Why do we deny mothers their own experiences?

Why do we deny mothers their own experiences?

This pic popped up on my Facebook newsfeed today through the Huffpost website.

Bad hair day, Olivia??

Bad hair day, Olivia??

It’s from the Instagram account of actress and mother, Olivia Wilde, who you probably know from her days on the completely awesome medical drama House. It was captioned with the following comment:

I call this hairstyle, “keep the kid alive”. Products you’ll need: sweat, string cheese, diaper rash cream, chewed up crayon, snot, and an enthusiastic spritz of panic.

I laughed, I think it’s cute, quirky, and pretty indicative of being a Mum to a little one.

To me, it’s just one Mum’s musings on being a Mum.

But if you check the comments of the facebook post it came from, you’ll soon see that many people are quick to judge. Here’s a selection of the nastiness you sadly expect online these days:

“If she thinks a 1-year old is hard, wait until he’s 3. She hasn’t seen anything yet.”

“Why do Hollywood people make parenting hard…”

“Yes, I’m sure she does it all alone, too.”

“Pfft! Survive the teenage years and we’ll talk.”

“Lol she has one kid and a nanny lol”

“I hate when moms let themselves go. No excuse! My hair and makeup is done daily.”

Unfortunately it doesn’t astound me that so many people are quick to call Olivia out on this seemingly innocuous pic. We see it every day, the Mummy-bashing that goes on online. Particularly for celebrities.

Ignoring that comment about motherhood being no excuse for not doing your hair and makeup (I didn’t get that memo, sorry), these comments seem to fit into two camps:

  • Being a mum is always harder at some other time – just you wait…..
  • Being a rich celebrity makes motherhood easier – because obviously you can afford a nanny!

So it begs the question – who are we to tell women when motherhood is or isn’t hard?

We’ve got no idea how hard, or easy, motherhood is for other women.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned through doing the work that I do, it’s that every woman’s experience of motherhood is different. We can’t predict how anyone is going to manage as a mother, even from one year to the next; we can’t predict the nature or temperament of each individual child; and unfortunately, the amount of support a woman has is really no indication of how well she’s going to cope.

Let’s go back to those two points:

Motherhood is always harder at some other time. 

Sure, it seems that way right? I have two girls now, an almost 5 year old and a 2 and a half year old. And right now, dealing with them is pretty challenging, not least because my youngest is totally embracing the “terrible twos” with a fervour I could barely have imagined. And yeah, it feels harder than ever right now. But remember that humans have pretty selective memories. We’re so focused on the present day and our current experiences and emotions have so much gravity, that our past experiences sometimes fade in comparison. Cognitively, I recall how hard those first few months with my first newborn were. But I don’t really viscerally remember the bone aching tiredness I experienced at the end of every day with my newborn, the intense fear I had each night as I put her to bed that she would stop breathing in the middle of the night, or the complete sense of cluelessness I had that I was doing absolutely everything wrong.

So is this current stage of my parenting life harder than that newborn stage? I don’t know. Sure it feels like it. But could that be just because I’m going through it right here and now. Things always seem bigger when you’re in the middle of them.

What I do know, is that I’m damned sure it wouldn’t have helped me at all at that point in my life, if, when I reached out for support, to have someone say to me – “Oh, this is nothing, wait till you have two, then you’ll know how hard motherhood is!”

We need to be so careful with our words. They carry so much power, especially when they’re directed at people in vulnerable circumstances. They have the power to shut people down.

We don’t want to shut mothers down. We want to encourage discussion, and open, honest communication about the wide gamut of emotion and experience that pulls together to create the realm of motherhood. Because if mothers get shut down for talking about their “keeping the kid alive” hairdo, how reluctant might they be to speak up when there comes a time that they’re dealing with something bigger, something more sinister, for which they need more support.

Which brings me to my second point.

Being rich and/or famous makes motherhood easier.

There seems to be some unwritten rule that being a Mum is easier for people with fame and/or money, because they can afford to hire more help, have more time off, or something along those lines.

But is this really true? Does having more money and more help make motherhood “easier”? Maybe, but I guess it depends on your definition of “easy”.

Certainly, the drudgery and relentlessness of dirty nappy changes, cleaning up baby vomit and endless sleep deprivation is one type of hard. And yes, having practical help probably does make the day to day life of a mother “easier”, in this practical respect.

But motherhood isn’t a purely pragmatic concern. Motherhood is something that happens inside of you. Something that changes in your soul, your psyche, that you can’t switch off.

