow fat with a new baby, give birth in the big bad hospital, and check in with them once the kids are done with college and our early "parenting choices" fade into perspective.

Worse, that one earthquake event made me revisit the slow drift, so now I'm resentful of how "easy" they've had things when before that fateful weekend I didn't give anything a second thought -- I was just happy to spend time with them and their kids. Aren't we just lucky to even have kids? And jobs? And old friends?

If I don't try to save this friendship now, do you think I can save it later? Should I save it? Can I come to a place of forgiveness without a discussion with them? Or do I have to discuss it with them? What can I learn from this experience about myself that's positive, or things about myself that I can/should change so this type of thing doesn't eat me up so much? I feed off resentment sometimes. How can I stop?

Sad Mama-to-be

Dear Sad Mama-to-be,

There are certain topics in the discussion of which otherwise decent, thoughtful people behave like tyrannical bores. One such topic is "the good of the children." Apparently "for the good of the children" no remark is too tasteless or insensitive or intrusive. When "the good of the children" is concerned, your feelings as parents and friends no longer matter.

Your friends would never so ham-handedly advise you on proper techniques and apparatus for sexual intercourse with your husband. They would never suggest that in your bathroom habits you're doing it all wrong. That stuff is private! It's taboo! That would seem weird and offensive. But no offense is too great when it comes to "the good of the children."

It might be different if the children in question were in danger of dying from unsanitary conditions or suffering brain damage. But just who are these children about whose good we are so deeply concerned, and what is the peril? They are, on the whole, extremely fortunate children, children of wise and loving parents, about to be born in sophisticated modern hospitals where the greatest possible medical advances ensure nearly flawless safety for mother and child in an event that throughout history has involved peril of death for both.

So I join you in your high dudgeon; I am in solidarity with you. Your friends were out of line.

At the same time, I have to tell you: Let it go.

Your friends love you. They are simply flawed people, like all of us.

Birth at home, birth in water, birth in the silent, peaceful dark, that sounds great. I wish I could have been born that way. That would have been great.

But who chooses the manner in which the birth is to be had? Friends? Strangers? Doctors? The state? The church?

You choose. The mother chooses. And the rest of us step back and respect that.

Still, you have to let it go.

Now here's where it gets interesting. Just precisely exactly in what manner on earth are you to just simply "let it go"? How, pray tell, is that supposed to happen?

Me, I am, imperfectly but fairly determinedly, a practitioner of the 12 steps. And one thing we learn in practicing the 12 steps is to concern ourselves with the phenomenon of the disturbance itself. We put aside questions of who was right and ask, Why am I disturbed? In your case, you are uncomfortable with something someone has said to you. Regardless of the content, it is you who must adjust your outlook to accommodate this phenomenon. Sure, someone has been rude. But people can be rude to us with no consequence  to us if we are, shall I say, spiritually fit.

It takes practice, of course. But the 12 steps lead us to a place where we are not disturbed greatly if at all by such intrusive boorishness. We shrug it off. We lovingly let it go. For help in learning to practice the 12 steps you might look into something like Al-Anon or codependents anonymous, groups that use the 12 steps to tackle problems other than substance abuse and addiction.

Now, abandoning the notion of who is right and who is wrong is a huge shift for people who consider themselves thinking individuals, problem solvers, rational, decent people. But that is what the 12 steps call for; that is what is required when all reasonable, commonsense solutions have come up short. When you are driven to the 12 steps, usually your reasonableness has indeed been exhausted. You have seen your situation to be absolutely hopeless.

So. Well then. The only thing that stands in your way seems to be the absence of absolute hopelessness!

Perhaps absolute hopelessness is present in some form. Let's hope so.

(Please forgive my nerdy attempt at dark, 12-step humor.)

Good luck. I hope you can go back to these friends of yours and admit that you were hurt in that conversation but you value them and love them and want to save the friendship. They sound like good people. You all sound like good people. I hope you can remain friends for a long time, and raise these kids together.

Cary Tennis

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