To Stop the Mom-Shaming, Look in the Mirror

To Stop the Mom-Shaming, Look in the Mirror

I’ve been seeing a lot of stuff lately about how breastfeeding advocates shame mothers, mothers shame mothers, businesses shame mothers, healthcare providers shame mothers. It’s frustrating. I see a lot of this:

“That doctor made me feel bad for formula-feeding.”

“The server gave me the dirtiest look when I started breastfeeding in the café; it made me feel I was doing something wrong.”

“That sancti-mommy lectured me about using formula. It made me feel horrible.”

“My sister (who breastfed) said I was weird for breastfeeding my 3-year-old; it made me feel terrible.”

“That chick said I’m not a real mom because I work outside the home; that made me feel like shit.”

“It made me feel so awful when that mom told me bed-sharing was dangerous.”

“My doctor made me feel like a terrible mother when I asked about taking antidepressants while pregnant.”

These are just a few of the infinite number of ways parents could be shamed. Basically any decision we make as parents is probably going to be questioned by someone. When someone objects to what you’re doing, or says you’re doing something wrong, it can often lead to feelings of shame. But it doesn’t have to.

Do you know what I see in the statements above? A whole lot of refusal to take responsibility for how you feel. A whole lot of letting someone else tell you what your success should look like. A whole lot of letting some jackass decide that you should be ashamed of what you’re doing.

Here’s a way to stop the mom-shaming. Instead of pointing the finger outward at that mom, that breastfeeding specialist, that doctor, that other person – how about pointing the finger inward at yourself? In other words:

STOP GIVING OTHERS THE POWER OVER HOW YOU FEEL.

Photo by Flickr user Sansbury
Photo by Flickr user Sansbury

If you own your decisions, know they were the best for you and your family, and have the confidence to stand by them, nobody can make you feel ashamed. Nobody can make you feel anything – you get to choose how the actions of others affect you.

I’m not saying to never feel anything, or just to brush that dirt off your shoulder like it’s nothing. That’s not going to happen. Shit happens; we react. What I am saying is that when you start to feel ashamed of a parenting decision, take a step back and analyze it. Did I make this decision because it was what was best for ME, or MY family, or MY baby? If the answer is yes, then you have absolutely no reason to feel ashamed. Example time!!

Was switching to formula the best decision for you and your family? Then the next time someone says you’re harming your baby, tell them to fuck off – your family, your decision, and no need to justify it.

Does seeing the research on breastfeeding make you feel like a bad mom because you didn’t breastfeed? Don’t let it. Increasing risk of something does not equal harm. Infant feeding decisions are not made in a vacuum. There are so many variables to consider; risk reduction is just one of them and not necessarily the deciding factor for everyone.

Do you enjoy full-term breastfeeding? Then the next time someone says it’s tantamount to child abuse, tell them to fuck off – your family, your decision, and no need to justify it.

Do you feel pressured by medical professionals to wean because [insert reason here]? Tell them you are the child’s mother and you know what’s best for your family.

Does safe bed-sharing allow everyone in your family to get more sleep? Then the next time someone declares you’re going to kill your baby, tell them to fuck off – your family, your decision, and no need to justify it.

See a pattern here? Own your decisions. If someone questions it, tell them to back off in whatever manner you choose (I’ve illustrated a more direct approach; some of you may prefer a more nuanced, less foul-mouthed response).

If I sound harsh, it’s because I’m so frustrated and saddened. I see so many beautiful, strong, amazing women question themselves because of the words of others. I see what amazing mothers they are; I just wish they did, too.

Who cares what other people think about how you care for your family! The only “right” answer in parenting is the one that works for your family.

Don’t let the actions you take as a parent, define you as a parent. You are not a breastfeeding or formula-feeding or bed-sharing or cloth-diapering or [insert label here] mom – you are a mom who loves her children and makes the best decisions she can, based on the information she has at the time.

Taking back power over how you feel isn’t easy. It’s taken me years to recognize that I didn’t have to let anyone make me feel bad and put that into practice. It’s something I struggle with almost every day.

Also, it will be different when the power balance is off. For example, it’s easier to shrug off a stranger’s disdain than it is to speak up against negative comments by someone in a position of “authority” – like a doctor.

