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You are a good mom!

I have survived the first year of my first child's life! Nux Gallica is now a walking, talking one-year-old.


It has been an amazing journey from pregnancy to toddlerhood. I've experienced extreme joy, anxiety, worry, guilt, shame, exhaustion, and just about every other emotion a human can feel. Nothing in my life has given me such a feeling of completion, contentment, awe, and gratitude as having a healthy daughter. But it has also been hard, and I have watched other friends and acquaintances with babies go through their own ups and downs. And one thing I have learned through all of this is that every parent's experience is very different, and there are all kinds of ways to be a good mom.

I'm addressing this post specifically to mothers because, although much of what I'm going to say applies to dads also (and grandparents and other guardians), there are many struggles that are specific to mothers--pregnancy, childbirth, nursing, and social factors that are different for mothers.

I am surrounded by good mothers. Like when I was pregnant and I saw pregnant women everywhere, now I see mothers everywhere. Partly this is because a friend introduced me to a moms' group several months ago, and partly it's because I'm 30-ish and a lot of my peers are having children right now. What we all have in common is that we are wonderful mothers. We adore our babies and try our best to do everything right by them. But that's one of the few things we have in common. Another is that we don't always feel like good mothers. And here's why: Women today are expected to be superheroes who can do everything perfectly--especially mothers, who are expected to have comic book-style powers of perfect parenting, impressive careers, impeccable fashion sense, and MILFy hotness two seconds after giving birth. If we don't embody all those traits, it must be because we aren't trying hard enough.

In general, dads don't face this kind of judgment. Mr. G can back me up on this. When a dad is out running errands with a baby, he gets all kinds of compliments and encouragement that he is such a good daddy. Because dads aren't expected to do most of the grocery shopping and childcare, even in our modern society, they are seen as going above and beyond when they do these things. Women, on the other hand, are expected to not only do all of those things but also keep our rugrats from annoying everyone else and put some effort into our appearance too. Certainly we are not appreciated just for getting the child in the shopping cart--that's something we are apparently genetically programmed to do with ease.

For me, the guilting and shaming started to come from all directions during my pregnancy. And it came from some quarters that surprised me, that I thought would be more supportive. I did have some great support from family, friends, my employers, and my OB. But certain older women started to make comments, usually not to me directly but to someone close to me, like my mother, implying that it was a shame I had to work so many hours while expecting--they certainly never had to do that--or that I wasn't working enough--their daughter worked 50 hours a week until the tenth hour of her labor, and proud of it!

Then there was the controversy about birthing. I was warned by some not to trust those dirty hippies and give birth in a birthing center without a surgeon present--thereby endangering my child's life like some kind of animal. Ironically, I was warned by others not to consider a hospital birth--which would endanger my child's life and wellness and would encourage "unnatural" birthing. Going in, it was clear that if anything terrible happened, it would be blamed on my choice of birthing location and style by some people, no matter which I chose.

I'm a big fan of researching things when I am inundated with unsolicited, half-baked opinions, so I looked into the relative risks of hospitals vs. birthing centers vs. home births and found that there was not much difference at all in terms of outcomes and that it really came down to personal needs and preferences. I reasoned that because my grandmother and mother both have unusually narrow pelvises and had trouble giving birth (my grandmother was only able to bear underweight babies with great difficulty, and my mother needed cesareans for her average weight babies), I would go with the very enlightened-seeming local hospital, working with OBs given midwife training, to prepare for the very likely possibility that I would need an emergency c-section. Meanwhile, I hoped for a "natural" birth with minimal interventions and prepared for it with prenatal yoga, meditation, and non-medical pain relief techniques.

Like most births, mine did not go as planned. It was very hard, but it wasn't terrible either. Everyone came out of it healthy, which is the most important thing. But the anxiety that I felt on top of all the other pain and stress later filled me with rage. How could a woman who has gone through childbirth herself ever judge another woman for her birth? That's something I still don't fully understand. My guess is that women who experience easier births (and I mean that in very relative terms) could possibly choose to overlook the fact that before modern medicine, say in the time of Charlemagne, most people did not survive infancy, and it was utterly common for women to die in childbirth. If that's ultimately "natural," I'll take the modern risks and inconveniences. Human beings are not kangaroos; we do not bear booger-sized progeny into a flesh pocket and go hopping about our business. "Natural" childbirth, for humans, is usually difficult and dangerous. And women's pelvises have not evolved to keep up with the rate at which the average size of a well-nourished newborn has grown.

