Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ode to my father

My parents finally watched the "Business of Being Born" earlier this week.  Which I had given them about a month ago for them to watch, but hey being semi-retired doesn't mean you aren't busy.  My mom knew a lot about what they talked about in the movie, having been a Le Leache League Leader for years. She had watched movies and read articles that all stated what they talked about in the movie. Some of it was shocking to her though, because she stopped being a leader when I was 12, so being pulled up to date on some things was a shock. She said she enjoyed seeing Michel Odent (author of 'Childbirth without Fear') talk, because that was the first book that she read and really really enjoyed.  More than anything though, we talked about the main midwife (Cara Muhlahan) and how cool she seemed. It was funny that we talked about the segment of the movie where she was sharing her birth video and how she had her hair done up in this funny braid thing on top of her head. Also how she had such a hard first birth, yelling at everyone, crying in the bathtub, and my favorite quote "You wait here, I'm going to walk to the hospital and have the baby."  My mom expressed her frustration with how the director wasn't breastfeeding her son at the final end, even though she was attempting to after he was born. She has a 'No Guts, No Glory' view on breastfeeding after helping so many women who had inverted nipples, babies with cleft lips, and all sorts of problems nurse their newborns and have them go on to nurse for a year or more. I'm with her on that, but I guess I'm a bit more easy going about that. She'll learn how wonderful nursing is if she has more kids.

What was really shocked me was that after they had watched it that night, my dad called me.  He told me how he was shocked about the statistics on birth in the US, about the things they did to women around the time when he was born, and how things have become so much so about money that they are willing to put women and babies at risk.  More than anything, it made him think about his own birth and how different his childhood might of been.
My dad is the first surviving baby of my German-immigrant grandparents, who escaped Germany at the tail end of WWII.  My Oma, had a still born son before my dad. She became pregnant again six months later with my dad and my dad was a preemie who was born breech.  My Oma had been very sick during her pregnancy with him and she probably had the "normal" birth at the time, being completely high on drugs or perhaps even being knocked out completely while my dad was being born.  She didn't get to hold him until two weeks later. She only saw him through the glass window at the nursery. She says that all the nurses were always telling her how beautiful her son was, etc, but she didn't believe them. She thought my dad had died too and that they were just telling her that to save her from the awful truth. They had completely and totally missed the crucial bonding period after birth. Then after that long, to my Oma, emotionally and hormonally, my dad was dead. She hadn't held him, didn't know what color his eyes or hair was, didn't know how his cry sounded or what he smelled like. Same with my dad, he only knew the menagerie of nurses dressed in white, probably with masks over their mouths, that changed him, fed him, and rocked him to sleep. There was no bonding between mother and child. This also completely canceled out any chance of reforming a bond with breastfeeding, because at that time, you were putting your baby in danger by breastfeeding. Moms were told that their baby would die by the time their milk came in. So, my father was bottle fed. Any chance of a real chemical bond between him and my Oma was gone.
To make matters worse, my Opa was a raging alcholic when he was younger, due to the horrors that he witnessed while he was in the 'Hitler Jungen' in Germany, before he ran away.  He relived nightmares and had a horrible temper. He still drinks today, but he doesn't rage, he just passes out.  So, needless to say my poor father was also on the receiving end of the rages. My dad was beaten, yelled at, and abused his whole childhood.  The sad part (and this is mostly in theory because neither of my grandparents will admit to it) is that because my Oma felt no real bond, beyond 'he is my son', she rarely put herself in between them. My dad has clear memories of my Oma acting coldly towards him when he had an injury or just needed to be held, as children do. He was forced to grow up quickly and alone.

This being known, the part of the movie where they touched on how all these medical interventions that involve chemicals or drugs that mimic or block the bonding hormone, hit home with him. This was the reason why, when my parents had me, my dad wanted my mom to breastfeed, for both my brother and I to sleep in their bed and why he carried us around in baby carriers tucked in under his jacket. Because he was denied so much love and comfort as a child, he went as far as he could to put that love and comfort into his childrens lives. Seeing him holding my son after he was born, made me realize how much my dad needed to be loved like that when he was a baby. How the simple act of being allowed to fall asleep on his parents shoulder or chest, was never granted to him.

In fact looking at all of my aunts and uncles, they all exhibit this trait. At our most recent get together, I watched my uncle hold his baby nephew while he was crying, it didn't matter that he was screaming at the top of his lungs.
My mom has noticed this about my dads family, that the older siblings all display deep protect and comfort traits. That with their own children, the way they comfort them, it's almost as though they are trying to comfort the crying child within them, that was never comforted.

During her studies in the LLL, my mom came across something that described my Oma to a T with her experiences in childbirthing. She never got over the fact that my dad lived. She actually told me Oma this and my mom told me that by the look that she was given after saying it, she knew she had hit the nail on the head. They've never talked openly about my Oma's births, she did have miscarriages and I think one more stillborn between her kids. But, because of when my grandparents were raised, these were things you didn't talk about. Like sex, you just didn't talk about it. You found out on your wedding night and that was that.

I am glad that my parents found each other and that even though they were both damaged goods, they were able to get passed their past and focus on improving and raising their children the way they wished the had been raised. It is because of their love that my brother and I have never been afraid to be who we are. That we aren't trying to live up to the standard set and expected from us. There is a real bond between us and that is how it should be between parents and children. It is one thing to say "That is my son", but it is a completely different world to feel so strongly about that sentence as to willing throw yourself in front of a truck for them.
That is the simple feeling that is at risk with medical interventions. Not every mom will have this problem, but the question is...................Is it worth the Risk?

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