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What Is In Your Control?

Updated: Mar 28

View of a path through a valley

My antenatal classes highly recommended something called perineal massage. This involves putting your thumbs up ‘there’ and moving them in circles to stretch out your muscles. At the time, I heard that this reduced the likelihood of tears during birth.

I tried it out, and to be honest, it was an icky experience. I just couldn’t bring myself to do these massages on a regular basis.

In the end, B was born with an episiotomy and forceps delivery. This is a surgical cut to widen the ‘opening’ in order to use what look like big salad spoons to manoeuvre B out. It’s the controlled version of a tear, often done to prevent one.

Having actually read the research now, it turns out perineal massage appears to specifically reduce the likelihood of an episiotomy (the surgical cut). So here’s the question: was it in my control to have prevented the surgery?

The thinking goes: perhaps I could have avoided surgery if I got over ‘the ick factor’ and done my massages.

This experience nicely frames the impact evidence and data can have on us. Now that we understand the factors that increase risk x, are we compelled to act so as to reduce the possibility of x occurring?

At the time, I told my mum about my icky experience and she told me that some things are out of my control. It’s good to know that massage might help, but really, it’s ok if I can’t manage it. 

Because statistics can tell us the general trends but they won’t tell me if I’ll be the statistical outlier or not. They’re not a fortune teller who can predict exactly where my experience will land on the charts and graphs. After all, I might have done all the massages in the world but still have ended up with an episiotomy. 

At any rate, I’ll never know! And exploring the question of whether I should have done the massages is unlikely to make me particularly happy.

But it does make you think about all the advice out there, about parenting but also about life - healthy eating, exercise, how to climb the career ladder - the list is endless.

It’s important to remember that we can try our best but ultimately some of what happens to us is beyond our control. We meet our mountains to climb and meander through pleasant valleys as our life unfolds around us. 

All the guidance and guidelines won’t insure either me or my child against experiencing pain. Haruki Murakami wrote: ‘pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.’ Choosing to cogitate over my perineal massage choices is definitely optional.

Being able to relinquish control and accept hurdles as they arise is an important skill - one I wish I had learned earlier in life. Hopefully I will be able to model this for B as he takes his first steps into what is an unpredictable, but nevertheless exciting, world.

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