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When We Compare Ourselves to Other Mothers

Not long ago, I was in a small group of women, three of whom were pregnant. Inevitably, the discussion turned to childbirth stories. I remember when I was just out of college and in a small group when a woman told her childbirth story and how she had broken her tail bone during delivery. It’s a wonder I ever got pregnant after hearing her tale of excruciating misery.

Anyway, we all started swapping stories of how we delivered and the nuances of childbirth rose to the surface of the conversation. In one moment, we were all MOTHERS. In the next, we began discussing the ins and outs of our choices—some made with education, some in haste, some because of tradition or emergency, and so on—but our choices nonetheless.

And so, the conversation soon began to turn to OB’s or midwives, natural or medicated labor, C-section, vaginal, or VBAC deliveries. As the conversation progressed, I could feel that ever-so-slight “rift” dividing us. You know the one. My choice versus your choice. My choice is better than yours or I wish I could have/should have/would have chosen as you did, then I’d be right/better and you’d think better of me.

What is it about our mothering choices that drive wedges between us otherwise harmonious women? Why do we love to compare? 

Why do we elevate some aspects of motherhood to places of idolatry and “rightness” and either feel shame or disappointment if we somehow “don’t measure up”? Why do we look down our noses at others who may have chosen differently, thus perpetuating this vicious cycle?

I couldn’t help my stomach doing a little flip-flop when I heard two of the pregnant moms (who have already delivered children vaginally) voice their disappointment that they may be facing C-sections with these babies. They had been advised by their midwives—for various reasons—that a smooth vaginal delivery may not be possible, so they should prepare for possible C-sections.

“I’ve already delivered naturally. Why can’t I do it again?” one of the women said. “I don’t want to have a C-section.”

And then my guns came out swinging (in my head). Why don’t you want a C-section?, I thought. What’s wrong with a C-section?

You know what? Had it not been for a C-section, I would most likely not be here today. My mother could have died in childbirth and/or lost me in childbirth. If I weren’t here, then my kids wouldn’t be here (and incidentally, all of my kids were born by C-section, too!). In my world, C-sections are good things!

I’m not coming down hard on my friends. I know their hearts and believe they don’t really “look down” on C-sections or people who have them.

But that conversation served as a reminder to me that I’m still not quite beyond comparing myself to other women, especially in the mothering area. I’m not quite past the feelings of inferiority as I measure myself against other women because I just care too dang much what others think of me. And yes, I’m reminded that my heart still houses thoughts of judgment and condemnation towards others when I think I’ve got a “better” something—whatever the case may be.

Friends, could we mothers just let go putting others in our preconceived parameters of what’s “right”? Can we give each other a little grace to breathe, to occasionally mess up, and to also taste success? Are you with me?

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Motherhood Monday
I’m trying something new. Each Monday, I’ll post about one aspect of motherhood. I want you to participate! I’ll give a writing prompt then ask you to link up your Motherhood Monday post the following week. 

Writing prompt for July 26, 2010: Talk about the role of comparison to others as you mother. What has been the most challenging? How do you overcome it? What advice regarding comparison to others would you give a new or expectant mother? 

Come back here next week to link up your post! 

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For further reading, check out “The Snare of Compare,” a blog post series at girl talk
I found it really helpful with this issue. 


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The Secret of the Sisterhood

When I meet a first-time expectant mother, I have some misgivings.

Usually her eyes are dancing and her face is frozen in a huge grin. Her belly is swollen with the life inside. She’s going to be a mommy. And expectant moms of multiples are especially chipper. Wow! Two (or more) babies.

Do I break it to her? Do I dare tell her the secret we in this Sisterhood know to be true? Do I tell her about the hardship, the depression, the tears?

Oh, but she knows already. Yes, she’s heard everyone talk about the sleepless nights. She knows Brooke Shields’ story. She may even know my story (the hardship, the depression, the tears).

Yet those maternal instincts—the desire for a baby—override reality. She floats around in a fantasy world for nine months until the first contraction hits.

See, I’m the most idealistic person I know. I kid you not, I had (OK—I still have them sometimes) daydreams of getting all sorts of chores accomplished in my picket-fence-surrounded cottage while my little cherub slept peacefully (on a schedule) in the bassinet next to the large picture window. (Yes, I hear you laughing.)

Imagine my surprise when I found myself sobbing in a tattered bathrobe that reeked of sour breast milk.

What was I thinking? Me, a mother? This was no June Cleaver adventure! Where was my cottage? God gave me a colicky, screaming baby (and later, TWO colicky, screaming babies), not sleeping cherubs. A friend once said that she believes people always say to the expectant mother to enjoy her upcoming “sweet time” because NOBODY actually does enjoy it. It’s not sweet! It’s agony.

I think—through some odd combination of God-ordained amnesia, romanticism, and those ambiguous “motherhood hormones”—we re-write our own histories by living vicariously through our pregnant friends and relatives.

I really have no recollection of much of those early days. It’s kind of like an alternate reality. I KNOW I went through it. I KNOW I lived it. I do remember some aspects of the pain. But it almost feels like I remember a movie I watched. Yes, it was an emotional experience. Yes, the feelings can come flooding back. But, now—unlike then—it seems like it was all worth it and then some.

No, it’s not a June Cleaver cottage. It’s not the easiest road. It’s the hardest work EVER. It’s giving yourself to one or more human beings every single day.

That’s what makes it so rewarding.

But it’s HARD. Did I say that already?

And, so, I do feel a certain obligation to the Sisterhood. I want to warn her. I want to tell her that more than likely, it’s not going to turn out like she thinks.

But the good news is that it’s not going to turn out like she thinks.

After the tears are dry and the sleep returns and she starts moving in her groove, one day she’ll notice something unfamiliar.

The feeling of overwhelming love is unlike anything you’ve experienced or expect.

Maybe that’s the most wonderful sisterhood secret of all.