Friday, 22 February 2008

Rufus Evison's Becoming a father
chapter 2: Having a baby

“All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant.” Henry David Thoreau.

In this section I will talk about the commitment that having a baby requires from both partners, the kind of costs you can expect in terms of lifestyle and your relationship as well as the costs financially.

It is worth taking the time to examine these things together and make sure you understand everything fully. The reason this is so important is not just that it is a big commitment that needs to be entered into with your eyes open. There is a hidden reason too, and that is that in the 9 months run up to the birth you will experience moments of panic. You will ask yourself ‘what am I doing, have I made a really big mistake?’, and the only way you will be comfortable answering is if you have looked at everything while it is not yet happening.

This is a major tool for stress reduction and stress has a huge impact on pregnancy and conception. Her stress is even more important than yours in terms of things like causing miscarriages, so make sure you have both looked at things rationally and know what you are doing.

She is less certain to panic than you are, but it is a good idea to have all points covered in advance and a mutual agreement before things start. This is in fact a good way of going about anything to do with children, and practicing it now will stand you both in good stead for when you have children.

This is a book for men, so I am not going to go into detail about all the things that she will go through. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of books for a woman which will tell her what she needs to know. I suggest that you may want to read some of them.

For a woman a pregnancy is a whole body experience. She will be subject to mood swings from mind altering substances . She will be subject to both mental and physical disabilities. Some of these will be annoying, some may be frightening, and some may be extremely inconvenient, not to say painful. Where a book for women about pregnancy talks about severe discomfort you have to understand that what is meant is mind numbing pain.

Some of the changes will affect you directly and those I have covered in detail. It is worth spending some time to understand the whole process, not just the bits that impact you. Try and see things from her point of view and it will deepen your respect as well as improving your experience of the whole pregnancy.

As you will read below a pregnancy in what will become a family is a massive change. For you this will be a whole relationship experience that changes all aspects of your life. For her it will be so much more than that, and a well informed man will understand that.

In some ways these changes are an advantage and you can use them in a positive way to help you both. Sometimes the more extreme changes can be destructive and you can use a good understanding to help mitigate against the negatives.

Conception is not something that happens overnight. Strictly speaking that is not true, many conceptions do happen overnight, but the average wait for that one night is on the order of six to eight months. Even that is misleading because you are more likely to become pregnant early or late, and not many people are actually anywhere near the average.

People who get pregnant in the first month or two tend to be those who are not trying at all, or those who have everything stacked in their favour. This is at least partly because stress is such a major factor, and if you are not trying you are not worried about not becoming pregnant. A lot of what the early part of this book is about is trying to arrange to have everything stacked in your favour.

This does not mean that you will automatically be one of the couples who get pregnant straight away. It certainly does not mean that you should start worrying if you do not get pregnant in the first few months. In fact I recommend not actively trying out any of the things that will help with becoming pregnant until you start actively trying after at least three months.

Of the couples I know who have been trying (a sample to small to have much statistical significance) most have either become pregnant within three months of starting to try or have taken around 2 years. None have been in the middle zone. Not a single couple has been even close to the average. The notable thing about the ones who take longer (I have factored out those who have physical fertility problems), is that they tend to be those with more stressful lifestyles, or those who have worried about becoming pregnant. The message is clear: Don’t worry, enjoy the sex, enjoy not needing to worry about contraceptives, relax and have fun becoming parents.

There is a Japanese philosophy which suggests taking pains over the details and being relaxed about the big things. Having a child is a big thing, do not worry about it.

Making the decision to try.

There are several things you have to consider if you are deciding whether or not to have a baby. These cover a wide range, from how prepared you are emotionally, through to what the costs will be financially. It is worth understanding how it will affect you both physically and mentally.

Knowing that this will change your relationship is this something that you, as a couple, want? It can never be something you are completely prepared for, but try to ensure that you have a joint understanding of what it will mean, and how it will affect you both. There is no substitute for talking, considering the consequences and talking some more. Understand the responsibilities it will bring, how it will affect both of your lives and how ready you each are for the responsibilities you would be taking on.

