There’s something about pregnancy which opens you to other people’s opinions in a way I’ve never experienced before.
Friends and acquaintances had advice on my University choices, my work life decisions, advice when I got engaged and then married. But becoming a mama? It’s like nothing else. All of a sudden it’s as if I have a label on my forehead saying “clueless” and people are quick to start giving their penny’s worth.
I’m a first-time mama, it’s the first time I’ve gone past the first trimester, so I need help. I’m thinking about diet and stretch marks and maternity clothes. We’ve got to figure out things like car seats and baby-wraps, cloth nappies and what exactly a burp cloth is. And later, when our baby is refusing to sleep, or I’m not sure what exactly that red rash is, we’re going to need help again as we work out how to be good parents to our child.
I am not anti-advice.
But it becomes overwhelming sometimes.
I’m asked about names, about our nursery set up (do we have nurseries again now? That sounds like something from the Victorian upper class), evaluating the size of my bump (yes, it’s ridiculously small I know), cloth nappies vs disposables and then a long statement about the glories and disasters of baby poo, will I have an epidural, what about water birth or hypnobirthing, co-sleeping vs crying it out, do we know how we’ll teach our kids our two languages, will our parents come to visit at the beginning or later on, will we send it to local school or shell out for the international options…
Oh-Lord-have-mercy this child is only five months in my belly and you’re asking me about school?!
Each question is a potential minefield because it’s pretty certain the person asking has a very strong opinion about the answer and if I get it wrong, I’ll be subjected to a long monologue on why that is a huge mistake and I really don’t know anything yet and just-you-wait I’ll change my mind as soon as I realise…
I get it. I’m a woman of strong opinions myself. Get me started and I can give you studies and research to back up many of the decisions I’m taking as a pregnant woman, that I hope to take as a mama. I’m researching and learning and discovering. And so these stories are valuable to me, I need the breadth of experience of pregnancy and parenting to help me make up my own mind.
But you know what? I have no idea what kind of mother I will be, what kind of parents we will be. I have no idea what kind of child we will get, what his or her personality will be, whether she will sleep for blissful hours or keep me up crying (me as well as her) all night, whether he’ll adapt quickly to our multi-lingual existence or whether we’ll have to make adaptations to our lifestyle to accommodate his struggles.
It’s a massive unknown and I like that.
I like that we get to figure this out as we go. I like that we get to grow a new life together as a family of three with new patterns and new habits, informed by our own values and passions. I like that we get to learn together, face new challenges together. I like how adventurous it all feels.
Parents – and mothers in particular – want to tell me their experiences because they’ve learnt a lot along their journey, because sometimes they took decisions that turned out to be the wrong ones for their families at the time, because parenting can be damn hard and they want to save me some of the struggle.
Here’s what I know to be true – you can’t save us from the learning curve. It’s our own, unique to us and the child still growing inside me. We’ll get a lot right and probably we’ll get a lot wrong. Sometimes you’ll get to think “I told you so” triumphantly as we change a way we do something. But this is our journey, our path to travel as a family.
So tell me your stories, please don’t stop. But tell them with grace and a little understanding that we’re different people with different children on different paths. And what was right for you may not be right for me.
And love me when I realise I am making a complete mess of it. Remind me I am doing my best, because you are too, we all are.