Those of you who follow my blog know by now that most of my posts are inspired by something that happens to me in my work as a doula.
Today is one of those days.
I’ve just had a conversation with a new mother of two, who has a baby and a preschooler, and who wonders why she’s so exhausted, and why everybody else seems to be coping fine.
She also feels guilty at the idea of asking for support.
I’m so seriously pissed off at our society right now!
I’ve written several times before about what new mothers really need, and I’d love to see a shift in our culture about how we support new mothers, with a mother centered, and mother supportive approach, rather than one that only gives gifts to the baby and encourages the new mother to “go back to normal” (as if there was such a thing!) as soon as possible after the birth of her baby-as if nothing of significance has happened.
This post is about the lack of community support, how we’re not meant doing this on our own, and how much harm is caused to new mothers by a culture which encourages women to put up a brave face, and keep their challenging moments secret.
This secret part means that women feel inadequate thinking they are alone in their struggle.
I remember being a new mother and struggling massively with finding my new identity (another topic that isn’t discussed), but also being really tired, bored and lonely (all my social network was at work from 9 to 5) at home with my new baby, and feeling really GUILTY about it.
I had this stupid romantic notion in my head that somehow, motherhood alone ought to make me feel fulfilled.
Ah bloody ah!
So I didn’t reach out and talked to anybody about it.
Luckily I read a lot of books, and I remember feeling so vindicated when reading, in the book “The continuum concept” that it’s not normal for our species to be alone with a baby.
We’re meant to be with other adults once we have babies, and babies are meant to be around many of people too.
We’re meant to have experienced mothers around us, other women in our close community, who can help guide us and make us feel more normal and confidence as we navigate the treacherous waters of new motherhood.
I love this article called ” In the Absence of the Village, Mothers Struggle Most”
I was also amazed to read an article about the fact that women who live in traditional tribal societies have the same issues with breastfeeding as Western women but the difference is that they have the support of experienced women around them.
We’re meant to have other people who can hold the baby for a while whilst we sleep, who can take care of chores and provide us with nutritious food whilst we rest and recover from growing and birthing a baby, and get to know our new baby too.
So in our nuclear family culture, for the lack of a village around most of us, we shouldn’t feel guilty about asking for support, we should demand and expect support, because that’s what’s normal for our species.
What’ not normal in the unusual situation Western culture puts us in.
We also live in a strange, “fake” culture, one that is all about glossy Instagram pictures. Motherhood isn’t glossy. Motherhood is raw and messy. There are many moments in the day of a mother, that can be wonderful (the smiles and gurgles of a baby), and also many moments full of tedious drudgery, and many moments which are downright terrible. I love this article about it.
Coming back to my early days of being a mother, my feelings of inadequacy were exacerbated by the fact that I didn’t talk to anybody about it. One of my biggest regrets to this day is not to have hired my birth doula, Maddie Mc Mahon, as a postnatal doula to help me through make sense of things through these first few weeks and months. Knowing the magic of doula support, I know it would have made a world of difference, to have someone witnessing my mothering and reflecting it back to me in a positive light ,and reframing it like I am trying to do with this blog.
But hey I believed that I couldn’t justify spending money on myself, what with my reduced maternity leave pay and all that. It felt selfish and indulgent to spend money on myself. Yet I bought so much useless crap for my baby. Somehow, I don’t think I even realised at the time that I was a victim of the low value our culture places on mothers and motherhood.
Eventually I started going to baby classes, and met other mothers who became friends, and the informal discussions we had whilst feeding and playing with our babies were peppered with priceless nuggets of information-and made me realise that I was normal and not alone.
As a doula I have had more occasions that I can remember when I’ve witness new mums going through the same feelings of inadequacy.
“I’m not doing anything” they say. I usually reflect back to them that they are solely managing to keep a very helpless and very demanding tiny human alive-and that’s no mean feat!
The problem is that our culture place such a low value on motherhood, and considers it to the a “non activity”, so people assume that mothers just get to relax all day. But nothing could be further from the truth.
I remember when I went back to work when my son was a baby. I went back part time-working 4 days a week. On my day off , I hung out with my new mum friends, some of which had decided not to go back to work. One of them said “I don’t know how you do it”- referring to the fact that she thought that balancing work and being a mother was really difficult. I replied “no, I don’t know how YOU do it”, then proceeded to explain to her that the hard days weren’t the ones at work, but the ones at home. I told her that on my work days I got uninterrupted coffee and lunch breaks-complete with adult conversation, and that I even got to go to the toilet on my own (anybody with a small child knows that as soon as you sit on the loo they need your attention for something).
There is no breaks in the day of a new mum, no pauses, no quiet, uninterrupted time, no appraisals, no pats on the back, and no bonuses.
The days can be 14-16 hour long or more.
You cannot see the results of your mothering at the end of each day, the results of all the effort, all the patience, all the time and all the love you have poured into your child.
I love this dad’s response to a friend asking what his stay at home wife does all day.
The “I’m a crap mum” worry is another common one. We focus on where we’re failing, on the moment when we’re exhausted and loose our shit with our kids, not on all the love with pour into them all day. I did that a lot in the early days, I saw other mums do stuff I wasn’t doing with my kid, and I felt like I was lacking. I never did focus on the stuff I was doing well.
I have said many times before that there should be some kind of “bad mothers club” (a bit like AA but for mums), where mothers could safely talk about the less pleasant sides of motherhood without being judged.
I was inspired today by reading this story of a mum who hunted around her toddler’s bedroom for the source of the bad smell, only to find her toddler had done a poo behind the curtain, on the windowsill at that. (warning-graphic picture of a poo if you open the link).
This mum was judged and shamed on social media for posting this.
And yet this can be the reality of motherhood for many of us.
I once had my baby in a sling and he had an explosive poo which leaked all the way down his legs and onto the sling. And yes I was out in a park when this happened.
I for one, wish more mothers had the guts to post stories and pictures like the mum who wrote the toddler poo story.
We need a “real motherhood” Instagram account!
Let’s leave the glossy culture behind, the one that keeps on portraying motherhood as filled only with joy, let’s stop only sharing the perfect pictures, and let’s stop pretending that everything in our life is perfect.
Because if more mothers shared the less glamorous stories as well as the joyful moments, more of us would realise that we’re not alone and that motherhood comes with enormous highs, but also with terrible lows. And all within the same day, sometimes within minutes even.
More of us would feel connected, normal, and would have a good laugh in the process too!
Only in sharing the joys and the lows can we truly connect with each other.
If you resonate with this, please comment, and also please share stories of raw moments of motherhood.