The idea that when you become pregnant you are public property is a cliche, but it’s true. You go from being an autonomous individual who can essentially live their life free from judgment (on most decisions) to being someone who seems to have a sign on her head saying “judge me, I’m incapable of making important decisions anymore.”
Of course it’s not all bad. That same instinct that lets people feel you are public property and available for judgment, also means people talk to you more than before. They feel the have a common bond with you and will open up in ways they didn’t before. Strangers will open doors for you and give up their seat, because they know what it’s like, or because they feel a sense of empathy for you. I have experienced all these positives and it amazes me at the difference in the way I am treated. But it has its down side.
After a recent ante-natal class which focused predominantly on breastfeeding I realised how many discussions and interactions I have had in the last seven months where I have either felt like I said something wrong, or knew that if I spoke my mind at that point I would certainly receive the raised eyebrows of disapproval. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate advice. I appreciate the hell out of advice. I really have no idea what I’m doing a lot of the time, and thanks to many people in my life, I am slowly piecing together a picture of what I want and how I would like to do things. What I don’t need is people who I barely know passing judgement on the decisions I make after I have received the advice and thought through my options.
The breastfeeding talk brought this to my attention because there was a woman in the group who clearly wanted to keep the options of formula and bottle feeding open in case things went badly in the breast department. I share that perspective (having heard from many women about how hard it can be) and want to be able to make that call free from guilt and the judging eyes of the La Leche League if I so choose. Our ante-natal leader, while very kind and informative, was not so keen to discuss the termination of that option if things were difficult and instead implored us to plow on. I know breast feeding is the superior way to feed your baby, in terms of antibodies and your baby’s ultimate health. But surely if the whole process is causing so much stress and anxiety that neither Mama or baby is thriving, then formula is no fast food alternative. It’s not giving your baby liquid McDonalds, people, it’s formula. The woman in question, quickly realised her line of questioning was leading her nowhere and stopped talking while the ante-natal instructor proceeded to shake her head (in glee) at various breastfeeding myths we had succumbed to (I refuse to believe that idea that breastfeeding helps new Mums to lose weight is a myth).
Breastfeeding is the Everest when it comes to judgey issues for pregnant women and new mums, but there are plenty of other things that have caused me to pause and either question my own decisions or think “oh screw you, I know what I’m doing”. These issues start as soon as you announce the upcoming birth and can range from what you can and cannot eat during pregnancy; to whether you get your baby on a schedule or demand feed and cuddle the little poppet as often as she (or you) like, (I’m a fan of the cuddling but plan to set up a schedule system after the “4th trimester”); to whether you think a dummy will cause “nipple confusion” or whether you believe in the 5 S’s which say sucking is one of your baby’s calming reflexes; to how long you plan to work till in your pregnancy; to cloth versus disposable nappies; to pain relief in child birth.
As my stomach grows and my pregnancy becomes the dominant topic people ask me about, the question of when to leave work has become a daily one for me. For colleagues and family friends alike it’s one of the first questions they ask. “When are you due?” followed quickly by “And when are you finishing up at work?” I plan to work until I am 36 and a half weeks pregnant. I am currently 32 weeks pregnant and feeling pretty good. I am a high school English teacher. I am reasonably fit (meaning I can walk from one side of the school to the other without dying), I have lovely, respectful and hardworking students who seem to like me and treat me well (I feel VERY lucky about this and thank the timetabler everyday for giving me such a good set of classes), and I like my job. I don’t want to spend eight weeks sitting on the couch watching Dr. Phil and waiting for Mr. Million to get home and entertain me. I also don’t want to use up all my maternity leave before I even get to meet this Peanut.
When I tell people I’ve got another 4-5 weeks to go some people (mostly men) don’t react. They were making small talk and the numbers don’t really matter to them. But anyone who has had a baby, or knows someone who has had a baby (read, every woman ever born) feels the need to either screw up her face, raise the dreaded eyebrows or suck in her breath. At which point I always feel the urge to defend myself.
“I love my job.
I’m feeling great.
I’m not even that tired.
My student’s are great.”
What I’m really thinking is, “I’m not you. I’m not your daughter or friend who stopped working at 32 weeks because of the stress. I am an adult and very aware of how much strain, or lack thereof, I am putting myself under. I will leave earlier if the situation changes and this arrangement becomes untenable. I am not stupid.”
But I don’t say that. I just smile and assure them I will be ok, like a child who cannot be expected to make these kinds of decisions by herself.
On all the pregnancy and baby issues there are a spectrum of solutions and answers. Everyone seems to have a position on that spectrum based on their own experience or anecdotal experience, and no one seems to pause before telling you that their way is THE ONLY WAY. I appreciate the advice. I appreciate that this method worked for you and your baby or your daughter/daughter in law/2nd cousin/friend/work colleague, but if the experts cannot agree on demand feeding versus scheduling, forgive me if I don’t rush to follow the advice of Gwendolyn – mother of three (no medical background) who tells me on our first meeting to “get them on a schedule as soon as you can. It’s what they want”. My baby may love a schedule, but she may well hate it, and I’ll judge that one myself.
If you’re reading this and I know you in the real world and you’ve given me advice of one kind or another, do not be mistaken; I love advice. I love getting tidbits of knowledge from people who have been there before. I have requested this advice from my baby-toteing facebook friends on a number of occasions when I felt my own research was leaving a gap. I make my decisions based on this advice and lots of it. Please, continue with the advice. What I don’t want is for you to call into question the decisions I make after hearing advice, reading the research and thinking long and hard. Pre-pregnancy, nobody questioned my decision to go overseas, to change careers and take up teaching, to try online dating, or to start training for a half marathon. I made those decisions as an adult who could take people’s advice and make educated decisions based on my own thought processes. Nothing about that situation has changed.
The decisions I make in pregnancy and as a new mum affect my life, the life of the Peanut and Mr. Million. Unless you share the same last name as me, or have some genetic link to me or the Peanut, your advice is welcome, your judgement is not.