Welcome to the Club

Welcome to the Club

What is Motherhood? is a Brain, Child blog series, with original posts from our writers, and reposts from some of our most favorite websites and blogs, all answering the universal question—what does motherhood mean to you?

06_Eileen_6403 copyI unlatched the bucket baby carrier and heaved it out of the stroller. It was only three weeks since my C-section, and I swore under my breath as I felt a pinch. But the stroller wouldn’t fit into the community center’s tiny bathroom and I didn’t have much choice.

“Oh look at him! How old?” a voice exclaimed over Brennan, and then, “I can take him for you.”

A blonde-haired woman with chic glasses smiled at me. She looked … not crazy. Looked, in fact, much saner than I must have in the moment as I stood there sweating with the adrenaline, exhilaration and exhaustion of brand-new motherhood. She had with her a baby of her own, a girl of about six months old. I left Brennan with her and darted into the bathroom. And I thought about how impossible it seemed that I had just handed my newborn over to someone whose name I didn’t even know.

Days before, my mom had climbed out of my car at the airport terminal for her flight back home, both of us weeping. I had no family nearby, or even close friends with children, and my husband’s two weeks of paternity leave were up. I was looking at a week of ten-hour days, all on my own.

A coworker had given me information on a new moms group months before and I had tucked it away. I’d never thought of myself as the support group type, whatever that means. But when I faced down those first long days alone with Brennan, I looked up the meeting location and set the goal of getting us there.

The blonde woman, Kathleen, led me through a door to where the meeting had already started. Moms and babies were spread out across a sun-lit room with wide windows. Some were cooing, others crying (babies but also, probably, a mom or two.) The smaller babies lay on their backs kicking while others crawled across the rug or even practiced standing; compared to tiny Brennan, the older ones looked like giants. Many of the moms looked more or less like I felt, as though they were seeing the world through the fuzzy veil of sleep-deprivation. But they also looked relaxed.

The group facilitator welcomed me and then said, pointedly, “We usually start at ten,” — it was a few minutes past — and I wanted to punch her in the face, or just leave. But I found a spot and sat down (I was too tired to leave again, anyway). Following the lead of the moms around me, I unfolded a flannel blanket and set Brennan down on the floor.

In the meeting, we simply went around the room and said how things were going for each of us. If someone had a question, the facilitator (who was actually great, despite her initial brusqueness) would respond, and then others might chime in. People had a whole range of ideas and approaches, ways of parenting that worked for them. But we shared a lot of the same worries, big and small. We were on the same learning curve. And we were kind to one other.

You could ask paranoid-seeming questions about eczema or poop frequency or cradle cap or how many layers for sleeping, and no one would roll her eyes and think, First-time mom. You could say, “Will I ever freakin’ sleep again?” “Does yours cry this much?” or, “I think I am losing my mind.” And people would nod sympathetically. No one would judge.

It’s hard for me to describe how these simple discussions and interactions impacted me. If the world opened up when I had a baby, so did my fears, self-doubts and insecurities. That day, the nagging feeling that I wouldn’t get it right — that there was a “right” way to be, as a parent — began to quiet, both during the course of the meeting, and after.

As I was packing my bag up, Kathleen came over.

“Hey,” she said. “We usually go to lunch afterward. You should come.” I hesitated. This was already a big outing for me. Up to then, my boldest destinations were the coffee shop and the CVS near my house.

“Really, it’s the best part,” Kathleen said, convincing me.

At the restaurant a few doors down, the staff exclaimed over us as we came in. “They’re so great here,” someone said. “They’ll even play with your baby while you eat.”

People began to put their baby carriers on the floor or onto chairs wedged solidly between the wall and table. I watched, enthralled. Fidgety babies were nursed or given a bottle or a toy. Menus appeared. Favorite dishes were discussed. And then —then — a couple of moms ordered Diet Cokes. It was like we were regular people.

That day that I had dreaded was the beginning of knowing that I would figure it out. And that I wasn’t, in fact, alone. Those women would go on to be my first real mom friends, and their babies would become Brennan’s first playmates. Most importantly, I realized that we could play both roles — caring, thoughtful, attentive parents, and women who just needed to set their babies down for a while and laugh over a Diet Coke.

