HER Expert Panelists participating in this discussion:
HER Health Collective hosts four roundtables each year in an effort to bring together experts and dive deep into the topics that matter to moms the most. We’ve actually found that these roundtables are often our most well liked of episodes. Today, we are delighted to dive into a discussion on managing the expectations of motherhood. And we all know there’s a lot of those. This topic is something that comes up again and again, in conversations we have with our community of moms, whether it’s the expectations we feel from external sources, or our own internal feelings of pressure, to feel or act or be a certain way. Parents feel it from all sides. Mothers in particular often mentioned things like feeling judged by others, and that could be other mothers, their doctors, their own parents, things like that, or even comparing themselves to others that we hear that more and more especially in this world of social media and things like that. And we talk a lot about the feelings of inadequacy that often emerge because of those types of expectations. Today, we are honored to be joined by several of our 2021 HER Expert panelists, we are going to take just a few moments to let each of our experts introduce themselves and briefly share their area of expertise so that our listeners can hear each of our experts voice and in theory, have a better idea of who it is that speaking during this upcoming conversation. So I’m just gonna kind of call out someone say hello, introduce yourself. And we’ll start with Kerry, can you go ahead and introduce yourself?
Kerry Jones 2:03
My name is Kerry and I’m a Registered Dietitian.
Thank you. Anna?
Anna Lutz 2:12
Hi, my name is Anna Lutz. I’m also a Registered Dietitian. I’m the Co owner of Lutz, Alexander Nutrition in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. Glad to be here.
Thank you. We’re glad to have you Anna. Emily?
Emily Chaffee 2:33
My name is Emily Chaffee and I own Carolina Birth and Wellness. I’m a fertility and birth doula.
Crissy 2:41 Thank you, Emily. And if we could have Nicole hop on.
Nicole Wallace 2:46
My name is Nicole Wallace and I’m a licensed clinical mental health counselor in the north Raleigh area. I’m also a mom of five.
Every time she says I’m just like, Wow. Thank you, Nicole and Dr. Joni.
Dr. Joni 3:07
Hi, everyone. I am Dr. Joni Johnson. I’m a pediatrician. I have specialized primarily in ADHD and autism. I’m also a health and wellness coach. I call myself an impairment strategist. And I work with business leaders and really anybody who’s touched by ADHD. And I’m also a mom of three.
Thank you so much, Dr. Joni. Dr. Durney?
Dr. Holly Durney 3:52
Hey, Holly Durney, Doctor of Physical Therapy, specializing in outpatient orthopedics and women’s health doing prenatal, perinatal, and postpartum recovery.
We’re so glad to have everybody here. We’re just going to go right into our questions and our interactions for the day. We don’t have any of the questions specifically directed towards any of the experts. But if you want have something that you’d like to say, we would love for you to just come off mute and add your feelings on the topic. There is no doubt that expectations plague motherhood. Everyone has their own beliefs of what makes the “best mother” because it’s subjective and it’s personal. We live in an opinionated culture that isn’t shy about sharing what they feel is ideal. When you add a scared, confused and inexperienced mother to this equation, she is thirsty and starving for anything that will guide her. This is when misconceptions develop, as well as when unrealistic and unachievable principles are adopted. Our goal for this discussion is to help moms recognize and manage the expectations help them to establish in advance what is realistic, so disappointment is minimized. As we go ahead, and we open up this discussion, let’s start by sharing what some of the common expectations of motherhood look like in our present culture. And we would also love for you to add in a little bit of your feedback on what the reality is.
Anna Lutz 5:50
As a dietitian, what I see a lot is mothers or parents feeling like their children are supposed to eat a certain way. And they’re supposed to look a certain way. The misconception that parents are 100% in charge of their children’s weight, particularly as the messages I think parents get, that their children are supposed to eat a variety of foods all the time. The truth is that how we eat is greatly determined by our personalities and is greatly determined by who we are. I have three children, and they all are very different eaters, and they all have the same mother. And as far as this misconception about parents being in control of what their children look like, or what their weight is, again, it’s very much determined by genetics. And so, this pressure that is put on parents, though, the reality is not conveyed. So that’s what popped into my mind.
Dr. Joni 7:01
As a pediatrician, one thing I’ve always shared with my new parents is when you birth your baby, a parent’s manual doesn’t come out with the placenta. There’s no rulebook or guidebook. With that being said, this is your child, and nobody is going to know your child better than you do. And you really have to approach those people in your village, as consultants, and that includes your pediatrician. So you, you address your consultants and ask them for their advice, and for information. But that information should only be used for making an informed decision. And that decision is yours as the parent and as the mother, because again, this is part of you, this child is yours. And nobody is going to know how to take care of this child better than you do. Even though you may think that because you didn’t get that instruction manual, that you don’t know what you’re doing. The reality is that you do and you can do this.
Nicole Wallace 8:10
Just to join in on that part of the conversation. I really want to thank HER Health Collective for having this special today. I think one of the misconceptions that exist with motherhood is that nurturing (even in 2021) is still primarily the mother’s job. I think, even though we’ve had a lot of progression in the way parenting looks and the roles. Many times mothers still feel the pressure of feeling like they have to do it all. That their job is to nurture and to be the one to be the lead on parenting. And that’s not always the case, we we can’t do it all, all the time.