Even the woman who has full time help and a bank balance to rival Scrooge McDuck can find motherhood hard. Because she’s still a Mum. She may have all the nannies in the world, but she still has a whole range of hopes, fears and dreams for her children over which she has no real control. She’s also likely to have a pre-conceived notion of who she is as a mother, and how well she’s filling that role.

That’s the other “hard” part about being a mother. When our expectation of ourself as a mother doesn’t match up with the reality of our motherhood experience. This is something that can happen to anyone and everyone.

Just because someone is famous and rich, doesn’t mean they’re “doing it easy” when it comes to motherhood. Just this month we heard the story of another Hollywood actress, Hayden Panettiere, (star of my new favourite show, Nashville), who has sought treatment for postnatal depression. Sure Hayden is beautiful, talented, successful, and yes, probably rich. But that didn’t prevent her from developing depression. Because PND doesn’t have boundaries, it can affect anyone.

Actress Hayden Panettiere, with her partner, Wladimir Klitschko and daughter Kaya.

Actress Hayden Panettiere, with her partner, Wladimir Klitschko and daughter Kaya.

I know it seems a long stretch from an Instagram post of messy hair, to a conversation about postnatal depression. But this post isn’t really about messy hair photos.

It’s about the way we consider and communicate with each other as mothers. It’s about understanding that we all have our own experiences of motherhood. That we are all entitled to feel exactly what we feel, and to be able to express this, without fear of being ridiculed or dismissed. It’s about the fact that one woman’s experiences of motherhood shouldn’t invalidate another’s. That there’s room in the relationship between one mother to another to accept our differences in experiences and opinions, without feeling the need to qualify (or disqualify) them against our own.

In short. Let’s not deny mothers their experience. Let’s not judge, dissuade, placate, or outdo them when they speak. Rather, be with them, laugh with them, cry with them – and most of all listen. Because if we don’t listen to the little things, we won’t get told the big things.

Until next time,

Cheers, Sarah xx

The Caveat on Motherhood.

The Caveat on Motherhood.

Please be aware that as I’m writing this post, I’m trying really hard not to sound like an insensitive cow.

Here goes.

There’s a question I’ve been pondering this past week or two

Why is there always a caveat on discussions of motherhood?

Think of any recent motherhood related comment you’ve made lately. Do you always tend to back it up with a disclaimer?

“My children are such nightmares, they’re constantly pushing my buttons, I haven’t had a whole night’s sleep in four years, I’m not sure how much more of this I can take…… but I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

“Actually, my baby is sleeping and feeding really well, she’s such a delight…. but please don’t tell anyone I said that, I know how hard it is for most new Mums, I don’t want to sound like I’m gloating.

Funny how it seems that no matter whether our experience of motherhood is good or bad, we always, always, have to acknowledge how others are experiencing it. But do we really? Can’t we just talk about our own experience – without having to take the rest of the world’s feelings into account?

I know this might seem like a bit of a change of pace coming from me – suggesting that we don’t need to consider others’ feelings. Because I’m pretty PC – I like being a decent human being, and I don’t want to upset anyone unnecessarily. And because when I speak and write – particularly in my professional capacity, more often than not, I’m talking about the issue of motherhood for the masses. So when I write about postnatal wellbeing, I’m actually talking about how these issues pertain to my audience. So yes, I always try to look at all sides of the story when I’m in work writing mode.

But, my little query about this “motherhood caveat” was prompted last week by the massively blown out of proportion debate over fitness queen Michelle Bridges’ comments on her “mature aged” pregnancy. And it got me wondering whether this is yet another case of political correctness gone mad.

MBWhoMag

Michelle Bridges: Pregnant at 44

 

For those of you who haven’t been bombarded by the outrage, here’s what Michelle said about her pregnancy at age 44, in an interview with Who Magazine.

“I feel very lucky… But I also feel all of my years, and all of Steve’s years, of looking after ourselves and taking care of our health and our bodies, it just goes to show. For someone my age for it to happen so quickly it’s obviously got to do with good health.”

For a comment which, on face value, appears quite positive, it sparked such a huge outrage.

Michelle was basically lambasted across social and traditional media channels for daring to suggest that her good health had something to do with her falling pregnant at a mature age.

The major criticism squared at her was that she was smug, insensitive and giving people “false hope” that they could cure their infertility through “good health”.

This isn’t what I got from the article.

Firstly, this is a woman who is pregnant at 44 – she freely admits how lucky she is – she must be over the moon happy – surely she’s allowed to talk about it – even if she is probably getting paid megabucks to have her feelings printed on the cover of Who Magazine.

Secondly – she’s talking about her own experience of conception at her “mature” age.

She didn’t say “I definitely got pregnant because I’m so fit and healthy and the reason everyone else who wants to be pregnant, but isn’t, is due to the fact that they’re super-unhealthy filthy slobs”. By the way, that’s not my opinion at all – caveat #1.

