*Please note - this blog was originally published on Kiddical http://www.kiddiecal.com/blog/calendar/2014/9/#.VLBlpCusXD8
When you excitedly announced your pregnancy, you were probably prepared for lots of congratulatory wishes, maybe some good advice, to be looked after like precious china and to bask in the glow of everyone’s excitement. But were you prepared for becoming ‘public property’? Let’s see if this rings any bells with any of you! Were you prepared for the increased level of sharing ‘too much information’, the horror stories about labour & birth, the people who told you that their baby didn’t sleep until he was 14, the comments on your bump, the hands on your tummy? I certainly wasn’t! I like to think I’m a fairly open type of person, I wear my heart on my sleeve and I like to talk – but I really was not prepared to hear the grisly details of people’s birth stories as soon as I produced that fuzzy picture of my baby’s 12 week scan!
Now, as an antenatal teacher, I have spent so much time trying to analyse why ‘normal’, often educated, polite, discreet women feel it is completely appropriate to share every detail of their baby’s birth in full technicolour horror to a mum who faces the prospect of giving birth in just a few weeks. It’s not so bad if it’s a close friend sharing some details of what should be a special and private journey, but it was the colleagues, acquaintances, and often strangers whose stories took me by surprise! Of course meeting your baby is one the biggest events life will ever throw at you, but how much better would it be if we stayed away from sharing negative experiences and instilling fear into women around one of the very things their body was built for? I have watched & listened to women grow more animated, and dare I say gleeful (and possibly embellish even more) as they tell stories of labour & birth that would make your toes curl, and while I appreciate that some people do have a hard time, surely those stories are best kept for company who are done having children, or even a counsellor, but let’s protect the ears and minds of vulnerable first time mums!
Talking of vulnerable, there’s nothing like those pregnancy hormones to make even the most confident woman feel unattractive or worry even more about the precious life she is growing inside. Most people that I know are polite enough not to comment on my figure day to day (or maybe they are just scared to), so I was most unprepared for the comments on the size of my bump! In the same day it was “neat”, “twins”, “huge”, “high”, “low”, “tiny”, “just like a beachball”, “spread all round the middle”…. On a good day I laughed it off and enjoyed that people were so interested, on a bad day I went home, cried, looked in the mirror a lot and then googled…. And we all know that Google is not the friend of a hormonal pregnant lady! While I loved being pregnant & seeing my bump growing every day, in this very body conscious society, I regularly mop up the tears of ladies who come to my classes and are upset (and often very worried) because of the comments they get on the size of their bump.
And then there’s the touching!! I was lucky to avoid too many folk touching my tummy but I hear reports all the time from friends and clients who have total strangers walk up to them to rub their tummies! I think it’s considered lucky to do that in some places, but can you imagine doing that to someone who isn’t pregnant!
Finally, I need to get it off my chest - the unsolicited advice! When my beautiful baby arrived, I thought that would be the end of being in the spotlight – of course that was not the case! I loved the attention lavished on my gorgeous son and was so proud to show him off, but it still frustrates me when, again, random strangers offer advice that I’m not really looking for. The one that sticks out the most was the little old lady in a supermarket who must have looked at the bags under my eyes and brought up that delicate topic of baby sleep (do this at your peril!!) It should come as no surprise that it is completely normal for a 12 week baby not to be sleeping through, yet she told me I should give him a (sugar laden) rusk before bed and then not feed him during the night, but just give him water because “that would teach him not to wake up”. I’m absolutely positive that this advice came from a good place in her heart and is what perhaps worked for her children, but as a breastfeeding mum who practices what some call “gentle parenting”, the thought of my baby waking up & me not being able to feed & cuddle him upset my hormonal self-more than I thought possible. As we muddle our way through doing the best thing we can do bring up our children, people offer opinions, advice and can be very openly critical of how you’re doing things. Most of us would never dream of commenting on most areas of people’s lifestyle choices, but we do it all the time when it comes to parenting and this again can really undermine the confidence of a new mum….
So as I draw my rant to a close, it is with mixed feelings. These things that frustrate me so much usually come from a place of love, care and excitement. In sharing the magic that is new life, we talk about our own experiences however they have been, but without censorship this can be damaging. Parenthood is quite often a bond that draws complete strangers together and when this is a knowing look or a helping hand when things are tough, it’s wonderful, but let’s not overlook the harm that unsolicited advice can have on a sleep-deprived, hormonal new mum who is already convinced she’s doing it wrong!
I urge you to be part of turning the tide of negativity around labour & childbirth – if you don’t have anything positive to share about your journey, talk to a mum-to-be about the joy of holding your baby for the first time. Share a pregnant woman’s joy and boost her confidence by telling her how radiant she is or how well she is carrying her bump, don’t comment on the size! If you see a sleep deprived or struggling new mum, ask her how she is getting on, tell her she is doing great and if she asks, give her a few gentle tips on things that have worked for you!
Let’s help new parents & parents to be on their way with lots of positivity, excitement and a heavy dose of censorship around the things they would probably be horrified at hearing (unless they ask), most importantly, remind them that while being a parent is the toughest job on the planet, it is also the best.
If you are a mum-to-be or a new mum on the receiving end of this, practice your very best smile and polite ‘thank you’, and remember that these comments come from a good place, even if they are a little clumsy! Brush off what you don’t want to hear, enjoy the things you do, and trust your gut instinct as a parent-to-be or new parent – if a piece of advice strikes a chord with you, try it out & see how you get on!
If you want to share some common ground with other mums-to-be or new mums, contact Jess Higgins for Daisy Birthing® or Daisy Baby classes – classes to help you achieve a comfortable pregnancy and confident birth, and classes to enjoy those precious early days with baby. Jess – 07793727543 or firstname.lastname@example.org or find Lazy Daisy County Antrim and Belfast on Facebook.