Monday, June 23, 2008

Why motherhood is more lonely now.

I remember when we'd been married maybe a year and Tom was still on the road all the time, he told me about a show he'd seen (Dateline or 20/20 or something like that) about how girl bullies in junior high. He was shocked! With boys a bully will hit you or pants you in the hall or something, he said, but these girls were ruthless. One case was a non-stop campaign of about ten girls to make one girl feel fat and ugly and worthless! I just nodded and thought, "how cute, my husband's naive." Any girl who survives public school knows how catty the female of the species can be. It's why it's not really a big deal if your best friend tells you that you look great when your skirt is tucked up in the back of your underwear. It's a natural instinct; she has to thin the competition.

All of this was brought back to mind today as I waited for an hour an fifteen minutes to see my obstetrician. (Why does he take appointments on his on-call days?) The waiting room had the usual line-up: menopausal woman fanning herself with a magazine, teenage girl casting desperate looks at her mother and wondering why she has to see THAT KIND of doctor anyway, twenty-something young mother telling her five year old to "Just sit down and shut up, God I hate how you act when you come back from your father's!" (the mother of the teen was of course trying to discretely point out that THIS is why she has to see THAT KIND of doctor), and the two requisite pregnant women. I would have loved to strike up a conversation with the other pregnant lady, but of course I didn't. And why? Because women are catty!

At some point during the last few years, pregnancy and childbirth became even more of a contest of strength than it had been. Hospitals started letting mothers make more decisions and more options opened up. In addition, birthing centers popped up, midwives stopped being quaint village characters from old Europe, and the word doula stopped sounding strange. Women decided to give birth at home in kiddie pools, modern pain management went from blessing to option, and it became perfectly acceptable to post photos of yourself online giving birth in a sports bra and crystals, bouncing on a giant kickball. Now, while I'm grateful that I'm not going to be strapped to the table like my mother was, that hospital staff is actually supportive of breastfeeding now, and that the whole "shave and enema" thing has gone out the window, I'm not too sure how I feel about being put in a position to make so many decisions while in constant hormonal flux. Everyone, from Ricki Lake to the ghost of Dr Spock seems to have an opinion and to present it as being the only viable choice if you care at all about your child. Somehow the thought of an epidural has become, to some, the equivalent of thalidomide. Women who smoke throughout their entire pregnancy will tell you how bad epidurals are and how if you really wanted what was best for your baby, you'd do it "naturally".

Come on! No, an epidural or an IV of Stadol isn't exactly the natural way of doing things, but neither are weekly urine tests, group B strep testing, gestational diabetes management, gender ultrasounds, or even the giant kickball to bounce your mid-labor ass on. I'm not saying it should be all or nothing. I'm just saying that these people shouldn't be acting like they do it all while we do nothing. If you want your polyvinyl ball then let me have my modern conveniences too, and don't judge me for them!

Back in the days of mandatory enemas, strapped down mothers, and nurses who doled out bottles of formula without any questions, mothers were part of an exclusive club. They could compare notes and reassure each other and form a real support system. I guess I kind of wish we still had that kind of camaraderie. Now it's either you didn't nurse long enough or you nursed too long or you're raping the Earth with disposable diapers or your epidural makes you less of a woman or you're the hippy-freak who gave birth in a fisher-price baby pool. I don't want to go back to enemas and bed straps, but I wish the progress toward options didn't have to mean a march toward superiority either.

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