Originally, this was going to be three different posts. Epidural vs. Natural, Breastfeeding vs. Pumping, and a quick Instagram post on how easy it is to judge Mothers for the choices they make and the situations they find themselves in.
Ultimately, I realized I really only had one point to make in all of this. The message I want to put out there is that us mothers make plans. We think about the best thing for us and our kids, but that doesn’t mean everything will go according to plan. Things happen that are out of our control and it’s just not realistic to expect one person to have all the answers and the ability to carry out those answers for everyone.
Now that I’m two kids in with two very different labor, delivery, and newborn experiences, I’ve learned that even the best intentioned mothers can appear weak or scattered on the outside.
It’s far too easy to judge the results of someone’s circumstance without knowing the road that lead them to where they are. It’s easy to say that motherhood is simple and that there are natural things we should all have the ability to do. Mothers face a lot of judgement and criticism these days. Everyone has their own standards and if you don’t meet them, that’s one more person who will write you off as “not doing enough.”
And this is what I really wanted to say. What I really wanted to talk about.
The pride of our mothers.
I think it’s time to realize that carrying a child for nine months, laboring and delivering that child, and then feeding that child in those early days is not a simple thing. It’s not what you’d expect it to be. It’s not always something you have the natural ability to do (or want to do). Yes, creating humans is one of the most basic instincts we have and it’s something billions of people have done without the help of medicine or breast pumps, but that doesn’t make it easy and that doesn’t mean any one experience is more successful than another.
So for the sake of our mothers, I want to talk about a few things I’ve experienced that can help us all give perspective on how different motherhood can be for us all. A perspective that can hopefully give all us mamas a little boost of pride.
Putting Pride Back In Our Mothers
Like I said before, the experiences I had between my first and second son were very different. The pregnancy was mostly the same, but as soon as labor hit, they were polar opposites.
My experience with my second son gave me a lot of pride and congratulations because everything I did was brave and the right way to do it. While I am proud of myself, I also carry some resentment that I couldn’t have done the same for my first child. I remember the embarrassment I felt when I finally threw in the towel and got the epidural. The shame I felt pumping to feed him when the boob just wasn’t working out. I found ways to be proud of myself that first time around, until I did all the things I wanted to do with my second. Then, I started to feel the shame all over again.
And that’s when I realized, it’s not that either experience was more successful than the other. I just had a very specific view of what makes a mother successful and I think it’s time for that to change.
IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE BABY WEIGHT | I was a little backwards when it came to weight gain with my kids. I gained a lot of weight with my first, but somehow managed to stay fairly fit with my second during pregnancy.
Of course, after you give birth people like to comment on how good you look and how much weight you’ve lost. Then, when you have a second baby they like to compare how your body looked the first time vs. the second.
Beyond that, if you’re a mama that has trouble losing the baby weight (or even if you’re not), you’re probably going to compare yourself to others who seem to bounce right back to their pre-baby weight the second the baby comes out. Maybe you feel like you’ve failed or you’re lazy because others seem to have an easier time.
So being someone who’s experienced a hard and easy time losing the weight, just know every baby is different. Every body is different. Every pregnancy is different. Also, having a baby is exhausting and most of us aren’t leaping out of bed every morning to go work out. Frankly, in the postpartum stage, your body has been a tool for so long and will continue to be a tool as long as you’re using it to feed your baby. You need time to recover from that at your own pace. Baby weight should be the last thing you have to worry about. You’re doing a great job and when most people look at you, all they see is a wonderful mother who is doing exactly what she needs to do.
HAVING A BABY IS INCREDIBLE NO MATTER HOW YOU DO IT | So, with my second son I really wanted an epidural but by the time I got to the hospital I was too far along. With my first son, I didn’t want the epidural but my labor was so painful and lasted so long that I had to cave in for the sake of my sanity.
I’ve known moms who have wanted so bad to have a vaginal birth but had to get an emergency c-section. Of course, every mom wants to wait until their baby is to term but I’ve known moms who’s bodies and babies decided otherwise.