Kerry Jones 8:53
I definitely agree with that. I think that women have this “purpose of having babies.” Then that mindset leads us to kind of forget everything else. So we forget our self care, we forget our own needs, because we’re constantly prioritizing the baby. And then if we’re not seeking that external help from other people in our village, then that really can have such an impact on the mom’s health and well being.
Dr. Holly Durney 9:23
I would say for me as a physical therapist, I see women not seeking care for themselves. And in that same way, they have put their baby first and then they come see me like two or three years later when they finally have time to think about their back pain. And then also just the misconception of the “you don’t need to go have physical therapy because your muscles are just going to heal because all women are made for childbirth.” The fact, is the body goes through a ton of changes and trauma and it doesn’t just rebound on its own. And so just having that empowerment to have them seek care for themselves even just for a couple sessions. In PT, I think it’s really important. It’s something again, women are just expected to heal and not talk about it unless something went terribly wrong. But I mean, Pregnancy is a big deal. And it’s just not treated that way. And I think that it should be. So I think that expectation of just, “you had a baby, so of course, your body’s like that.” It shouldn’t be that way.
Emily Chaffee 10:24
There’s this expectation that women should be mothers in general, and as a fertility, doula, I’m working with women who are struggling to become a mother. So then what does your identity become, when you can’t do the thing that everyone is telling you that you’re supposed to do? We see it a ton with our birth clients and our postpartum clients, they don’t have the birth that they should have, they use the medications because they gave in. During the postpartum period, something happens that they don’t feel in control of and I think that’s where a doula can be really powerful. Because we’re like all the other people in this this area. We’re able to be like, No, you are allowed to have needs, you are allowed as a mother to say, “this is what I need,” and find support for it.
Thank you so much, everybody. That whole little conversation, is something I wish I could have heard before I had my own child, I think that that is something we need to get into the ears of people that are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, because there’s so much there that you’re just not aware of, and you just kind of go in blindly. I think that that is very helpful to hear. And it’s true that expectations of motherhood are not new. I think if we look throughout history, we would see that there’s always been some sort of expectations that have sat on the shoulders of moms. But I think it’s very likely that those expectations have shifted. So what are some ways that you perhaps see a shift, maybe even just between this generation of moms and one generation past or even taking it to a more historical perspective, you know, one that immediately pops to mind very much is the the rapid shift from the 40s war time and then 50s June Cleavers of motherhood. There’s just such a huge shift in expectations there. So if you have anything that kind of stands out in your mind, in that regard, we would love to kind of just dive into that. And what carryover do you see into present day?
Kerry Jones 12:53
For me, the one that sticks out the most is breastfeeding, as breastfeeding clearly has been around forever. And yet the rates of breastfeeding have drastically changed throughout time. The 70s was one of the lowest points of breastfeeding with less than 25% of babies ever being breastfed and today that’s over 80%. So clearly, we’ve had drastic changes and expectations around whether or not you should be breastfeeding your baby and how you should be feeding your baby. But I would say that expectation definitely has changed over time. I mean, late 1800s women were hiring wet nurses because it was looked down on to breastfeed your own baby. And then formula was invented and then doctors in the 50s were saying up formula is better than breastfeeding, you definitely should be giving formula. And then today, of course, everyone’s told exclusively breastfeed. So then what happens if you can’t? What if you’re one of the ones that unfortunately, something’s gone wrong, and that’s not even an option? So that definitely can lead to shame and embarrassment, which is really unfortunate because everybody’s baby is different and everybody’s situation is different.
Nicole Wallace 14:15
This is Nicole. I just want to jump in about as a mom of color I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring this to light that oftentimes, we’re not a women of color are not assumed to be able to stay home with our children by choice. Many times throughout generations this just been how things have gone. We have we’ve been expected to be working moms and that has traditionally, in many communities been the case. So even personally, when I found that I made the choice to stay home, oftentimes I would get questioned or stereotyped if I was out and about with my kids during the day. And I think that it’s been a bit of a shift these days. There are many women of color who are able to stay home or making that choice to stay home financially, or for their kids for academic reasons, or whatever it is they choose to do. And it’s just exciting to see that shift of us breaking some of those norms. So I’m very positive in that space.
Dr. Joni 15:16
I think an obvious shift is just one of being a stay at home mom and then now for many people, they are choosing, (I totally understand what Nicole is saying) but a lot of women are choosing to continue their careers and have motherhood. I think many women feel that we can do both. But I think that in feeling that we can do both, oftentimes, self care is lost in that equation. Because I think sometimes there’s this Superwoman persona that we as women take on, that we can be the best mom and the best executive in the C suite. And the reality is that we can, if that’s what you choose to do, but sometimes we lose ourselves in the process. And so I think with that shift, to kind of being the Superwoman, and being able to do it all, we’re losing that sense of, taking care of ourselves in the process.
