When I was pregnant with my first baby, I thought I was pretty prepared for my journey into motherhood. I went to antenatal classes, I read books and I spoke to my friends who were already mums. However, when the time came and I clumsily navigated my way from mum-to-be to mum-of-three, I realised there were a lot of things I wish I had known beforehand, but the books and (so called) friends omitted.
For instance, my first birth was more massacre than magical. I didn’t know having a baby could render your nether regions to look like they had been “attacked by a grizzly bear” (my husband’s exact words!). I didn’t know about shoulder dystocias, hip labours or cabbage leaves for breast engorgement. I didn’t know about low milk supply (how can something as natural as breastfeeding be so hard at first?), the fear of the first post-birth poo, the flurry of doubts that would occupy my mind and the cluster of haemorrhoids that would occupy my bum.
There are lots of things that can happen to a woman on her journey into motherhood, and they are all pretty normal, except for one: mummy-shaming. In my seven years as a mum, I have witnessed, and endured, more scrutiny, ridicule and judgement of choices of childbirth and child-rearing, than I have the rest of my life.
My introduction to this callous phenomenon was when my first baby was only a few days old. Unfortunately, we had to leave the safety of home and venture to the supermarket. As any mum can attest, the first outing without help is a mission. Especially when your baby is feeding all the time. So as soon as we got there, he started crying. Hungry again!
I made a mad dash through the aisles grabbing at everything, like I was in an episode of Supermarket Sweep, so I could get out of there and sit down to feed him. Enter, my first post-baby “kind stranger” (definition: a person that passes judgement off as kindness or helpful advice). This older woman followed me around the shop, telling me why my baby was crying: he’s cold, you should dress him warmer. See he is crying because he is cold. You cannot leave home without warmer clothes for your baby (it was the beginning of January!!!).
In my unsure and self-doubting new-mum state I just put my head down and walked out. I honestly thought she was right and I was doing something wrong. I felt shamed.
It’s such a small incident but it was massive to me at the time. It certainly pales in significance to the time I buzzed a nurse on my ward, a few hours after having my last baby, because I felt despair. Baby #3 cried pretty much non-stop for the first day and night after she was born. I was exhausted. The “kind” nurse told me she couldn’t help me and anyway … “this is your third baby, you really should know what you are doing by now”.
True quote! She totally shamed me. Luckily, I was already three kids into this motherhood gig and, while it affected me, it didn’t wreak the havoc it would have if a similar comment had been made when I was a brand-new mum.
Unfortunately, technology doesn’t help mummy-shaming. I have had instances where I have posted something to do with my children on social media, only for it to be met with “kind suggestions”, “help” or “advice” which are really just judgement, ridicule and shaming in disguise.
The worst are these types of comments when you share something which is actually good.
I saw some comments to Erin McNaught’s announcement that she had a drug-free birth. They were mostly shaming. I had three completely drug-free births, but I rarely tell anyone because it is usually met with comments such as “overachiever” (aka shaming disguised as praise). Thank goodness, I’m not a celebrity!
Mummy-shaming has to stop. Motherhood is enough of a monumental task without the proverbial village at hand. We don’t need daggers and innuendos thrown at us at every corner too. Remember what our mums taught us: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say (or write) anything at all”.
Let’s make that go viral!