Expectations and New Motherhood
One of the topics we talk about often in support groups and peer settings is that motherhood is not what we expected.
Some are more vague, but some expectations are very specific. I had this idea of what a great homemaker I was going to be when I decided to stay home after my son was born. I was wrong. I thought I was going to be able to cook and clean and spend so much time with my son all while looking like a 1950s television housewife complete with full hair and makeup every day. Then reality showed up and said "Be glad when you get to shower and brush your teeth undisturbed!"
Tired of so many moms saying to her, "I wish someone had told me...", our mentor and friend, Sarah Workman Checcone has even written a semi autobiographical book about all the things they don't tell you about labor, birth, breastfeeding and the postpartum experience. Her book, Bump to Grind is a very point blank reality check for many moms.
(NOTE: Bump to Grind is the story of many mothers, but Elizabeth suggests to balance your childbirth education with something like Ina May's Guide to Childbirth and to talk with as many moms as possible to get a better picture of the various ways birth happens.)
I don't know if I should even get into all the things I was wrong about becoming a mother. The process of becoming a mother, followed by parenting a tiny little human is full of possibilities for making what I used to consider mistakes. Pregnancy, labor, hospitals, feeding, sleeping, toys, clothes, cartoons, mothers and mother-in-laws. For instance, after the birth of my first child, I vowed never to wear those ridiculous mesh panties again, and held to the promise through two more babies. Enter baby number four and hello cheesecloth underwear. Again. I was wrong.
In our year of conversations, Elizabeth and I have discovered many similarities in unmet expectations. I, too, was once a woman who thought if I have the most beautiful, amazing, natural birth, I'll will avoid postpartum depression. Guess what home birth moms can and do struggle with perinatal distress as well. Elizabeth shared her story recently about how her reality challenged her expectations after her perfect birth.
I also believed that the feeling of detachment I experienced in pregnancy would go away as soon as I held my baby. I just knew all those happy mushy in-love feelings would simply appear the moment he was born. Nope. Not after I first held him. Not after we left the hospital. Not after I went back to work. Not after I quit my job and stayed home. In fact, it took months before I actually felt like "I love this tiny human; I really love my baby".
Another mythic image of motherhood is the blissed-out new mom, breastfeeding with no trouble and no signs of lack of sleep. I can tell you now if a mom is breastfeeding or pumping she's giving up sleep somewhere and it's going to be visible. If she's formula feeding, she's also losing rest to feedings; possibly even more time than the mom who's nursing. Breastfeeding in itself can be mythical.
For some moms, breastfeeding comes almost second nature. For others, breastfeeding hurts or causes a multitude of other issues. There's poor latches, engorgement, thrush, and mastitis. I'm pretty convinced that difficulty with nursing or not meeting our own expectations can exasperate postpartum distress. Let's be real with new moms and moms to be. It's not going to be all sunshine and rainbows. For some women the hormones that our body produces associated with breastfeeding can really upset their mental state. And weaning depression, yeah it's a thing. it's a real thing for anyone who thinks that it's easy to just stop breastfeeding and move forward happily even when they had difficulty and did not enjoy breastfeeding, guess what they're wrong too. In fact ask my friend Cat, an IBCLC about breastfeeding and maternal mental health. Oh boy what she could tell you about false expectations! She voiced a multitude of concerns that we will have to share with you later.
For expectant moms, we suggest lining up the people you will need for breastfeeding support now. Find a local La Leche League group or Lactation Support Group. Moms that have a goal and a plan including the support of their partner are most likely to continue breastfeeding than those that don't prepare. Breastfeeding classes in Hillsborough County can been found here.
Another example of a wrong mother moment: I'd be the super happy energetic mom who never loses her patience, enjoys playing with the same singing Elmo toy for hours every day while refereeing Lego fights in between making endless kid friendly snacks and who is always thrilled to run errands with four kids in tow. If you know someone like this, chances are she's putting up a good front and you can do her a world of good by letting her know you see her. You can relate to her struggle and offer a safe place to vent when she needs it. If you are her, I need your secret. Seriously.
There's so much I was wrong about before having kids. So much I was wrong about having two, three, and four kids. I would not change my past nor give one of my kiddos up, but I would gladly pay for the cure for tantrums, tattling, and whining. I'd pay good money to never experience a diaper blow out that ruins my clothes. But I can't. And neither can the rest of the moms or the moms-to-be.
Elizabeth's Post Midnight Thought Pattern
Today is Everything You Think is Wrong Day. It's also the Ides of March, beware this can get kind of confusing. Taking the idea of everything you think is wrong and putting it into context of motherhood is counter-intuitive for me. Everything you thought about motherhood is probably wrong; when you think about the cute and cuddly baby, always smelling so delicious with rosy cheeks, quietly snuggling in your arms. Yeah that happens in motherhood. But it is the reason well meaning people say to cherish every minute and soak it up. You will miss the snuggles, but the snuggles are not the only thing happening in most mother's postpartum experiences. The screaming baby exists. We don't often see pictures of the screaming baby preconception, and even if they come across our radar, we tend to blame the parents. And since we ALL know we are going to be that mythical hero, AWESOME MOM, it won't happen to us.
No matter what you thought about motherhood, if those thoughts were full of staunch, black OR white, irrevocable ideas about the perfect baby and perfect way to parent, everything you think is wrong (or will be soon).
We have so much social pressure to be the perfect mother and before we are the perfect mother we have a really good idea of what we think the perfect mother's going to be so everything you thought was wrong. However everything you think once you get past that mythical mother, is right. Once we let go of our mythical expectations, I have found, it's really, really hard to come up with absolute wrong ways to mother. Most of us are walking around doing the best we can, with what we have. In my opinion we could read lots of blogs, journals and books; do all the research, but at the end of the day it doesn't really matter. We are our baby's experts. It's what you, your family and your baby come up with to survive that matters. Motherhood is a game of survival. If you're both still here; you're doing something right.
We would like to amend the national day calendar, making March 15 "Everything You Think You Know About Motherhood is Wrong Day". Let's just give ourselves a clean slate. Seriously there are days I need a do over. How about your ? What expectations were you certain you knew everything about? What challenged these beliefs and how did you reconcile your new truths? Comment below! We want you as a part of the conversation as we help break down unreasonable expectations for new and expectant moms.
Each walk is different, but we walk together, and that makes all the