If it’s someone you know and care about (such as a family member or close friend), it may be even harder because of the fear of hurting the relationship. But think about this: you can speak your truth gently and with respect; if the person you love reacts negatively, that’s their issue – not yours.

The following are some tips for taking back your power. It’s things I’ve learned through mothering, working as an IBCLC, going through the 12 Steps as an alcoholic, and just life in general.

  1. Grieve your losses. If you wanted to breastfeed more than anything, but formula ended up being a better option for your family, it’s ok to be upset. Grieve the loss of breastfeeding. If you got no support, or really shitty breastfeeding support (like someone saying the latch looks fine even though you’re in pain) – be angry! Do something to work through that anger, though – don’t bottle it up (no pun intended). Take however long you need to grieve, but try to work through it in healthy ways.
  2. Find a mantra. I personally like saying, “Well, that’s just their opinion” if someone says something negative about me. It’s true – it is that person’s opinion – but I don’t have to accept their opinion as my own. Find something that will help you put emotionally charged situations into perspective.
  3. Be confident. This can be really hard. I don’t think I became confident as a mommy until my first son was 3 and I was pregnant with my second. Even so, I still question my abilities. But if I can honestly say that yes, I am doing the best I can, then that is enough for me. If it’s enough for me, it’s damn well enough for the rest of the world.
  4. Be the change. If you catch yourself judging another mom, stop and think. It can be hard to see people doing things differently – after all, I picked my way because I thought it was best. But what’s best for me, may not be best for another mother/family. And that’s OK. Next time you feel yourself start to be a Judgy McJudgyPants, stop and say, “You know, I’ll bet that mom is doing the best she can. It’s different than what I would do, but I’ll bet it works for her.” Change how you think.
  5. Toughen up. You’re going to encounter Assholes – the ones who deliberately try to make people feel bad because it makes them feel better about themselves. Often, you can’t reason with an Asshole. At that point, pull a Jay-Z and brush your shoulders off. Assholes aren’t worth your time or your emotions. BUT…
  6. Don’t assume everyone is an Asshole. Maybe I’m being too Pollyanna, but I really think that most people say stuff out of a desire to help, not to be a jerk. Perhaps they say it the wrong way, with the wrong tone, at the wrong time, or they shouldn’t have said anything at all. Assume that people come from a place of love or concern for welfare, and you might be surprised at the positivity that comes your way.

Apology to my first son

Awhile ago, I saw a HuffPo piece called “An Apology Letter to My Second Child.” My second child was about a month old, so I was like, ok, I’ll bite. It was one of those funny/cutesy posts where the writer apologizes for all the awful things that happened (brother peed on you, didn’t do your baby book, etc.) but then declares she won’t apologize for loving you less. Slightly Hallmark cliche, but sweet nonetheless. It got me thinking, though…

…and I need to apologize to my first son. So, here goes:

73541_1703605109558_4551419_n
Colt, 6 weeks

I’m sorry I don’t remember much about your first few months.
Jack will do something adorable, like “shout” at us or make a funny face. I’ll remark, “I don’t remember Colt doing that; did he do that?” And my husband will inevitably reply, “Yes,” with only a hint of an exasperated sigh. I was in such a fog of exhaustion and untreated postpartum depression that I honestly don’t remember most details of his first 3 months. I took a crap ton of photos, so it’s not like it’s a complete blank. But those random moments of looking into his eyes, smiling at his coos, nuzzling my nose into his hair and breathing in his wonderful baby smell? No memory. Makes my heart ache a little.

I’m sorry I was afraid.
I was afraid to bedshare, because I was certain I’d kill him. I was afraid to babywear, because I read one random story about a baby suffocating in a Moby wrap. I was actually afraid to be alone with him at times, because I didn’t know what to do with him! I wish I’d educated myself more. Bedsharing has been a lifesaver with Jack; I get so much more sleep and I know I won’t kill him because I do it safely. I wear him in a wrap often – sometimes, it’s the only thing that calms him down! Again, I educated myself on the safest ways to wear an infant. I can’t help but wonder a bit that if I’d bed-shared (gotten more sleep) and baby-wore (less crying/stress), I might have more memories of Colt’s first few months.

