Your advice is welcome, your judgement is not

Like this lady, I've weighed up my options and am prepared to defend my decisions with a sword.... or something.

Like this lady, I’ve weighed up my options and am prepared to defend my decisions with a sword…. or something.

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.

19 comments

  1. Bravo! I worked right up till the day I gave birth and was just fine. Ok, so I had planned to finish 2 weeks before DD, but baby had other plans. Good on you for doing what works for you. :)

  2. Oh girl, I hear you. I switched to formula after 5 days with Ellie and 10 with Tessa. Ellie is 2 and a half and I still have the joy of getting commentary about my choice from select family members… Breastfeeding freaked me out so much that I literally cried every time Ellie wanted to eat. No one can tell me that THAT is healthier than formula. I always tell people who want to nurse that I sincerely hope that it works for them and that if it doesn’t, their child will still be happy and healthy on formula. If only moms could just let each other do what is best for their family!!!!

    1. Agreed. Absolutely.
      I have a friend who went to talk to a young mums evening and answer questions. She was really keen to tell them about the struggles she had had with breast feeding because no one had told her about that stuff before she had her baby. When the topic came up and she started to tell them how hard she had found it the organiser of the evening shut her down and told her to stop. I think we should all know that it’s not for everyone, and that, as you say, if it works for you, then great, but you are not a bad mum or a failure if you don’t choose that road.

  3. Great post and great attitude. Sadly we do seem to become public property when we are pregnant. Learning to trust your instinct with your baby, and putting all the mixed advice you get to one side, is what being a new mum is all about. Whatever you decide to do regarding feeding, settling, routines etc – peanut is your baby and noone will know her better than you. Glad you are feeling so well x

  4. I always found a polite “ok” with a nod and smile was quite effective at shutting people up (while, naturally, I had already zoned out to whatever they were promoting). Personally, (and feel free to ignore this if you like) I think the most important thing is to learn to follow your baby’s cues and to be nice to yourself.

    My babies both had certain things that they did that were early signs of tiredness – e.g. making their hands into fists, which happened way before a yawn or eye rubbing. If you can distinguish between tiredness and hunger, this will mean you can give your boobs a break (with the added benefit of not feeling like a cow).

    Also, be kind to yourself. It is not your fault if your baby isn’t following anyone’s advice. It must be pretty confusing for her! I stuck with breastfeeding for 6 months with both kids, but there were about 500 feeds with Joel where I said to Ben “if it doesn’t work this time, then go and buy formula”. In the end, Joel weaned himself and didn’t want to breast feed anymore fromm 6 months on (I copped a lot of slack for this from everyone BUT the doctor who said it was fine!) I ended up weaning Jamie onto formula at 6 months so I could go back to work part time (also copped slack for that, but screw them all! hehe).

    First pregnancy I worked until 39 weeks. My boss wanted me to go for another week, assuring me that I would be late since it was my first pregnancy. I’m glad I stuck to my guns because Joel arrived on his due date!

    Moral of the story – ignore all of us and our annoying anecdotes and just do what seems right for you, Mr Million and Peanut.

    1. You breastfed for 6 months and STILL received slack for stopping? Jeez! I thought 6 months was a pretty good stint!

      Thanks, Jo. I love hearing other people’s stories and experiences :)

  5. Oh God!! Breastfeeding is so hard and then you have people telling you its a natural thing, well guess what! It is natural for the baby but not for us!!! I remember crying in pain breastfeeding Isa at night, I thought I was gonna die!… I did work out… And I breastfed for a year, but I was just so close to quit. I’m 36 weeks pregnant now and just last night I was talking to my husband about breastfeeding and how would it go this time. I will just see how it goes as now I also have Isa and my attention has to be in my 2 kids. Great post

    1. Thanks!
      I really want to breastfeed and will try my darndest to make that happen. But I would like to think if I needed to make the call to swtich to formula that I could do so without feeling guilt put on me from both myself and others.

    1. I am sticking to my guns, but I need to learn to be seen to be sticking to my guns. I’m not a fan of conflict so will avoid speaking my mind on most occasions. Now that it’s not just me who this timidity affects, I think I need to get a bit more assertive, in person as well as via blog!

  6. I worked right up until my due date and got so many negative comments and assumptions made about it but I was so proud when I made it and then still got 10 days of rest. They didn’t order me a gown for prize giving because they assumed I wouldn’t be there, I showed them how dangerous assumptions can be.

    I think the worst advice I ever got was from one woman who constantly told me that letting the baby cry it out is bad for their development and can cause a loss in brain cells and gave all this research to back us up. Well my baby had reflux and wouldn’t stop crying for hours at a time some days. It didn’t help that my milk supply was non existent and no one really helped with any of it and instead just said that babies cry and that’s normal. Every time that woman posted something about CIO being so damaging I felt awful because it’s not like I was letting her cry, I was trying everything I could think to calm her. There were many late night phone calls to my midwife in those first weeks and she even referred us to Plunket early for the extra support. Some advice can just be so damaging without meaning to be and I can’t read anything from that person now without feeling anger over how she made me feel.

    You need a carefully crafted filter but I sounds like you already have that down.

    1. Thanks for your message, Jess.
      Reading that just makes me angry! It’s like every fight feminism won has been eradicated as soon as a woman is pregnant, or the mother of a small child. You go from being someone who can make their own decisions, to someone who needs to be subjected to advice, guilt and judgement from strangers and friends alike. Ridiculous!
      Backing it up with one sided research is just as bad when there is research on both sides.

  7. Becky, as your uncle, as a father of three, and grandfather of five, with #6 coming a couple of months after your peanut, let me say that while the breastfeeding pro and con debate is possibly the most extreme issue, the tendency for advice and judgement does not stop there. It will continue right through your parenting journey. In my experience, parents of just one child are among the worst offenders. They are armed with real life experience, so they know their opinions are correct, and the only possible way to look at things. When they have had two or more little treasures, they know that all children are different, and back off the judgement a bit!
    Lots of love

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