One thing I’ve noticed from online baby forums is … the excessive amount of mummy guilt.
Once upon a time, mothers did things in a relatively guilt-free way. They smoked and even drank sometimes during pregnancy. They probably did have some soft cheese with their wine. They left their babies to cry it out at night. I don’t agree with any of these things (well, except maybe the soft cheese), but it seems the pendulum always swings from one extreme to the other, and never stops long enough in the middle.
The mummy guilt (and judgements) start early in pregnancy (when you soon realise having a baby isn’t about you, but everyone else … apparently). Women are terrified because they drank before they realised they’d conceived. Smokers don’t know whether they’re supposed to quit, or if withdrawals will make things worse for the baby. The list of “What Not To Eat In Pregnancy” has grown ridiculously long … Women stress that they may spontaneously miscarry because their omelette had miniscule pieces of ham in it. For everyone who tells them not to worry, someone else will pop up with a story of how their neighbour’s uncle’s best friend’s dog’s previous owner’s wife had contracted listeria during pregnancy from soft cheese, or how the postman’s second cousin’s nanny gave birth to a baby with foetal alcohol syndrome when she swore she’d “only had a couple of drinks the whole pregnancy”. Women who will scoff all the junk food under the sun during pregnancy will say self-righteously to anyone who dares admit to half-a-drink on their birthday, “You wouldn’t give your baby alcohol once it’s born, so why would you do it in the womb?” Well, I kinda didn’t think they’d give their baby chocolate or chips once it’s born either.
The mummy guilt continues in ways that I never believed possible. When I see friends doing something with or making decisions about their baby that I personally don’t agree with, I think, “Is it directly endangering the baby’s life? No? Maybe I should mind my own business then.” Apparently, that’s not a common sentiment. (Not even from the very people I’ve held my own tongue with.)
I’ve seen women castigated for electing a caesarean, even when they have sound medical reasons, and being told they’re “too posh to push”. (Most of these things are, of course, done online, from people who wouldn’t dare say it to their face.) And on the flipside, I’ve seen women who intend a natural birth being talked out of it as natural is “barbaric”. (Encouragement is usually not a big thing with guilt-trippers.)
Everyone apparently has the right to know if you’re going to breastfeed or formula feed. If you say formula, watch out. If you say breast, you will be asked how long for, and told either it’s not long enough (WHO currently recommends 2.5 years), or that you should only aim for six months because you’ll be sick of it by then. (Like I said … encouragement is not the theme.) Some women, incredibly, have even been told they’re selfish for breastfeeding, because it takes bonding away from other family members, and now the grandparents will have to wait to babysit overnight until you have finished producing booby juice naturally, like HOW COULD YOU TAKE THAT AWAY FROM THEM. (I can’t imagine that when I’m a grandmother, the first thing on my mind will be, “Yay, I would love my sleep disturbed every couple of hours by a newborn again, and please make the nappies extra-pooey because I MISS THAT SO MUCH!”)
Don’t even get me started on vaccination debates. They never end well. Apparently both sides are child abusers who either want to see their babies die of horrible diseases or of horrible ingredients. Yeah, ’cause we all set out to do the worst we can as a mother. (Oh, and everyone thinks they have the right to ask you bluntly about whether you will or not. “None of your effing business” should be a suitably blunt response.)
There are so, so many other things to feel guilt over. Do you co-sleep? Depending on who you listen to, it’s either a SIDS risk or SIDS prevention, and your child will either become secure and emotionally healthy, or will form a disturbing attachment that’ll see them still in your bed at 21. Are you going to feed solids at four months (“Too early – digestive system not ready”) or six months (“Too late – iron stores depleting”) or even later (“Aren’t you worried you’re STARVING your BABY?”)? And what solids will you start with? Iron-fortified rice cereal (“You need to build up your baby’s iron stores, which magically deplete at six months”) or plain fruit and veg (“Baby rice cereal is so outdated, starting them on a carb is bad habit, and plus it’s processed”)? Purees? Well, yes, if you want to delay speech development and make your baby dependent on spoon-feeding till they’re 15. Baby-led weaning? Well, I hope you know first aid because your baby may choke.
Baby falls asleep at the breast? You’re creating bad habits for later and a rod for your own back. Baby doesn’t fall asleep at the breast? You’re going against nature, as breastmilk releases a chemical specifically to help babies do just that. Rock to sleep? You’re creating a rod for your own back. (I seriously want to ban that phrase.) Don’t rock to sleep? That’s so cruel, don’t you know the baby has just been rocked to sleep for nine months inside and now you expect it to go cold turkey.
When your baby’s crying of tiredness, someone will insist it’s hungry. When it’s hungry, someone will tell you it’s just wind. When it’s wind, someone will say they’re cold. Apparently even strangers on the street will know your baby better than you.
Everyone seems to have the answer on why your baby isn’t sleeping, without having spent one night at yours. Tizzie Hall is either the saviour of all babykind, or the dangerous antichrist putting babies at risk. Whatever the case, if you don’t help your baby get the “proper” amount of uninterrupted sleep per day, you are DESTROYING THEIR DEVELOPMENT. But if you do try sleep training, be prepared to be told how cruel you are. Your baby shouldn’t be allowed to cry for a second. In fact, don’t even go to the toilet. Wear a nappy yourself. If there’s something on the stove, let the kitchen burn. A baby being allowed to cry for one second is a baby being neurologically DAMAGED BEYOND REPAIR.
Actually, all I want to ask is … is your baby alive and relatively happy? WELL DONE. You are surviving a difficult part of motherhood. Now go have a coffee. (Unless you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Because that is … oh, what the hell.)