Every day I am inundated with images and articles on what it should look like. Helpful ways to get me to that point. Every day I am faced with a narrow definition of what acceptable looks like.
I am not talking about what my body should look like. I am talking about the image of a perfect mother. And it starts early. The media paints a very specific picture of what pregnancy should look like, what birth should entail and what motherhood should be. I think it’s time to call its bluff.
As someone who has has been blessed with breezy pregnancies, easy births and babies that instantly took to breastfeeding, I know I am lucky. I fit into the mold. My experience aligned with the pre-conceived ideas I was taught in the baby books. As someone who, despite all of that, lost a child to SIDS, I am tragically unlucky. I shatter every mold. I defy every preconception.
There are many alternative routes within motherhood. I think it’s time to realize the validity of those alternatives and celebrate them. I think it’s time we eased up on each other. Time to let go of judgement and to understand that other people’s choices are not a comment on our own. To acknowledge that fitting into the “perfect” model is not something we necessarily control.
The Pregnancy Myth
A “perfect” pregnancy is one where the mother remains active and exercises. She doesn’t put on too much weight. She is perhaps a little sick in the early weeks and a little tired in the latter ones. She moisturisers her stretch marks away. On the whole, she glows.
I had such a pregnancy with my first born. I exercised often, ate well and lathered myself in body oil. I patted myself on the back for being such a model pregnant person.
When pregnant with number two, my exercise was limited to running after my first born, my diet incorporated most of his left overs and if my body saw any moisturiser, it was a small miracle. Yet, the pregnancy itself felt pretty much the same.
All that pious work I did in my first pregnancy was suddenly revealed for what it was – a way to make me feel good, empowered and connected to my baby, but not necessarily the reason for my easy pregnancy. In truth, my body just seems to work well in pregnancy and child birth. My genes and good luck played a significant part.
I have friends who did a lot more work than I did, yet were faced with “worrying” weight gain, sickness and battle scars. Sometimes our actions and intentions don’t align with what we experience.
The Birth Myth
We are taught that a “perfect” birth is a vaginal delivery, with limited intervention and minimal drugs. With my first child, I practiced hypno-birthing, I had a doula and three page birth plan. Things went according to that plan.
My second and third babies came just as easily but without the preparation. Again, luck and genes played a large part.
I have friends that wanted a vaginal birth, but the safest option for them and baby was a planned caesarean. I have friends who have had emergency caesareans – that’s never on the birth plan. I have friends that held off on having epidurals for hours and hours and later wondered why they did so. I have friends who have had planned caesareans, because that’s what made sense to them and their family.
All of those births resulted in amazing little people. All of their stories deserve celebration. I don’t believe in one size fits all or a hierarchy of birth experiences.
The Breastfeeding Myth
We are told “breast is best.” I celebrate women who breastfeed one hundred percent. I support those that persevere with breast feeding when it’s difficult. I breastfed both my living children until well past a year old.
What I cannot support is shaming the mother who isn’t breastfeeding.
I have friends whose babies had severe allergies and needed to switch to formula. I have friends that simply didn’t have enough supply to keep up with their hungry little ones. I have friends whose milk dried up long before they wanted to stop feeding their children. None of those mothers are inadequate but I know some were made to feel that way. All of those mothers nourished their children with love. They all made the decisions that made sense for themselves and their families. And sometimes those decisions, for many reasons, fall outside what we are told to expect.
The Truth of It
When my middle son died by SIDS, my mind reeled with questions. I wrestled with “why me?” For the longest time I thought my son’s death was a form of punishment for having motherhood come so easily. I don’t think that any more. I think that life is random. I think we have less control over things than we are lead to believe. I think that we can do all the “right” things, and still be faced with an outcome we were not expecting.
There is a lot of value in preparation. Women should be educated and empowered through pregnancy and childbirth. But it is simply a myth to assume that doing these things will automatically lead to the outcome we want. Children seem to have minds of their own long before they greet the world.
I think it’s time we understood that many of the “choices” made in motherhood aren’t really choices at all. Circumstance and medical opinion can take us in the opposite direction to what we had hoped for. What we were told to dream of.
But choices made with love for our children should never leave a mother ashamed. Even when those choices fall outside of the mold.