A friend of mine is expecting a baby any day. Thinking about her, about the last couple weeks of pregnancy, the days passing like the melting of arctic sheets (before climate change), each contraction offering hope (“could this be it?”) only to find yourself still pregnant 24 hours later, wondering the same damn thing, feeling like a turtle on its back – so damn powerless - sure you’re the first woman in history who will actually stay pregnant forever.
And all the assholes keep texting: “Have you had that baby yet? My goodness you must be READY TO BURST!”
I’ll kill you in your sleep if you call again, bitch.
So of course I sent her a text about how much the last days of pregnancy suck ass, and she agreed, but also responded with a text that surprised me. Apparently mothers were sending her messages about how hard breastfeeding is.
What the hell?
Why would you tell a woman about to give birth how “hard” breastfeeding is? Particularly if it were something she wanted to do?
Why do mothers feel compelled to “tell their stories” as if it’s universal fact anyway?
For every breastfeeding horror story, there is a beautiful one. Take mine, for example: my mom was a La Leche League educator. She showed me how to nurse my baby. Of course I did it wrong for a while, and my nipples felt like my own personal burning milk volcanoes for a couple weeks, but we pulled through and it was all good and the baby nursed til she was two. Is that beautiful? I don’t know. But I’m sure it wasn’t “hard.” Or maybe it was a little hard, but it wasn’t deal-breaker hard. And then with my other two kids, nursing was the easiest thing on the planet. I love nursing babies. I miss it sometimes.
But here’s the kicker: that is just my experience with breastfeeding. I don’t know about your experience with breastfeeding. How the hell would I know? Maybe it will totally suck for you, or it won’t work, or you’ll hate it.
I’m not you. You’re you.
I’ve had experience being a wife but I have very little insight on your marriage.
I lived Texas for a while, but I have no idea how your trip to Austin’s gonna pan out.
I’ve lost a shitload of weight doing certain things, but I don’t know what you and your body need.
Um, DUH, right?
Yeah, it seems like “duh,” until you enter the presence of that special person who has just got to share her horror birthing story EVERY DAMN TIME SOMEBODY’S PREGNANT, or mentions birth, or thinks about mentioning birth, or thinks about getting pregnant, or knows somebody who once thought about getting pregnant.
“Oh my God, birth was the most traumatic experience of my life!!! I was in labor for 9 days. No really. NINE DAYS. I didn’t eat food or drink water that entire time so when I went into the hospital they all thought I was going to die because I was so X, Y, and Z, and then they gave me Pitocin and I was in SO MUCH PAIN but they accidentally put the epidural in my calf instead of my back so I got NO relief. Finally I was at 10 and the doctor was like “PUSH! PUSH!” but there were nineteen interns in the room and I was trying to push but I couldn’t feel anything on account of the leg epidural, so I pushed for 5 hours until the doctor said “this baby is just too big to birth and the heart rate is declining,” so they rushed me in for an emergency ceseran and I passed out during it due to exhaustion so I didn’t even see my baby for 48 hours, which caused me PTSD and night terrors. And now I also have hemorrhoids the size of golf balls and the veins in my eyes are permanently popped and my calf is numb and half a hospital staff has seen my vagina. Basically I had rather stab spend the rest of my life stabbing myself in the eyes with bamboo shoots than give birth again. But good luck with yours!”
Oh COME ON. You know I’m barely exaggerating.
Seriously, what’s wrong with these people? How do we become so self-righteous as mothers that we think we KNOW The Way it Is, failing to recognize that all we know is our own tiny slice of life – a miniscule speck, a nothing. How have we become so self-centered that we believe it necessary to spew our horror stories across America, into the laps of hopeful, brave, capable women trying to carve out their own path in this crazy motherhood gig?
Is it empowering? No, it isn’t fucking empowering.
Does it help anybody in the world? Hell no. (Unless you count the storyteller’s ego.)
And I don’t know if you’ve noticed that these storytellers generally have one kid, maybe two – but probably one. Why do I think that?
Because after you’ve had more than one, you know that EACH BIRTH IS DIFFERENT and each nursing experience is different, and nobody can tell you what to do to birth your own baby.
And most importantly, you realize you don’t know shit.
Not that you won’t tell your birth story. That’s an actual god-given right and addiction and obsession of every mother. It must be done. Can’t be helped. But it can be done in a way that’s like “well, this is my experience,” rather than “This is the experience you will have and therefore this is what you should do.”
[Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I pretty much always tell my good friend Cara Lyn the gory details of all my birth stories, because it's just so fun to watch her squirm. Plus, she isn't pregnant. YET.]
But basically, the people who offer unsolicited apocalyptic stories need to remove their heads from their asses and get over themselves. (in my humble opinion – HA!)
Let a woman create her own damn horror story. Or, better yet, not.
Because check it out, psycho-horror-birth-story moms: For every dreadful traumatic birth story, there is a Rocket-birth story…
where you labor 6 hours at home with contractions timed perfectly apart, where you fall asleep (literally) between contractions, and you sway and rock and get in the shower, and you’re riding the waves of a gorgeous blue ocean, so whole and contained in some primal Eden, until your husband says “we have to go,” and you get in the car and drive to a birthing center, where the nurses think you can’t possibly be in hard labor – because you’re so just too CALM – but they check you cause your mom insists (you could care less) and you’re at 8. You have 2 more huge contractions and forty-five minutes after arriving you get in the birthing tub and push three times, birthing an exquisite 8.5 pound baby boy.
The midwife says “Turn around, pick up your son.” (because you gave birth on your hands and knees)
So you turn and see him there with wide open eyes and outstretched arms, pushing the water like the fins of a little fish, until you scoop him up and pull him to the surface – to you to life and to earth – watch his eyes blink and lock on yours, his petal mouth draw its first deep breath while his body floods pink and your heart explodes then, for him.
And there isn’t a sound in the room.
There isn’t a single ripple in the entire universe to disrupt the waters of this one moment.
A midwife whispers “how do you feel?”
And you answer with a smile from your belly, “elated.”
OR, you can have a birth like Georgia’s, where you flail around the house screaming like a fucking hyena, wishing you’d die, until you finally, after 2.5 hours of pushing, birth a nearly 10-pound baby in a funky position (in a horse trough in your living room, FYI).
Both of these stories are “truth.”
But the thing is they’re just my truth: small and unique and mine.
You know what I think we should be telling women who are about to become mothers?
Welcome to the path that’s never been tread before, leading to a place nobody’s visited, a spot carved out for you and your baby, where the two of you fit, just right – like a motherfucking glove.
[So don’t stress when they scowl at you, muttering “Damn, that looks uncomfortable.”
You got this.
So just keep on keepin’ on, new mama, we’re right here with you, walking our own dusty roads, hoping you’ll steady us as we steady you.
And welcome, welcome to motherhood.
Come on in.
The water’s fine.