Friday, August 8, 2008

Planned Parenthood

I am the only person in my family who married without being pregnant. In January 1973, my parents hastily tied the knot and seven months later, my sister was born. She in turn got pregnant in her last year of university and wrote her final exams four days after giving birth. My younger sister made the announcement in August 2003. I was sitting in front of the television after work when she came upstairs and said to me, "Guess what? I'm going to have a baby and I'm getting married." Even my best friend from school wasn't immune to the charm - in 2002 she asked for the name and number of my OB-Gyn and I cheered that she was finally getting a checkup. Turns out she was midway through her first trimester.

Considering I live in a predominantly Catholic country, it isn't really surprising that so many women rush down the aisle with artfully concealed bumps. (It's amazing what a well-designed dress or a large bouquet of cascading flowers can do.) What is shocking is the number of educated women who are woefully unconcerned about their gynecological health. My own sisters and best friend didn't even have regular doctors when they accidentally created new life.

I, on the other hand, together with my best friend who now lives in Helsinki, were very much "modern" women. We regularly went for Pap smears and had been on the pill since we became sexually active. Clearly, we are a minority. (Her best friend from school walked down the aisle with a bump too, as did her sister and, twenty-odd years previously, her mother.)

My then-boyfriend already had a massive strike against him in my mother's book, as had been previously married. He was in the process of getting his civil annulment when we met, and never made any secrets about his past. However, with our Catholic upbringing, it was considered a black mark equivalent to a woman's scarlet letter to have an ex-spouse in the picture. For this reason, among others, he wanted to do things right, and marry me before we had any kids. 

To be perfectly honest, I was sexually responsible not just out of fear of disease but out of selfishness. I wanted to enjoy my life, travel, see whether I could find some sort of career path, and most importantly, live on my own before becoming someone's wife or mother. I knew parenthood is the biggest responsibility of all, and one that lasts a lifetime, and figured it would be best not to experience it until I was really ready.

So we walked down the aisle and a respectable nine months later, I got pregnant. We figured 07/07/07 would be a great day for a baby to be born and planned our conception accordingly. It was lucky that my ovulation timetable complied, but Little A had his own thoughts on the matter and was born two days ahead of "schedule."

This is one of the reasons for the Stepford mention in the blog title. "Stepford" connotes both positive and negative reactions; planned perfection can be both a blessing and a curse, though Ira Levin seems to consider it as more of the latter in his seminal book. 

Despite being an older mother than most of my friends and sisters are, I am glad we waited until we did to have a child. As expected, parenthood was life-changing, more for me than my husband as it meant giving up, for now, at least, any time for myself, unplanned trips out of the house, and any sort of paid work (forget about the career path!). I embraced motherhood, and did so on my own terms. 

Unfortunately, not everyone was happy about this decision to parent as we see fit. My own parents long for more time with their grandson because unlike my sisters, I don't leave my kid with them at every possible opportunity. As the last member of the family to procreate (and marry), I experienced firsthand what it was like to look after a child, albeit someone else's. Both sisters didn't get the chance to live their single lives fully before becoming mothers, so they made full use of the grandparent advantage. My older nieces and nephew (from Sister #1) practically grew up at my parents' house, and my younger nieces (from Sister #2) spend weeks and weekends there when my sister and brother-in-law go on their regular travels, nights out and the like. 

While I know my parents love grandparenting, it is hard work for them too. I've heard my mother complain about the messes made in her home, her aching back and the like. I believe grandparenting is for enjoying children but not necessarily having to do the dirty work like getting up for midnight feedings and changing nappies. My in-laws visit regularly to play with Little A, but never once have they offered to feed, change or bathe him, or even put him to sleep. The day we brought Little A home from the hospital, they just stood there and watched as he cried his head off while I was having my first shower in five days. They didn't want to carry him until he was at least 3 months old, for reasons of their own.

My parents, on the other hand, are more used to being parents, as they have done most of the feeding, changing and putting to sleep of their other grandkids. They believe babies need to be carried constantly and have strong opinions on how to care for a child. My mother in particular tends to be overprotective to a degree that can drive me over the edge. 

A happy middle would be ideal, but when is life ever perfect? You can't please everyone, I learned long ago. The thing with parenting your own way is that if you make any mistakes, you have no one to blame for them but yourselves. 

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