Thursday 29 December 2011


If Luck Takes a Holiday, Are You Ready?by Stephen Gallup

This week, a local newspaper ran an article in which new parents were interviewed about their birthing experiences. Several complained that they felt they’d been “rushed” into having C-sections (although in one case the procedure came after 40 hours of labor, and so does not sound exactly precipitous to me). While sharing the parents’ frustration that things had not turned out according to plan, I can’t avoid looking at the question from my own perspective.

Every one of the parents interviewed has a healthy child now.

In bygone times, when adequate support was not available, childbirth sometimes ended in death of the mother, the baby, or both. Take away the support and that can still happen.

Sometimes undesirable things happen anyway. Giving birth is a very, very big deal. That’s why almost everybody going into it chooses to put themselves into the hands of professionals. So I wonder at the giddy excitement some first-time parents bring to the experience. I do understand the appeal of a storybook event, enhanced by trappings such as favorite music, a room full of favorite people, and everything captured on video. You don’t get that kind of celebration when the hospital staff whisks you off for what amounts to major surgery. And so, according to the above article, what you get instead is folks who feel they’ve been wronged.

This gets complicated, because I’m sure some hospitals do become more heavy-handed than necessary in their level of intervention. Sometimes what they do may be driven by factors other than the well-being of the mother and child. When my first son was born, the hospital wanted to do a C-section, and when my wife and I objected they instead used vacuum delivery. I wonder if their rush to get that baby out was justified. It certainly did not justify the result. We later discovered that the suction applied to the top of our son’s head during birth caused him to be in pain and distress for at least the first 20 months of his life.

And there were other issues, most likely not connected with the delivery, that have continued to affect him. He’s now twenty-six, and disabled.

My purpose in writing this is not to spoil the happiness of people looking forward to becoming parents. Still, having lived through some hard times with my son and his mother, I think it’s appropriate to raise a taboo subject.

What if the birth experience not only falls short of being wonderful but actually is the beginning of a lifelong commitment to someone with profound developmental disabilities? How many new parents are prepared for that?

All of us should be emotionally prepared, in view of the rates of disability. Taking all levels of severity into account, about one child in six is born with a developmental problem of one sort or another. And that of course is before events in this dangerous world start having an effect on the child after birth.

Risk is unavoidable. We accept it automatically every time we cross the street. Most of the time, we’re lucky.

But I don’t think many people are ready for what it means when luck takes a holiday. Sometimes parents (fathers in particular) react by running away. I’ve seen it happen. Or everybody sticks around, but the marriage falls apart. The experience calls for each person involved to reach inside and see what’s most important.

In my family’s case, the most important thing was the love and responsibility we felt toward our child, who had no personal say in any of this. But it hasn’t been easy. There have been unexpected costs.

If you are approaching an event like childbirth, I sincerely hope the experience is everything you want it to be.

If the adventure is behind you, and you have nothing worse than maybe a scar and regret that things departed from your script, please let me encourage you to count your blessings.

But all of us, sooner or later, encounter significant difficulties, be it in childbirth or elsewhere. Like it or not, this seems to be a part of life. And what we can do with it, is the real story we live out. 

Stephen Gallup is the author of What About the Boy? A Father’s Pledge to His Disabled Son. For more information, please

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