I've been thinking recently about advice and support for new mothers.
Parenthood, but motherhood in particular, is such a tricky beast.
It's so emotional. It makes us feel all the feels (often simultaneously!)
When I first launched Contented Calf, and talking about breastfeeding, I wrote:
"Breastfeeding is such a personal and emotive topic, with every woman having a unique experience of it and feelings towards it – even more so if you are struggling with low breastmilk supply.
It is almost impossible to write about without adding yet more pressure onto mums, which I’m dead against. I can only tell my experience.
That said, I still hesitate every time I put finger to keyboard – every woman must do what’s right for her and her baby and not feel bullied to do otherwise."
I still feel that today, that hesitation to speak, to write, for fear of adding more pressure, of loading more weight onto a mum, who is already buckling under the enormously heavy load that is motherhood.
I don't want to do that.
I know how that mother feels. (Tears in my eyes as I type.)
I want to take some of that load off her. I want to put my arm around her and give her some strength. I want to tell her: it's going to be be OK, you're going to be OK, your baby is going to be OK. I want to guide her through the exhausting fog that is new parenthood, new motherhood. I want it to be easier for her, less draining and confusing than it was for me.
And here lies my point.
As much as I want to, I can't.
And I shouldn't.
As strongly as I empathise with that mother, and want to help her, it's impossible for me to truly know what it's like to be her.
I don't know her past. I don't know her heritage or beliefs. I don't know what multitude of demands and considerations she's juggling. I don't know her body or her baby's body. I don't know her physical, mental and emotional well-being. I don't know what vision she has for her future.
We don't know what it's like to be her specifically, with her specific baby, right now.
And because of that, we can't make decisions on her behalf, however strongly we feel.
As the great philosophers and parenting advisors (as I've suddenly realised they are) Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury say in that parenting manual 'We're Going On A Bear Hunt',
"We can't go over it. We can't go under it. Oh no! We've got to go through it!"
As much as we might want to help someone by-pass a difficult or exhausting experience that, from our perspective, would be better not to go through and seems to be avoidable, we can't do that.
Yes, we can provide advice and/or experience (when asked). We can also provide our opinions (again, only if and when we're asked).
But really, we can't help them 'go over it or go under it'. We have to help them go through it. We have to support them. In their decisions. That are right for them, and their baby, at that time.
We provide practical support, like food, cups of tea, holding the baby to let them go to the loo, sorting, washing, admin, anything they need. We provide company, hugs, reassurance, and ear to bend and a shoulder to cry on. And if it feels right, and they are asking for it, we can provide (very measured and compassionate) advice, very much wrapped in the proviso that this was OUR experience and it might be totally different for THEM.
They are going to stumble trip, stumble trip, stumble trip. But they've got to go through it. We, when we were them, we stumbled. We tripped. But we had to go through it.
When I reflect on this, I think that this is all probably a product of modern living. And that, in years gone by, the raising of children was much more a whole family, a whole community affair. So by the time you actually had your own, you would have experience a multitude of differing ways of caring for babies. You would have experienced different babies, with differing personalities and needs and likes. While helping to care for babies that weren't yours, you would have had time to reflect on how you felt towards motherhood, how your body felt, how your heart and mind felt.
And then when you had your own, what is often called your 'instinct', but is probably experience and reflection, would be so sharp, that it wouldn't all be so new, and you wouldn't need so much advice. Because you would have experienced and learned - just before you had your own child.
That's what's frustrating isn't it?
Motherhood is so much harder in this crazy modern way we live our lives. It needn't be this hard.
That said, I still think, overall we have to let new mothers go through it.
I feel that that's the only way it can be.
Not that we let them suffer, and drown emotionally. No.
But we don't - even though it's generally with the best intentions and often being completely unaware that we're even doing it - judge.
But instead we support.
I think it's perfectly put in a book I'm currently reading:
"Female friendship was one-tenth prevention and nine-tenths clean up."
- Seating Arrangements, Maggie Shipstead, 2012
Good luck with your friends' and your own Bear Hunts...
With love from our family to yours,