We are our biggest critics. We stay up late judging every choice, every raised word we uttered and every moment we could have done “better”. Being a mother in this world is perhaps an impossible job. The world is waiting to tell you what a failure you are, and if that weren’t enough, we are there to berate ourselves as well.
When I became a mother I just knew I was going to be good at it. I was one of those women who always wanted children, who could see no future for myself that didn’t include being a mother. I assumed, naïvely, that the act of mothering comes naturally. I was right, in a way, instincts kick in and a lot of it is indeed as natural as breathing. What I was not prepared for were the decisions, the endless choices made on behalf of this little person that may or may not impact the rest of their lives. Breastfed or bottle fed seemed like an easy choice, of course I would breastfeed. “breast is best” is drilled into you the second you conceive and even the nurses in the hospital are hesitant to even offer a pacifier for fear of the dreaded “nipple confusion”. Immediately after birth you are being judged. While I knew I wanted to breastfeed what I had never even given a thought to was the actual physical demands of breastfeeding. Finding the right latch with my first baby was difficult and for two weeks every time she latched my toes would curl in pain. I tried a nipple shield, but those don’t really help. Everything I read said “breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt” and “breastfeeding is natural and easy” and so, i felt like a failure. Eventually we got the hang of it but breastfeeding and pumping became a full time job on top of caring for this new baby I had at home. I beat myself up when my supply started to drop around 8 months postpartum and even went so far as to purchase donated milk to keep my baby on breastmilk until that coveted one year milestone.
The “breast is best” mentality is just one of thousands of different ways women are indoctrinated into believing that there is only one way to be a good mother. One picture perfect ideal woman who exists somewhere with her abundant breasts who loves breastfeeding her children and has happy and obedient children who sleep through the night as newborns. I’m sorry, but that is BULLSHIT. I have met hundreds of other mothers and all of us try our hardest to be the perfect mother and its nearly killing us all. We are missing out on being the happy mothers that our children want us to be because we are too busy being stressed about doing everything the “right” way. It has led to a motherhood culture of suspicion and judgement and comparison that further divides and isolates us from the very women we should be supporting.
Motherhood will always come with a portion of guilt. We care too much about our children and their wellbeing for us not judge our actions with scrutiny. However, guilt and judgement have become a cornerstone to the modern American motherhood experience and that needs to change. Rates of depression and anxiety in mothers is rising, and it seems like the only remedy we have come up with is medication. What really needs to be done is we need to alleviate the guilt and the judgement, from within and also from without. Until motherhood only comes with a spoonful of guilt instead of a dump truck, I’m afraid we as a society have left our mothers alone in the darkness.