Young couples should not be put off from starting family

A parent’s perspective from Maria Byrne

Welcoming every baby into the world with a song might sound a bit overly sentimental. When the person doing the welcoming isthe mother’s obstetrician, it almost sounds too good to be true, but this is exactly what Dr Carey D Andrew-Jaja of Magee Women’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, USA does for every child he delivers. Having been present for the birth of thousands of babies, this amazing doctor believes in celebrating each new life as a unique source of joy. Whether it’s Happy Birthday or It’s a Wonderful World, Dr Andrew-Jaja believes that he is singing to children with important futures ahead of them. His mantra is, “Confront every encounter with a smile on your face and a song in your heart”. The hospital he works in believes he brings this attitude to life in the way he heralds the arrival of each new child.

Household incomes

It’s wonderful to recognise in each individual birth, the miracle of life. I think most women would love a doctor who shared Dr Andrew-Jaja’s infectious enthusiasm. Sadly, recent reports suggest that, for many couples, the prospect of having a baby has become more of a worry and source of anxiety than a reason for happy anticipation. An Irish Independent/Today FM Behaviours and Attitudes survey found that falling household incomes and stress on family finances have caused one in four couples in their 30s to seriously question their ability to start a family. Many of them felt that a baby was an expense that they couldn’t afford. This is a worrying trend, not helped by the constant references to babies costing a fortune and interfering with a woman’s career and earning potential. Add to this headlines like “Parents can expect to pay a king’s ransom for first year of baby’s life” and it’s not surprising that the prospect of parenting strikes fear into the hearts of many young couples.

Pope Francis celebrated Mass in St Peter’s Square on Sunday, October 27 to mark World Family Day. In his homily, the Pope spoke about the Christian family as a centre of prayer, faith and joy.

He talked about how the true joy that is experienced in the family is not superficial and doesn’t come from material things. It’s not dependent on everything running smoothly. It’s more to do with the love and harmony between persons and the beauty of togetherness. It’s this focus on love that seems to be missing in discussions about the cost of having a baby.

What does the price of a top-of-the-range stroller or car seat have to do with the bond between a parent and his or her child? Does any couple want to read dismal warnings about how “Window shopping and leisurely strolls on the beach become a thing of the past when you have a baby to cart around with you”. Besides being false, this sort of scare-mongering from a popular newspaper is the sort of misinformation that builds on the concerns of those who wish to start a family. It also creates an image of babies as permanent drains on parents’ physical, mental and financial resources. Missing from the reports is any mention of the positive aspects of parenting and the fact that the joys usually outweigh any struggles or sorrows.

It’s normal for new parents to feel a little anxious about the challenges that lie ahead. I can remember the happiness of getting a positive pregnancy test, but also a nervousness about the new expectations and added responsibilities. There’s a saying that “You can’t imagine your life with children until you have them, then you can’t imagine your life without them”. Dire warning and an overemphasis on the negative aspects of child rearing fails to acknowledge the deep love and lifelong bonds that the birth of a child creates.

Rollercoaster ride

A couple can see in their lovely new baby the reflection of the love that created a unique new life. No matter how much you try to balance the books or discuss the cost of childcare, cots or cribs, there’s no such thing as being in the red when it comes to all the benefits of having children. When we were waiting to welcome each of our children, my husband and I often wondered if we were up to the task of guiding another little one through the great adventure of life. In reality, no assessment of our ability to parent could have prepared us for the reality. Raising children is a bit like a rollercoaster ride, scary in places, full of unexpected twists and turns, but never dull or lacking in excitement.

Support to families

Often, decisions that are made by citizens in a state are strongly influenced by what the state seems to prioritise. When a country cuts back on support to families, hitting child benefit and reducing maternity benefit, a message is sent out that is neither pro-child or pro-family.

Young married couples need to be supported and encouraged in their decision to add to their families. With falling birth rates across Europe and many countries facing a demographic crisis, if families don’t feel supported in having children, the future looks gloomy. Ireland’s most important resource is its population of children. Efforts must be made to portray the birth of a child as a real cause of hope and promise, not something that has a dramatically adverse effect on couples’ lives and standard of living.