Despite knowing all this, I still found myself guilt-tripped by disappointed-looking "natural" women who asked me all sorts of bewildered questions like, did I really get an epidural? And didn't I try squatting? The truth is, after 15 hours of labor, my natural pain relief methods were no longer working. I have a relatively high pain threshold, which has actually been tested against others in both sports and scientific settings on a few occasions. But my labor pains became so intense that I thought I would lose consciousness--which actually happened to someone I know. When the nurses told me I had stopped dilating at seven for several hours and the baby might have to come out without full dilation, I asked for an epidural. The epidural paralyzed my legs completely, so I could not squat or move around as I would have liked to, but I did labor on my side, tilted up, as long as I could. My husband helped hold me in position. Eventually I did dilate completely, and after 24 hours of labor, after pushing for three hours, it became apparent that I did have a narrow pelvis and my baby's skull was stuck. I finally was able to push her out without assistance, but I had extensive tearing that needed a lot of stitches. 

And it sounds weird, but I wish somebody would have told me about these possibilities. Instead, medical professionals tended to brush off my questions. Oh, don't worry, they said. You don't look like you have a narrow pelvis. It isn't likely. Oh, you probably won't tear. Don't worry, dear. Think happy thoughts.

I wish that after the medical professionals assured me not to worry, they would have then answered my questions. When I ask a question and the doctor or nurse won't answer it, I fear that the answer is so unspeakable that it's better not to know. That gives me more anxiety than knowing how the problem would be treated, in the unlikely event it did occur. It would have helped me to hear things like, Here are your options. You might have a difficult labor. You might need pain medication to stay alert. And it will be okay. It won't harm you or your baby. You might have to push for a long time. But chances are, the baby will still be fine. They're all squishy when they're new. You might tear. It might not heal in six weeks. You might still be sore for months. But it will still be okay. Your body is miraculous, and it will heal, and in time you will look and feel just like you did before your pregnancy. 

I wish somebody could have told me that when I went for my six-week checkup, still bleeding and in pain. Instead, the doctor said, "You're all healed!" and gave me the green light to have sex. I was so confused. I thought that might mean that this was as good as it was going to get, that I would always have to deal with pain from now on. If I had known all along that it might take months to get completely back to normal, I wouldn't have felt anxious all those months wondering if there was something very wrong with me.

After my water broke, when my contractions began to overwhelm me and there was no end in sight, I thought of something I had seen in a natural birth video--a woman explaining that "not all women interpret the sensations of labor as pain." I wanted to kick that woman in the face and tell her to interpret that. There is nothing worse than being in the most intense pain of your whole life and then having a loop of voices in your head completely discrediting that pain.

After giving birth, I was encouraged by certain people not to tell my story. My child's birth was called a "horror story" that might frighten other moms into avoiding "natural" birth, so I shouldn't talk about it. I'm aware that all the gruesome details of childbirth aren't appropriate dinner conversation, but I was made to feel this way in a mothers' forum. It was online, so there's always the risk that someone in cyberspace will be rude or misunderstand, but I hear about other mothers receiving that message too, either explicitly or implicitly, in real life as well. And it isn't fair. No birth story that has a happy ending of a healthy baby and a healthy mother is a horror story. It's a miracle. It's a fairy tale--fraught with danger and suspense but with a glorious and happy ever-after. 

Most births do not go according to our best-case-scenario birth plans, and it is not because we didn't try hard enough. Whether we do it with or without drugs, in a hospital or a hot tub, vaginally or by cesarean, it is a powerful ordeal that is different for each woman and for each birth.

Then comes breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is a wondrous thing. It's incredible nutrition for the baby and helps the mother heal. But like birth experiences, the nursing experience is very different from one mama-baby pair to the next. I had an easy time. Before Nux Gallica's cord was cut, she was on me like a little shark. My milk came in immediately and was always plentiful. My baby seemed to know exactly what to do. At the hospital, nurses gave me a few tips that helped make it work even better. Breastfeeding is not a completely self-evident, naturally easy task as many people assume. For some mothers and babies, it is impossible, and for most it is somewhat difficult. Even though I had a blessedly easy time learning it, conflicting messages pestered me from the start. I was given a sample of formula but basically told that if I used it, I was doing intentional harm to myself and my baby. I was grabbed, pinched, prodded, ordered to try different positions, and told when to feed the baby. I wanted so badly to be left in peace! And when I got home, I had experts and "experts" telling me that nursing my child for anything less than a full year was basically starving her of proper nutrition, while on the other hand women of a certain generation tisk-tisked about the barbarity and indecency of it all, and their children had done just fine without it.

