When I was pregnant, too exhausted to read anything of substance, and desperately in need of comic relief, I searched around on my husband’s kindle and grabbed the first mommy humor book I found: When Did I Get Like This?, by Amy Wilson. It wasn’t the self-deprecating, witty stand-up routine I was expecting: instead it was the vulnerable, candid memoir of a modern professional New Yorker, learning everything about motherhood the hard way. This poor lady got sucked into all the popular pregnancy and motherhood myths, and had to figure everything out by herself. Take her experience with her first pregnancy:
Today, everything from pacifiers to preschools seems to be marketed to mothers in one overarching way: this product, the ads say in one way or another, is chosen by mothers who want what is best for their children. Well, who doesn’t want that?….But…should you ignore this new and helpful parenting suggestion, you are in effect saying that no, you do not want what is best for your children….With every step we mothers take these days, we are aware that there is only one right and true path that we should follow, a ‘better’ way to feed our baby, a ‘best birth’….
Her guilt-wracked pregnancy, complete with detailed birth plan and the infamous “Best-Odds” diet from What to Expect When You’re Expecting, ended with a revelation: doctors are not the enemy. Her doctor, on hearing her desire to avoid fetal monitoring and stay mobile, had a gentle suggestion: “‘You may find, though, as many of my patients do, that once you are admitted to the hospital, you will be happy to lie down.'” She comments, wonderingly: “Dr. Merman did not seem dismissive when he said this, neither rigid nor patriarchal. He seemed, merely, kind.” Sure enough, lying down with an epidural 11 hours into labor feels awfully good. But when the baby is finally born, she confesses:
[Before the birth] I thought…I would become another victim of a needlessly meddling medical establishment. But in the end,…I had an episiotomy, which the books warned me would happen to any mother who didn’t stand up for herself,….I had also had an epidural, which the books warned were foisted on all laboring mothers…[T]here was a tiny part of me thinking not of how I had made it through a twenty-hour labor to deliver a perfect baby boy, but of how I had fallen short. I was a quitter….But lying there holding my son, I could also see that it was screwed up to regard my caregivers’ attempts to alleviate the pain and inertia of…a first labor, as the machinations of the enemy. They had only been trying to make me feel more comfortable, trying to deliver my baby to me as soon as possible, as safely as possible. And they had. That could not have been wrong.
In the hands of a perfectionist like me, the birth plan was the snake in the garden, dangling the apple of an idea that there could be a ‘better’ or a ‘best’ birth, one that could in any way exceed the happy ending of a healthy baby, safe in its mother’s arms, both of them whole.
There’s a lot of other great bits in this book–I plan to write a bit more of a review later–but for now I’m going to leave it here. I think this is such an important insight. Sure, you have to look out for yourself, and there are ignorant or mean doctors out there; but what a horrible burden to put on a new mother, to convince her that she is the only one capable of making sure everything goes perfectly, and she had better live in suspicion and guilt for 9 months to make sure she doesn’t mess it up.