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2010 will arrive at the stroke of midnight and the rising of the year’s first full moon. What will we leave behind in 2009? What will this new year bring? Local Pediatrician, Dr. Mark Sloan, encourages us to reflect on the wonders of birth and the journey of parenting as we resolve to begin a healthy New Year.

“Why is this so hard?” asks an awestruck father as his wife labors with their child. Dr. Mark Sloan felt compelled to bring the world a better answer than, “It’s a tight squeeze.” His book, Birth Day, explores childbirth from a range of perspectives. From the biology of why humans (versus say gorillas) have such painful childbirth, to the cultural phenomena of how women came to birth lying down, to the science and statistics of pain reduction aids and surgery, to the personal experience of the pressures of being both labor coach and expectant dad, this book provides an in-depth look at the miracle of childbirth.

“With science, history, and his own personal experience as a father and a doctor, Mark Sloan has given us a truly enlightening look at childbirth. Birth Day is an absolutely fascinating read about the most important journey any of us ever makes.” - Sara Ellington, co-author of the Must Have Mom Manual
My question to Dr. Sloan today is, “Why is parenting so hard?” While raising five children, my mother never complained about lack of sleep or growing bored with the tedium of constant story reading, coloring, or changing diapers. Yes, she verbalized disdain for the never ending laundry pile, the mess that we “spread over five counties” and the financial challenges of providing for a large family. Be it a sense of duty or fear of public shame, she never declared mothering or nurturing difficult for her. I was a bit shocked by the reality of my own parenting experience.

Dr. Sloan affirms that parenting is a tough job. Many of the families in his practice struggle with sleepless nights, fussy babies, baby’s first fevers, mom’s post partum blues, and other general feelings of inadequacy. Dr. Sloan shares that some moms feel inadequate as birthers – they accepted epidurals when they’d planned not to or had cesareans when they’d wanted to have natural births – and this feeling continues as the women become new mothers.

Sharing a telling story of three of the mothers in his practice, Dr. Sloan reveals that mothers sometimes try to conceal their struggles from each other. Dr. Sloan counseled these three mothers - all friends - each declaring to be having the singular experience of feeling like failures. Each one claimed to be the only mother to have a fussy baby and to feel overwhelmed in their new role. Each offered the other as an example of a mother who made it all look “easy.” Clearly, these women needed to share the real stories with each other!

Negative feelings can worsen if women don’t get assistance from doctors, pediatricians, or support groups (see Sonoma County guide here) who can all help normalize some of the difficulties of parenting. Dr. Sloan often quips “Bad mothering?” when moms question children's behaviors or issues. His joking stock response is meant to help mothers see through their guilt to normal child development as the source of most "growing pains." Dr. Sloan practices "anticipatory guidance" and strives to alert moms and dads to upcoming changes and challenges. This helps parents adjust expectations and keep up with their child's fast paced development, rather than resorting to self blame or frustration.

A father of two teenagers, Dr. Sloan offers a great model for how reflecting, sharing, and learning about birth and parenting can benefit all of us. Fueled by his passion for finding and sharing wonders, he arose at 4:30 each morning to write the various sections of what became his book Birth Day. Sparing himself no shame, he disclosed his own tribulations with the birthing process – including an instance of falling asleep while his wife gave birth to their first child! Dr. Sloan proves that honesty, humor and compassion unite parents and makes for an engaging read.

Reflect on your own beginnings today by reading Dr. Sloan’s Birth Day, and resolve to strengthen your support networks as you progress on your parenting journey.

Note:  an abridged version of this article appears on the San Francisco Examiner.  Please check out Sono-Ma author Holly White-Wolfe's new "Sonoma County Parenting Examiner" page!


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