It's an odd question with a fourteen-month-old toddler attached to my hip, but it's a question I actually asked a handful of fellow mamas a few weeks ago after this conversation with a friend:
Me - (responding to sexist comments a mutual friend was sharing) Well, only women can give birth.
Her - Not all women can give birth. Some women have to have a C-section.
Me - (confused) I had a C-section.
Her - Yeah so you don't know what it feels like to give birth.
Me - What? No. I gave birth to Max.
Her - No. You had to have someone cut you open and take him out of you.
Me - Because I wouldn't dilate.
Her - Exactly. You don't know what it feels like to give birth.
Me - (not knowing what to say) So what did I do?
Her - You carried him...
Me - We are never going to agree on this.
Before I continue, I feel it necessary to tell you that this fellow mama is a really good friend; we've known each other for nearly two decades. If I'd had the conversation with someone I didn't know or even an acquaintance, I would've dismissed it as a difference in opinion and not thought twice about it. Because of our history, I haven't been able to let the conversation go. I also want to clarify that had she said I didn't know what it felt like to have a vaginal birth, I would've agreed in a heartbeat. Because that is a fact.
When I asked a handful of fellow mamas if they thought I'd given birth to my son the following day, my question was met with confusion. After explaining why I'd asked, every single one of them validated my birthing experience. I wish I could say I didn't need them to but, if I'm being honest, at least a part of me did; having a C-section was a last resort for me and I was disappointed that I wouldn't be pushing Max out once I made the decision. Thankfully, I was reminded by my sister and a dear friend that my job was to go home with my new family and that having a C-section was my birthing experience before I had the surgery. I'm fairly certain, my friend knew this, which makes me wonder why she'd say it out loud. To me... or any woman but I digress.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a to-each-her-own type of person. I like to think that we're all doing the best we can in life and believe that people are inherently good. Don't get me wrong. I understand that there are people who are not nice, who are greedy, who take advantage of other people, who do awful things, who are assholes for no reason. I don't like those people and don't invite them in my life but also wonder what happened in their lives for them to fear being nicer, being generous, treating others as their equal, doing good, choosing to be kind.
I don't understand it when people are rude, mean or feel entitled to judge other people's choices. That's really it. What's with the judgement? In general but especially among women. More specifically among mothers.
Honestly, I think it's great when moms go above and beyond with all organic, well-balanced meals, regular playdates, fun activities outside the house, no screen time, strict nap and bed times and a million other things I do not do. I admire these mothers for their diligence (and truly wish I could be more like them) but am equally in awe of and applaud mothers like me, who do organic when they can, are happy when their toddler eats more than five bites at mealtimes, get playdates in when they can, mostly stay home playing with their child, use screen time while cutting nails or to use the bathroom, have nap times that fluctuate and bed time that is generally at the same time and a million other things I do that aren't by the book.
I've read the books (and the blogs, forums and websites) and appreciate the studies and information so easily available to me, but at the end of the day, Max is my baby. Fraser and I know him better than any parenting expert or opinionated non-parent we know. It's really interesting that friends without children tend to have more opinions than those raising tiny humans... because other parents know. They know about the never-ending choices you have to make as soon as you find out you are with child. They've heard the unsolicited advise and listened to strangers' opinions, smiling and nodding all the while imagining how this person would be without a full night's sleep for over a calendar year.
What I'm trying to say is SHUT THE FUCK UP.
Unless I ask your opinion (and I won't because I reserve my questions about parenting for non-judging mamas who are also raising tiny humans), I don't need or want to hear what you think about Max's sleep schedule or whether or not he needs his diaper changed (he likes to poop in clean diapers and needs a few minutes to do his business). Stop wrapping your judgements in thinly-veiled shows of concern. There's no need for you to be concerned about my child's comfort, safety or well-being because, trust me, I spend every second of my waking hours telling my psyche to not worry about every little thing because I do. All the time.
Every mother does.
If you're so concerned about my child, then take him for a few minutes and play with him. Make him laugh. Tell him a story. Show him something new. Teach him a song... Have compassion for his sleep deprived mother, who is doing the best she can and is probably moments away from losing her shit. Again.
I am doing the best I can.
I've actually written that down numerous times to remind myself because I am my own worst critic. I regularly question my choices and my ability as a mother; I don't need anyone to join in. Being a parent is overwhelming enough.
The conversation that inspired this post still baffles me. While my friend is certainly entitled to her opinion, I don't know why she felt the need to tell me what she did. She's a sweet soul and wouldn't hurt me on purpose, so what was her intention? Why make the distinction?
Are women who need fertility treatments less than because they can't get pregnant naturally? No.
Are women who give birth prematurely less than because they didn't make it to full term? No way.
Are women who adopt less than because they didn't carry their child? Absolutely not.
The path to motherhood is as varied as it is beautiful. While painful and not at all easy, giving birth is nothing compared to the daily challenges and elations of raising a child. It is the ultimate marathon of unconditional love and constant care that is easier in some ways and harder in others at every turn. Being humbled by motherhood is universal. The self-doubt I wrestle with and difficulties I face as a mother is not unique. My experience as a mother is as valid as anyone's, including the amazing day I gave birth to Max.