Whether it is out and about at the supermarket or at mother and baby groups, somebody will always have an opinion on how you are caring for your baby. The tactless, nosy, and rude people will let you know their thoughts because for some reason it’s okay to casually harass mothers., In my experience, the worst culprits for mom-shaming are other moms.
It starts when you are still pregnant, perhaps a colleague raising an eyebrow when you order a non-decaffeinated coffee, the head tilting when they ask you whether you will take the full maternity leave or whether you prefer to ‘rush back’ to the office. Your meal choices, your chosen brand of prenatal vitamins and even your choice of footwear will be open to criticism. A prime example of extreme, and very public, mom-shaming is how Megan Markle has been depicted in the Press. Imagine having the fucking audacity to cradle your own baby bump? For shame! Call the police!
You may even experience it when you are at the hospital, made to feel weak and pathetic for asking to discuss pain relief options. Midwives will judge and scold you for not putting enough blankets on your baby in a ward that is boiling hot. When you meet other new moms, questions about your labor and delivery are the new pleasantries. Before having a baby, I would not have dreamt about asking anyone about their medical history, but ‘Did you tear?’ is somehow the new ‘How about this weather?!’.
My baby is 5 months old and I’m just coming to terms with the fact that every choice I make for him seems to be fair game for scrutiny from others. A friend has described the intrusive, and often interrogative, approach by health advisors as the state acting like it owns your baby and they are deciding whether or not you are competent enough to care for him or her. Safeguarding is obviously an important factor, but you can expect a series of questions about your parenting style every time you attend a ‘well-baby’ appointment. You will be asked if you are breastfeeding, if you are co-sleeping, whether you are responsive to baby’s demands. It can be very overwhelming, especially when you are given the impression that there is very much a right or wrong answer.
This ridiculous, constant judgement breeds defensiveness. Moms that are plagued with guilt, or sense that you might disagree with their decisions, often feel the need to give detailed backstories explaining why they’ve chosen to care for their baby a certain way.. I notice this most with moms who are giving their babies formula since apparently, that is a crime now. I’ve been told stories that sound well-rehearsed because they are so used to having to defend themselves to everyone who thinks they’re the boob police. I have been praised both by health care professionals and random strangers in cafes for breastfeeding, but I have a real problem with this. On the one hand, it is nice to be acknowledged because I have had a terrible time with breastfeeding and it continues to be really hard work, but I feel praise is inappropriate. With the ‘well done you’ or ‘you’ve done well to come this far’ is the implicit judgement that I would not be doing as well if I had chosen not to breastfeed. Women are judged in all aspects of daily life and a decision to formula feed should not be another stick with which to beat us. We know that ‘Breast is best’, but the loaded question of how you have chosen to feed your child can only serve to make new moms feel shitty and unsure about their parenting ability.
We see this again with Meghan Markle. How could she leave her baby to go on a trip to support a friend? Isn’t she supposed to be breastfeeding? How selfish and irresponsible she is! First of all, breastfeeding and leaving your baby are not mutually exclusive, and secondly, her son has two parents. If men are not shamed publicly for abandoning their children to pursue hobbies, go to work, or socialise, moms shouldn’t be either.
I have been asked my baby’s weight by complete strangers, chastised for not putting a hat on his head in 77-degree weather. I have been met with a disgusted expression when answering a question about which hospital I chose to give birth at. Even the judgement that isn’t an overt statement of criticism is beyond irritating; the ‘Oh, you have given him a pacifier?’ accompanied by a pitying look. It is endless, and quite frankly, it’s fucking boring.
In a local mom’s group, one mom spoke of how she was thinking about returning to work sooner, after ‘just’ six months. This was met with a collective sharp intake of breath and wide eyes by most of the other moms. If you can’t find support in a group of women who are experiencing the same thing as you, what hope is there for wider society? Caring for a baby is monotonous and maternity leave is not that fun. Of course, I adore my baby and much of caring for him is extremely rewarding, but it is also relentless and exhausting,. I can completely understand why a new mom would want to go back to work for a break, the income, or just some intellectual stimulation. Babies aren’t exactly the best conversationalists.
Next time you ask a mother a question about her child, first ask yourself why you are asking that question. Will you be measuring her answer against your own experiences parenting? Or will you offer unsolicited advice? Shaming moms for how they have chosen to dress, feed or care for their child is spiteful, particularly because many new moms will be emotionally fragile and already second-guessing everything they do for their baby. The feeling of being judged really undermines your ability to trust your instincts and, this reflects onto the baby too... So unless you see a baby actually being endangered, do everyone a favor and just mind your own fucking business.