Photo by Megan Dempsey

A Good Birth: New Mothers’ Birth Experiences

A Good Birth: New Mothers’ Birth Experiences

By Rachel Rose

A GoodBirthThe statement, “If patient-centeredness defines midwifery, then no doubt any of us who attends birth—whatever our degree or relationship to technology—should be a midwife” is a provocative one, especially coming from an obstetrician who had all of her children via cesarean section. But this is exactly what makes Dr. Anne Lyerly’s book A Good Birth a standout. I wish that I’d had a copy of A Good Birth in the early stages of my first pregnancy, as I struggled with decision-making about where, how, and with whom in attendance to give birth. It was hard not to feel wistful as I delved into Dr. Lyerly’s research on what makes a good birth, drawn from interviews with the only people who can possibly know: women who have recently given birth. The experiences of mothers are central to Dr. Lyerly’s research, and inform both her practice and her thesis, which is that women can thrive under all kinds of birthing conditions, and feel that they’ve had a good birth even in adverse situations, provided they have agency.

Interviews with new mothers about what made their birth experiences good (or bad) is fascinating reading material for anyone who has ever created and birthed a baby.  Somehow, medical professionals have divided into camps, with midwives pushing natural birth and obstetricians pushing medicalized hospital birth, and left it up to women to choose what they are most comfortable with (or least uncomfortable with). If I were pregnant now, I would only go to a maternity care provider who had read A Good Birth, or who had already incorporated the lessons from Dr. Lyerly’s book. Her epilogue “Common Ground: Notes to Maternity Care Providers” is worth the price of the book alone. She speaks passionately about the collateral damage in the birth wars: mothers.

“I can tell you that the birth wars have had an effect, though perhaps not the one advocates

may have hoped for. They have set the stage for guilt and self-doubt among childbearing

women who face stark and false choices among caricatured versions of birth rather than

the authentic and messy and uncertain options that birthing, wherever you do it, entails….”

Ideology—whether from the natural birth movement or the medicalized obstetrical movement—divides women, setting them up to judge other women and themselves as successes and failures for where and how they give birth. We as a society can do better, ensuring that all birthing women are able to feel connected with their care providers, are able to give birth in a way that fits their values and their circumstances, and are honored for the new life they are bringing forth.

Reading this book, I revisited that difficult hour when I was in recovery after my urgent C-section, alone, in pain, without a nurse (shift change) and not knowing how my baby was coping in the NICU. Yes, I had an obstetrically good outcome, in that my high-risk pregnancy ended well, but I did not have a good birth for my first child’s arrival, the point where I became a mother.

So many women can recount traumas and heartaches, and we are told to focus on our blessings, our living treasures, and never mind what we lost: an opportunity for sacred transformation. But even though my last birth was over ten years ago, I found Dr. Lyerly’s book provided a healing opportunity to review my birth experiences, to find meaning and beauty and pride in them, and also to mourn the areas where I felt abandoned. In this regard, Dr. Lyerly’s book is essential reading for those who give birth, as well as for those who attend births. In listening respectfully to pregnant and birthing women, both before and after their births, and in studying their collective wisdom like an anthropologist would, Dr. Lyerly’s reframing of what makes a successful birth experience is a gift to both mothers and birth attendants. This book serves as a wake-up call to care providers, whatever their ideological camp, to reconsider how they practice, and the impact their approach has on the women they serve. A Good Birth is a book I’ll be buying for my friends as they go through this transformative experience. For women who have yet to give birth, A Good Birth is critical reading, as it inspires them to consider the choices they make around birth, and also to ensure that their care providers are held accountable.

Women remember the day we bring new life into the world for the rest of our lives, for better or worse. There is nothing routine about it. It is a sacred day, and Dr. Lyery’s insistence on this truth is central to her message in A Good Birth.

Rachel Rose (http://www.rachelrose.ca) has won awards for her poetry, her fiction, and her non-fiction, including a recent Pushcart Prize. Her most recent book, Song and Spectacle won the 2013 Audre Lorde Poetry Prize in the U.S. and the Pat Lowther Award in Canada.

Want to read more thought-provoking essays? Subscribe to Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and see why we’ve been receiving awards for literary excellence since 2000.