Anna Lutz 16:43
I think that’s such a good point that I feel like a lot has been added to our plates, and that we’re supposed to be all the things. And so at this point in history, that’s what it feels like, is just to make sure we’re cooking for our children, making sure they’re in all the activities, working, you know, everyone’s doing all the things and, its such such an unrealistic expectation that is put on parents.
Nicole Wallace 17:19
Wasn’t this pandemic such a clear indication of some of those expectations? As some of us were at home with our children, and not only were you trying to keep up your job, but you were also now the teacher’s assistant, and the entertainment director. If you had soccer or a sports, you also had to take care of that when the evening shift was over. And it’s a lot. I see in my own practice, as a mental health therapist, many women, as children returned to school are very anxious and very depressed and very have a lot of tension because they were trying to juggle all of those roles.
In our book club we just recently finished, All Joy and No Fun, and one of the interesting topics that was woven through out the book was the change in parenting styles. I think that is something that is very interesting and has also put more expectations on Mothers plates in particular. Moms of previous generations, just had a slightly more hands off approach or TV wasn’t seen as this horrible thing that we we are battling on a daily basis. Children played outside on their own independently more throughout the day, and with the neighborhood kids running down the street. And now everything is micromanage. Now, our children are carted from event to event, you know, soccer and dance and swim class and all of these things. And there’s just this expectation to be kind of moving everywhere to give your kid everything you possibly can. And it was a really interesting look at sort of the reasons for that. But that’s something that has always kind of stuck out to me because I don’t remember my mom carting me around to quite so many extracurriculars.
A term that we have really started to use is called the goddess myth. And that was coined by and from an article in Time Magazine by Claire Haworth, and I’m going to read an excerpt of this article right now. “Call it the goddess myth spun with a little help from basically everyone, doctors, act activists. Other moms, it tells us that breast is best that if there is a choice between a vaginal birth and major surgery, you should want to push that your body is the temple and what you put in, it should be holy, that sending your baby to the hospital nursery for a few hours after giving birth is a dereliction of duty. Oh, and that you will feel and look radiant. The myth impacts all moms, because they partly reflect our ideals, hospital and public health policy are wrapped up with it. But even the best intentions can cause harm. The consequences vary in degree from pervasive feelings of guilt to the rare and unbearable tragedy of a mother so intent on breastfeeding, that she accidentally starves her infant to death.” How have you seen this goddess myth play out in your particular practice? And do you see it as pervasive of a problem as this article makes it out to be?
Emily Chaffee 21:07
Absolutely, I see this, with our birth clients. A lot come in and say, I will do anything but a cesarean because I’m supposed to not have a cesarean. I’m supposed to have a vaginal birth. The cesarean is the bad aspect of birth or whatever. And, our goal as birth doulas is really to help educate people, and empower them to figure out what is best for them. Maybe it is best to do one aspect of a birth scenario where it prevents something else from happening. But I think that this is something that we constantly are facing. And it’s one of our goals as birth doulas to really work through it, but it’s happening all the time.
Dr. Joni 22:01
As a pediatrician whose job is to be at complicated births. We don’t have to be there. We see the baby after baby comes unless the obstetricians feel as though there could be a problem. And I hate to say this, and I almost don’t want to say it, but for a pediatrician, a birthing plan was our worst nightmare. Because whenever, the OB came to us and said, Hey, we got a delivery we want you to attend. And here’s the birth plan. It almost always meant there’s gonna be a problem. And how am I going to get around this problem? Because we felt like our hands were tied. You know, what do we do if something doesn’t turn out exactly how the mom expected it to turn out. And if we can’t follow this plan. If we need to give Vitamin K, we can’t give it, or if we need to take the baby because the baby needs to resuscitate but mom says in her plan, the baby has to come to chest right away. What do we do? I love that Emily as a doula is all about education, because we can’t predict in the care of a child, not just the birth, but even through those first 18 plus years! We don’t know what each day is going to provide, or what challenges are going to be presented. And so to have some flexibility to lean towards resiliency is really the way to go. And I think sometimes this goddess myth makes moms feel as though we can somehow control every moment. And the reality is that we can’t, we’ve got to trust those in our village. Trust that they know what they’re going to do, and that they’re going to have the best interests of the mom and the baby taken to heart. So it bothers me, the goddess myth because it does set up unrealistic expectations. And it doesn’t necessarily allow for us to just be flexible, and to deal with whatever pops up. It doesn’t give this impression that we as a mom are resilient and can handle it. So long as we are supported by those in our village who are there to support us and to help us get through.
