“Your Mileage May Vary”

A reader commented on my recent post, Do Babies Have to Cost a Lot?, reminding me that the unexpected can sometimes happen, causing your frugal intentions to go out the window and to end up spending gobs of money for your baby’s health. This comment was a good reminder that even with the best of intentions and planning, things can sometimes go awry. Hmm, sounds like some other areas in life, right?

The concept reminded me of a lecture by Dr. John Mark Reynolds. The lecture topic was on study skills for young people, and my husband recently watched it with his class of 8th graders.  (Watch the whole lecture here.) What does this have to do with birth, you may ask? Don’t worry, we’ll get there. Dr. Reynolds stated that there are two kinds of knowledge:

1) Laws– Laws are inevitably or necessarily true (e.g., 2+2=4, every single time). Laws are true whether you like them or not- just ask the policeman who pulled you over!

2) Proverbs– Proverbial advice can be best described as “your mileage will vary.” What does Dr. Reynolds mean by this? He discusses the example of vehicle mileage. The dealer will advertise any given vehicle as getting x number of miles to the gallon, but the boastful low numbers is always followed by a small print message that reads, “Your mileage may vary.” Car mileage depends on various factors, such as traffic, speed, etc. Dr. Reynolds says that proverbial knowledge is akin to this concept. You can tell a person that if he shows up to work every day and does his job well he’ll be successful at work. Of course, this may or may not be true depending on various factors (e.g., a stingy or corrupt boss, being laid off due to cut backs, etc.). You get the idea.

Dr. Reynolds says that “Proverbs are what you usually should do, except when you shouldn’t. And knowing when you shouldn’t is part of that virtue called ‘practical wisdom.'”

I promised you I’d tell you how this relates to birth and babies. The fact of the matter is that most of my blog posts fall in the realm of proverbial knowledge. Any illustration given is not a hard and fast rule, but rather a “variable mileage” example.

“If you prepare well for birth, stay healthy throughout your pregnancy, do your kegels and hypnobaby exercises,and labor without any intervention, you’ll end up with a healthy, vaginally birthed baby.” “If you get an epidural, you’ll end up with a c-section and won’t be able to breastfeed.” Are these statements Absolutely Right? Of course this is silly to think that these things will always happen! (And for the record, I think the above statements are gross exaggerations.) We should all know by now that advice given by anyone- your doula, your blogger pals, your caregiver- are all only general rules or proverbial knowledge. No one can guarantee what will happen in labor and birth, and plans definitely can change.

What we can say, however, is this: We know that certain courses of action increase the likelihood of certain results. For instance, the administration of Pitocin (course of action) usually strengthens contractions, making them harder and closer together (likely result). This in and of itself doesn’t say necessarily whether or not you’ll progress well, or whether or not your baby will suffer or thrive under that particular course of action.

We can also still prepare for what we believe we should do for our babies and bodies. (Different folks will have different definitions of what one should do in the realm of birth, but that’s another blog post.) Preparing for the birth we want is a good thing, even if it doesn’t always work out. “When we know better, we do better” is another proverb that works well in this instance. Preparation helps mothers to have a clear picture of the birth they want, and when a woman knows what she wants, she will usually aim for it. This is admirable, regardless of outcomes. Still, striving for the ideal usually makes for a smoother birth, even if it’s not exactly according to plan. Knowing that we have done the very best we can- both in birth preparation and in caring for our children- is often helpful, even in the face of unexpected difficulties.

Perhaps we should endeavor to cultivate that virtue of practical wisdom that Dr. Reynolds talks about- planning on doing what we should do, but also knowing when we shouldn’t- in birth, child rearing, and life.

One response to this post.

  1. Great post! I appreciate your open minded insights. I’ll have to check out the lecture :).


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