It made me so angry that women who had trouble or were unable to breastfeed were made to feel like neglectful parents, and that women who did were met with either a shrug and a nod of "yes, of course that's what you're supposed to do" or an air of disgust. Caring for a child is so hard, whether you breastfeed or not. Both come with their struggles and benefits, and both are just fine for the baby.

The breastfeeding drama leads into work drama. Stay-at-home moms are often looked down upon, and so are women who don't breastfeed. But pumping at work is difficult and can be next to impossible, depending on a woman's employer and job. Awful but true: Employers view mothers less favorably than childless women even though they view fathers more favorably than childless men. Women are expected to be perfect mothers and perfect employees even as their work in each realm is viewed as detracting from each other. Luckily, I work for two mothers. I was able to get a good pump and the time and space at work to get it done. I also had a physically easy time expressing, which is lucky for me. I certainly do not generalize that because I could do it without too much trouble, every other woman should be expected to do the same.

The judgment doesn't stop with feeding, not by a long shot. I've been told that I hold my baby too much or too little, that I should dress her in certain colors, that I need to buy certain products. I get bizarre advice from people who never had children--so how do they think they know?--and from people who had big families of their own--so why on earth would they tell me to feed my newborn tomato sauce and rum?

I hope I never turn into one of those people who passes along more judgment than support. Because really, with very few exceptions, it is obvious to me that every mother is doing the best she can.

If you are a mom and you're even bothering to read this far, I can tell.

You are a good mom!

If you worry about whether you are doing it right, then you obviously take motherhood seriously.

You are a good mom!

If you are worn down and loopy with sleep deprivation and anxiety, if you can't remember where you put your keys, it is because you are giving so much of yourself to your little one.

You are a good mom!

If you were able and willing to give birth without medical intervention, or if you called upon help when it was needed, you chose to do what was best for you and your baby.

You are a good mom!

If you nurse or pump or prepare bottle after bottle of formula, you do your best to nourish your child in the way best suited to your family.

You are a good mom!

If you give months or years of your life to be at home with your child, or if you go to work day after day to provide a good life for your child, sorry--you are not perfect in the eyes of every person, because you cannot be in two places at once. Despite the criticism you face, whether you are in the office or the nursery, your work is important to your child.

You are a good mom!

If you read every bit of parenting advice and try every best practice, or whether you tune into your unique child's needs and your own needs as a person, you are conscientious and engaged.

You are a good mom!

Motherhood is one of the most demanding, important, and life-altering jobs a woman can take on. Just by trying to do your best, you are amazing. 


Nobody knows your child and your life better than you. Don't let the inevitable anxiety and guilt-tripping make you forget it. You're the best mom your child could have.

Comments

  1. This. Is. Amazing. Thank you so much for writing this. Truly. I am bookmarking this because I will need to read it again in the future when I forget. I forget everything - especially that I'm a good mom. I love my child, but what kills me the most is that everybody surrounding me thinks I should have another one. I don't want another one, and it's nobody's business why - but everybody seems to think it's their business, just like when I had my daughter and forced myself to breastfeed her even though it was clearly not working for us. I was suffering so deeply from postpartum that my body literally couldn't produce enough milk.

    Thank you again for this post. I wish more mothers would stop judging and start supporting more, as you have done here. It's certainly something I aim to do.

    By the way, your daughter is beautiful. :)

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    1. Michelle, I was just thinking how dumb it is for people to ask anyone, "So when are you having more kids?" It's not like anybody was about to have more babies and just forgot. If there are no more babies, it's either because of a very important and personal decision or because the couple is physically unable. Either way, awkward and rude! I just read some scientific results about how only children are more successful in life than those of us with siblings. So, lucky for your daughter! You are a great mom! <3

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    2. Oh, I know. My pediatrician, just yesterday, said something to me that angered me, but I kept my mouth shut. I said something about not wanting my daughter to grow up because I love this age, and he said, "Well, have another one, then." I was thinking, dude, what if I COULDN'T? He has no way of knowing that, so why would he say that as if it's just so easy to have another one? I don't WANT another one, and it's nobody's business why. I just don't like people assuming that I should or that I do. That's all. It happens at least once a week.