Nicole Wallace 24:36
I think what Dr. Joni just said is so profound, as somebody who’s had four births and none of them went the way I expected. One was even a natural birth. I didn’t even ask for that! My first child was 10 years apart from my third child and so I had first baby at Rex Hospital. Great experience, and they took the baby to the nursery and all this good stuff in between, while you’re there for a few days. And the third child, I went to Wake Med Hospital and I thought I knew it all, you know, been through it all and everything. 10 years later, it’s very different! They informed me when, after the birth, that the baby would not be going to the nursery. So this article just really spoke to me, that little segment, because I was in shock, when they told me that I would not get a break. That the baby would be housed in the room with me, the entire time. I think they thought, most new moms would have been so excited about that. I was horrified. Upon arriving at home, I told my husband… take the baby to the other room and he said, “What? Why take the baby to the other room, we just got home?” Take the baby to the other room because I just needed a moment alone. I’d had nine months of caring somebody and then three days in the hospital sleeping, co sleeping next to somebody who wasn’t very happy all day for three days. And I just wanted a moment alone. And I think oftentimes we don’t take those feelings into consideration. And that’s something we have to verbalize with our support team around us and really be able to have those feelings and share those feelings. And I think as women I work with my moms to really express those feelings that it’s okay to have a negative emotion.
Dr. Holly Durney 26:27
For me, and physical therapy, there’s occasionally a little bit of shame that accompanies any sort of dysfunction because of the goddess myth, like “Oh, but my body was meant to deliver child. Why is my stomach still pushing a little bit? Or why am I having incontinence? There’s a little bit of shame associated with it that they are supposed to, or my mom’s are supposed to rebound and they’re okay that they’re in physical therapy, but they’re not sure that they really are supposed to be there because all their friends didn’t have to go. So I’d probably say that’s where it affects my profession a little bit more, is that if you’re having some issues, in terms of just your body, and then thinking that you weren’t meant to birth as well as your friends or, or other moms. But the truth is, they’re probably just not telling you about it, but they had the same issues too. That’s really what I found. So I’ve just been encouraging women to talk to each other about it, because I think the more that they share, it’ll help bust this myth a little bit that you know, that problems are actually more normal than you think.
Emily Chaffee 27:39
There was a great picture that Amy Schumer shared on her Facebook I think it was Amy Schumer, right that are for like her and that postpartum diaper and like holding the baby and just looking like every one of us actually looks after birth and not what these Instagram influencers or Kate Middleton walks out right with her hair done and her heels. Just showing what is real, like what is the real life motherhood? What is real life giving birth? What is real life getting pregnant? What is this all real life, and with this goddess myth we’re trying to go for Kate Middleton status but no one has a personal stylist crew following us around. Just talking about it like Holly said. ust talking about? Yes, I saw a pelvic pelvic floor therapist. Yes, I had a cesarean like yes, I’m facing IVF you know, all these things are real life things that people are dealing with. And it’s not you know, we don’t have to be goddesses because we’re not any we are but we don’t have to go along with this goddess man.
Nicole Wallace 28:52
Oh, Emily, that’s so profound that last part that the goddess can be a bit broken sometimes like a It’s okay for her to go lay down.
Now, it was wonderful. I love that very much. Continuing on with that, and really a lot of what Dr. Durney and Emily started touching on at the end there. So there was a survey that was commissioned by Time Magazine, and it found that half of all new mothers had experienced regret, shame, guilt, or anger. Those terms come up frequently in motherhood. And it was mostly due to unexpected complications and lack of support. More than 70% felt pressured to do things a certain way. More than half set a natural birth was extremely or very important yet 43% wound up needing drugs or an epidural and 22% had unplanned C sections, breastfeeding to proved a greater challenge. than anticipated, I know this was a big source of anxiety for myself out of the 20%, who plan to breastfeed for at least a year, fewer than half actually did, the majority of mothers in the survey as well as those they talked to, in dozens of additional interviews pointed to society in general, as the source of the pressure, followed by doctors and other mothers. So we would love to know, what role do you see society in general playing in this goddess myth? And how does that manifest itself? Why Why does it appear? And then how about from doctors and other mothers?
Anna Lutz 30:53
What comes to my mind with this, this question, and the question before is, as a dietitian, who specializes in eating disorders, we talk a lot about diet culture, and, and the rules that are very external that we all hear all the time about, what your the way to eat, and the way to look. And, you know, healing from that is turning inward, and listening, you know, to internal cues, rather than external cues. And I feel like what we’re talking about the goddess myth is, is that but for everything, right, it’s these external, very rigid right or wrong black or white rules that take mothers or all of us away from listening to our intuition, listening to what’s right for ourselves, listening to what’s right for our children. And so, you know, that may not answer this question, but that’s kind of what comes to my mind is this, these just vary this, you know, you have to do it this way. You have to do it this way. And it’s, it’s, it seems like it’s with everything, with being a mother, that there’s this perception from our society, that there’s a wrong way or right way, when we all know the truth is everyone’s different, every situation is different. And instead, if we can empower mothers to to turn inward, turn inward to themselves and their children, they could, you know, we could all figure out what’s best.
