Nobody wants to get divorced, but there are ways that separated parents can minimise the impact on their young kids. A new study from La Trobe University has found that shared care, under the age of 4 has a negative impact on very young children. I talked to the lead researcher Assoc. Professor Jennifer McIntosh about what the research found and how divorced or separated parents can manage their living arrangements in ways that are helpful to their young kids.
BY A BADENHOP
I have a confession: sometimes I watch Private Practice. A few weeks ago there was an episode with a woman in labour. Having heard that a drug free birth would be best for the child she refused intervention from the doctors. After three days of increasing angst, the baby was finally born ‘naturally’ and all the pain was worth it. While I could applaud her tenacity, there were a few things that annoyed me about the episode 1) the woman was apparently in enough pain for the doctors to implore her to take drugs, but she could still string a sentence together (bah! call that pain?), 2) she wasn’t red in the face at all, and 3) the one that really gets me – the implication that if you just tried hard enough in your labour, you would have a beautiful ‘natural’ delivery of your baby.
I am really blessed to have two beautiful children. Prior to the birth of no. 1, I thought that while labour would be difficult, it would all go pretty well because I was someone who was good at toughing things out and had even been described as a ‘pocket battleship’.
Round 1. Happily, I went into labour just three days after the due date, and everything seemed to be going really well. For the first 18 hours I went without pain relief, spending time in the shower and bath, with birth balls and heat packs and music, trying to reduce the pain signals to my brain with noise, splashing, stress toys (a dolphin whose flippers were lost in the battle) scratching noises and singing (which degenerated from actual lyrics to ‘la, la, LA’ to primal screams of pain which I’m told you could hear down the hallway). After a period of a couple of hours of one long excruciating contraction, I was sure I must be in transition. Imagine then, my devastation when I was told I had not progressed at all since my previous examination. Not even a centimetre. My midwife in the birth centre then suggested I use gas, then pethidine, then an epidural with syntocinin, and then after 26 hours, with my baby showing signs of distress, I had an emergency caesar (for which I needed a spinal block because the epidural wasn’t working properly).
Round 2. Having had only one caesarean that had healed up well, I was able to try labour again, with more intensive monitoring, and went back to the birth centre to give it another shot. I had joked with friends that all I needed for this labour to be better than the last was for the baby to come out! This time I went into labour a few days before the due date, and the labour progressed really well from having a few odd contractions at 2 am to regular consistent contractions by 9 am. My waters broke immediately after my first examination at the hospital and then it was really on! After a few hours of intense labour, I really was in transition and, having been asked not to push, I requested an epidural. It was after that that everything went downhill. My baby’s heart rate was dropping, but not recovering after contractions. This went on for a period of time that is now all a little blurry until the point when a doctor hit the emergency button. Sirens blaring, my room was suddenly filled with people, I was pulled down into stirrups, and told to ‘Push, Push, PUSH!’ while my little boy was wrenched out of me with forceps in a matter of minutes. Shellshocked, we waited. My husband was certain it had all gone terribly wrong. And then, joy of joys, we heard his little cry, and over a series of debriefs and checks were reassured that he was 100% healthy.we It seemed that my placenta had come away from the uterus during labour (a placental abruption) and there probably would not have been time to prep for a caesar if forceps weren’t able to be used.
There’s so much more I could say about my labours. They certainly weren’t what I expected. I’ve found it cathartic to write down my birth stories and talk it over with people, but I confess to feeling a little envious when I hear about straightforward deliveries, and a little frustrated when people imply that with the right formula you will have a good labour. Prior to our first child, our birth class facilitator taught us that while it was good to have ideas about how you wanted your labour to go, the only really important outcome is a healthy baby. Now when I talk to expecting mums about labour I likewise encourage them not to get too hung up on the labour details – you never know quite how its going to go! At the end of the day, regardless of the process I am so thankful that the result was two healthy children.
What was your labour experience and do you feel like you have recovered from it? Did you feel any pressure from people to do/not do anything in your labour? What have you found helpful in dealing with the unexpected?
We had a disaster last week – a disaster entirely of our own making. A disaster that, with a little more resolve, could have easily been prevented.