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  2. Thank you so much, Michelle! The first year of parenthood is hard. Every parent has different issues to deal with and doesn't especially need harsh judgments at this most vulnerable and delicate time of life. It would be so good if our culture could be more supportive and realize that there is no one-size-fits-all Best Way to parent a baby.

    One thing I've learned is that there are so many different ways to raise a healthy, happy child. I love hearing other parents' stories because having a baby is, I'm finding, a wonderful opportunity to learn open-mindedness, flexibility, and spontaneity. It's amazing to see the world through the eyes of a brand new person, a person who came from my body but who is an entirely separate individual with her own personality, temperament, and preferences. It's an exercise in listening, observing, and patience.

    Open-mindedness and patience: I think these are two critical qualities for a functional parent, and they're also two qualities that we parents can appreciate in those well-meaning people around us who want to put in their two cents!

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  3. Great post, Jeannie! I am already trying to think of sassy comebacks to use on unsolicited advisers when/if I have a baby. But when the time comes I'll probably be too worn out to think of any :) Obviously, you're an amazing mom, and those judgmental people were not raised right. You articulate the issue so beautifully!

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  4. Thanks, Jess! On my end, I'm trying to refine my responses so that they seem gracious if not grateful. Does that make sense? I don't want to snap at anyone who's just trying to be helpful. On the other hand, some of the comments seem mean-spirited at the root, and it brings out my mama bear.

    Jess, if you ever have kids, you will be an excellent mom! You are kind, gentle, intelligent, and creative. What lucky possible future children! ;)

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  5. Sadly, I have seen this post before. Dozens of times.

    There is no mystery in all of this. American culture and how women are treated, by other women, is broken. I could go on and on for pages and pages on why it is so, but no need to drag your blog into the muck of how gender-role wars are a caustic environment for new moms.

    Unless you want me to, that is. Heh.

    But I will say this. Women put up with too much crap. A gracious/grateful response isn't helping your sleep-deprived mental state.

    I've personally had (women) question why we had a Cesarian and I told them it was preferable to a dead baby and a dead wife. Then I give them a look like their question was stupid. Which it was. An emergency c-section. You know. Because it was an emergency?

    There is nothing more beautiful than a woman doing her thang. Anybody who intrudes on that deserves scorn and ridicule. This is not something that needs understanding, it's the fundamental truth: new moms are awesome, and anyone who thinks/acts different can go eff themselves.

    Grrrrrrr!

    Whoops. I guess you all can spot one of my buttons, ha!

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    1. Thank you, Anthony! Your manly opinions on this matter are appreciated. Your rage makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. You are a good dad! And husband!

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    2. Oooohhhh I have MANLY OPINIONS. I am now walking around the house grinning like a dork. That made my morning!

      Anyway, kindness and tolerance are only a part of our placement in the community. We are also people of determination and strength. We must make demands for acceptable behavior. If adults do not wish me to treat them as children then they must act like adults.

      I demand lady-like and gentleman-like behavior of everyone coming into contact with a pregnant woman and new mom. This is my standard. There is no compromise to this standard. There is no give and take. A woman bringing forth life unto this world deserves nothing less than our very best.

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  6. I think that saying you're a good mom is sort of an understatement...;)IMHO.

    I love you, and that big, healthy, beautiful baby!

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  7. This is a beautiful post Mama J. It also made me engage in some navel gazing, wondering if I'd contributed to your frustration. Whether I did or didn't, I wanted to share my view. As a child-free woman it was fascinating for me to watch you go through the process of pregnancy and birth. It made me go and read things I would never have read and made me want to share what I learned with you, about bedside cradles, breast pumps, midwives and pregnancy orgasms. Not because I thought you didn't know it, but because I wanted to be a part of what you were experiencing.

    There are malicious people out there who just want to be right, but I think a lot of women just want to talk to you and share their ideas and their experiences but sadly they have to filter them though the same cloud of judgments you recieved. So by putting the emphasis on what THEY did as the right thing, they convince not you, but themselves that they were good parents too. While it feels very personal (and sometimes probably is) it's more about the person needing validation that their way was the "right" one.

    That kind of double edged judgement/shaming (I judge you so I don't have to judge myself) is so common, especially amongst women. I get it a lot for being a romance reader and writer. But I'd never experienced the guilt/shaming quite as much as when I got married. You can't compare a wedding to the process of pregnancy but it was jarring how judgemental people:

    "What do you mean, you aren't going to have dancing? You have to!"