Dr. Joni 32:16
Yeah, I’ll chime in from the doctor perspective. I think that the issue with medicine and why based on this, this quote, why mothers feel that some of the source of pressure may be doctors is because of how doctors are seen, and how we necessarily don’t do our jobs, which is a is a factor of societal pressures. Well, so doctors, I think, are seen as having the answers. You know, when you go to your doctor, you go to have a problem, and you expect them to tell you how to fix it. And so the practice of medicine is very directive. And it shouldn’t be. And I think, as physicians, we’re educators, and I said, In the beginning, our role is to be a consultant. But it’s our job to let our patients know what role we’re playing. We’re not God, we’re not there to fix it, we’re not there to tell you every little thing that you need to do. But yet, that’s how we’re seeing. And I think that’s partly, if not mostly the fall of the doctor, you know, I have to say to my patients, I’m here as your consultant, I will answer your questions based on the data and the research. I can even give you an opinion, if you want my opinion, but it’s my job to give you the facts and to educate you not to necessarily tell you how, what to do. And I can give you based on the data. You know, if you choose this course of action, this is what may result if you choose that course of action this may result in these are your options. But far too often, because you know, your doctor’s office, you got 15 minutes, that’s all insurance gives us. And so we don’t have the time to have those conversations. And so we as physicians have got to make ourselves much more accessible. So that we can provide that education and the time that parents need to be educated. Instead, we rely on you know, the internet and social media, you know, a lot of parents go to WebMD and go online and then Google everything. And I’ll tell you most of what you Google is going to be wrong because you’re Googling people’s opinions based on their experiences, which may be completely different from your experience. So I understand how doctors can be seen as applying pressure. Doctors can be very judgmental, and we should not be you know, you come in and your child is underweight and it’s because you change formulas four times and rely on logic to change the formula four times but because you You know, they’re seeing on social media or talk to their friends that Similac is better than implemental is better than carnation. And so it’s our job to help educate. And you don’t necessarily do the best job of that.
Emily Chaffee 35:15
I think you touched on a really interesting point about like, the 15 minutes, and we talked about this in an earlier question, right? If you have 15 minutes, you’re going to talk about your child first, you’re not going to mention, you know, oh, yeah, by the way, I am having pelvic floor dysfunction, or my eating is irregular, because that I mean, that’s what we do, we take care of our kids first. And it’s just mean, that’s not really going to change unless you have some really life threatening thing. And leaking a little urine may see isn’t, you know, a pressing issue. But it’s not a normal issue. And it doesn’t mean that it has to be something we live with. But in because insurance dictates at all, we talk about our kid first and further portraying, you know, further, like exacerbating that goddess myth, because we’re not allowed to ask for help, because we can’t, we just don’t have the ability to do it.
Dr. Joni 36:04
If I can jump back in, because I just have to, I have to. Um, the other thing that happens in that 15 minutes, and I just have to say this, because I want parents to hear his parents will go to the internet before they go to the doctor. And they will, you know, research what is going on with their child. And then they only offer up that information that the internet said, was important to lead to a diagnosis. And because we only have that 15 minutes, we don’t always ask the additional questions, because the parent came in, say, My child has this, this, this, this this? And in our minds, well, yeah, that adds up to this, I’m going to treat that and we won’t necessarily take the time to ask the questions. So I just wanted to put that out, because I want to caution parents from kind of pre diagnosing, you know, and coming in with kind of in the back of their mind what they think is going on and only offering that information. Because like in we said there could be really important information out there even about the parent that we need to know that will help us to really give the best guidance that we can give.
Kerry Jones 37:15
I definitely agree with Dr. Google is not anybody’s friend thinks it knows at all, but it definitely does not. And I definitely love the point about one of the things that I think needs to change in society is insurance and what we’re covering and how much time we’re kind of giving to education and the worth of education because it’s so important. And to touch back on social media, which I know was mentioned earlier. I think it’s so easy when you’re kind of scrolling in your feed and you see all these pictures, but it’s important for people to kind of reflect back and know, this is just one picture. Like okay, yeah, they got their baby in the pumpkin. But we know that’s the one picture they got the baby and pumpkin for it was bawling and crying. It’s it’s the glamorized version of what their day looks like. It’s not taking into account everything else that they’ve got going on in their life that isn’t picture perfect. So just kind of remembering that when you’re, it’s natural for us to compare, but kind of having that reflection to.
Anna had actually mentioned something earlier about helping moms to turn inward, to listen more to themselves to find out what works for them. And that’s almost a definition of managing expectations, right? It’s about helping the mom to establish in advance what’s realistic, so that when she doesn’t do the demands that are being put on her, she doesn’t get disappointed, so internalizing her own needs. And I’m going to take this now into mom shaming, because mom shaming has become another source of pressure for moms most recently, and it’s hard with mom shaming to then turn inward to have a mom decide, oh, well what’s best for me when there’s this other person that’s shaming me to think that what I’m doing is not right. Where do you think this need to shame other moms comes from? Is it Real? Or do you think that it’s the mom’s inability to work through the emotion or to shut off the emotion or not shut off the emotion but shut off what the other mom is essentially saying to her.
