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Home arrow Psychology arrow The philosophical parent : asking the hard questions about having and raising children
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KAYAKS AND BOATS

I had the great pleasure of touring the waters of Resurrection Bay, in Alaska, several years ago. It was exquisite seeing glaciers up close, and whales, puffins, bears, and sheep in the distance. Sea kayakers in the area got even closer to the ice and the animals. I know what they were thinking of us on our comfortable boat. I know it because I’ve done my share of long-distance bicycling, backpacking, and canoeing. They were thinking we weren’t really enj oying the scenery the way they were. On the other hand, from our boat, the kayakers looked like they were freezing to death in the steady drizzle. We on the boat knew we were having a lot more fun.

The boaters and kayakers are wrong in their assessment of each other, but right about one thing: they wouldn’t want to trade places. Put a kayaker on the boat, and she will feel overly pampered and cut off from the thrills of being close to the water and the ice. Put a boater on a kayak, and she will feel so cold and exhausted she won’t enjoy the calving glaciers.

It’s the same way with women with divergent birth plans. The natural crowd imagines women going through an unnatural birth as missing out. Those who choose medication think women going through natural birth must be missing out. But women approach the birth experience with different priorities. It’s not so much that they have different values, but that they assign different weights to their various values, and give them highest priority in different contexts. For example, athleticism and mastery pertain to childbirth a great deal for some, and not so much for others. Seeking authenticity and primordial experience matters to some when it comes to childbirth; for others this is as unimaginable as seeking primordial experience in the context of dentistry.

Undeniably, there are ways for things to go wrong. On the boat, some people were so preoccupied with their cameras that they didn’t completely enjoy the glaciers. Some were too nauseated by the swells to look around. The tempting food inside the boat diverted attention from the gorgeous scenery. Closer to nature in a kayak, the headwinds can be horrid, the cold rain overwhelming. You can spend your time just wishing you were home and dry. You can choose a kayak when you should have chosen a boat, and vice versa. Obvious moral: you need to think carefully about where you put yourself so that you’re in the place you really want to be. All the more so on the momentous occasion of your child’s birth.

I have never met a woman who didn’t love to tell her birth story. I would love to hear the Orthodox woman tell hers. I bet she would tell it completely differently than I have. Maybe it has comic elements in her telling—the two trips to the hospital, the consultation with the rahhi as she gave birth—and maybe her agony is heroic or operatic in the retelling. Maybe the birth didn’t feel to her anything like it sounded to me.

Whatever birth was really like for her, it’s her story, and I suspect she wouldn’t trade it for any other. After all, that was the day when she got to meet her child, and that—finally having our new baby in our arms—is what matters most.

 
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