After you have read this chapter, remember there is no point waiting for the perfect time as it will never come.

Talking things over
Discuss your current relationship and make sure you have no hidden issues. The baby will place stress on the relationship in many ways (cf lifestyle changes after the baby is born). Talk with each other about fantasies you have had or still have; this can be anything from becoming a world class footballer to suddenly getting up and going to Paris for a romantic weekend. Having a child will restrict the sorts of things you will be able to do, and this needs to be understood before a decision is made.

Discuss any hopes and expectations you each have of the other as a parent and of both of you together as a family. Your relationship to each other is the environment that will surround your child. It will be shaken up by the arrival of a baby and you need to tie down any loose ends now so that even as it changes it is a good environment to be in.

Sleep deprived people are grumpy and unreasonable. You will be grumpy and unreasonable and she will seem twice as grumpy and unreasonable as you are. It is not enough for your relationship to survive this; it has to remain happy enough for a child to thrive in. This is a tall order, and no one can guarantee that it will be the case, let alone that it will be the case 24 hours a day 7 days a week. The best you can do is plan for it, prepare yourselves for a shock and see that as much preparation is done as possible.

The baby will come between you, so plan how you can maintain intimacy when there is no time to yourselves. You need to plan how you will arrange time to yourselves but, again, that is not enough. Also you should read about postnatal depression, as a large proportion of mothers get it, and it is usually unexpected and harsh. Coping with it as a partner is not easy. If this does not sound a bit scary then you do not understand.

A few questions for each of you to try to answer together:
• What are two or three things that matter most to you in your life right now?
• What are two or three things that you hope to have or achieve in the next five or ten years?
• What are your values? Do you value success, honesty, humility, generosity etc.
• What do you believe in? (things like I believe in firm discipline are just as valid here as I believe in one true god).
• Are you both of the same religion? If you are not will this cause a problem later?
• Who could help us? What is our family/friends/support network like? (Remember thath this includes both your emotional support network and the people who might offer practical or financial help).
• Whose judgement do you both respect, who could/should you ask for advice before you start trying?
• What issues do you have with your parents and how they brought you up? How will this affect your relationship with them? How will it affect how you bring up your child?
• How will you cope with unsolicited advice?
• How will you cope with advice you have asked for but do not like?
• Are you agreed on your approach? Can you, together, accept the things you agree about and not be worried by the things you do not agree about?
• Are your views on things like education, child care and discipline similar?
• How do you intend to resolve things when we disagree with each other? Not disagreeing about what the child can do in front of the child is a good idea here. Disgree, sort it out and present a united front.
• What are each of you going to do about time off, both straight after the birth and in the long term? How will this impact your careers?
• Is your relationship stable? Is it the sort of relationship that a child can add something to?
• Who is going to look after the child? Who will care for your home? How will responsibilities be divided?

After you have done all of the above create a financial plan to cover your lower income. See what this is going to mean to you financially and then try to imagine what this will mean to you both in practice. Being in a bad financial position is one of the key causes of postnatal depression in both men and women. Understand what your position will be and what you will want or need to do about it.

Once you have a real understanding of what it will mean financially talk about that between the two of you. See if her understanding of the hardships is the same as your understanding. If he thinks you will both save money by now buying expensive football strip while you think she will simply have less frequent haircuts you are both in for a big shock at the time you will least be able to cope with it. Talk things out now and you can avoid a whole host of problems.

Once you have tackled the financial matters it is time to look at the commitment you will both put in. The next section will give you a feel for the things to look at, so I suggest you read it both before and after your discussion. Again having an agreement about what each of you will do is a good start. Once you have that agreement go off and think about it alone.

You need to be comfortable that you can not only fulfil your half, but also that you can take over her half in the event that she becomes unavailable. Unavailable can be because of disease, injury, post natal depression, family issues, work issues, or in fact almost anything. If you are not comfortable you can do this then you need to go back and discuss your concerns with your partner.

She will probably not feel that her absence is a realistic proposition, but even happy healthy people get run down by busses. It is not about being realistic, it is about understanding what you are getting into, and both of you feeling that you know how to tackle all eventualities.

