This month one of my dearest friends had her very first child. I could not be more elated for her and her fiance. I could not be more ecstatic that she has been reaching out to me for advice as she maneuvers the road of motherhood. In all of our talks what I have found is how our society has created an environment where they prepare us to be a parent in every clinical and technical sense. These parenting classes sell all the beauty and excitement of the new mom smell. Yet all of these parenting classes, coaching, and boot camps fail to prepare parents, especially moms, for the emotional gauntlet that they run in their first hours, days, weeks (and beyond) of becoming a mother.
I remember the day I had Grant. After I recovered from the shivers, the shock, the adrenaline and uproar of medical staff in and out of my room, I was able to gaze upon this beautiful, tiny human. Swelling with a joy I never knew imaginable, overcome with a looming sense of doom, humbled by the miracle, and suddenly overwhelmed to meet an imaginary bar of motherly perfection.
Urged to attend a breastfeeding class at the hospital prior to my discharge, I could not help to feel deeply uneasy. My mind was racing with other thoughts and future plans. Concerned about how we would have money for the lifelong care for this baby. Panic stricken with my own basic ability as a person to be able to adequately care for this tiny little human, could I do it? Will I fail? Then all of the “what ifs.” All of these thoughts running through my mind, along with my ability to continue to be an effective wife. I made every attempt to pay attention to the nurse who was force feeding me the nonsense that I absolutely had to breastfeed my newborn baby. Her tone was thick with condescension so I was put-off and on edge already. As the small group of mothers were circled around the room, all feeding their children, including myself, I was gazing at my baby boy and watched as the color began to drain from his face.
Tears began to stream and I interrupted the self-righteous blowhard as she attempted to snap at me for my rudeness. I brought to her attention the urgent nature of my baby. She was berating me and telling me I was being dramatic despite his gray color and bluing lips. Finally a nurse from the hall overheard my calls for help and ran in to assist. He had taken in colostrum but he also had a significant amount of fluid still on his lungs from the delivery, so he was unable to breathe. I was screaming in my head as my exterior was calm and aloof as we rushed my baby to the nursery to save him.
I couldn’t return to the education room. I refused. All I could think about was how the nurse berated me in front of a gaggle of other women when my baby needed immediate attention. I sat in the nursery with the most kind woman who hugged me, she assured me that the human God had entrusted to me would be okay. I snuggled him and sobbed until I felt confident to return to my room with my baby and I knew he would be okay. After coaxing and more hugs I was at ease and I returned to my room, only to be confronted by the same self-righteous nurse. Briefly asking me how my baby was she demanded I complete her class and that we address my “feeding issues.” During my short 30 minute stint in the nursery I was able to drop a testicle to stand up to the woman. As she attempted to undo my gown to pull out my breast and attempt to assist me in feeding my child, and address my “issues” I swatted away her hand away and stood my ground. Short of choking her, I mentally did so, I brow beat her into submission to leave my room, demanding she not return. Her tone and inferences were absolute hogwash, so was her complete disregard for my baby and myself.
Breastfeeding is such an intimate and exposed act. One that is deeply personal and often revealing of our deep seeded concerns. We are awkward, uncertain, uneasy, worried, and make every attempt to overachieve to ensure we are the best mothers possible. Yet in all of that mess is a child who simply needs love and care. In all of the mess is our own emotional turmoil that no class or coach or boot camp ever prepares you for, they simply tell you the highlights of what you should do, not what you can expect. Expect that the experience will be emotionally messy, physically and emotionally painful, heartbreaking, concerning, and above all else, exhausting. My experience, though traumatic, happens all too often to new mothers. The expectation to breastfeed and the disregard for the mother’s personal experience. The expectation that if we do not breastfeed, somehow we have failed at some level of womanhood. All of this imaginary, bullshit expectation, brought on by breasts.
All of this expectation to fulfill the imaginary perfectionist bar and standard of motherhood. To this day, I still struggle with an overwhelming sense of fear as a mother. Am I meeting even the basic standard of being a good mom? I have moments at almost 40 with older kids where I hide and sob in the shower. I have twins and a teenager. My twins will one day be teens, and a daughter. A daughter. Lord have mercy, I am devoid of expectation because to have an expectation of her and the person she will become makes me even more terrified. What I do know is that I am doing the best I can and mothers before me
What should be taught in these classes, coaching sessions and parenting boot camps is the legitimacy of struggle. Motherhood is the most amazing struggle of life, each day my kids teach me as I am God’s humble servant to be entrusted to care for these people. Parenting is not easy. Holding your composure while parenting can be impossible, both good and bad; I cannot tell you how many times I struggled to hold a straight face and broke into laughter with my kids.
No one can tell you what to do, as each of us deals with our reality so differently. Armchair (childless adults) parents should never teach these classes. Optimists should never teach these classes. Realists need to teach these classes, preparing these new parents for the brutality of what is to come so their expectations are not shattered, their ideals crushed, and their self esteem in ruins because they feel they could not fulfill these unrealistic expectations set by society. Call me jaded, but I think had someone told me how the first three months would be a struggle and what to expect, I might have had a completely different vantage with my oldest. Maybe I would have been more relaxed, more willing to accept help, less stressed and more accepting that I could never be the perfect parent.
I wish social media, advertising, boot camps, parenting coaches and the like would stop selling motherhood like its a new car. Becoming a mom is not like a new car, we are not the new mom smell, we do not have cool creature features or smooth lines or great handling. What gives me a cringing feeling, causes my heart to hurt, and my blood boils is when motherhood is portrayed like an inspirational quote. It’s not butterflies and positivity. Being a mom is gritty, raw, emotional, personal, angry, happy; motherhood is all four seasons in one moment. Motherhood is truly “it takes a village” movement. Women should band together to support each other with the joys and let downs, the realism of exhaustion trying to do it all, the support that everything experienced is completely normal. From wanting to scream and cry in agony, to the laughs and cry’s of joy. No matter if we choose to breastfeed or bottle feed, cloth diaper or disposable, organic or not, we are a tribe of women maneuvering the road of life with tiny humans. Just know that you are doing a great job despite the voice telling you otherwise. You are amazing despite feeling insecure in your efforts. If you feel like you are a failure or not doing a good job, you are doing an amazing job, because you care enough to think you aren’t doing it right or doing enough.