Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Journey into Motherhood: Reframing our Experiences

For any moms out there whose pregnancy, birthing, or postpartum experiences were anything but the ideal, this post is for you.  But, if you are the Mom who had it all- a glowing pregnancy, a quick and natural delivery, and an easy-as-pie recovery with an easily breastfeeding baby, please still read on.  I want to discuss what it might mean to re-frame how we talk about the journey that is new motherhood.  

I don't know if it's media, or if it's social media or what it is, but we certainly idealize the transition of a woman into motherhood.  There's the beautiful baby showers, the cute baby clothes, the incredible family photos... there is certainly some kind of pressure to have the best experience.  And I am no less guilty of perpetuating this false idea by the images I post and the experiences I share.

Thing is, most of us will most definitely experience something other than that image. Maybe it's that every day of pregnancy we are living in a cloud of nausea that we cannot escape from.   Maybe they found 'something' on the ultrasound and you're living with the anxiety and fear of the child's safety instead of enjoying the pregnancy. Maybe you're like me and there are risks involved with your pregnancy that need you to be monitored closely.  For me- I need to have daily injections that bruise and burn my belly.  

Maybe the delivery was agonizing, terrible, and just shy of horrific.  Maybe your baby was rushed to the NICU and you spent the first weeks of motherhood in un-washed clothes, taking vigil by your little one's side instead of walking your baby in a stroller with a latte in hand.  

Or maybe you're like me and you tried two times to have a natural delivery, only to have to go through the trauma of a long labor and emergency C-section both times.  Maybe you're like many women I know and breastfeeding was so challenging, painful, and emotionally draining that you just couldn't do it anymore and felt ashamed because you couldn't breastfeed your child and had to use formula.

The list could go on.  

Thing is, I wonder sometimes if we are truly idealizing the least important aspects instead of being in awe of the journey through it ALL no matter what all the details really look like.  So what if I had a C-section?  So what if your child was formula fed?  So what if you gained 40 more pounds than they said you should? Does any of this make us less able to mother?  Why do we judge ourselves so harshly?  Or each other? I was so distraught over my own disappointments that it set me up to be the least confident and most insecure new Mom- hurtling me straight for despair and disillusionment. Confidence should not be won or lost because of situations we could hardly control.  

This is just not how it should be.  

I think about my impending decision this time around.  The big question remains "will I try for a V-bac again, or will I just have a pre-booked C-section."  And again I'm left to cycle through the emotions of my last two traumatic labors.  I'm sad, devastated, and confused about how I could do so many things 'right' but end up with the same outcome. I feel like I just couldn't cut it as a woman because I couldn't just 'try harder' and do what my body's supposedly 'made to do.'  I certainly experienced great joy and relief in the birth of both my children, but I feel kind of robbed from the fullness of that joy because I was too busy mourning the loss of an experience I didn't have.  I feel fresh sorrow when I try to relate to women who seem to 'have it all' and I am left to wonder why my experiences were so challenging.  

The challenges didn't end with the delivery.  My incisions weren't healing properly and the recovery from the C-sections were very hard physically.  I went on to develop thyroid complications both times leading to incredible insomnia, anxiety and postpartum depression (both times).  It takes me a solid 8 months before I start to bounce back.

But the real tragedy, I'm beginning to believe, is that none of this should be a tragedy at all.  Maybe the problem right from the beginning is that I never expected hardship like that, when I should have.  I believed the lie that transitioning to motherhood is all Anne Geddes, smiles, and cuddles.   I believed that it would be 'picture-perfect' and that the majority of women have it pretty good, and so would I.  I mean look at hollywood?  All these beautiful people with beautiful children and beautifully easy lives.  And then there's facebook...

But I'm here to de-bunk the myth.  

Not to strike fear, not to remove the joy and profound wonder that is becoming a Mom, but to let other Moms know- we have got to start creating an accurate picture of what the transition to new motherhood is really like to new Moms.  Maybe the focus should be less on the highs in our experiences and more on the incredible journey of it all.

I would love to have a natural delivery. However, so many obstetrician's tell me that it's not a good idea to try, considering the events leading up to my two C-sections were so incredibly similar.  Part of me wants to believe that it will be different this time, that if I just try and breathe better, and be stronger, it will happen for me and I will get to join the ranks of 'normal' Moms.  Then I'll get to be in the cool 'vaginal delivery' club.  

But the other part of me is realizing that it's okay to understand that my body may not be capable of delivering babies.  It's okay to choose what might be the 'safer' route.  It's okay to be thankful that I was able to live and that my child was able to live - many women around the world in my same predicament would not have been so fortunate. And you know, it's okay that my story was rocked with hardship, that my journey into motherhood was fraught with incredible toil, poetic moments of beauty, and that my endurance could only be born of great difficulties.  It's okay.

I don't need to be ashamed, or consider myself 'less than.'  I don't need to cover up the story of my labors and say with a look of shame in my eyes "I had a C-section."  You don't need to hang your head low and say "he was formula fed."  We can stand tall and say that we braved many storms on our journeys into motherhood.  It wasn't easy.  It still isn't. But we're not giving up, we are loving our children through wastelands and jungles, and we are toiling and being changed by the worthiest of causes.

Can we start celebrating the joys AND hardships of new motherhood and stop idealizing the peak experiences?   Can we stop judging ourselves by what we couldn't do, and start rejoicing in what we could do?  Can we stop judging each other and instead learn to listen and be inspired by how every mother is sacrificing, enduring, and journeying through their own unique challenges?  Let's journey together instead of 'pinning' the best stuff and discarding the rest.

I hope one day we can show off our scars and war wounds as proof of a battle that we fought hard in.  "Look at this C-section scar?  See this Goiter I sport under my neck?  See the lines of worry in my forehead and the permanent bags under my eyes?  It was all part of my becoming stronger, it was all part of me fighting for my children with blood, sweat, and tears.  It was all proof that Mothers are not mothers because we have children, but because we choose to love them and raise them."


  1. Bravo Shanny! What a great thing to read. I loved every word and totally agree. I've felt so much of this after my breastfeeding challenges. Thanks for vocalizing it with such grace.

  2. "it was all part of me becoming stronger", i really like how you framed this issue & this post. Thanks, as always, for sharing with us.


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