Nicole Wallace 40:26
I could speak to some of that, I think because many of the women I treat, they do come because they’re feeling anxious or worried with thoughts or comparing themselves to what someone said or suggested, or a family member said or suggested. And there are many generational differences, as we discussed before about what we think childcare should look like. Especially when you have your first baby, it seemed like a lot of people in your family may have input about what that might look like. And so in speaking to, is it real, I definitely think Mom shaming is real, as we see in calm commentary on social media. If someone posts a picture of themselves breastfeeding or doing something in the realm of some sort of childcare that others may or may not disagree with the there’s, there’s a quick line of comments that will come through about what people feel. And then the other side of that, though, is the judgment that we have ourselves and how we internalize those comments, some people are able to blow it off and move on with their day. And then there are others of us who really take it to heart. And then if it if it builds up, and it’s more than one comment, or multiple family members or multiple instances, it can really cause a lot of grief for moms and a lot of self doubt. And that could lead to some other external factors increase postpartum depression, or guilt and shame, or communication concerns, because you’re afraid to talk to other people about what your concerns are, because maybe you got this comment on your social media. Now, you don’t want to even share how you’re feeling with the people in your real community because of whatever feelings erupted. So I definitely think it’s real. I definitely think one of the ways that we can combat it, though, is to really have spaces like this, where people can talk about the struggles of motherhood, some of the negative emotions that come with motherhood because oftentimes we are, you know, adapt to think that everything’s supposed to be great. And we all know that that’s not always the case.
That’s a really great point, Nicole, that motherhood is hard. And people are scared to say that for fear of the mom shaming or the judgement. Have any of you witnessed or experienced mom shaming in action? And if you have, can you share your experience? And then what is something that someone can do if they are being shamed?
Nicole Wallace 43:18
Personally, since we were talking about breastfeeding, it was something that I did choose to do with several of my children. And I was in the mall one day. And I had a cover up and had all the stuff but I also had another toddler with me. So they my toddler was running around, and I was breastfeeding the baby at a nearby bench and someone approached me, another woman, older woman to tell me that there was a toilet restroom located behind me that I was, should be free to use to perform that act. Which, you know, I felt definitely was mom shaming, because, one, why should I have to relocate myself to the restroom? I wasn’t exposing myself. I wasn’t doing anything that would naturally draw attention. I wasn’t trying to draw attention to myself. So I don’t think you know, I when I looked at her, I don’t think it was coming from a place of malintent. I think she was really trying to be helpful. But I think in many ways, if I hadn’t been the person I was it could have taken it very differently. And then also just the idea that maybe she wasn’t as informed about what the nature of breastfeeding was in that feeding your baby didn’t have to be in a restroom. I shouldn’t have to be in a restroom location. So it’s interesting when you get these form forums, which are public.
Dr. Joni 44:45
Yeah, I mean, Nicole, I had a similar experience. When my child was older. I was going through a divorce at the time, and I think my daughter was three and we were at the mall. And as part of her dealing with the divorce She was experiencing regression. She was stuttering in school, and she was hitting and having tantrums. And so we were in therapy for it, actually. And we were at the mall, and she was acting up, and she threw herself on the floor and had a tantrum. And so I went and sat on a bench to give her space to have her tantrum. And obviously, we’re in a mall. So about three or four people came up to her, and where’s your mom? Your mom, you know, and they looked at me, and well, how are you going to let her just fall out? And, you know, and I’m trying to just, you know, just kind of leave her alone, please. But, you know, the issue is, is that when we’re attempting to parent our way, um, it is hard, you know, and that was a tough experience for me, because, you know, I, I didn’t want to let my child have a fit in the middle of the, you know, the mall. But that’s what my therapist told me to do when she has a fit, let her have her fit. And, you know, give her her space. And so I’m sitting on the bench, try not to break down myself. And then the other mothers are telling me that I’m a bad mom, let my kid have a, you know, fall out in the middle of the mall. I mean, I think how do we combat that is to be to try to be secure in what we’re doing. And for me, I have a therapist, I had to talk about it, I had to be reassured that what I was doing was the right thing for my child in the moment, it may not have been the right thing for the other mothers child. But for my child in the moment, it was what I needed to do. And so I needed to talk about it, I need to be reassured and reaffirmed that, that I have made the right choice. And if I hadn’t made the right choice talking about it would have helped me to see that maybe I should have made a different choice. But I think just sharing how you felt out of that experience is is what we need to do when we feel mom shamed.
Those are wonderful examples. And I’m curious, if we are the ones that inadvertently find ourselves being the one doing the shaming? I tend to be a curious person. So I asked a lot of questions. When I gave birth to our kids, our firstborn was a planned home birth. And of course, people don’t really hear about home births very much. The people were asking me a lot of questions and oftentimes, questions can come across as almost shaming to someone. If someone does find that they are inadvertently shaming someone, what do they do in that situation? Or how do they correct themselves?
Nicole Wallace 48:02
I think if you’re curious, that’s a great thing. Because as we were talking about earlier, dialogue can really help a lot of moms open up. Or maybe learn about a new experience like homebirth that maybe they hadn’t thought through. I think it’s when we start to phrase things in a way, which are very finite, like “you should be” or “shouldn’t you be?” So I think we have to be really thoughtful about when we’re speaking to someone about their child, or childcare, or their birth plans, or even their birth experience. About how we come across, your tone. It’s all the good communication stuff, your tone, your wording, and your timing. Because if somebody is in the middle of a fountain and malls trying to breastfeed and you come tell me about where to go find the bathroom. The best side, so yeah, thinking about all those good communication strategies.