    "What do you mean, you aren't going to have a cake? Everyone has cake!"

    "Why bother with the wedding if you've already signed the papers?"

    "Well god how much could it have cost? You didn't even have flowers!"

    "Your theme is garden gnomes? That's... unique."

    "Plastic plates and silverware aren't classy."

    I could go on. I was engaged for two years and all I heard was what I had to do, couldn't do and must do. The way people will look down their nose at you for your choices as a woman is breathtaking. It made me start to go crazy and second guess myself over and over. People wonder where "bridezillahs" come from and it's from too many people who "know best" making you feel nuts about your choices.

    The best thing we can do is make choices from the heart. Whether it's in regards to adorable babies who pee on their Aunty Moppet (hi Nux Gallica!) or whether it's to have a gnome laced reception with plastic utensils, fake flowers and cheesecake.

    When we own our choices and accept them as having been right for us but not for everyone, we'll cease playing this judgment/shaming game with each other.

    Also a side note, on internet forums everyone has an opinion, they all think they know more than you do. The "Cult of Nice" is a particular problem for women and it's especially insidious on message boards. Don't tell your story because it might discourage someone? As if they aren't smart enough to weigh the pros and cons and make an informed decision on their own? That's wrong and sexist. "Nice" on the internet and in real life means only saying what others want you to say. Should you run around screaming about how bad your birth was and how no one should have natural birth? Probably not because that's only your experience. But it's not wrong to share your story and it's not wrong to let people decide for themselves what is right for them and their body.

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    1. Well said, Miss Moppet. You NEVER made me feel shamed or judged with any of our conversations about childbearing. You are a most excellent conversationalist, and I don't feel insulted or harshly judged by you on the few occasions when we disagree. There is nothing wrong with trying to be helpful or asking questions. Even if you are uninformed or inexperienced in a subject, it's OK to talk about it and it doesn't have to come off as mean or rude.

      It's one of those hard-to-define but easy-to-spot distinctions: when someone is being judgmental from a place of insecurity or malice vs. when someone is trying to be helpful or just curious. I'm sure the difference was usually obvious to you during your wedding process!

      By the way, I think your gnome wedding was just as adorable as the time my baby peed on you!! Haha.

      And it is ironic how nasty the "Cult of Nice" can be, isn't it? I'm so happy I've found a community of parents who all do things a little differently, don't shame each other for sharing their own stories, and offer support that doesn't come with a giant backhand of obvious judgment thrown in for kicks. It's not hard to do. It's not even all about what you say to someone but how you say it and in what context. When your heart is in the right place, it shows. And it's appreciated.

      As I've grown older, I've learned to consciously surround myself with good-hearted and wise people--like yourself--who can make me think without making me question my self-worth. None of my close friends or family members are among those who have driven me nuts with their crappy comments; most of that has come from strangers and people I've long learned to avoid whenever possible.

      Your conversation, info sharing, and questions are always welcome. Thanks for being a supportive friend.

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  8. I've learned so much from you as I've become a mom. This community of moms I am so fortunate to know has been invaluable. I, too, wish that there was more honesty between people when it comes to parenthood and especially motherhood. But now that I am on this side of the experience, I find myself biting my tongue when I start to get the urge to give advice or "be real about it." I don't want to overwhelm, and I don't know how much can get through when you haven't been through the process yet. But I hope that I can communicate on some level to moms-to-be or new moms that most importantly: follow your intuition; you know yourself and your baby best.
    Wow. What a year it has been. I thought it was going to be one way and then, it was
    completely different...like, every day. You are an amazing mother and I am grateful to have you around to help remind me of possibilities and ways of doing this mothering thing that many others don't see. You have a kick-ass daughter. Wow, she is impressive. And so loved. :)

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    1. This is a late reply, but thank you so much for this comment, Molly! I am immensely grateful to you for being there for me along the childbearing journey and for introducing me to the circle of supportive parents that has benefited us both. And it's fun watching your extra super adorable kid grow up at an absurd pace.

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  9. I have re-posted this today in honor of the great parents' group that I am lucky to know. It's also a good precursor to the inevitable daddy-love post that I feel coming as Fathers' Day approaches!

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  10. Lovely and inspiring. Though I am not yet a mother I hope to be someday and I will certainly be taking your advice to follow my intuition when I do!
    Rebecca

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  11. Congrats on surviving. On to the terrible Twos!

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