Am I ready for the commitment?
The commitment required to have and to raise a child is huge. If you are not at least a bit scared you either do not understand what it means or you are not taking it seriously enough. That said the joys of parenthood can be extreme too.

There are three different areas to look at in terms of how much commitment you will each need to put in. Your view of each area will be different from that of your partner, so I cannot emphasise enough the importance of the earlier section on discussion.

The sections below are
1. What you will each need to commit to simply for conception to take place.
2. What you need to commit to in order to see it through as far as the birth,
3. What you need to commit to in order to raise a child.

The amount of commitment required goes up as you go down the list, and I will talk about each. The thing to bear in mind is that you need to have thought about it all in detail before you start on phase one.

Once the journey to becoming a father has begun it will gain momentum and start to take over your life. You will wonder whether you have made a mistake, what it is all for, and whether it is right for you. The only reassurance you will have is to know that you have considered everything, and that this really is what you want. Once things are moving it will be quite easy to get frightened or nervous and so you need to know that you thought things out while you were not under pressure.

Discuss everything first then take the time to consider; later will be too late. Almost no one reasons well while a car is bearing down on them, and those who do get hit by the car while they are thinking. Reason now and enjoy the benefits later.

The commitment required before conception
The commitment required before conception is nothing compared to the commitment required to bring up a child.

What you do now will make a difference to the chances of conception, and may affect the chances of some childhood diseases. Perhaps, because all it does is alter the odds in your favour, you do not require any major changes to your life. The largest changes are likely to be denying yourself some of your favourite vices.
Why do anything at all?

Throughout the world millions of babies are conceived unplanned. Many of them grow up healthy and happy. It must be possible to do without all this, so why bother at all?

At least 15 percent of couples planning a baby in the UK or the US will have trouble conceiving! Some authorities put the figure nearer to 25%. The past twenty years have shown a dramatic increase in fertility problems.

A Male Fertility Study among GPs found that 2.5 million of the country’s 28.5 million adult men had low fertility, usually defined as being unable to conceive over the period of a year. Smoking, alcohol and stress were given as the main contributing factors.

More than a quarter (29%) of the 202 GPs surveyed by Norwich Union Healthcare said that low male fertility would have a detrimental impact on the nation's population in the future unless men changed their bad lifestyles now.

To be fair, the overall rise in fertility problems is also at least in part due to the change in the age profile of expectant mothers: Over the last 20 years the average age for a woman to have their first baby has risen from 26 to 29 . The number of births to women over 40 has increased by 50%.

However, among couples having difficulty conceiving, a male fertility problem is thought to be important in around 40 percent. In around 15 percent of couples it will be just a male fertility problem. In the other 25 per cent, there may be a problem in both partners.

For men, the risks of delaying having children rise every year. Sperm counts deteriorate gradually as you get older and children of older fathers are more likely to have health problems.

All of this means that men need to understand the process and the things that they can do to change the probabilities just as much as women do. We have the easier side of the deal but that is no excuse for thinking that we are not required to do anything.

Doing nothing will work well enough if there are no problems. If everything is already in your favour then there is no need to change anything, you will conceive a healthy baby with no problems.

Not everyone has the odds stacked on their side with their life already running smoothly. It is not really enough to start taking care once you know there is a problem because the significant effects of the stress can make a small problem larger. A little lifestyle care beforehand can make everything much easier.

The following is a breakdown of the infertility problems found divided by percentage of problem couples.

Male problems 26
Unexplained 30
Ovulatory failure (including Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) 20
Tubal damage 15
Endometriosis 5
Figure 1 Table from 'Natural Solutions to Infertility'. By kind permission of Dr Marilyn Glenville PhD

The percentages do not add up because many couples experience more than one problem when trying to conceive: for example, you may have a low sperm count., but your partner may have damaged tubes.

The most common cause of infertility is 'unexplained'. This is where lifestyle factors, nutritional deficiencies and stress need to be considered.