61555_1666521302486_6032859_n
There was happiness…

I’m sorry I was so stressed and cried a lot.
Most of what I do remember about the first few months is how panicked I felt – especially while home alone. Bryce went back to work 10 days after he was born, he worked 12+ hours a day, I didn’t have a car, and I didn’t have any friends that lived nearby. Basically, I was too isolated while learning this crazy new job of mother. Plus, there was the untreated postpartum depression. I’d gone off my depression meds before trying to get pregnant. During Colt’s pregnancy, I had no symptoms of depression, so I didn’t think after pregnancy would be all that bad. HA. I had several risk factors for PPD, but ignored the signs when they showed up or lied to health care providers. I mentioned to Bryce once or twice that I thought I needed help, but did it kind of casually and never followed up. I should have told him I’d had fleeting thoughts of what life would be like if I was gone (how would Bryce raise a child alone?) and that I was afraid I could possibly hurt the baby.

With Jack, it’s been 180 degrees different. Bryce took a month off before going back to his laidback, 9-hour-a-day job. I have a car and an older son who loves to go do things. I’ve got several local friends I see regularly. I started taking my depression meds at 36 weeks, so it would have time to build up in my system before delivery. No sadness, anxiety, or unworthy feelings (unless I forget to take my meds for a few days!). I feel so much more relaxed. I’m sure part of it is just the fact that I’ve done this before. However, I think a large part of it is different circumstances (Bryce’s job situation) and that I worked hard to reduce my risk of PPD this time around. If things get bad this time, I will ask for help. If you have any of the symptoms of postpartum depression, please don’t be afraid to ask for help!!!

10645152_10204614309097266_1903799591616444295_n
Much more relaxed now

I’m sorry I went back to work because I thought being a SAHM wasn’t enough.
I took a full-time job when Colt was 4 months old. Part of the reason was financial; we were barely scraping by on just Bryce’s salary (damn student loans). Another part was me wanting to use my newly earned Master degree. But there was a part of me that felt being “just a mom” wasn’t enough; that I wasn’t fulfilled as a person. In reality, my disease was rearing up. I used to only find my worth in my work and felt like I wasn’t complete without validation from outside sources. This was my disease talking. I’ve since worked through that and I no longer need someone/something to tell me I’m worthy; I’m enough. I’ll be going back to school when Jack is about 5 months, but not because being home with the boys isn’t good enough.

60202_1652324907585_773879_n
The moment Colt stole my heart

I suppose this is the part where the touching “I’m not sorry I…” comes in. I’m reluctant to add it – mostly because of the Hallmark cheese factor – but also because I don’t want to devalue what I just wrote. I loved Colt then, as I do now. There’s no doubt about that. He made me a mother. I am grateful that I learned from my early motherhood experiences, so that I could make different choices later. Colt is a bright, independent firecracker who tells me he loves me about ten times a day, so I know I didn’t ruin him in those early dark days. I just wish those early days weren’t quite so dark.

When “You are your mother’s son” is scary

“You are your mother’s son.”

My husband said this affectionately to our son last night as we left the restaurant. Colt had just told him, “I didn’t do it. Mama did it.” He was referring to how I had picked him up and put him in his seat because he was dawdling too much to do it on his own…30 minutes ago. That greatly upset my very independent boy, so he sat and stewed on it for the entire meal.

Yep, he’s my son. When I got butt-hurt about something, I used to hold onto it and roll it over in my mind for ages. I used to let small misunderstandings ruin my entire day, which would frustrate my husband to no end. I didn’t like doing it, but I couldn’t help it. I was upset, you know, so it was important to chew on it because eventually he would see I was right and he was wrong, right? Right??

Luckily, I’ve since learned the value of letting go of small annoyances and working through larger problems so they don’t get blown out of proportion. But the memory of my past behaviors is there when my son shows signs of my less-than-impressive qualities. And that’s what makes the phrase, “You are your mother’s son,” slightly chilling to me.

WhenYouAreYourMothersSonIsScaryByYouareagoodmamadotcom

What else is he going to inherit from me? Will he be a slave to compulsive behaviors, as I was? Will he feel anxious in social settings because he believes everyone there is better than him? Will he lie and manipulate because he can’t handle the emotions he’s feeling? Will he be an alcoholic or addict?

These fears aren’t new; I’ve had them since before I was pregnant. Of course I only want him to receive my good qualities and I want my bad qualities to be left behind in the gene pool. Truthfully, I want him to be more like my husband. I’d rather Colt had my husband’s cool, calm and collected sunny day rather than my up-and-down emotional thunderstorm. So far, it’s looking like he’s more of the thunderstorm type.

