The red tape of parenthood (aka “I’m drowning, not waving”)

I promise that normal service will resume shortly, working on the assumption that all babies sleep for 12 continuous hours every single night after the age of 1 month, right?

Anyway, you’ll no doubt be delighted to know that things are calming down at Casa del Brit Out Of Water, although to be honest it would have been difficult for things to get any rockier. After all, there can’t be many newborns who have their first trip out of the house to move house, the second to be rushed to hospital, and the third to go to a funeral. But we always knew that she was going to be special, I guess.

What isn’t so special is the administrative black hole that you immediately fall into as soon as you have a child. Never (knowingly) having had a baby in the UK, I’m not sure what the red tape situation is over there. But frankly as I alluded to in the last post, the paperwork nightmare that is childbirth in the US is enough to convince anybody that one son or daughter is plenty enough, thank you very much. From trying to convince a pharmacy that your doctor didn’t write a prescription for a non-existent child, to persuading your healthcare providers to not send letters addressed to Newborn Child Jones, it’s far from easy to plot your way through the minefield of technicalities and odd requests.

That said, nothing can be as odd as the sheet that has to be filled in immediately after your child is born.

I have filled in some ridiculous forms in my time. And yes, Inland Revenue, I’m looking at you. But nothing can prepare you for the glorious majesty of the “mother’s worksheet” element of the New York birth registration form. It’s the document that is used to put together your child’s birth certificate, so in many ways, it’s pretty important. But when you’re handed the form by your midwife mere moments after the birth of your daughter, and you’re holding a glass of champagne in your hand, it’s kind of difficult to digest some of the questions you get asked.

Of course, there are the expected teasers such as child’s name, mother’s name, date of birth, social security number etc etc. But just after they’ve got you warmed up, they throw in a few corkers.

For a start, they want to know the mother’s ancestry – the nationality, lineage or country which the mother or her ancestors were born in prior to coming to the US. For clarity, even if your family has been in America for a couple of hundred years, you can only put down “American” if you are of native American extraction. Apparently the response should reflect what the mother considers herself to be, and is not based on the percentage of ancestry of any given parent or grandparent. Anyway, don’t tell The Special One, but I put down that she’s British. I mean, she’s been to Old Trafford and she’s been on the London Eye, so surely that’s enough?

Next they want the weight of the mother at birth, and the weight of the mother pre-pregnancy. Now, I’ve only been married for two years, but even I know that you never EVER even mutter the actual weight of your wife, let alone put it down on paper. I can only assume that this question has been placed on the form as a nasty little trick against men. Any unwitting new father who – in the adrenaline rush of the moments immediately post-birth – writes down any figure that is not at least 25% under the actual weight, will find himself sleeping on the sofa until their son or daughter is approaching university.

Somewhat easier, but still perplexing, is the question on whether any illicit drugs were taken by the mother during pregnancy. Among the options are heroin, cocaine, methadone, and methamphetamine. You’ve got to appreciate the effort, but do we really see anybody fessing up to a weekly freebase and the occasional snort of charlie?

Sadly on the question regarding whether the mother had swollen or bleeding gums during her pregnancy, there was no answer box marked “it’s none of your sodding business really, is it?” for me to tick. And on the question regarding whether the mother was at all depressed (‘a little depressed’, ‘moderately depressed’, ‘very depressed and did not receive help’ or ‘very depressed and did receive help’), can I make it clear that any mother who ticks ‘not depressed at all’ must surely have either high tolerance for discomfort, or else made full use of the narcotic options mentioned earlier.

One last question stood out, asking “Thinking back to just before you were pregnant, how did you feel about becoming pregnant.” The four options given are as follows (with my commentary in italics):

1. You wanted to be pregnant sooner (but my joke of a husband was firing blanks, and it took me a while to find a new tennis coach)
2. You wanted to be pregnant then (back THEN I wanted to be pregnant, but boy would I change my mind after the last nine months of hell)
3. You wanted to be pregnant later (what do you mean, condoms have only a 98% success rate?)
4. You didn’t want to be pregnant then or at any time in the future (if it hadn’t been for those 16 vodka cranberries and the glint in the fireman’s eyes, I wouldn’t be stuck with this thing or that stupid lump of a man…hold on, my children don’t get to read these comments in the future do they?)

