What is it that makes women so susceptible to the smallest slight once they’ve scoured practically the highest mountain for human endurance: giving birth to a child. One would think that successfully delivering a living, breathing person would open gates for some kind of new, thriving confidence that would make them a seamless amalgam of wonder woman and Minerva.
Well, it doesn’t. Touchy-feely bundle of free-falling self-esteem is more like it. The transition for me has been even more dismaying because physical aspects notwithstanding, I really felt on top of the world during most of my pregnancy. The moment I saw him on the sonogram, I was hooked; I was in utter awe of my own ability to really do this. And that feeling had the effect of elevating me to this strange position of self-perceived superiority when I walked–waddled–into a room, staring down proudly at the world like a holy matriarch looking down at her brood.
In the labor room though, as fast as it took the nurse to decide I was a candidate for an induced labor, I went to feeling something that would soon become unflaggingly familiar. Unequipped. Unequipped to handle excruciating pain. Unequipped to handle this exquisitely beautiful newborn human that was suddenly, actually here. Unequipped to somehow stymie the creeping feeling that the whole being on top of the world with a budding person inside me state was about to melt down, to being just so damned unprepared.
Eventually, with a lot of trial and error, I learned to overcome some of that unpreparedness. Kind of, sort of. But here’s what propelled that free fall of confidence. It wasn’t the mistakes, though there were too many to count. It wasn’t an uncommonly long recovery process either. It was, for me, the deluge of advice that perhaps inevitably hits the average first-time Pakistani mother, left, right and center from the minute she begins the process of procreation, making her rethink every little bit of knowledge she painstakingly gleaned from non-human and non-judgmental sources (like What to Expect When You’re Expecting). Instead of teaching you valuable life lessons as it is helpfully intended to, it turns you into warrior woman, ready to defend your honor against anyone who casts a single stone at your parental prowess.
Don’t get me wrong. I have needed, and used, plenty of advice. From being pregnant to raising a restless, hyper-active infant, I have stayed true to my womanhood and asked for directions whenever I was lost. It’s the unrequited, thinly veiled as advice criticism that sends me over the edge. I believe that I, that touchy-feely bundle of free-falling self-esteem, can tell the difference. Like a cat sharpening its claws, I get into defense mode, lunging with my invisible shield and weapon of zero mass, but plenty of self-destruction.
The thing is, there is a technique to advising new moms, and it’s a shame that the people completely clueless to this technique are mostly other moms. I once read a story a new mother shared about being scolded by a fellow mom on not doing enough to make her baby stop crying at the grocery store while she hurriedly bagged her items in line, because crying so much ‘isn’t good for a child’. She, of course, cried all the way home. One would think a mother would know to avoid the all-too-easy condescending, judgmental tone to an already-embattled person struggling with life-changing events, feelings of inadequacy, and possible postpartum depression–mainly because she was that person once. But apparently, for some mothers, another person’s motherhood is just fodder for their own egos rather than a genuine desire to help. They hold them to the mythical high standards of a so-called perfect motherhood, hammered out by countless modern studies in childcare and improved upon every day. They forget that raising a child is a technique as old as time; protecting and loving your offspring is not something you’ll somehow forego if you didn’t listen to each and every bit of advice from everyone–experts or non-experts alike.
Moreover, it’s often mothers themselves that pass the most self-righteous judgement with no knowledge of the context to their observed ‘problem,’ or sin committed by the other mom. Having been a parent for a few years becomes automatic license to scorn and judge what you assume to be lesser parenting by others. From unruliness to lack of social skills in children, to a messy home or lack of lunch-making expertise–every misstep by another mom is a crime, even though there is no such thing as a perfect parent, or a perfect child for that matter. I know I’m far from perfect for sure. I’ve had plenty of challenging moments during the last seven months, plenty of stuff to beat myself over. Working eight hour workdays until last week, even if most of them were from home, I have struggled with an increasingly demanding (albeit uncontrollably adorable) infant who rejects the concept of the playpen and attacks my laptop at every opportunity he gets. I repeatedly declined our friendly next-door neighbor’s offer to take strolls with our babies throughout summer, or join a new mom support group in the neighborhood that would probably have benefited me. To my defense, I barely got a chance to take a morning shower while trying to balance work, feeding/changing/amusing my son, and managing to swallow at least one meal during the day. Taking him out on daily walks was not on the agenda, however beautiful the weather. I also didn’t make enough effort to make baby food at home (though I try to compensate by paying extra for organic) or do other things other, more dedicated moms do, like giving their babies luxurious massages after baths. Poor Ali gets high-speed baths which almost always end in his yelling and screaming as he gets transferred unceremoniously from the bath tub to a diaper. Not only do I forget to put lotion on him, I routinely am late in cutting his nails on time. So yes, I am not super-mom, and I probably never will be. And even though I like to think my kid is the happiest baby I know, I also know I’m never going to satisfy myself either, lest the self-appointed parenting critics.
But here’s what I think: I know I have enough guilt to beat myself over without having to also deal with external judgement. It’s hard enough focusing on things other mothers do better than you, and then completely ignoring the few things you do better. New moms deserve, and need, to be just ignored for mistakes that don’t really break any sacred rules and won’t traumatize their children forever. Trust me, when I get lost, I will ask for directions.