I know it’s not just nature that decides how our life goes. Nurture plays a big role as well. I’m able to calm my fears a little because of the changes I’ve made in my life. I’m no longer the slave to compulsive behaviors, the self-hating girl who lies and manipulates because she can’t handle the emotions of addiction. I can do my best to mitigate the less desirable genes I’ve given him, by nurturing him with love, encouragement, empathy and respect. I am the best person for the job of his mother.

And I’m going to do my best so that when someone tells Colt, “You are your mother’s son,” it’s something to be proud of.

418927_4447894395075_1418534896_n

The Gift of an Ordinary Life

Do you know what it feels like to regret something with every fiber of your being, but still be incredibly grateful for the lessons you learned from that shameful experience?

I do.

My heart silently aches while it pours out happiness like sunshine.
My stomach churns with equal parts sorrow and joy.
My mind struggles to forget what happened but delights in the place I am today.

I can’t believe that I’m here today. This life that I have now is beyond my wildest dreams. On the outside, there’s nothing extraordinary about it. I’m a stay-at-home mom who takes care of a busy toddler and keeps house for a loving husband. It’s a life that many women live every day.

What’s extraordinary is that it so easily could be different.

I made serious mistakes. The kind of mistakes that change your life. When it came time for the consequences, I had choices. The first choice I considered was ending my life. I thought I couldn’t live with myself, knowing the pain I’d caused my loved ones. A selfish desire to see my son grow up saved me from those thoughts when I was at my lowest.

Once I decided I was going to live, I had another choice. I had to choose how I was going to live that life. Would I continue to live as I had been, ruled by addiction and compulsive behavior? Or would I choose the path of healing? Staying the same would be easier, but I would lose my family. Choosing to heal would involve a lot of pain and no guarantee that I would keep my family.

I chose the path of pain and possibility.

A year later, there is still some painful healing to do, but I’ve come a long, long way and changed drastically as a person. I’ve become someone I can live with, someone I can love and respect. I take responsibility for my actions and I find it easier to choose the next right thing.

And the possibility? It became a reality. My family is intact and healthy. Every night, I get to kiss my boy good night and cuddle him to sleep. I marvel at how easily I could have lost that. Every morning, I get to hug my husband and ask him how he slept. That, too, could have been lost.

My actions almost ended life as I know it, but choosing to turn away from the person I used to be brought me rewards beyond my wildest dreams. I’m not really a Christian, but this Bible passage resonates with my journey:

Ephesians 4:22-24 (New International Version)
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off the old self,
which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds;
and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

With time, the happiness will overpower the ache; the joy will defeat the sorrow. My mind won’t struggle to forget because forgiveness will have vanquished the shame.

But for today, I will simply enjoy this beautiful gift of an ordinary life.

The view from inside

The view from inside

My chest aches. I imagine it as a big ball of grayness – sadness and nothingness all at once – right in the center of my chest. I’m exhausted. I have unexplained headaches.

I’m irritable as all get out. When my son says, Mommy, mommy, mama! I fight back the urge to scream. Why do you need me so much? I need a Mommy, mommy, mama. I want someone to take care of me and cater to my every whim. I just want to be left alone.

Except when I am left alone, I’m still not happy. I get restless. I can’t focus on anything and nothing is enjoyable. So I find myself mindlessly playing stupid computer games, waiting for my son to wake up or my husband to come home to relieve me of my boredom with life.

Except when they are with me, I’m irritable as all get out. And just want to be left alone. But then I am left alone and I’m still not happy…

Fuck.

This is what depression feels like for me. This is what I feel like today. These are the things I usually try to hide from the world.

depression

I get so frustrated when I realize depression has popped up again. I pride myself on being so vigilant and proactive about staying on top of how I feel. The truth is, I have a chronic disease. And sometimes, despite all the self-care and preventative measures I take, it still flares up. Which fucking sucks.

Did you know that depression is often a side effect of other chronic diseases? It’s because living with something you can’t cure or get rid of is frustrating, rage-inducing and sad. So imagine knowing that you’ll never fully get rid of these random sad times. That no matter what you do, or where you are, or who you’re with, there’s always the chance of turning into that person you hate.

