Penelope Trunk once wrote that People Magazine’s photo spread of Jennifer Lopez with her newborn twins is “Mommy P(stick an ‘o’ right here)rn: the visual fantasy of what being a working mom could be.”
She is saying that, by distributing photos of a new mom so unrealistically put-together, People Magazine is perpetuating a myth which creates self-doubt in women, who try–and fail–to live up to that standard. It’s a lot like the Barbie complex.
But is it just the media perpetuating this rumor? Or is it the countless new parents, who, when asked how things are going, smile through tired eyes to say, “Great! [Little One] is sleeping though the night!”
Do you know that, in new parents, “sleeping through the night” is largely defined as, “sleeps four hours in a row sometime after sunset”? Now, I don’t know about you, but I have never–nor will I ever–define that as a “great” night’s sleep.
I bring this up because I have three friends whose babies are due at the end of next month and I wonder whether their expectations are like mine were.
I had a plan for my childbirth. Labor was going to be hard, but I’m athletic and I probably wouldn’t need an epidural. After a big push, we would hear our baby cry, and my husband and I would kiss and cry happy tears, and the doctor would put our warm, slimy baby on my chest, and we would kiss our son and tell him we love him. And then I would gaze dreamily into our baby’s eyes as he suckled from my breast.
[Insert loud screeching noise here, to signify transition to reality.]
Here are a couple of times during my actual experience where I should not have compared myself to Mommy P(stick an “o” right here)rn:
When I was writhing on the hospital bed, vomiting from the pain of my contractions. When I was begging for an epidural. When, after 14 hours of labor, the doctor told me he would have to cut the baby out of me “after all.” When my husband had to help me hold our baby because my arms were still weak from anesthesia. When I couldn’t figure out how to position my baby around my IV lines and EKG wires. When my breasts were so engorged from milk that they were painful to the touch and were spewing milk all over the bed. When visitors came to see us in the hospital and I cried and cried because I hadn’t yet gotten a latch. When they turned to leave and I vomited, over and over again, because I was allergic to the c-section pain meds. When I could only take Tylenol after that. When I tried, for three long months, to get my baby to latch, and I could not. When I was pumping, feeding, pumping eight times a day, each session running into the next. When even the lactation consultants stopped returning my calls. When my mom told me my refusal to stop trying to breastfeed was masochistic. (TGFMM!)
Those are all times when I wish I had set fire to the Mommy P(stick an “o” right here)rn. Because you know what? My childbirth and breastfeeding experience was beautiful. It was perfect. It was ethereal. It just wasn’t what I had expected.
That’s why I think open discussion of this stuff is important. I don’t want to perpetuate the myths. I want people to find beauty in their diversion from their plans.
This is a delicate topic, because if I am not careful, I could be mistaken for being pessimistic or–worse–unappreciative.
I thank God every day, because I know that I am one of the lucky ones. I am one of the lucky ones because I was able to have my own healthy, happy, perfect child–as soon as I wanted him–with the man of my dreams.
And I am the luckiest one because I am Punga’s Momma. And I am the luckiest one because I am Moose’s Wife.
I think of my friends who have tried in vitro, over and over until they had no more money left to pay for the in vitro. And I think of my friends who have had babies who were rushed immediately into surgery upon being born. And I think of the children in the world who are born with handicaps, and I think of the single parents who somehow conquer the almost inconceivable challenge of raising a child alone. And I think of the millions of parents who have no means of feeding or of curing their children. And I think of the parents who suffer the most horrific of all experiences. I think of parents who have lost a child and my soul shakes with tears for them.
Then I think of my husband’s cousin, Kirsten, and her husband, Stan.
I think of the years of utter and desolate heartache they endured while trying to have a baby. I think of the three babies they conceived, and then lost, in three separate pregnancies. I put myself in their shoes and I think I might very well have died of a broken heart if that had happened to me. And I think of how lucky a baby would be to be born with Kirsten and Stan’s gene pool: so kind, so generous, so earth-loving.
And then I think of how brave Kirsten and Stan are. I think of how they are a beacon of hope for all parents who are having, have had, or will have trouble conceiving or carrying a child.
Because today, Kirsten and Stan are the adoptive parents of the most beautiful girl in the world: Una. And Kirsten breastfed Una. And Una is kind and generous and earth-loving, too. Not because Kirsten and Stan shaped Una’s DNA; they didn’t. Una is kind and generous and earth-loving because Kirsten and Stan shaped Una’s heart.
Kirsten and Stan are heroes. They are heroes, not only to Una, but to all the people who have babies in their hearts but not in their arms. They are heroes to humanity.
I have gone back and forth about whether to publish this post, because it may be obnoxious to hear the whole “OMG, my childbirth wasn’t perfect” message from someone whose experience–when put into perspective–was so darn close to perfect.
But, as naive as my good fortune allows me to be, I want people to have realistic expectations of childbirth, so I humbly tell the story of my Mommy P(stick an “o” right here)rn Complex, while simultaneously acknowledging and appreciating our blessings.
So, to my dear friends whose babies are yet unborn: maybe you will deliver a perfect baby exactly according to your birth plan. Maybe you will breastfeed easily and blissfully.
Maybe you will not.
But maybe it’s the imperfections that make our birthing experiences perfect. Maybe it’s the way that love perseveres over the challenges–maybe that’s what makes childbearing sublime.
Because no matter how many tears you have cried, no matter how badly you need a shower, no matter how much breast milk is dripping down your leg; every day that you can hold your child in your arms and whisper to that child that you love him or her, that–that right there–that is perfection.
I always look forward to hearing about your thoughts and experiences.