Conception is not the only reason to look at your diet. Things like smoking, recreational drugs and drinking can affect the future health of the child. Research shows that prospective fathers who drink the equivalent of two units a day (considered heavy drinking) during the 30 days straight before conception have babies who weigh on average 165 grams/6.5 ounces less than other babies.

Babies born with very low birth weights can have long term health and behaviour problems.

As a sperm takes 100 days before it leaves the man it would appear to make sense that the same would be true for any prolonged period during those 100 days. No research I can find has studied whether this is the case.

The commitment required during pregnancy
A lot of the commitment required during the pregnancy is around making things as good as possible for your partner. Pregnant women can be very demanding. Even when they are not demanding pregnant women need extra care and love as well as attention to a whole variety of tasks.

Your partner will have special dietary requirements, she will need special sleeping arrangements, sex and all related matters will change. Hormone fluctuations and build ups mean your partner will be undergoing a whole body experience that also plays tricks with her memory, her mood, her emotions and absolutely everything she does. The demands of the baby will affect whether she has the nutrients she requires to remain happy and healthy.

Things you are likely to need to do will include any and possibly all of the following:
• Clearing up after your pets regardless of whether it is in the house or on the street (and yes I do mean the excrement).
• Doing all the cooking.
• Cleaning up your partners vomit (be grateful; she actually has to do the vomiting).
• Hugging her and sympathising when she stops halfway through sex and bursts into tears about something that would never normally matter at all like your pillow not being plumped up.
• Explaining to the waiter that no the chef’s absolutely beautiful meal will not do because your wife is pregnant and cannot eat it. Then doing it again in a language you do not know while on holiday. Spending hours walking around trying to find a restaurant that serves something she can eat. Finally taking her back to the first place for the same meal after you have made her something and seen it rejected.
• Trying to explain that you are excited you just do not show it in the same way while you are worrying about why you are not feeling the least bit excited by anything to do with the pregnancy.
• Understanding that she does not feel sexy any more, or worse still that you do not find her sexy any more, and doing it in a way that does not make her feel unloved or anything other than glamorous.

All of the above, and many, many more things, possibly far worse need to be taken with a smile. You have the easy end of this deal, and in fact nothing I have mentioned involves your partner being unreasonable. Again all of this is as nothing compared to the demands you will find a newborn child puts on you. That said it may be good practice.

The commitment required after pregnancy
This is the big one. If you have ever looked at other people who have had kids and thought “I will never do that” about any of the changes you see in them then you are probably in for a rude awakening.

A baby will change your life. A child will change your life. A teenager will try to destroy your life and a young adult will somehow make you feel guilty about all the sacrifices you have made for them throughout your life.

The first and most obvious affect of having a son or daughter will be the time that they take up. This is of course not taking into account the affects on your partner and your relationship that are discussed elsewhere. Children of all ages take up a huge amount of time. For the first few years it is illegal to leave them unattended and alone, even in your own home lest they fall ill or somehow damage themselves.
This means that if you were to share the time burden equally, with no overlap of time with your partner at all, you would be in some sense affected for at least half your life. This means half of your days and half of your nights, half of every hour for a period of years.

That makes it sound both better and worse than it actually is. You can still be in charge of your child while both you and they are asleep, so some things can remain unchanged. You can ask other people to be in charge of your child, but that requires organisation and planning in advance as will as often costing money. In practice you will spend time with your partner where you are both with your child, so the time you are going to be affected as a couple is more than twenty four hours a day.
You will need to plan time to yourselves, both together and separately, simply in order to remain sane and happy human beings. It is best if you can start that planning before the baby is born as if you do not you may not have time to plan afterwards.

To my mind one of the major changes to your lifestyle will be the lack of spontaneity. Where a couple can decide to go out to the cinema a couple with a baby simply cannot do that without planning. Organising a baby sitter is generally something that has to be arranged in advance, and so not something that can be done spontaneously ‘off the cuff’.

It is not just going out together that is affected, but a whole range of things. If you are going out in the morning and your partner is going out in the afternoon you cannot just go, you have to plan when you will get back so that she can leave. Worse still, if you then run late, you cannot do what you had planned as you now have a deadline to be back. You cannot meet someone and spontaneously decide to have lunch with them, you have to be back to look after the child.