Then I snap at my son for asking me to make breakfast two seconds after I told him I would.  He starts crying and I realize what an asshole I am.

When I’m in a flare, the pity party starts. Why can’t I be super fit like those women at the CrossFit Games? Why can’t I write those clever, witty and insightful posts like all those mommy bloggers I follow? I start comparing myself to everyone around me and always fall short. Logic has no home in depression. I can tell myself, you can be super fit too; you’ve done it before! I can point out, you’ve written some great posts! But it doesn’t matter. I can’t see past successes in a current flare.

One of the hardest things about depression is that it’s mental. Nobody would know I was in a flare unless I told them. My husband can tell (poor man puts up with so much from me) but to the outside world, I might just seem a little quieter. Or like nothing’s wrong – I’m pretty good at putting up a good front to the general public. Even if I want help, I generally won’t ask for it. I’ll just sit there and hope someone cares enough to ask how I’m doing, and then hope that I’ll have the balls to admit the truth (my friend Julie wrote an amazing post about what depression won’t let her say several months ago and yes, I do think her writing is better than what I’ve got down here).

I think if I could just sit on my couch all day, staring into space, I would. Basically accomplish nothing except breathing. But I can’t. I have to be a mommy. I have to get us ready to fly home in 2 days. I have to get off my selfish, self-pitying ass and get stuff done. Which in the end might be my saving grace – fake it ‘til you make it. If I force myself to get up and interact with the world, maybe it will make the flare subside. Or maybe I’ll just be miserable while trying desperately not to be mean to my son.

Either way, life must go on.

Finish The Sentence Friday

I love having some outside inspiration for writing. It makes me get outside my comfort zone and write about something that I might not have thought about. I also love link-ups because I meet so many great people!

I’m trying out a new Friday link up: Finish the Sentence Friday. The hostesses are Stephanie from Mommy, for Real, Janine from Janine’s Confessions of a Mommyaholic, Kate from Can I Get Another Bottle of Whine? and Dawn from Dawn’s Disaster. This week’s topic is “When I was younger…”

19048_1359540148149_7809659_n
Circa 1999

When I was younger, I lacked self esteem. I remember a nervous girl, wanting so badly to fit in and be one of the “cool kids” but feeling like I’d never be good enough. In high school, I floated between different groups, hoping to find my niche. I was in the advanced placement classes, but felt inadequate because I wasn’t the smartest. I played varsity volleyball, but felt ineffective because I wasn’t one of the stars. I had plenty of boyfriends, but felt ugly because certain boys weren’t interested in me. Drinking alcohol helped me break out of my shell, because when you’re buzzed and blacked out, you don’t care what other people are thinking. Alcohol really was liquid courage for me, but it ended up being my worst enemy (2 sexual assaults while blacked out before graduating high school is not a proud achievement). I didn’t know who I was, so I tried on many identities in my search for the “right one.” None of them fit and I ended up with what felt like a split personality: the smart, hardworking, good girl who turned into the loud, smoking, crazy party girl when the alcohol hit her lips.

Senior picture
Senior picture

I made so many bad decisions when I was younger because I was afraid. Afraid of ridicule, afraid of being disliked, afraid of being alone. This is one thing that terrifies me as a mother: that my child might grow up to make decisions based on fear. My parents did the best they could for me; I don’t blame them for my problems. I know that there are marked differences between my childhood and my son’s childhood so far, but still I worry that I won’t do the “right things” to help nurture a strong sense of self in him. I want him to know who he is and not be afraid to make decisions that honor that – even if those decisions don’t go with the popular opinion.

There are so many things I wish I could tell that girl. If I could sit down with my younger self, I’d tell her:

  • Don’t straighten your hair. Your curls are gorgeous if you just leave them alone. YOU are beautiful without changing what you look like.
  • Don’t sleep with that guy. He doesn’t love you and you will not love yourself for doing it. You will not find your self worth in the arms of random men. Respect your body and don’t be afraid to say no. If he does leave you because you said no, he didn’t deserve you in the first place.
  • Don’t strive for perfection. It’s not possible. Be happy with where you are and what you have accomplished. You don’t have to be perfect to be loved.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Being strong doesn’t mean suffering silently. Tell someone how much it hurts before it’s too late.
  • Don’t stop writing. It saved your life once and will keep wounds from festering. Writing is your voice in this world; don’t let your pain silence you.