I just had to say it

22Mar15

I have been thinking about how it is almost impossible to convey anything about your life without it doing some small violence to other people. Nowhere is this more evident than pregnancy, birth or motherhood, where saying or writing things as factual as “I didn’t have any drugs during birth”, “the birth was actually ok”, “my baby sleeps all through the night” can easily wreak havoc on someone’s self-esteem or self-confidence.

I am sensitive. We are all so sensitive. There are degrees of violence and intention – for a lot of the time people don’t intend to cause harm, and indeed lots of people are very careful to speak carefully or to stipulate that this is only the case for them, that for others it will be different. The worst is of course when someone tries to make you feel bad, or responds to something you have said to make it about them. This is terrible theft, and I know I’ve done it myself. So often we should just listen, it is the graceful and generous thing to do, but instead we say oh dear, sounds like you had a tiring night, I was up with the baby from 3am so I’m pretty tired too! And the other person’s space to speak and be heard is all gone, we’ve filled its place with ourselves. We feel like we had to say it, it was bursting out of us because we all need and want to be heard, but of course usually we don’t have to say it.

There’s a bit in my pregnancy yoga class where the teacher gets you to shake your arms and hands and legs to help let go of all the comments and unrequested “advice” because, as she says, “I will do exactly as I like anyway.” I have been very lucky overall and not had to put up with much of this compared to other people I know, but small things have got to me – advice not to have a home birth, certain comments on how “small” and “neat” my bump is (most of the time I don’t mind at all, and these are so well-intentioned! But once or twice I have only heard “inadequate”!) and, perhaps worst of all, the doom-mongering: enjoy lie-ins while you can, enjoy quality time with your partner while you can, enjoy going to the cinema or sleeping for more than 3 hours in a row or ever reading a book again for the next 5-18 years while you can. Even if this sentiment has a good degree of truth, it denies the fact that we are adults who will do our best to organise our time in the way it works for us, albeit under much more challenging circumstances, and it is so much more about the people saying it than the future of the parents-to-be. It is competitive anti-bragging – I am more tiredmy life is harder than yours.

I can only conclude that we have got to this point by creating an industry around motherhood (and other factors too – we don’t bring up babies in true communities any more and are often alone with our anxieties). This is of course a double-edged sword – all the things written and spoken on the subject do serve to educate us to make our own choices. My mum said the other day how strange it was to think of all the women in the world giving birth to two, five, ten babies, doing this quietly, in war zones and refugee camps, coping without baby blogs and Baby Bjorns and baby yoga classes and NCT classes. We have it ostensibly easier with all these things, and yet all the chatter makes us go a bit mad. The internet is a relentless skewed showcase of other people’s lives and those other lives make us feel so bad, even though for the most part they have exactly nothing to do with ours.

This time in my pregnancy is very happy and mostly physically comfortable (I know by saying that I may inevitably be making someone else feel bad or sad!) compared to the first awful bit and hearing these kind of comments infiltrates this time and make it less perfect. It is a finite time, I am very aware of it, but it’s mine and I want to protect it. I know it is my responsibility to make this happen too, to avoid reading certain things or to say to people “I would rather not talk about that thanks”, because other people have a right to speak and be heard too. There are just generous and not so generous ways of speaking.

AndI know I am one of those women who is going to need to write in detail about the exact textures of extreme sleep deprivation and exhaustion and publish it on this blog, and therefore possibly and inadvertently make someone else feel terrified, and of course that is ok too.

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