Personally, I’m not offended by what Michelle was reported to have said. For a few reasons.

1) I’m going to ‘check my privilege’ of my own experience with fertility – being that I rapidly conceived both my daughters, with no prior fertility issues, at the age of 32 and 34. (There, that’s my second caveat).

2) I don’t take health advice from celebrities – even ones who are health and fitness celebrities. And by the way, as a Personal Trainer, I’m pretty sure MB doesn’t have any qualifications in reproductive medicine – so why do we expect her to make an expert commentary?

3) I don’t feel like she was talking about me – or anyone else – I feel like she was talking about her own belief, about her own health and her own conception.

So it begs the question – do we have the right to speak openly and freely about our own health, bodies and wellbeing, and our beliefs about these issues – without considering other women’s experiences?

Do we always need to take everyone else’s feelings into account when we talk about our own personal circumstances? Should we carefully scrutinise every single word we utter and run it through a filter of whom it may or may not offend before it leaves our mouths?

There, I said it.

It’s been something that has been bugging me lately through the whole realm of motherhood discussions.

It seems you can’t talk about anything motherhood related, whether good or bad or ugly, without adding some sort of disclaimer to your commentary. From my personal experience, I think most people are decent, good hearted citizens. When we talk and share our experiences, we’re not purposely trying to upset anyone. But in a social media soaked world where there will always be someone who disagrees with you and MUST CONVEY THEIR F@#$ING(!))DISGUST WITH YOUR COMMENTS THROUGH A REPLY FEATURING LOTS OF YELLING CAPS AND A HUNDRED ANGRY EMOTICONS AND AN INCESSANT NUMBER OF EXCLAMATION POINTS(!!!!!!???!), can we possibly ever make a comment which doesn’t offend at least someone? Do we have to provide a disclaimer on every sentence that pops out of our mouths about motherhood?

Perhaps this MB issue is because her comments were on the topic of fertility. When it comes to motherhood, infertility is just about the most emotionally charged topic there is. How can it not be?

This post isn’t about infertility – I don’t really want to debate whether Michelle’s good health was the secret sauce behind her pregnancy – not in the least because we can’t possibly presume to know anything about MB’s fertility. I know how multi-factorial infertility is. It’s a cruel curse, indiscriminate, unpredictable and devastatingly permanent for so many people. I do realise how fortunate I am to have had two healthy pregnancies when all around us so many friends and family members were battling infertility, IVF, infant mortality, premature births and all manner of other concerns. I lost count of the number of occasions where I quite literally thanked my lucky stars to have things go so smoothly for me, when so many of my friends faced heartbreak, uncertainty and tragedy. And there’s another caveat.

What this column is about is how we, as a society, now infer meaning into every comment a mother (or in this case a celebrity mother-to-be) makes.

How do MB’s comments about her own fertility translate into accusations against other women’s infertility?

Why do we do this? Why do we take everyone else’s comments and make them about us? Rather than expecting a caveat on topic of conversation, why can’t we place the onus back on ourselves? Can’t we at least try to not get caught up in the Insta-outrage so often catapulted at many online Mums, to be able to listen to what another mother says – process it through our own experience and realise it’s actually not about us, or to understand that most people are simply talking about themselves and not passing grand judgements on the rest of the motherhood population.

So many people are being attacked for their innocent comments. Why are we so quick to anger when it comes to motherhood? Why can’t we save our rage and vitriol for the people who are purposefully incendiary, the trolls, the haters, Bill Cosby, or the 53 domestic violence perpetrators who have killed their female intimate partners so far this year?

Perhaps this was the wrong example for me to base this blog post on. As I said, infertility is a highly traumatic topic for so many women (and men). Maybe I should have chosen something less emotional such as cloth vs disposable, working mums vs stay at home mums, or any one of the other “Mummy Wars” in which we’re currently engaged.

Although I doubt it would have changed anything. The level of Mummy-rage out there is obscene. I’ve seen online debates get insanely heated over ridiculously non-offensive topics. Name calling, bullying, threats and all manner of vicious online behaviour ensues in any kind of Mama v Mama debate. And if you don’t believe me, check out this post by Em Rusciano about how a yellow silicone pineapple cup full of peas sent a bunch of women into a feeding frenzy. Pun intended.

Are you offended by this pineapple cup full of peas? Source: Instagram

Are you offended by this pineapple cup full of peas? Source: Instagram

Why can’t we just let women share their experience – honestly and truthfully – which indeed includes their own opinions and beliefs, without the rest of us having to infer how their comments pertain to us? Why are we so defensive. Why are we so angry? Why are we so quick to judge – and to feel as if we’re being judged.