There’s this idea that the strongest of women have completely natural births, at home if you’re a real warrior. It’s so idealized that anything less can seem weak. People who have never given birth can think, “Just get through the pain, it’s not gonna last forever!” People who have given natural birth can think, “I did it, so why can’t you?” Then people who willingly or unwillingly have a different experience can often think, “I’ve failed. I wasn’t strong enough.”
At least that’s how I felt when I got my epidural. And when I didn’t have an epidural, I actually did feel more proud and then I felt shame for my first experience. Then, I was sad because I still gave birth the first time and that should be enough for me. I still went through pregnancy and sleepy newborn days. So then I had to ask myself why I was so ashamed and I realized it was because I felt like other people would look down on me for having the epidural the first time.
The bottom line is, everyone’s pain is different. Between pain tolerance, how severe the pain is, how long that severe pain lasts, how healthy the baby is, how big the baby is, how healthy the mom is, etc. etc. you get it. There are so many circumstances that come into play when delivery is involved that no one but mama has the right or insight to judge their choices. Even if there’s not. Even if you walk into the hospital for a scheduled induction and immediately ask for an epidural before the pain starts, you’re still having a baby and that will always be impressive.
BOOB IS NICE, BUT IT’S NOT EVERYTHING | Ahh breastfeeding. Probably the number one thing a mother will be judged for. I know this because I pumped with my first one. I was very set on him getting breastmilk, but when it came to actual breastfeeding, that was not going to happen.
If I’m being honest, I probably could’ve powered through, but I hated it so much. Every time my first got hungry, I resented him for what I was about to endure. The pain, the exhaustion, the struggle with getting this helpless kid to just latch on already. If I hadn’t switched to pumping, I may have resented my child for most of his infancy.
I know that sounds terrible, but my point to saying all of that is to show the struggle that some moms can go through. The choice to not breastfeed beats most of us up inside. I for one cried for days before and after choosing to pump exclusively. I felt like I was a failure, I felt like I was failing my son, and part of me believed that we’d never bond properly because I was making this choice. And then, the looks you get when you tell perfect strangers that you pump. People who know nothing about you, your baby, or your experience affirm your feelings of failure.
Now that I’m breastfeeding my second, I still have feelings of guilt and fear that my first will feel like I let him down because his experience was different than his brother’s. I still have moments of fearing he’ll think I love him less or don’t care as much because he wasn’t breastfed and his brother was.
So if you’re a mama struggling with breastfeeding just know you’re not alone. You’re child won’t resent you for it. And if you’ve never experienced struggle with breastfeeding, just now it’s real and sometimes the healthiest choice is to avoid it altogether. And no matter who you are, know that the way a mama feeds her baby is the right choice for them. Even if you’ve heard differently, even with all the “breast is best” that’s out there, the reality is that mama knows best and all she needs is support and understanding because the choice she’s made may have been a hard one.
EVERY EXPERIENCE IS UNIQUE AND NO ONE WILL TRULY UNDERSTAND BUT THE MAMA WHO WENT THROUGH IT | If you’ve had a kid, if you’ve never had kids, if you’ve had 500 kids; you still don’t know for sure what another mom’s story is. This is something I didn’t quite understand with my first, but I learned very well with my second. I relived my first experience during the first weeks with my second and I compared heavily. I investigated every detail to understand what made them so different.
In part, it was me. I wasn’t as prepared the first time. I wasn’t as patient. I was still learning how to let go of myself to give to another.
But it was also my kids. They have so many similarities, but the experience I had the days leading up to meeting them and the first few days of having them were so different.
This taught me that you really don’t know what to expect as a mother, but you really really don’t know what another mother has gone through. You really don’t know their bodies or medical history. You don’t know their babies or the environment they delivered in or the staff that helped them. You don’t know the information they had, the life experiences they’re pulling from. So how can any of us know what’s truly right for another?
There are so many factors that come into play when deciding what kind of mother you’ll be. What my motherhood looks like will be different just within my own family with each individual child. I’ll shape and mold to each of their needs the same way every other mother will do the same in her own way.
I think understanding this is something we all need. Understanding that the only mother who is truly failing is the one who isn’t trying. Then, understanding that what may look like failing to you could be the very thing that is helping another to succeed.
Above all, the only thing any mother truly needs is support and the permission to feel pride in the mother she chooses to be.