Can someone tell me what use any of these statistics are? My guess is that the public relations industry lobbied hard to include them, simply so that it creates a much-needed job for a PR flunkey who gets to issue an annual press release saying that 27% of New York babies are unwanted accidents.

Oh, and one thing the form makes very clear is that the father is of no importance whatsoever in this process. All they want to know is his name, date and place of birth, and social security number. Essentially it’s a case of ‘who are you, and can you pay for this thing?’ No questions about depression, nothing about my ancestry, and not even a passing interest in the state of my gums.

To be fair, I’m kind of glad they didn’t ask about my pre- and post-pregnancy weight. It’s not easy eating for two, you know.

11 thoughts on “The red tape of parenthood (aka “I’m drowning, not waving”)

  1. Mike

    Congrats on your new daughter. Over the years, I have found that many institutions, while they ask for information on forms, rarely read it. For example, I have been giving golf as my answer for religion since I was in my twenties (a long, long time ago.) Politics, they would demand and I would answer office. No one ever came to me questioning my answers. How’s the weight now?

  2. Almost American

    Holy Cow! I’m very glad I don’t live in NYC – nobody asked stupid questions like that for my kids’ birth certificates! (The British Embassy got its knickers in a twist that the birth certificate wasn’t issued at the hospital on the day of delivery, but they got over it after I wrote them a snarky letter.)

  3. Stella Jones

    Congratulations Dylan! I’m so glad you put British on the form. I suppose your daughter is American though, being born there?
    I read your words carefully. I find the health system over there to be much the same. When I was over there in the spring, I got a sore eye. You wouldn’t believe the rigmarole I went through with it. Over here, the doctor would have looked at it and said, ‘yes, you have a sore eye, here’s some eye drops’ and off I would go. Our doctors seem to know when the situation is serious but over there, for fear of being sued, I suppose, they go to extraordinary lengths to make you better.
    ps check out this website next time you want a British laugh: http://www.commutercast.co.uk
    Blessings, Star

  4. Limey

    Sounds completely ridiculous and typically American in its bureaucracy! Are you going to get your daughter dual citizenship? That could be a whole other drama!

    Congratulations on becoming a daddy! Very exciting!

  5. Toni

    Another delightfully humourous post Dylan. Oh how simple life in New Zealand seems! Keep up the great work – both fathering and blogging! T x

  6. Brooklyn

    I am certain that we didn’t face that when our daughter was born. But that was so long ago, I vaguely recall seeing Mastodon herds when we took our daughter home from the hospital.

    But if you think the form you filled out is bad, to paraphrase Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” I am shuddering at the thought of having to fill out the financial aid form for college applicants early in 2010. My current hypothesis is that they make completing that form so horrible you remain gobsmacked and insensible to pain when they tell you the pittance your child is getting a couple of months later.

  7. Iota

    It’s very precise, isn’t it? I mean, how many of us could answer the “then” one? That would only apply to those people who had decided to start trying to conceive, and had managed to do so immediately. If it took a month or two, you’d tick the “wanted to be pregnant sooner” box. It’s very high pressure New York City stuff, isn’t it?

    Elsewhere, in more relaxed areas of the country, there is probably a box for “I wanted to be pregnant sooner or later”.

  8. Lisa

    It seems like most of these questions should be under a section called “Optional (answer only if you are now currently bored and want to enter your family’s entire ancestral and mental health history for entertainment purposes”.

  9. Trixie Trouble

    I hope you didn’t answer literally/honestly did you?

    I do so love messing up national statistics.

  10. Brit' Gal Sarah

    Awwww I’m so far behind, but CONGRATS on Jr. she’s a peach! What an interesting and challenging 14 days you had lol! BTW you should try having your Lowes experience and then add in living a 200 mile round trip from the bloody store – not good, not good at all!

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