You Are Doing Just Fine (And Other Secrets Facebook Isn’t Telling You)
I am a pretty high strung individual: lifelong hypochondriac, mildly to moderately obsessive about germs, a stickler for the rules. I’m also in the middle of a PhD in infant and maternal health. This means that before my son was born in July 2015, I had some big opinions about parenting and I looked down my (childless) academic nose at all the people who didn’t get it right.
And then my actual child was born. Since I became a mother fourteen months ago, many things have amazed me, the fact that I expelled a human being from my body and then didn’t sleep for an entire year and am expected to just keep on doing the dishes like I’m not some kind of miraculous superhero being amongst the most incredible things. Every day is a constant stream of decisions, actions, and consequences that have forced me to reframe my assumptions and broaden my understanding. However, perhaps the most stunning experience of my motherhood journey thus far has been how very cruel we mothers can be to each other.
Living as an expat, thousands of miles from my family and close friends with children, and married to an archaeologist who was working away for the majority of our son’s first year, I was desperate for a motherhood community in the early months of parenting. I spent a full three months alone in my house, nursing our son in the glider, furiously scrolling through Facebook groups on my phone in the dark, looking for a tribe.
What I discovered instead was that in the vast majority of online support groups, a post about a woman’s genuine concerns becomes an opportunity for other women to tear her down, debate semantics, or exalt in their better researched, more polished, and less frantic mothering. I joined, and then promptly left, many groups I thought had been designed to guide me through some of very difficult, supremely unexpected choices I’d made as a new mom (exclusive, extended breastfeeding and bedsharing, specifically), as in all of them, the practice was king.
A familiar refrain in most mommy groups is that dads just don’t understand. Husbands, boyfriends, partners do. not. get. it. And that’s because they can’t. Our sweet, dense men simply cannot. If you haven’t lived being a mom, you can’t understand it. This is true. It is also what makes the lack of online support for mothers deeply infuriating, because if the only people who can empathize are the very people who are gunning for you, then you truly are alone, in the dark, boring an ass-shaped hole in your nursery glider, coming up empty.
So, in case no one’s told you lately: it doesn’t matter if you’ve breastfed or used formula, chosen purees or baby-led weaning, sleep trained or decided to let your baby tyrant sleep in your bed with you for the rest of your life (#noregrets). If you have held a screaming baby on your lap while you tried to poop, forgotten about being vomited on until you smelled the sick in your hair the next day, or eaten the food your toddler gummed and then spit out, you are a mother and you deserve to be supported, whatever parenting choices you’ve made. You deserve a community that treats you like the (filthy and exhausted) warrior that you are. Don’t stop looking until you find it.
Nothing has shifted my perspective more than giving birth to my son. This child has challenged everything I thought I knew about having a baby and everything I thought I knew about being a mom. My son has made me kinder to myself, and that makes me want to be kinder to others, which is why I struggle to understand how it’s possible to become a mother and not feel an immediate kinship with all the women in history who have also waded through the blood, sweat, and tears.
The great secret of motherhood is that no one has it figured out. We all struggle, in various different, uncomfortable ways. Believe me when I tell you if a smug mother’s baby is eating all his vegetables, he’s not sleeping through the night. Just like your kid. If he’s talking in full sentences already, he’s also throwing epic tantrums in the supermarket. Just like your kid. If he’s three and still has never had sugar, he’s been at the playground shoveling dirt and rocks into his mouth — just the same as your kid. Remember, always, that other mothers may appear to have a handle on today, they may have the current sanctimony market cornered, but, as I have learned the hard way, just wait for the molars.