This is a big week for those of us in the birth world. There are so many posts flying around about how important it is, but they seem empty to me, because they don’t address the heart of the matter, which is that almost every level of society tortures mothers.
Women and girls are not supported to recognise healthy relationships, to assert our boundaries, and to listen to and act on our intuition. We are taught to ignore red flags in relationships and to overcome our discomfort for the sake of other people’s comfort. Then when we get pregnant (however we do so, against a backdrop of “don’t get pregnant, it’ll ruin your life”, “having a baby is irresponsible and selfish” and “having a baby is the most important and fulfilling thing you can ever do”) women are subjected to a barrage of unwanted attention.
Suddenly our bodies and choices are up for discussion, even more than before. There have never been more opinions involved in mothering than there is today.
In the space of nine or ten months we’re expected to learn to be assertive (but not hostile), intuitive (but sensible), a natural (but with the help of experts) and to do everything possible to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby (according to other people’s definitions and standards of health).
We are divided into nuclear families and are expected to do everything alone, and there is no one to help because everyone is divided into nuclear families and are busy doing everything themselves.
Most women are healthy and capable enough to give birth spontaneously and without medical intervention, and most want to, but most don’t. The maternity system is not solely responsible for this, as it mirrors a society in which regressive ideas about women flourish. It does fuel those ideas though, and should be held accountable for the damage it causes by doing this.
The bar for men is so low it’s a tavern in Hades. (This is the name of a Facebook group, if you want to see examples, or share your own.) And I would argue that the bar drops even lower when men become dads, while the bar for women rises up higher than ever. If we really want to help women we need to change the structure of society. Maybe this is why we pretend that postnatal depression strikes like lightning, indiscriminately and out of nowhere. It’s more comfortable than recognising the storm from which the lightning comes. But maybe it’s time to stop saying more palatable things, to make people more comfortable.
If we want to support maternal mental health call out abuses of power wherever you find them. Pretending they don’t exist, or associating commonality with normality, gives abuse and abusers more power. To help new mums, let’s support pregnant women to use their autonomy in every aspect of their lives. Change the conversation and stop equating pregnancy with a series of medical appointments. Ask her about how she feels. Tell her she looks healthy. Complain about tv shows which use pregnancy as a plot device, or depicts birth as dramatic, complicated and painful. If she asks you what to do, try turning it back and asking her what she wants to do.
Do whatever you can to centre her in her own experience. We all know how much it sucks to feel like we’re on a conveyor belt. When that’s normalised so is powerlessness.
If we want to help pregnant women let’s help girls by ending toxic positivity. Let’s stop putting pressure on girls to be happy, nice, kind, and “lady-like”. Instead let’s support girls to be defiant, to be loud, to move, to get messy, to get dirty, to make mistakes, to be shy, to be unsure, to dislike things.
Let’s welcome their first periods. How her menarche is received by those around her is directly correlated to how she goes on to feel about her first pregnancy.
(If you, like me, like cartoons, there’s a lovely episode of Central Park about menarche – S2E11 “The PAIGE-riarchy!” on Disney+. Spoiler: her parents go too far for her liking regarding celebrating her first period. But it’s a welcome disruption from the dominant narrative of first periods being inherently embarrassing, and her family listen to her and give her what she says she needs.)
If there is a new mum in your midst and you want to help but don’t know how, you can tell her about our services, from the Three Step Rewind, to breastfeeding support, to at home postnatal support, you can do so knowing that she needn’t pay a penny. Let’s normalise the postnatal period requiring emotional and practical support for everyone, not just those in big nearby families and the well-off.
If you are obstructed by shame from giving the words and deeds of support that you want to, you deserve space and support yourself. Shame is a barrier to connection, with ourselves and others.
We don’t want anyone to feel ashamed. We don’t want you to feel shame around your body, or your relationship to it, or your birth, or your mothering, or your mental health, or your choices, or your lack of them.
You can talk to us about anything you’ve been through or will go through, via a Holding Space session, or our three month With Woman support package. You might have had your baby decades ago. You don’t need to be pregnant or ever planning to be in order to reach out (but you can be). Wherever you are in life and however you’re feeling, we can bring an extra layer of support to your situation. We have funding to make this possible, so please get in touch.