Babies versus science

Babies versus science

The birth of a son, a brother and a career interrupted

World, meet Max. Olivia Carter

Little baby Max was born just over two weeks ago at 4:50am on Monday April 16.

I’ll avoid the gory details but would like to voice my appreciation for the pain relief medication provided. Some women feel it’s important to fully experience the birth of their child – I am not one of those women.

My research area is psychopharmacology with a specific interest in serotonin and the other major neurotransmitter systems such as noradrenaline and dopamine. But I am incredibly impressed by the ability of man-made drugs to conquer the human pain response.

My heart goes out to our ancestors that gave birth in caves or desert plains around the world without any of the benefits of modern medicine.

I did not have an epidural but did demand some pethidine and did my best to inhale as much nitrous oxide as I could extract from the tube pumping the gas out of the wall.

Looking back, the effect of these drugs went well beyond dulling the pain. Between contractions, I remember floating off into a dreamlike world surrounded by little football players. The contractions, unfortunately, were still ridiculously painful despite the obvious relief provided by the drugs.

Like an arial view of synchronised swimmers, I watched the miniature muscly men running around in choreographed circles wearing brightly-coloured short shorts over a background of brilliantly green grass.

I expect this had something to do with the fact I had spent the preceding three days lying motionless on the couch, the victim of my husband’s need to watch every single game of football being played that weekend.

Footy and pethidine – a potent mix! Dave Hunt/EPA

In hindsight – once the baby was out - the four days in hospital were an absolute delight. Little Max was still in the hibernation phase which meant I had to wake him every five-to-six hours for a feed and was able spend the rest of the time sleeping or watching mindless TV as my meals were delivered to my bedside.

One benefit of having an older child already was that I knew enough to appreciate every second of this time. Max and I were sleeping so well that my only glimpse of the day-four baby blues was when I found myself crying along with a TV star I had never heard of as she was being interviewed by Ellen DeGeneres about the recent joy of adopting her own beautifully-blessed-children.

Over these first two weeks I have been genuinely amazed at the love I have felt for my baby. With a talking, dancing three-year-old at home I thought I might be a little underwhelmed by the arrival of a completely helpless incompetent milk-guzzling machine, but it has been really nice having the time to get to know my new little man.

As I was enjoying the initial days of bonding with little Max I remember thinking about oxytocin – a hormone I love talking about in my undergraduate lectures.

Oxytocin is hormone released naturally in the brain during breast feeding to increase mother-child bonding and studies have shown a squirt of this stuff up the nose can increase the trust between random strangers to the extent people are more likely to give their money away.

With this column in mind I had hoped to do a bit of research into some of the more recent scientific findings relating to the effects of oxytocin. But between feeding, burping, cleaning and sleeping I’ve realised there’s no chance in hell I’m going to find the time to read scientific articles.

So if you are interested to know more about oxytocin I recommend Google – or, of course, The Conversation

My husband returned to work only yesterday, and the reality of being a full-time mum at home for the next few months is beginning to sink in.

Max has been very good, but I’m finding it incredibly stressful and absolutely exhausting having to constantly watch that my daughter Susie does not kill her baby brother.

It’s great she’s so excited to have a sibling but she’s frustrated that he won’t play with her. I find myself constantly telling her off for poking him in the eye, or having to push her away as she tries to lie on top of Max as he is feeding. It never occurred to me how dangerous the love of a three-year-old could be.

Olivia Carter

We originally planned to leave Susie in day-care for her sake because she loves it so much there. Now we’re leaving her in day care primarily for my sake because I just can’t cope with the conflicting demands of being a mother and bodyguard.

She seems to be coming to terms with her brother’s inability to do anything fun, so fingers crossed that this settles down over the next few weeks.

As for work, I’m already feeling I should be doing more, but even I realise that there can’t be anyone expecting me to do anything useful a fortnight after having a baby. Still, my to-do-list continues to grow.

I have received 983 emails since Max was born. All nonessential ones were deleted without reading but I was a little surprised to just discover that I have sent 87 emails over the last ten days – I think my threshold for “immediate response required” needs to be raised!