There is a lot of buzz going on right now about a book called Bringing Up Bebe, by Pamela Druckerman, insinuating that the French are better than us Americans at being parents.
My question isn’t whether or not the French are better at raising kids, because not only is “better” a relative term, but it is also pretty generic.
So instead, I’m willing to learn, in what ways the French are perceived as better than we are at parenting. On the flip side, how are Americans better at it?
To educate myself on the subject, I read a blog post written by Paige Bradley Frost, an American woman raising her children in Paris. She shares:
“We therefore define ‘good parenting’ in vastly different ways. A ‘good mother’ in the U.S. (a virtually unattainable state of grace) is, by definition, a deeply involved and engaged mother. A sit-on-the-floor, clap your hands, dig in the sandbox, finger painting kind of gal.”
She goes on to explain that our self-sacrificing, American version of parenting is considered to be “absurd” by the French, who are more structured and less hands-on in raising their children.
From what I am gathering, it appears we as Americans would view the French as cold, militant parents whose children are well-behaved yet practically unloved. Meanwhile, the French view American parents as overly involved to the point our kids don’t respect our authority as they should.
“…The French children Druckerman knows sleep through the night at two or three months old while those of her American friends take a year or more. French kids eat well-rounded meals that are more likely to include braised leeks than chicken nuggets. And while her American friends spend their visits resolving spats between their kids, her French friends sip coffee while the kids play.”
Based on my experience as an American dad who is extremely observant of what other parents say on Facebook and in parenting blog comments, I would say that most American parents truly desire a balance between the two stereotypes.
We don’t want to be “that parent” who lets their kid run around crazy inside a TJ Maxx, tossing out empty threats of discipline but never following through.
Nor do we want to be uninvolved and apathetic in our children’s personal interests, forcing them to take piano lessons and making all their decisions for them.
I don’t want to be a stereotypical parent, whether it’s French or American. But I do want the best of both worlds in parenting: structured and disciplined yet affectionate and open to my child’s individuality.
As a stereotypical young American who believes I can do anything I put my heart in, I believe I can live in this mythical middle ground.
For the past several weeks, my wife has been toying with the idea of “going natural” for the birth. In other words, no pain medication. And I’ve been impressed just by her willingness, because I know if it were up to the men of the world to continue the human population by giving birth instead of women, the human population would have died off thousands of years ago.
I had been seeing The Business of Being Born keep popping up on my Netflix as a recommended title that I would enjoy. Then recently, a writer friend (http://www.meetmissjones.com/) also told me I should see it after she read about our disappointment with our first two appointments at a standard hospital. (Of course, we ended up switching to midwives and are so happy, though I had no idea what a midwife really even was when we first met with them.)
So last night we watched the documentary, The Business of Being Born, directed by Ricki Lake and produced by Abby Epstein (yes, they are both Jewish). I went into it thinking it would be a tiring movie telling how much money is made off of strollers, cribs, daycare, etc.
Instead, it is a one-sided film about the importance of the long-lost tradition of natural births. And we loved it!
I took notes:
-Induced labor increases the chances of C-Section by 50%
-In Japan and Europe, 70% of births are delivered by a midwife. In the US, only 8%
-The US has the 2nd worst newborn death rate in the developed world
-The US has one of the highest maternal mortality rates among all industrialized countries
-Since 1996 the C-Section rate in the US has risen 46%; In 2005, it was one out of every 3 American births
While there are obviously certain situations where a C-Section is absolutely necessary (like the baby being “breach”), it is a major surgery that has become the new norm.
Interestingly, in the movie, a group of young doctors are asked how many live births they have witnessed. Basically, none of them had.
And to me, that’s scary. That it’s easier, less time consuming, and more profitable to induce labor and perform a C-Section that it is to let the baby born naturally.
In the documentary they explain how the peak times for American babies being born is at 4pm and 10pm, the times at the end of the work shifts so that doctors can go home.
For me, the desire to have a natural birth all comes down to observing the downward spiral of having a baby in a hospital, with a doctor, the American way:
The mother is given Pitocin, to induce labor. Which causes longer, more intense contractions and cuts off oxygen to the baby, putting both the mother and the baby at risk, as well as potentially causing birth defects (even ADHD or Autism in the child later on, though not enough evidence can back this yet, but I won’t be surprised when it can).
So inducing labor increases the chances of having a C-Section by 50%, which puts both mother and child at greater risk. And the epidural slows down the birthing process- which in addition to the Pitocin, is another drug that may also affect the health of the baby.
Until last night, I had never witnessed a live human birth. But now I’ve seen at least four or five. All of them natural.
It’s pretty interesting to watch. I didn’t think it was gross, and I’m not artistic enough off a person to go on and on about how beautiful it was. It just seemed natural and normal. Like watching someone poop. But a baby came out instead.
The Business of Being Born does contain a large amount of nudity, as most of the mothers are nude while giving birth. But we were so intrigued by watching the births, that it didn’t register, “hey, this is porn”. It was just a woman giving birth. The documentary is not rated, because if it was, it may have to be rated NC-17. But to that I say, What Movie Rating Does Real Life Get?
One of the major reasons I now support natural birth (and denounce induced labor by a doctor, with certain exceptions) is the fact that in a hospital, the mother lays down flat on a bed. Common sense tells us that gravity will naturally help pull the baby out. Plus the fact that by having the mother lay down flat, it gives the baby less room to come out.
I also learned that when a baby is born naturally, “a love cocktail of hormones” is released by the mother, causing a unique bond to occur between the mother and the child.
This is where we’re headed. This is what we will attempt. A natural birth overseen by midwives. Yet just down the hall from an M.D. in case something goes wrong.