Our hopes and dreams create the passion we need to strive in life. However, the vagaries of reality can be disillusioning. Childbirth, and the transition into motherhood, is one of those times where our fantasies often do not match reality.
The singer Freddie Mercury summed it up in his epic ballad, Bohemian Rhapsody:
“Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality.
Open your eyes, look up to the skies and see.”
During times when it feels like there’s no escape from the landslide of reality, it’s only natural to seek external inspiration. It’s tempting to jump online and read what others have done to make it work, and copy them. There are plenty of rosy stories with women who seem to have it all. There are also endless tips, tricks and advice articles. While none of this is necessarily bad, it can end up spinning you in circles with no clear direction. Keep in mind that inspiration is not mimicry, it should be a catalyst for finding your own way and methods.
During pregnancy, many of us have expectations for birth and the kind of mother we will be when our baby is here. These expectations can quickly become misaligned with reality depending on how labor goes, what your baby is like and how much support you have during the early days of motherhood.
It’s also important to listen to yourself and find birth professionals who are a good fit. There’s nothing like hiring an obstetrician who doesn’t remember delivering your first child or a lactation consultant who grabs your breast without asking.
A popular book that many women read during pregnancy is “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth.” It’s filled with encouraging birth stories and advice to trust your body and instincts. Ina May’s books are relevant and important, however it’s important to remember they are also “inspirational.” Striving for an ideal birth can be empowering… but the flip side is that sometimes you just can’t attain it. Being able to accept a not-so-dreamy birth, after fantasizing about a perfect one can be difficult.
When you get stuck wondering where you went wrong it can compound the already difficult task of healing from delivery and caring for a newborn. The cycle of “compare and despair” and “shoulda, woulda, coulda” is mentally exhausting. It becomes difficult to trust your body, your decisions and your instincts when things don’t go the way you planned. You wonder why it didn’t go “right” and why other people seem to have it figured out. Toss in some well meaning, but hurtful, commentary from a close friend or family member and you have a very slippery slope at your doorstep. Before you slide all the way down, try to stop and give yourself a mental, emotional, and physical break. Try your best to take care of yourself. Make sure to do the basics: eat, bathe, and sleep (I know it’s not easy with a newborn). Avoid negative self-talk and judging. Mother the new mother in yourself.
Despite what you see in social media and on tv, almost nothing in life is a fairytale. Everyone has ups and downs. Striving to be a “perfect mom” is a lesson in futility. You will always feel like you’re failing if you try to meet everyone’s expectations. It may be true that you don’t know how to use a baby sling, unlike the mothers of Instagram wearing stylish carriers with cherubic infants asleep against their breasts. The truth is they probably figured it out the same way you are, by trial and error, and then took a photo when they got it right. The reality is that not every baby wants to be worn in a sling and not every mother enjoys having all that weight on one shoulder. So before you despair over all the intricacies of motherhood, learn your options and what works best for you.
The internet regularly features famous mothers who barely look pregnant before they give birth and are immediately waist training after delivery so they can look like they didn’t have a baby within a few weeks. If that’s how you want to do it fine, but there should be no expectations for women to feel that’s the new normal. Our bodies reserve fat during pregnancy to support lactation, and even if we don’t plan to breastfeed, our bodies don’t know that yet and gain weight naturally. It takes 40 weeks on average to grow a baby and there should be no rush to starve or take extreme measures to “get your body back” unless you truly find happiness in that goal. If not, relax and don’t stress about it. Being comfortable and healthy is your priority.
Mainstream media has created endless archetypes of motherhood. There are many avenues of inspiration to be found, whether you’re actively seeking them or taking it all in subconsciously. It’s great to read books, websites and other media that resonates with you, but in the end, be sure it’s still your own journey and try not to be hard on yourself if it isn’t the picture perfect experience you imagined.