Article Written By: Jess Kimball
Every woman has been asked the question “When do you want to have kids?” or “How many kids do you want?” We are encouraged to dream of the family we want, but for so many women when they are ready to have the family they want they face many obstacles. These obstacles often go unspoken because when they are talked about there is a shameful response.
When those obstacles arise it seems like the least supportive people are other women, the people who should be the most understanding. Many women in the United States struggle with pregnancy loss, unplanned birth outcomes such as an emergency cesarean section, struggles in breastfeeding, body image issues, and a variety of other mentally draining obstacles that could be better overcome with a strong supportive community in place. It really does take a village, not just to parent, but to exist.
After my first miscarriage, I thought my friends and family would offer an amazing level of support. I thought I’d heal with ease through that support, but I learned what many women who miscarry learn, that many people are not sensitive. The least sensitive responses of all seemed to be from other women, specifically women who did not experience the same hardship.
I was told “It just isn’t your time”, “You could pretend it never happened”, “At least you got pregnant”, “God is punishing you for something”, and a whole mix of other hurtful comments. I do not think anyone has a seamless pregnancy and postpartum experience, but it seems as though people are only sensitive to the same struggle they went through. Or, in some cases, once they conquer the struggle they are not sensitive at all. This seems to stem from mom-shaming or the “mommy wars”.
Mom shaming often includes shaming about breastfeeding, questioning a mother on their baby’s milestones, pushing your values, portraying your life as perfect on social media, or questioning someone's birth choices or birth outcome.
50% of women who have miscarried report feeling guilty and blaming themselves, despite it not being their fault.
By better supporting the women around us throughout the obstacles they face in their fertility and parenting journey we can reduce this shame. I don’t think anyone understands the pain of having a miscarriage until they go through it, the same goes for not being able to breastfeed. Sometimes people just do not understand how to support someone who is going through something they are unfamiliar with. Isolation and shame make these struggles even harder for the people going through them.
The mom-shaming extends past fertility and into pregnancy. There is a huge pressure from other moms to not have a cesarean section, but some people choose to have a c-section because it is the best option for them and other people do not have control over that choice because of an emergency. We should avoid telling people who have a cesarean section that it is “unnatural” or “the easy way out”. The majority of c-sections are deemed medically necessary with only 2.5% being maternal requests. At the end of the day, it is a person's choice for an elective c-section, but we should not assume how someone's c-section came to be or cast judgment.
How can you offer support?
We all have the ability to set our own personal standards and choose what is the best option for us. Parents should always trust their intuition and do what works best for their family. Mothers are a huge part of the foundation of the family and should remember to protect both their mental and physical health. You cannot be a good parent if you are pouring from an empty cup and your cup will empty a lot faster when you are listening to mom-shaming. It can really negatively affect mental health! Remember to choose safe people to talk to. It is okay if not all the people in your life offer the support you are seeking. One friend may be a good listener while another may be better at offering a distraction, such as a coffee date!
It truly takes a village and sometimes it can take some time to really find your village. You may find yourself adding to the village you already have. Your friends who do not have kids may not be who you go to discuss struggles. You may find yourself making new mommy friends. It is important to have a strong community around you, as your family expands you should expand your support network.
Howorth, C. (2017, October 19). The goddess myth: Why many new Mothers feel guilt and shame. Time. Retrieved March 5, 2022, from https://time.com/4989068/motherhood-is-hard-to-get-wrong/