Here’s what I believe to be true.

There is not one single aspect of motherhood that is 100 percent universal to every single woman in this world. 

Not one. (No, not even being pregnant – high fives to those of you who are Mums through adoption, surrogacy, marriage or foster care.)

Every single mother is different. Every mother’s experience of health, wellbeing, fertility, conception, pregnancy, birth and motherhood is different.

My experience of motherhood is different to yours. It’s different to my mother’s, my best friend’s, my cousin’s, my workmate’s, it’s even different to Michelle Bridges’. Funnily enough.

Her experience is different to everyone else’s too. So why should her experience all of a sudden reflect society’s? Why should she be forced to add a caveat to her comments? Why should any of us?

 

No more Mummy Wars.

No more Mummy Wars.

Sigh…

Here we go again.

Just when I thought the Mummy Wars had quietened down for a bit, one of the combatants has gone and released some propaganda.

The Mummy Wars. It’s like the Hunger Games for childbearing women. But instead of brandishing machetes and crossbows, our players arm themselves with designer strollers, modern cloth nappies, home made organic baby food purée and rigid indignation. Oh, and Internet memes, of course.

Double sigh.

I don’t think I have to tell you how completely OVER these Mummy Wars I am. If you’ve been following my blog for a while you’ll know that I’m a big proponent of women making choices that are right for them. What’s right for one woman and her family isn’t necessarily going to be right for any other family. And that’s OK! Because we’re all different. And that’s OK too!

I know we love to fit into our tribes, and that’s cool – I love tribes, I think they’re amazing sources of support, information and a sense of belonging.

But that doesn’t mean we have to adopt a tribe mentality. Our amazing little brains have evolved quite a bit in the last 100,000 years. So we’re now perfectly capable of empathy, compassion, understanding and acceptance. Oh yes, we’re totally capable of this. But if you viewed these Mummy Wars as an outsider, I’m sure you’d bring to question our capacity for these things.

When did we, as a collective group of women, become so very judgemental of each other? Particularly those of us who are mothers?

Why is it that so many of us are so intent on proving ourselves right, that we have to make anyone who doesn’t think like us wrong? Why?

What does it achieve? Now I know as a “Mummy Blogger” myself, many people will presume I’m in the business of “Motherhood Advice”. But I’m actually not. I like to think of my blog as “Motherhood Support”. This blog is a natural extension of my clinical practice, where I support Mums to adjust to the physical and emotional demands of motherhood.

As an Occupational Therapist, my whole wellbeing philosophy is around meaningful occupations. Which basically means that my job is to support women to make choices and take action in a way that is meaningful for them, that feels right and fits perfectly with their own values, needs and wants.

Does this mean that the women I work with make decisions about motherhood that I, personally, wouldn’t make? Yes. Absolutely. All the time.

Is that okay?

Yes. Because it’s not my life. It’s not my family. It’s not my decision.

My role is to facilitate women to work through the issues, gather information and understanding, and then make informed decisions.

Who am I to say that a mother’s decision, made with intent, compassion and love, is wrong?

I’m fortunate that in my time working for myself I’ve never come across a woman whose decision I felt would harm their child. Because when this happens I do have legal obligations around this. But again, this doesn’t come down to my personal opinion, it’s about an educated observation and legal requirements. I’ve been in this position previously in my former work, and it’s not a nice place to be. For any party involved.

Acceptance isn’t always easy. Judgement is actually so much simpler. Because judgement doesn’t challenge us personally. Judgement simply reinforces our own beliefs, our own assumptions and our own assertions that we are always right and always will be.

Acceptance takes so much more from us. It takes effort and empathy. And quite often it also takes introspection. Because when we choose to accept another person’s point of view (as THEIR point of view), it forces us to re-evaluate our own point of view. This is challenging and it requires us to create a sense of expansion within ourselves. We have to make room within our hearts and minds to say, “this is an acceptable point of view, it’s not what I choose to believe myself, but it’s okay for another person to feel this way”.

So no, it’s not easy. But if we can become more accepting. If we can be less judgemental. It enables us to grow, it makes us a better person.

And you know what? It can actually make us MORE committed to our principles, because it means we’ve put them to the test more than once.

So here’s my challenge to you, beautiful readers. Today. And every day….

Choose empathy.
Choose understanding.
Choose acceptance.

Do away with judgement.

Choose #nomoremummywars

(Ps. I’m using a screenshot of this meme as I simply don’t want to direct more traffic to the original image and thereby add more fuel to the Mummy War!)IMG_0220-0.JPG