Secure With Duct Tape

I took pregnancy as a reading assignment. Back in “the old days” – my oldest daughter is 30 – it was hard to find a decent book on pregnancy and birth that didn’t assume you’d have a “Knock ‘Em Out, Drag “Em Out” childbirth. Barnes & Noble in Boston had two books in the birth section! (Of course, I bought them both.)

So I was very excited when I found a book by Tracy Hotchner entitled The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth. It’s now out of print – and heaven only knows if I would still love it so much – but I still remember the best advice I ever read about learning how to be a parent.

When your partner picks up the baby, pretend you have a piece of duct tape over your mouth.

Maybe it’s not quite what the book said. But that was my guided imagery!

I didn’t know much about babies – went to visit a friend, hold her baby – and clonk! The baby’s head hit the table where we were sitting. “Oh that’s okay, I do that all the time” she said. He grew up to play football on Biz Bisbee’s BFUHS football team. No comment.

But I always felt like I was making it up as I went along. Luck was on my side – my mom was a wonderful mother, so I had a good example growing up. And my baby sister is ten years younger than me, so some things I did remember. I knew how to talk nicely to babies and pay attention to them. You get a lot of practice at diapering, so I figured that out. (Although with baby #3 – my first boy – I did get some under-scrotum surprises after those big poops.)

David had never held a baby in his life. He had that deer-in-the-headlights look for weeks. Since my parents had come to visit, we hardly had any time with just each other. And I held the baby, my mom held the baby. My David and my dad looked at the baby. And looked at my mom and I holding the baby.

Soon we were alone, just our little family. And I was holding the baby. And feeding the baby. And feeling – pretty stressed out. The weirdest thing though was how protective I felt. Mostly when David picked up the baby. That is not good! And that’s where the duct tape came in.

When he picked up the baby what I wanted to say was NO!!! DON”T DO IT LIKE THAT! I wanted to say it no matter how careful he was. And no matter how he picked up the baby. But I couldn’t say it because I had duct tape over my mouth.

And when he went to change the baby what I wanted to say was NO!! DON’T DO IT LIKE THAT! I wanted to say it no matter how careful he was. And no matter how he did it. But I couldn’t say it because I had duct tape over my mouth.

One day I realized I didn’t need the duct tape anymore. It probably coincided with the time when I figured out that I really was that baby’s mother, and that I was good enough. David later mentioned that he thought it was better for me to tend to the baby – I could make her stop crying. He thought I knew why she was crying. (This was an error. I was making it up as I went along. Don’t we all?)

I’m so glad for that duct tape. My favorite mental picture of David with our second baby was – walking into my room after the birth, scooping her out of my arms and sitting down in the rocker with her to talk silly nothings with her.

And my favorite mental picture of David and our third baby? I was at my wits’ end. (This baby was a classic “bad sleeper”.) David, reading a chess book with one hand, in the rocking chair, baby over the other shoulder, reading and intermittently murmuring, “Oh I know. It’s hard to be a baby.”

I’ve heard the duct tape comment other ways. Josh Miller, the fathering specialist at Early Ed, tells dads, “Don’t let those women put you on the bench! Tell them you are here to play!” Studies show that most couples believe moms and dads should share the parenting equally. It’s putting it into practice that is the challenge.

Find your own ways of sharing – and don’t forget the duct tape!

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