Dr. Holly Durney 49:08
I have to be careful when I am evaluating a postpartum three to six year mother. When I’m saying, “these things were never corrected right after you delivered,” to not let that be like, “so you should have come here.” I have to dial myself back sometimes because they do automatically take it as, Oh, I wish I had known.” I say, “Well, just it’s not your fault. It’s not your doctor’s fault. But you know, the best thing you can do is tell your friends and next time you go the doctor be like hey, you know what? I went to PT and I think it would really help me if I had another baby.” I try really hard not to let it because women tend to be like, “Oh, you’re right. I did it wrong.” And it’s like no, you didn’t know and we can still fix it now. It’s fine. I wish you hadn’t had to deal with this for three years but that’s just me being your, comrade in arms. Not because you’ve done anything wrong. So I’ve caught myself doing that sometimes and of course, inadvertently, but I have to be careful about how I asked that question of, why didn’t you seek care before to make sure I don’t frame it that way.
Dr. Joni 50:17
I think the other thing is for us to just recognize that we all have our own opinions about things. And that that’s okay. We have our own way of doing things. And that’s okay. And I liked how Holly said that sometimes you have to catch ourselves. But first off, we have to recognize that we have strong opinions. And that’s okay, I have strong opinions. But there’s a line between having a strong opinion and passing judgment on somebody else. And so, I like how Nicole talked about being curious. I’ll just give an example. I was in doing a well child visit for one child, and mom came in with her newborn who was, I don’t know, maybe not newborn, but breastfeeding baby, maybe six months old, and she had a two and a half year old, who was also still on the breast. And so I’m examining the baby, and the two year old is running around the room and mom had just finished breastfeeding. And the two year old, I guess, wore himself out and went up to mom lifted up her shirt pulled up her bra, and, you know, got a snack. And I’m sitting there. I was caught off guard. And I think when we’re caught off guard, our initial personal feelings come in, and I had to do some self talk. But instead of saying that’s not okay, because it’s not my choice. I said, “Talk to me about that. How do you feel about what I just witnessed?” I asked for some insight. I was just curious. I tried to address the issue without judgment, without saying I don’t agree with what I just saw, because it’s not for me to agree or disagree. But I wanted to know what I saw so that I would know how to address issues like that going forward, not issues, but situations like that going forward. So I recognized that I had some degree of curiosity. So, I was curious. And I tried to be curious without judgment. I don’t remember exactly what I said. But I wasn’t offensive, which was the bottom line, is to try to not be offensive in those situations. But we’re oftentimes going to be caught off guard. So we just need to recognize that it is normal for us to have our ways of doing things. And somebody may do something very different. We just can’t be judgmental about it. We can be curious. But we have to recognize it. And the best way for everybody to just ask those questions very timely, if you have them.
So I picked up on two themes in that conversation. One, is that malls are a hotbed of mom shaming. And two, I loved Nicole use the term malintent. And I think that was woven through a lot of people’s comments. It might be the Pollyanna in me too. There’s a little bit of that in me. But I do like to think that a lot of people that are in the position of “giving out some mom shaming,” there’s possibly not malintent there. I prefer to think that it is coming from a place of curiosity, or, again, feeling very strongly about something in line with what Dr. Joni was saying. And it’s not necessarily meant to shame, and we don’t necessarily think it through how our words or our facial expressions might impact someone. And we, I think, are seeing a shift towards being more aware. But I do like to think that in most situations, there’s not the malintent there. And I liked that. And also, I’m glad I’m not going to mall these days. So comparison is another source of pressure that often follows moms. And it’s not just new moms. I feel like we’ve been talking a lot about new moms and how they face these struggles. But as children age, mothers begin to find other sources of pressure. I know for me as my daughter entered toddlerhood I became rigidly fascinated by those milestone charts. To the point that I would freak out and go to Dr. Google when something wasn’t lining up exactly as it should. And I’ve had other friends come to me about the exact same concerns. And you know, we start to feel inadequate, when we think our child isn’t measuring up on a certain skill at a prescribed date, or when they aren’t as advanced in certain areas as other kids. And even as they get older, it can be a little bit of comparing grades, or what sports they’re involved in, even college admissions. So how does a parent learn to let go and embrace the individual development of their child without feeling the need to compare their progress to others?
Nicole Wallace 55:45
I just I want to speak to that one having two that just entered college recently. It does continue on. I think comparing is a normal human behavior, I think in many scientific ways, it’s helpful to us. We develop averages, and we’re able to see some places where people are outliers and maybe get them the assistance they need. I think when it becomes an issue, is it freezing you in your space where you can’t make decisions correctly? Or are you using those comparisons in order to drive your parenting? Or are your feelings for the day? This becomes a real concern. So I wouldn’t want to get rid of all the charts and things that we utilize. However, I think you have to ask yourself some questions like, is this going to matter in two days? Is it going to matter in two months? Is it going to matter in two years?…Some of the decisions I’m making. Even when my kids were right, I now just have one graduated in June. And a lot of people ask, what school is she going to? What is she’s going to major in? And I got to a point where even though she was going to college, I felt like I don’t even want to answer those questions, because it’s sometimes it felt like a judgment about which place we were picking or she was deciding to go to and and I didn’t want that pressure on her as well. So I think asking yourself those questions, checking out of conversations that aren’t productive, and doing some evidence based thinking about when you do make a decision, what is it based on?