All of this does not mean that spontaneity is dead, but it is severely affected. You can still suddenly decide to go to dinner with the baby. In fact anything that can be done with a child you can do spontaneously. If you do decide to have a child spend some time finding out what you can do locally that will allow your baby to come too.

Holidays are going to be quite different. You can go skiing, provided child care is available. You cannot just ski down a mountain with the baby in a sling. I have been on the piste when babies have frozen to death in this way. It is a dangerous mistake to think that yours would be okay. You cannot go to a romantic hotel that does not allow children unless you have someone who will take the child for the entire time, including travel at each end.

Support networks such as family and friends can make a huge difference, but do not assume that yours will help. If you can, find a way of discussing it with them that does not give them the idea you are already trying. If possible let them feel that you are finding the commitment daunting (it is) and that you probably will not try, but want to understand where they might help if you did.

A baby will come between you. It requires emotional space as well as physical space and that cannot help but divide your relationship at least a bit, driving you further apart. As well as this it will take love away from each of you, and use up time that would otherwise be spent together. This, in turn will lower the time you have for intimacy, and if you do not guard against it may prevent it altogether.

It is worth discussing how much you are prepared to get up to in front of a baby who will not have any idea what is going on. For the first few years a baby is not going to even notice that you are having sex provided it is not such an unusual occurrence that it thinks you are in a fight. Eskimos live effectively all in one room almost their entire lives, and yet they manage to breed without severe trauma. In the medieval times it was quite normal to have a one room house that was heated in the winter by sharing it with the livestock and the current generations have ancestors. Some oriental houses work with everyone in one place because of the ridiculously high land values.

What I am saying is that because we are wealthy enough to have space for a separate room for children we have learned to be a bit prudish. Kids can accept almost anything as normal if they grow up with it, so do not let having a cot in your room destroy your sex life. That said talk about it with your partner as she may be completely unworried or she may be horrified. If you can come to an understanding of what is in your joint comfort zone as a couple then sex is one area where you really can maintain a level of spontaneity.

That said the additional work of having a child to look after constantly may take away some of the energy that fuels a good sex life, so discuss how each of you will feel about that as well. Work out between yourselves how you will respond when the baby suddenly screams in need of food or changing or rescuing from the electric socket while you are making love. Interruptions can destroy intimacy just as much as easily as lack of time or lack of energy. Are you prepared to take on a responsibility that could have that sort of effect on your life?

Are you ready for if it does not work? Sadly, though this book should help increase your chances of having a baby, there are no guarantees. Are you ready for the worst? The worst that can happen is not that you do not conceive, the worst that can happen is that you have what seems like a good pregnancy and then have to terminate because of some over-riding defect.

No matter how you feel about having your baby no-matter-what there are some babies that can never make it to term. If the baby has no brain it is not even worth trying to carry it, there is no hope that it will live. Yes this can happen! It is very rare, but normal miscarriages are not.

Imagine you have a pregnant partner, you have picked out a name, you have bought the cutest baby clothes you can imagine, and picked out all the different things you want to teach your child. And then for some reason you have to terminate. Will you blame yourself? Will you blame your partner? Will your partner blame you? What you have to ask yourselves is whether you can survive as a couple in the face of something like this.

As you think about all of the restrictions, responsibilities and possible tragedies do remember that there is a lighter side to all this. If it is beginning to seem too daunting try looking at where there is a list of interesting tests to see if you are ready to have a baby. To give you and idea of what it is like, the dressing test is as follows:
“Obtain one large, unhappy, live octopus. Stuff into a small net bag making sure that all arms stay inside.”
Having children can be wonderful, but it is much easier and more wonderful if you and your partner know what to expect and are ready for the extra responsibilities involved.

How much does having a baby cost?
Having a baby can cost money in more ways than you would think. Below is a summary from financial services company Liverpool Victoria which shows the direct costs of having a child for the first 21 years. It does not take into account any of the hidden costs, nor does it include private education. The costs are an average throughout the UK. In London or other expensive places the costs can be much higher.

