Transition to Parenthood

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Section 1: The Case Study

Section 1: The case study

Today, in western industrialized nations, the decision whether or not to have children is, as Berk (2004) describes it a "….matter of individual choice" (p.460). This contrasts with many non western nations where what Michaels (1988, cited in Berk, 2004) describes childbearing as, "…an unavoidable cultural demand" (p.460).

Research on the New Zealand population suggests that couples are having children at a much later phase of life. The median age for a woman to give birth is now 30.3 years, compared with her counterpart in the early 1970's who gave birth at 24.9 years. There is also an increasing amount of individuals foregoing parenthood altogether. Statistics also show a trend towards later marriages and smaller families (www.stats.govt.nzfertility-rates) and couples living together especially in the early stages of the relationships (www.familiescommission.govt.nz).

Many factors contribute to the marked shift from early to delayed childbearing. Berk (2005) suggests financial circumstances, personal and religious values and health conditions are influencing factors. While Barber; Tangri & Jenkins (cited in Berk, 2004) suggest that women with high-status, demanding careers will less often choose parenthood than those with less time consuming positions. Other factors may include how the parents feel a new baby will impact on their lives in terms of disrupted sleep, caregiving tasks and the couple's relationship.

Harry was 36 and Sally 34 when Sally fell pregnant. The previous 10 years were spent forming an intimate relationship, travelling, working and saving money for the future. Both focused through their schooling years, earned high paying jobs and travelled intermittently. Both came from high socio-economic families and aspired to their parent's life achievements. Being able to raise a child without concerns over money was the main motivation behind both Harry and Sally's joint decision to delay childbearing. Financial independence, they felt would be achieved through owning their own property and having money in the bank.

Once pregnant Sally suffered from morning sickness and her employer encouraged her to take time off when needed to rest; and at eight months pregnant Sally finished work, while Harry continued to work evenings and weekends. Harry's long working hours had not previously impacted on the relationship. The couples spare time was spent preparing the babies room, attending antenatal classes, watching television, shopping, enjoying socialising with friends and family and discussing the exciting upcoming event. Sally developed a relaxed routine of cooking, cleaning, reading and resting and Harry enjoyed Sally's happy disposition and became accustomed to the routine. The couple rarely discussed how a new baby would impact their lives.

Baby Edward was born two weeks past his due date and had initial breathing difficulties. Although doctors stated there was nothing for them to worry about, Harry and Sally still felt anxious about their child's health and felt it their responsibility to be proactive and keep Edward close to them at all times to monitor and tend to his needs promptly. They decided to place his bassinet alongside their bed at night and kept him in the lounge during the day so when he cried they could attend quickly.

Sally spent the majority of her time inside the house perfecting the art of breastfeeding, bathing and getting to know and care for her baby which she enjoyed. In support of this Harry tended to the cooking and other domestic duties both inside and outside the house. Harry stayed at home for the first week after the birth, but difficulties his company was facing left Harry feeling obligated to return to work. Sally's mother Dot (aged 66) offered to stay for a few weeks and help out. Dot cooked, cleaned, offered praise and encouraged Sally to rest. Although enjoying time with her...
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