Kerry Jones 57:24
I think to add to that, just remembering that you can hit the unfollow button. On social media, if there’s an account that you just really find yourself comparing yourself or your children to more or it’s just really bringing him down or bringing you unhappiness and it’s not worth it. So remember that you can unfollow and unsubscribe.
Emily Chaffee 57:46
I’m going to go with the unfollow thing too. And that you can mute family members, so that their posts don’t always show up or they’re not always able to comment on your post. I know that’s a big source of tension for my family. My mother in law has some opinions. And she likes to share those opinions and they are usually factually wrong, which is my trouble. But she she likes to go against me and I do not interact on social media and that is fine. And that’s how it’s gonna work. So family members are allowed to be muted or unfollowed as well.
Emily, you took us right into our ending question. We would love for any of our experts to share any experiences that they’ve had throughout their parenting journey, or any experiences from their clients of being affected by the expectations of motherhood. The reason that we ask this is because sharing stories is often extremely beneficial for our listeners to hear, so they don’t feel alone in their journey. And they’re able to recognize that even though you’re all an expert, you’re also a person who struggles so if anyone else has something to share?
Nicole Wallace 59:27
Well, parenting is an adventure every day, even when they get older. I have three girls and so oftentimes hair is a really interesting thing in the morning. So you know, somebody’s got to be braided, twisted, whatever. Everybody’s got an opinion about what their hair should look like. And once I got it in my head that everybody didn’t need to be looked at to leave the house. You know, certain times one of us could leave the house looking crazy. It’d be okay. I just had to learn how to let some stuff go. Just gotta let some stuff go. You don’t want to wear that outfit today, okay, it’s okay, we’ll find something else. And just really relaxing some of those shirts or this has to be this way, or we must. Sometimes we can skip something, sometimes we can just let some stuff go and live to do it again tomorrow.
Kerry Jones 1:00:28
I definitely agree with that. I think no one’s perfect. Perfectionism doesn’t exist, I feel like we all strive towards something that’s just not achievable. So just kind of keeping that in mind that we’re all doing the best that we can, and just following our own intuition. Typically, you know your kids best. So just kind of remembering that.
Dr. Joni 1:00:54
I’ll share that as a parent, particularly when we buy into those comparisons, we just have to really remember the impact that it has on our kids. And we have to really be cognizant of our kids capabilities, as well as what is important to them. I mentioned that I deal with individuals with ADHD and autism. One of the challenges that my parents often have, particularly in their autistic kids. Folks with autism can be extremely bright. They can be twice exceptional, as we call it, but they also will do what they value. And so sometimes it was really hard for some of my parents to recognize that their autistic child, who maybe was getting straight A’s hated maths, and didn’t see the value in maths, and was not going to put in the effort. And so one of my mantras was always “d” equals diploma. And if your kids just don’t value it, like Nicole said, Is it really gonna have an impact? I mean, if they have straight A’s and everything else, they’re still gonna get into college, if that’s where they want to go, whatever the case may be. So “d” equals diploma, in some cases, and we just have to accept that. And I know that’s hard to do, sometimes as a parent, when we feel like our kids can really do more, what they value is also important, and recognizing that.
Emily Chaffee 1:02:23
I also wanted to share one more thing that I personally have been experiencing that I think that needs to be led on for a lot of people to know. So in an addition to being a fertility doula, I’m also going through infertility treatments. So I have my egg retrieval next month. And I’m a birth doula who helps people who are pregnant all the time, give birth, and I can’t get pregnant myself. One in eight couples can’t get pregnant or have trouble conceiving. So there are people out there who even though we’re having these conversations about how hard motherhood is, it doesn’t negate the fact that becoming a mother is also hard or say, once I have a child, I will never say that motherhood is hard. Or I’ll say that pregnancy is the best thing ever. Because I wanted this so badly, and you’re allowed to want something and then also be like, Okay, this is really hard, though. It’s really hard to throw up every day for nine months, or raise a toddler or manage a toddler and owning a business, whatever is happening. They’re not mutually exclusive. So I think that’s a really important aspect to remember as well.
Thank you so much, everyone. Crissy and I just want to let you know how much you are valued by HER Health Collective for your profession, for your expertise, but also for you as a person. This is our final roundtable of the year. And all of you have been on our panel throughout the year. It has meant so much to Crissy and I, that you participated in the panel with us this year and shared all of your feedback. So thank you for your time, all of your efforts. You are treasured by us and our community of moms. Thank you so much.
HER Health Collective roundtables provide an opportunity for us to bring our panel of experts together to discuss important issues that are relevant to mothers in our community. Our expert panelists are carefully vetted. They submit an application or are nominated by someone in the community. The experts then go through an interview and selection process.
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