I recently wrote a piece recounting my battle with postpartum depression and the feelings I struggled with in the first six months or so of my daughter’s life. The general response was supportive and positive, with many women sharing their own incredibly personal stories suffering from this illness.
I use that word –illness — intentionally as it is not merely a case of the “cranks” or a mom who is too lazy or emotionally immature to accept the responsibility of her child. Postpartum depression is a chemical imbalance that requires medical intervention for symptoms to subside – symptoms which are not by the individual’s design nor can they be predicted prior to childbirth.
This outpouring of honesty and the palpable relief these women expressed was overwhelming, and while some of the stories disturbed me as the viciousness of this disease is immense, what I found far more disturbing was the viciousness of the comments that blamed and shamed me and other mothers for their mental illness.
Aside from the obvious ignorance, self-righteousness and the mistaking of thoughts and feelings for actions, the cruelty of people’s words struck me. Some told me and the others who shared their stories of postpartum depression that we should not be parents and that we don’t deserve to call ourselves moms. Others felt we should stop reproducing. But the hardest to read was the name-calling and labeling. Some implied or outright labelled my experience and feelings as “pathetic,” “ungrateful,” “weak,” “self-absorbed,” “whiny,” “childish,” “melodramatic,” “stupid,” “spoiled,” “psycho,” “irresponsible,” and, my personal favorite: “selfish bitch.”
As my story is far from the worst example of what some women go through, some comments took the tone of competition, but at no point did I ever try to claim the prize for most horrific story.
Even those who suffer from mental illness, who should have some level of understanding of the complexity of mental illness, felt entitled to judge another’s experience of mental illness when it did not align with their own.
This experience has led me to ponder a phenomenon which I am sure all mothers have been faced with, at varying levels during their journey of raising children — the phenomenon of mom-shaming, judging, and competing. My pondering led me to the following conclusion and observations.
Momland is engaged in an (un)civil war.
A war where the weapons are shame, judgment, opinions, competition, hatred and sanctimony. The more personal and complex the issue, the bigger the skirmish, the more shame is aimed, the bigger the fall-out, and the higher the casualty count.
Shame on us for giving birth via C-section.
Anyone who has delivered via C-Section will know all too well the patronizing and sometimes disdainful look on admitting to this birth type. Shame on us for choosing a different path, or not choosing in the case of an emergency, but shame regardless. Shame on us for not being “woman enough” to push and tear. Shame on us for taking “the easy” way out. Shame on us for “denying” our maternal instincts. Shame on us for “denying” our child the birth process nature intended.
Shame on us for going back to work.
Those of us who have returned to work, whether by choice or by necessity, have felt the weight of shame. Shame on us for going back to work and “abandoning” our child in the care of others. Shame on us for not being able to afford a single-income family structure. Shame on us for wanting a career. Shame on us for being “selfish” and putting our careers ahead of our most important job – being a mom. Shame on us for taking these precious and fleeting years for granted by being absent. Shame on us for being “power hungry, money grubbing, and anti-maternal.” But in the very next breath, Momland turns its artillery towards moms who stay at home.
Shame on us for not going back to work.
I am sure that stay-at-home moms have averted their eyes under the glare of the modern feminist when uttering, “Actually, I don’t work, my husband and I decided I would stay at home to raise the kids.” Steel yourself, mommy, and get your body armor on. Shame on us for not being “strong enough” to fight for what we really want, which if you weren’t paying attention is your career. Shame on us for setting women back 20 years.
Another hot button issue that attracts the molten heat of shame is feeding your child.
Shame on us for breastfeeding in public.
Every week there seems to be a new example of women being chastised for breastfeeding in public spaces. Shame on us for behaving in such an “indecent” and “abhorrent” manner. Shame on us for whipping our breasts out in broad daylight and feeding our child with our bodily fluid — otherwise known as milk. Shame on us for not feeding our children in a bacteria-ridden cubicle of the nearest public toilet. Shame on us for “subjecting” society to such perversion. But yet again Momland is not content to shame one and not shame the other.
Shame on us for not breastfeeding at all.
