The motherhood test
Motherhood can be a minefield, a competition, a test. There are many challenges along the way, and it can feel like we are being judged. This is what I have come to think of as ‘The motherhood test’. Would I pass or would I be a failure?
Sam is a 27 year old first time mum living in Scotland with husband Scott, her perfect baby boy, and gorgeous Labrador Ruby. She is currently on maternity leave, but works as a high school drama teacher and loves her job! For now she finds herself adjusting to motherhood. Sam shares her experiences over on Instagram @the.coldcoffeeclub. She tries to create an open and honest perception of motherhood and how there is no easy ride!
It seemed that no matter how much studying I did, the test of motherhood was one I was always going to fail.
So it begins..
The pressure of motherhood began the moment I found out I was pregnant. From researching the list of foods you can’t eat, to saving every penny for maternity leave. Almost every waking thought (and dream for that matter prior to trimester 3 insomnia) was about my unborn baby. Then there were the external pressures in the form of other people’s dreaded opinion. From delivery, to feeding, to sleeping everyone had an opinion. Whether that be strangers in the street, family members or other mums it felt like everyone would have something to chime in about. I’m going to talk about the three most jarring experiences I’ve had with other people’s judgements and how I felt I was failing the invisible test of motherhood.
The first motherhood test – childbirth
Let’s start with delivery. At 38 weeks and 5 days, I was in triage with reduced fetal movements. I had been experiencing false start labour pains for about a week. This reduced movement really frightened me. I had high blood pressure (likely due to feeling I could pass out with the fear any minute) and the doctor came to give me an ultrasound before inducing me. It was at this moment I found out that my baby who had been 4/5 engaged since 34 weeks was BREECH. I knew I had no real choice but to have a c-section.
At 12am, I was sent home to collect my things and have a rest. Then I would return at 8am for major surgery. At that moment, I kissed goodbye to my dream of my un-medicated water birth. I was devastated. A section was never in my plan, and I had a matter of hours to process it all. Overall, my section went smoothly and my beautiful baby boy was brought into the world.
The pain and recovery was extremely tough. Still I struggle processing the fact that my baby was surgically removed. I didn’t ’give birth’ the way I wanted to. Searching Google I hoped to find validation from other section mums. I stumbled across a Facebook post from a woman that said “c section mums have already failed at being a mum before the baby is even here. You can’t even give birth like you’re meant to”.
As I cradled my perfect baby in my arms, with a 15cm scar across my abdomen, 7 layers of tissue sliced open to bring him to me I felt like a failure. At this moment, I realised that judgement existed towards mothers who had c sections. I realised just how awful this ‘community’ of women could be. Also that I would have to explain the ‘how’s’ and ‘why’s’ of the birth of my son to try and avoid that judgement.
Every day my scar reminds me of the sacrifice I made to safely bring my son into the world. I know if I hadn’t listened to my own intuition and ended up going into natural labour, things could have ended very differently for us both. This is what I remind myself of every time I think about that comment. Still, I justify my choice to have an ‘elective c section’ because the idea of a woman ‘choosing’ a c section puts a big red cross next to module one of the motherhood test.
The motherhood test – breastfeeding
The feeding pressure started with the breast or bottle debate. The breast is best stance is an overwhelming pressure as a new mum. Whether you couldn’t breast feed or chose not to, it feels as though an explanation is always needed. It’s a strange ideology to think about as an adult. I cannot remember a single time that I have been asked whether I was breast or bottle fed. This seems to be yet another all consuming pressure for mothers that society puts on us. Forgetten about when the next opportunity for judgement comes along.
My personal journey with feeding has been complex. I vividly remember sobbing uncontrollably three days post c section. My milk was not coming in and jaundice was making my baby resemble a Simpson’s character. My nipples were cracked and bleeding from almost constant cluster feeding.
Fed is best
I was preparing for the wrath of an angry midwife and feeling like a failure as I prepared by sons first bottle of formula. The midwife that arrived at my house that day was nothing less than an angel. She made me realise the only important thing was ensuring my baby was fed. But every mum and baby class I went to, I sheepishly brought out my bottle of formula while almost all other women were ‘freeing the nip’. Again, the shame and guilt I felt about it was incredible. I felt everyone was looking at me, judging me and again, I found myself explaining the ‘how’s’ and ‘why’s’ of our feeding journey. I know now that there was no judgement from anyone. Yet the intense pressure of failing yet another part of this unspoken motherhood test was overwhelming for me as a new mum.
The motherhood test – Sleeping
The next hurdle is sleeping. Co-sleeping – Moses basket, next to me cots, swaddling, sleep sacks and don’t get me started on dummies. The world of sleeping for babies is a minefield and the amount of research I have put into this part of motherhood is crazy.
The room shouldn’t be too hot or too cold. You should definitely not sleep with your baby but if you do, you must follow these strict rules. You absolutely shouldn’t leave them to ‘cry it out’ but they should know how to self soothe. Contact naps create bad habits, but you can’t leave your baby in a room alone.
When I was pregnant, I researched wake windows until my brain was buzzing. When my son was here, I would sit up all night with him on my chest. Too afraid to blink in case my eyes stayed closed from sheer exhaustion and I hurt him in some way. The fear and anxiety that crept over me every night was so overwhelming and the not knowing what to do made me feel like a failure.
Should I co-sleep?
Everywhere I looked the answers told me something different. ‘Co-sleep! It’s more natural for a baby to sleep with their mum!’ ‘Absolutely do not co-sleep! The risk of SIDS is too high!’ In the end, despite all the research we are stumped. The four month sleep regression is real, and to survive we have done a mixture of both.
My son goes to sleep every night in his own cot (DISCLAIMER in our room of course). On those difficult nights, there’s a baby safe space for him beside us. I do feel a sense of shame on the nights that he comes in beside us. As if having my son close to us is the wrong thing to do. A big fat red cross is being drawn next to module 3 of the motherhood test. That may have something to do with the usual ‘bad habit’ comments from the Boomers. As if soothing him back to sleep in the safety of our bed is a guarantee that I’ll be sharing my bed with a 12 year old boy in years to come.
Did I fail the motherhood test?
You may have noticed I have referred to myself as a ‘failure’ in each of these experiences. A failure at birth, a failure at breast feeding, a failure at getting my baby to sleep ‘right’. It seemed that no matter how much studying I did, the test of motherhood was one I was always going to fail.
I know for a fact I am not alone in these thoughts. Maybe you’re a mum who had a natural birth that ended in a forceps delivery or an epidural and you feel like a failure. Maybe you’re a breast feeding mum that has breastfed successfully. Now your baby has started solids, your supply is slowing and you feel like a failure. Maybe your 18 month old still hasn’t slept through the night, and you feel like a failure. You are not a failure.
Mother knows best
As a mother, there is no one on this earth that knows your baby like you do. All of the opinions and research in the world will never come close to your maternal instinct. Gaining this confidence is allowing me to have more faith in my decisions. I now realise this ‘motherhood test’ I was failing isn’t real. It is a construct made up of recommendations, opinions and perfect portrayals in squares on social media. I am now almost 5 months postpartum. These thoughts of failure are starting to disappear.
In their place, I have realised one thing: there is only one failure. That is society – for making women believe there is a right and wrong way to mother their own children.
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