For some of you younger readers, Monty Python may not be a dominant sub-script in your life, but for those in my boat, the voice of John Cleese is a friend who shows up nearly daily. As with most parody, Monty Python is able to speak truthfully about cultural problems and trends without being offensive (or perhaps overly offensive...). The scene is a hospital delivery room:
Nurse: Mrs. Moore's contractions are more frequent, doctor!
OB: Good! Take her to the Fetus Frightening Room
OB: So, it's a bit bare in here today, isn't it? More apparatus, please, nurse: the E.E.G., the B.P. monitor, and the A.V.V.
Nurse: Yes, Certainly, Doctor.
Dr. Spenser: And, uh, get the machine that goes 'ping'.
... Doctors (speaking to pregnant patient): Hallo. Now, don't you worry. We'll soon have you cured. Leave it all to us. You'll never know what hit you.
Pregnant woman: What do I do?
Dr. Spenser: Nothing, dear. You're not qualified!
(After you read this article, go watch the whole scene. It's great for a laugh)
In the 30 years between 1920 and 1950, one of the biggest shifts in motherhood occurred: the change from home birth to hospital birth. Now, I am neither idealizing home birth nor defaming hospital birth in this article (you can have a terrible home birth or a beautiful hospital birth), but rather looking through a broad lens at how this shift radically changed our cultural perspective about where the battlefield of motherhood lies. Let me explain.
Prior to 1950, the majority of births for the history of mankind happened at home and were attended by midwives, aunts, grandmothers, and sisters. Sit with that thought for a moment. Human culture has predominantly believed that a woman's own home was the normative place for the life-changing transition from womanhood to motherhood. And that motherhood was saturated in the voices of Mother-wisdom.
As this began to shift in America, a monumental assumption also shifted: the passage into motherhood became something that was managed from the outside rather than achieved from the inside. Stirrups, episiotomies, sterility, lying in a "manageable position" for labor and delivery.... having a child was no longer about becoming a mother but rather avoiding an emergency.
However, this isn't about whether you have a home or hospital birth, but rather the undercurrent philosophical change. I believe the most important thing that changed was this: women began to doubt their ability to be mothers. The mindset shift may be subtle, but it sure is powerful. If we are told (indirectly through the evolution of Western Obstetrics) that we aren't "qualified" to do something as mammalian and innate as laboring our babies in the world, then how could we possibly be qualified to make a trillion other mothering choices?? Over the course of not so many years, the ancient voice of grandmother wisdom speaking motherhood into our souls was drowned out by the voice of Medicine. And our confidence as mothers was shattered.
I see in my practice and have have felt it myself in those early years of motherhood: doubt driven by fear. What do the experts say about the chemicals in diapers? Which brand of wipes is the least damaging to my baby's skin? Do I have to buy organic clothing? What is the best baby wrap? Is co-sleeping better than crib-sleeping? What should the first solids be and when should I start them? How do I discipline my child or should I let him do whatever he wants? Is it okay for me to sleep train my baby or must I live in sleeplessness until my child decides to wean? Or maybe I decide to wean when I'm ready rather than letting my baby decide? I DON'T KNOW HOW TO MOTHER MY CHILD!!!
yes, you do.
Don't feel guilty about these feelings because that won't get you anywhere.
Accept that the confidence of knowing how to be a mother has been drained from our culture for a while now.
Engage with the growing number of us who are trying to reclaim Mother-wisdom. Start with binge-watching mammalian births on YouTube (no, seriously, do it) and embrace that you are oh so much more capable than that giraffe at knowing the hows and whats of bringing your babies through this lion-filled jungle of people trying to steal your maternal peace and confidence.
Stop using Google instead of a grandma/mother/aunt/mentor. If you don't have a wise woman in your life - find one.
Be Cautious of making identifying statements that lock you into a "type" of mothering ("I do attachment parenting", "I only eat organic", "I'm a cloth-diapering mom", etc...) - replace those statements with just being the kind of mother that is best for each of your children (this will grow and change just as fast as they do if you allow for the fluidity of life).
Find a medical provider who helps you feel confident as a mother, or respectfully tell the one you already see that you would like them to help you feel more confident as a mother. (Most doctors really respond well to this sort of respectful direction!)
Tune out whatever seems like noise. If that is social media, stop using it. If it's a fearful person in your life, spend less time with them. If it is coming from within, start meditating and breathing for 5 minutes a day to find stillness.
Tune in to the present and to the needs of your family right now. These needs will change tomorrow, so just focus on today. Plan for today only. Remember, babies will go with the flow as much as we will allow.
Connect with your spouse, partner, friends who will give and receive love without making you feel guilty. Join or build a tribe that empowers women to be the mothers they are.