Giggly Wriggler is now 10 months old, we are regulars at a lovely playgroup and we have made lots of new lovely Mum & Baby friends and acquaintances. I have noticed recently that I have to fight the urge to be one of ‘those women’ that drove me nuts when I was pregnant and whom I avoid at all costs now I’m a Mum. We all know them, have encountered them and many of us have become them… those oh so generous givers of unsolicited advice!
When I was pregnant I found it curiously fascinating, that people would be compelled to bestow advice, information and opinions without being asked to. We chose not to tell people about our pregnancy until after the 12 week scan confirmed all appeared well so I was spared the early offerings of family and friends, but once news was out and our Bun in the Oven showed the avalanche arrived! Although it was, I’m fairly sure, always well intentioned it was often intrusive, overwhelming and regularly downright terrifying!
To start with I found it really lovely that people wanted to be helpful, share their experiences and thoughts and I lapped it up. After a while the pseudo-psychologist in me found it interesting how people seemed to need to share their experiences. It appeared that it was akin to sharing survival stories or showing your war wounds! Women would tell me awful things, negatively not thinking for a moment how emotionally vulnerable or anxious I might already be and then moan about how awful people who do that are! That is the bit that bothered me, the thoughtlessness of how the information they so dearly wanted to share would have an impact. How patronising, condescending and downright judgemental they were being.
I’d like to think that most times these women (and sometimes men too, to be fair) genuinely thought what they were telling me would be helpful, but really could they not recall what it felt like for them?! I know we’re supposed to lose our memory after birthing and ‘baby brain’ is, in my mind anyway, a genuine thing that turns intelligent minds into Swiss cheese. But honestly does it mean that women lose all ability to be insightful, empathic and tactful too?!
People who knew me seemed to forget sometimes how feisty I am on the surface, but how sensitive I can be. Or that having a baby at 40 followed some life trials & tribulations or that my pregnancy was a stressful one due to an escalating list of complications. They didn’t seem to bare any of that in mind and felt it necessary to point out that of course my labour was likely to be more difficult due to my age/weight, an almost gleeful “Well now you’ll get the varicose veins all the women in our family get!” Or feeling it was necessary to point out that my positivity and optimism wouldn’t last. That it was a kindness to tell me that I had a rose-tinted view of Motherhood and I’d come down to earth with a bump if I didn’t listen to them. That hypnobirthing was mumbo-jumbo nonsense. I also experienced the jaded and it seemed envious opinions of older women for whom standards of care, opportunities for support and empowerment were lacking in ‘their day’ as if that was my fault. There was also the more insidious, ignorant and undermining comments such as “Oh you’re doing Baby Led Weaning, that’s a dangerous fad!” or “Child-centred?! They have to learn to just get on with things”.
Random strangers felt it was utterly appropriate to come over and tell me their opinions or make comments without a clue as to my situation or feelings. For instance, I had to wear wrist supports at times due to developing carpal tunnel syndrome and having dropped an item of shopping several times struggling to bend down and pick it up each time due to SPD, a lady came up to me telling me it doesn’t just disappear after birth and to get my name down for surgery now as that was the only way to rid myself of it. I felt like shouting “Just pick up my salad and shut up!” but we’re supposed to be glowing and yummy mummies-to-be not cranky and angry! (My wrists are fine now by the way and my pelvis… well the less said…)
It got to a point that I decided to empower myself and try to ward off such advances by recognising ‘the look’ worn by an individual who has a bit of helpful advice welling up within them, the patronising “Let me enlighten you, dear” expression. Then say before they could impart their comment, “I’m ever so sensitive so don’t make a pregnant lady cry ha ha!” or “I’m only listening to super inspiring words of wisdom today, have you got some of those?”
It wouldn’t be so bad if they actually told me about the stuff that really mattered, the things that women should share, but in my experience don’t! The truth about how you don’t HAVE TO follow the advice of the medical experts. That childbirth is about you just as much as the baby. How utterly overwhelming the early weeks are. That breastfeeding is usually hard work and takes a huge commitment. That it is normal to feel down, angry and resentful of how your life has changed, but your husband’s seems the same (it isn’t!). That you must put yourself first, even ahead of the baby, as you need to be happy and healthy to take care of them properly as that job lasts a long time.
I wonder if there is an element of that curious aspect of many women, the competitiveness with each other that stops us from doing what we are really capable of; taking over the world! It seems like a need to demonstrate that ‘I more know, more motherly, more womanly than you!’ It seems irrational to want to put another woman down for doing the hardest job there is.
Since becoming a Mother I am very choosey about whose opinions I listen to and consciously avoid situations where I feel like I’m going to have my confidence eroded. I dip into the online pages for Mums and read others posts about the queries I have rather than post my own so any judgmental or critical responses are not personal to me. I try my very best to only offer my opinions, experiences, and knowledge gained when it is sought, when I honestly believe it will help and think about how it will feel to hear it. I know I’ve learned a great deal, the learning curve it cliff-like and continuous, but learning it in my own time and making my own discoveries is what makes me a good Mum. Here come the clichés… there are no short cuts, every baby/child is different, we are all just muddling though, this too shall pass, and there is no perfect parent.
Before opening your mouth to bestow your opinion upon a pregnant friend or new Mum THINK…
Is it Tactful? Is it Helpful? Is it Insightful? Is it Non-judgemental? Is it Kind?
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