Years Cost Cost Per Year Main Expense(s)
First year £7,600 £7,600 Nursery furniture, equipment, childcare
Years 2-5 £40,000 £10,000 Childcare
Years 6-11 £38,500 £6,400 recreation and food
Years 12-18 £35,000 £5,000 largest expense is food and clothes
Years 19-21 £32,600 £10,900 education
Total 0-21 Years £154,000 £7,300

It is worth noting that while the average child costs more than the average house, like a mortgage it is spread out over a long period of time. It is also worth noting that many families continue to contribute towards their children well into their thirties.

High earning families spend significantly more on their children. A privately educated child brought up in London will probably cost around £320,000 according to a report by Maureen Rice for The London Magazine. That is more than twice the average with around £93,000 each on education and childcare. That leaves around £140,000 which is not far off the average total spend to go on everything apart from childcare.

Americans may wish to consider whether their insurance might cover maternity and newborn costs. If you are based in the US you want to make sure that you have insurance that does cover these things before you start trying. Remember ‘pre-existing’ conditions are generall excluded.

In order to create your own budget the major direct costs you will want to consider include
Childcare costs
Clothing costs
Feeding costs
Travel/holiday costs
Education costs (including school uniforms if you are educating privately)
Pocket money
Toys, hobbies and extracurricular activities
Entertainment costs (birthday and Christmas parties, trips to museums and exhibitions, cinemas, meals out)
Miscellaneous unexpected costs (repairing a neighbours window after a ball accidentally breaks it, etc)
Additional accommodation costs (A one bedroom flat is not very practical with children. The more children you have the less practical it seems.)
To put these figures in perspective I am going to look at some findings from American Express. They produced some average figures based on the time from conception to the baby’s first birthday (party presumably not included).

Item Average cost Example prices
pregnancy clothes and toiletries £177
nursery furniture/decorations, cot and bedding £410 25 Wall Stickers £10
Mattress for Cot
£30 - £130
Pram/Push Chair £233 Cadet Plus Pushchair Red £25
Bugaboo Cameleon £600
car seat £79 Britax Babysure City £40
Maxi-Cosi PrioriFix £220
baby skincare products £380
formula milk £600
Baby Food £360
Clothes £280
Disposable Nappies £500
Total £3019

As you can see this comes to less than half the expected cost for a year. There are a lot of costs that are not included here, and I have to assume that they make up the rest of the £7600.

The largest cost that is clearly missing is childcare. An average day care centre in Cambridge will charge between £155 and £185 per week. Taking the lower price of £155 per week you see that we are only talking about 30 weeks of day-care, so presumably a parent is staying home and not working for the first 20 or so weeks.

The cost we are looking at of £7600 for the first year is the average. It will include everything from one extreme to the other. That is from people who have a full time live in nanny through those who use childcare from 6 weeks old and who do not have just day-care, but occasionally go out in the evenings and have a babysitter, right down to those who have no day-care and never hire a babysitter.
Depending on the distribution childcare could easily account for all of the rest of the direct costs, but I suspect that in fact there are more hidden direct costs that should be taken into account.

Also worth noting is that the whole table is based on averages, and that most people accept gifts from friends and relatives who have had children. There are also a large number who understand that, as a baby can grow out of clothes very fast, clothes in second hand shops have rarely seen much wear before being donated. As purchases in second hand shops, like gifts, do not fall within the remit of the American Express figures they will not be included in the totals.

copyright 2005 Rufus Evison

1 comment:

Gravity Gardener said...

Women usually take the brunt of the infertility stigma but the male can also have issues relating to their age as it relates to the ability conceive. A study of over 12000 couples done a couple years ago concluded the age of the male was a contributing factor the number if miscarriages and issues conceiving at all.

Sperm quantity and quality was examined as part of the In-vitro Fertilization process. Miscarriages were more prevalent when the male was of 40 years of age, even if the female was not. Researchers felt the data supported the findings that the age of the male as a significant factor in the viability of the fetus. These researchers also recommended that in case where the male was over 40, couples having fertility issues should elect to have the sperm injected directly in the egg to help the chances for success.