A slightly above-average achiever's guide to parenting
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I'm no Goddess
October 31, 2017
Exactly what I look like in prenatal yoga
When I was preparing to give birth to Chewbacca, I went to a prenatal yoga class where the instructor told us to sit on our heels (which is a particularly painful yoga pose, at least for me) and just “pay attention to how our bodies reacted to pain.” She said it in the way that only a “zen” yoga teacher could say it- somehow lacing it with judgment while pretending that she wasn’t judging us at all. Sure. “Pay attention” to the pain. She reminded us that we could quit at any time, we didn't have anything to "prove" and just to be mindful of how we behaved, as that might be an indication of how we behaved during labor. I lasted about two breaths and then thought to myself "this is awful, I'm straightening my legs". And then I thought “I’m not sure what this means about how I’m going to deliver Chewie.”
As someone who was completely sedated when I got my wisdom teeth removed, and someone who doesn't deal with (in my mind) unnecessary pain well, I knew I was almost certainly going to get an epidural when I gave birth. A wise friend, however, told me to practice some of the breathing and position techniques because you never know if you'll have enough time to get an epidural, or if they'll be able to place it properly, etc. So, I did all the breathing classes and thought to myself, well, maybe when the time comes I'll be able to do it without the drugs. However, when I was finally admitted to the hospital I actually said to the nurse "I will take ALL of the drugs you have. All of them."
I have some wonderful friends, on the other hand, who delivered their babies without an epidural. While I understand the arguments for how medical intervention may cause more complications, that's typically not the reason I hear when women tell me they've delivered naturally. Instead, with some exceptions aside, it seems to be a badge of honor these women wear when they tell me that they "did it" without drugs. And (most likely because I “couldn’t do it”), every time I hear someone else about delivering naturally, I feel just slightly weaker than these warrior mamas who endured this kind of pain for their kids. But then I stop and think to myself, would I feel guilty for getting novocaine while getting a root canal? No. So then why? Why is there this guilt when it comes to motherhood?
I think it’s two things. The first is that when you enter motherhood there is this overwhelming love for these terrible monsters that kind of destroy your life (sorry kiddos, mommy loves you!) But it’s true. Your life is turned upside down, but it is complicated by this deep love for the thing that it is causing the pain. And so I think we turn that suffering into a kind of love. It's parenting Munchhausen syndrome. It's as if we can prove how much we love our child by how much we suffer for them. "I must love this creature because I was up all night long. I breastfed until my nipples bled. I played 9 million games of peekaboo. I stepped on so many legos. I love them so hard I have no concern for myself."
The second thing is what Time magazine recently dubbed “The Goddess Myth” of motherhood. The myth is that as mothers, we should be able to be this beautiful, fertile mother that has no problem delivering babies or nursing them. We are allegedly “built” to raise children. And today, this manifests itself in a push for “natural” births and breastfeeding instead of formula. And, because advertisers and social media prey on the weak, anyone who can’t live up to this ideal is made to feel inferior. As Dr. Christie Del Castillo-Hegyi, founder of Fed is Best, puts it: “If you have leaders telling you this is what's best, it becomes ideology, policy, identity." While we’re used to this push from advertisers when it comes to weight loss and…well, everything else in our lives, when it comes to the throes of early motherhood, when you’re not sleeping, you’re literally worrying if you can keep your baby alive with enough milk, and your hormones are raging. It is so, so hard. And so unfair to be told you don’t live up to this Goddess Myth.
So this love of suffering, compounded by this external messaging that we’re supposed to be doing this flawlessly can be utterly exhausting and demoralizing. But what is there to do about it?
For me, the first part is accomplished by taking care of myself first. The advice that parents should "put on their own oxygen mask first" is true, because you can't help your child if all you're doing is suffering for them. Happy moms mean happy kids. (At least that's what I tell myself when I'm getting a pedicure).
And the second part, the goddess myth is addressed by recognizing that myth is not fact. Like many well-crafted myths, it makes sense on a certain level but falls apart when you look closer. Sure, we were built as a species to birth babies and raise them on our milk alone. But, as Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a clinical professor of obstetrics at Yale School of Medicine points out in the Times article “In the 1900s, we didn't have a lot of interventions…Guess what? People died. The average female life expectancy was 48. That was as 'natural' as it got." So you know what, we weren’t always goddesses.
In reality, some days you will feel like the queen of parenting, and other days you will feel like an absolutely failure. Either through external pressures or your own self-inflected ones. But try to remember this one thing: you are already a goddess. You BUILT an entire human. A circulatory system, a brain, a heart, teeth. YOU MADE TEETH. Anything beyond that is a win. And most importantly, you love your child deeply. More than anyone else on the planet. Of course you do, or you wouldn’t even worry about this stuff. So, keep your baby alive and love them. That’s enough. You can trust me on this one. I’m a formula fed child and I turned out just fine.