We know it’s a bad idea to let Birdy take Teddy out in public places. Normally when we go to the shops or a cafe or to church, we insist that Teddy stays in the car so he doesn’t get lost. But last week Teddy went to daycare. And as anyone, even an Octopus, could have predicted Teddy was left behind at daycare. I know. Shocking case of parental neglect. But wait, it gets worse… It was a FRIDAY!
You know what that means, don’t you? Two long days and three long nights without Teddy.
But hang on, why am I calling him Teddy, like he’s just some home brand generic teddy? He has a name. It’s January. Birdy named him herself when she was two years old. My husband and I were quite impressed. Birdy was born in January, so it’s a pretty cool name for her teddy.
I bought January when I was pregnant. My husband, who has a more pessimistic mindset than me, wouldn’t let me buy any baby things for about the first six months, in case it didn’t work out. But I was so excited I just had to get something, so I allowed myself to buy just one teddy for my unborn baby. That teddy turned out to be January. That baby turned out to be Birdy. I’m pretty attached to them both. So naturally I was quite pleased that January became the teddy she bonded with and cuddles every night.
I was very attached to my teddy as a child. He was blue with hardly any hair and he was called Peter Bear. I remember a few distraught times (after I’d got in trouble for something) when I was genuinely convinced that Peter Bear was the only person in the world who really understood me. Fortunately that conviction never lasted too long. But he was there for me when I needed him. That’s why I always hoped that Birdy would also have a special teddy to be her unconditional friend.
Well, you’ll be glad to hear we survived the weekend without January. Birdy even managed to sleep OK, but not without a few tears before bed each night. Any time she got upset about something, she’d ask for teddy and then cry even more because he wasn’t there. And I actually found it harder to calm her down her without that simple, dependable comforter that I automatically turn to when she’s upset. I felt almost as pleased as Birdy when January finally came home again. I’ve made him promise to never run away again.
Do your kids have a special teddy or comforter? Have you ever left it behind in a hotel, playground or at a friend’s place? Did you have a special soft toy as a child that you still remember?
I saw a status update on Facebook that amused me recently. My sister-in-law (Aly) described how her 3 year old climbed into their bed in the early hours of the morning and they grudgingly allowed her in. After lying still for about a minute she started bouncing around. They told her to keep still and she said, “But I’m a froggy. I want to hop, hop, hop like a frog.” So her Dad said, “We don’t want any frogs in our bed. No more froggy jumps please.” After a short pause a little voice piped up, “Can I leap like a deer?”
I can relate to this story, especially lately. Last night I said to Birdy, “Night, night, mind the bed bugs don’t bite.” And she said, “Well if they do, I will just crawl into your bed!’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I bet you will.” I think because the weather’s been so cold, a certain little person keeps turning up in our room at about 4 am. And I must say it’s quite convenient because it’s a lot warmer if she curls up with us than if I have to go and settle her in her bedroom!
We’ve come full circle on this one, but it’s partly an age thing. When Birdy was little we had a rule that she couldn’t come into Mummy and Daddy’s bed until the birds were singing. This was mainly because she’d wriggle and squirm so much that none of us would get any sleep. I was pretty firm about it, because I thought that if she came into our bed I’d never get her out again. But there was one day a few months ago when neither my husband or I noticed that she’d got into bed with us until we woke up and found her asleep between us in the morning. And I thought, well if it’s not disturbing anyone, then what’s the problem? So now we let her stay there as long as she doesn’t start doing the cha-cha in the middle of the night.
Last week on my radio show I interviewed Rozanna Lilley from the Children and Families Research Centre at Macquarie Uni about the way children and families sleep around the world. Her point is that in most cultures, some form of co-sleeping is the norm. Not necessarily bed-sharing, but sleeping together, rather than expecting infants to sleep alone. The idea that children have problems sleeping is a relatively recent phenomenon in western cultures, and it may be that our expectations of children have changed, rather than that their sleeping has become worse. To hear the full interview click here.
Anyway, we actually quite enjoy it when Birdy comes to snuggle up with us. So far she hasn’t vomited or wee’d in our bed, though I’m sure the day is coming. Obviously I might feel differently if I had four kids, but with just one, she’s actually quite a good hot water bottle. I’m sure I’ll have second thoughts about it when summer rolls around though!
Do your kids climb into bed with you? What time of morning is OK? Do you let them sleep in your bed, or is it strictly a kid-free zone? What rules do you have to make sure everyone gets a good night’s sleep, or as good as possible?