While it is shameful to breastfeed in public, not breastfeeding at all is also shamed as a mortal mommy sin. Shame on us for “not trying hard enough.” Shame on us for “denying” our child the best. Shame on us for not “cherishing” a sacred exchange between mother and child. Shame on us for “compromising” our child’s future health, growth, mental and emotional stability, development and potential to become president because we failed to breastfeed them. This doesn’t even touch on the shame of the moms who stopped breastfeeding too soon or have kept breastfeeding too long. That shame is as deep as the days are long.
Shame on us for sleep training.
Who would have thought where, when, and how your child sleeps could be such a minefield? And yet it is. Shame on us for letting our children cry it out in their cot. Shame on us for callously “ignoring” the distraught cries of an innocent baby that feels abandoned by those contracted to protect and care for it. Shame on us for enacting untold damage on our child’s psyche, that will result in them never being able to maintain a healthy relationship as adults. Shame on us for not letting your child sleep in your bed with you until they are old enough to feel confident and safe to sleep on their own – even if this means sharing your bed with three extra bodies. Shame on us for not sucking it up and sleeping on the edge of the bottom left-hand corner of your bed for 11 years.
Shame on us for co-sleeping.
But co-sleepers are not allowed to get away scot-free. Shame on us for “giving in” to our child’s every whim. Shame on us for not instilling discipline and teaching boundaries. Shame on us for not fostering the independence and self-sufficiency, our children will need in the real world. Shame on us for coddling and babying.
I could go on forever…
Shame on us for feeding ready-made versus home-made. For occupying our kid’s with screen time. For helicoptering. For free-ranging. For putting pressure on our kids to succeed. For celebrating mediocrity. For not letting our kids get dirty. For letting them get too dirty. For disciplining our kids. For being too soft. For kissing our kids on the mouth. For homeschooling. For sending our kids to public school. For sending them to private school. For letting our kids eat sweets. When our kids skip crawling and just start walking – how will they ever manage basic arithmetic? For having an easy vomit-free pregnancy. For having easy children. For having too much help. For not asking for help.
While the above describes shameful actions, feelings and thoughts often trigger the most violent of skirmishes within Momland. Shame on us for feeling like we don’t always like our kids. For being too obsessed with our kids. For feeling overwhelmed or lost. For struggling to bond with our children. For thinking we deserve a break. For feeling frustrated or hurt by our kids. For sometimes resenting what we have given up for our kids. For being afraid. For having the odd moment of weakness. And for having the gall to voice these feelings and thoughts. But the most incendiary of all — shame on us for not actually feeling ashamed.
The only thing (aside from genuine child neglect or abuse) that should make us red-faced, eyes averted, goosebump rising ashamed is that we – those of us in Momland – are solely responsible for inciting this (un)civil war.
Shame on us for inciting this senseless and ugly war.
And I am sure I will receive a lashing of shame for this article, but I will not stand by while innocent mothers are stoned with shame. We cannot blame society. We cannot blame social media. We cannot blame freedom of speech or freedom of expression. The only place to lay the blame is on us. Shame on us.
Shame on us for dispensing judgment without considering the devastation you reap with your words.
Shame on us for throwing sanctimonious and cruel grenades at one another from behind the safety and anonymity of a computer screen.
Shame on us for feeling entitled to cut down another who is trying to do what’s best for her family – even if what’s right for her is wrong for you.
Shame on us for opening our mouths and letting thoughtless and callous opinions pour out.
Shame on us for being arrogant enough to believe that there is only one way to be a good mom – and that’s your way.
So, next time you’re tempted to throw a shame grenade, I beg of you, in the name of all things good and right in this world, STOP. BREATHE. EMPATHIZE. RETHINK. Consider the old adage “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” And even if you weren’t intending your words to be unkind, please, still STOP and repeat steps one through three. Because even if you do know better, ask yourself was the mom asking for advice or merely making a statement, trying to find an outlet to vent. If there was no question mark, there was no question, and thus no requirement for you to humbly answer with your solution.
And lastly, don’t shamelessly assume that when a mom is having a tough time or admits to making a mistake she is not already beating herself with the shame stick. Her self-flagellation might be far worse than any of us in momland possibly could administer. So, why rub salt in her wounds?