I am feeling angry about something. I have had these thoughts before, but having a chat with a friend has brought these feelings back to the fore. I ignored them previously, as I think most mothers do, because we do not want to rock the boat. It is typical. We always find our voice when someone near us is hurt and not ourselves.
I suppose it is good that we can find our voice.
Having recently had to treat my own mental health with a little bit more cotton wool cushioning then usual, I am keenly aware of other parents and their mental health. Having kids is amazing and a rare gift. We also have to adjust to a whole new world and even if we are lucky enough to have fully healthy children who require little medical attention or we have no major financial struggle or family issues, this can be difficult. Add other challenges and it is, as you can imagine, possibly more difficult to adjust to being a mother.
In this world where being Perfect Parent is a huge pressure, it is even more likely that our mental health night suffer.
So you can imagine my horror when my friend, with two under three like myself, quietly related an anecdote to me that must have sat with her for some time.
She told me all without vitriol in her tone, without bitterness. It was a sadly told tale of a dejected feeling imposed upon her in the early days of parenting.
We were analysing and talking, feeling our way through parenting over coffee and generally supporting each other. Telling cute stories of what our babies did or said, sharing tips or notes. I talked a little about my own Judge Dodo experiences. My friend had some thoughts on this, but said she had hadn’t felt those judgements at all. In fact, she said, the only real judgement she felt in the city was if you chose not to breastfeed or had stopped breast feeding early. I was able to say that I hadn’t felt those judgments myself in my area. She went on to talk about an early days experience she had with her first. Having moved to a new place, she was away from family and old friends and conscious she could become quite lonely with a small baby on maternity leave. Her PH nurse advised a Parent and Baby group. My PH nurse advised me the same even though I was surrounded by friends and family, saying that you need to get out and talk to other parents. My doctor had advised the same. Good for mental health. It is common practise to encourage a new mother to join these groups. So my friend did. She arrived at a meeting. She was told it was for breast feeding mothers only. Having stopped breastfeeding (not that it was anyone’s business) she had to turn around with her buggy and tot, pack up and go home. This made me fume. A new mother rejected just when she needed others.
Imagine it. You are a new mother, a new parent, in a strange area feeling your way through life. You go out on a limb, put yourself our of your comfort zone and try meet other people in the same boat as you. However, because of your decisions regarding your own child, you are turned away. I don’t know about my friend, but I know if it had been me I round have teared up. I know because I had spent time in a hospital with my first could who was born ill and I had anxiety after having my second baby. This cruel exclusion would have tipped me over on either occasion.
Surely the group leaders know how tough it is to get organised and get out the door as a parent with a baby? How can they justify this type of segregation?
Can you imagine if a Parent and child group turned away a parent for breastfeeding?
Can you imagine the outcry if a sign read Bottle-Feeding Only Group?
Can you imagine a vegetarian restaurant turning away a chicken nugget lover due to their carnivorous leanings?
On the reverse, can you imagine the rage that a vegan, a vegetarian or a coeliac (or anyone) would feel if they were turned away from an eating establishment?
There are many reasons a parent may or not breastfeed. This could be a very tough subject for someone.
How dare a group decide to be exclusively a breast feeding one? It is a discrimination.
When did becoming a mother mean joining the cast of Mean Girls?
Can I make it clear- I am in absolute favour of breastfeeding. I also am in favour of bottle feeding. You can like both cats and dogs you know even if loud voices are forcing you to choose. I am in favour of nourishment.
My mother’s time was an era where bottle feeding was more popular. I was exclusively bottle fed.
I have managed to get a few college degrees and read the odd book with big words. It hasn’t affected my intelligence that I was an SMA child. I also know that there were no mother and baby groups in my Mum’s time and that wasn’t good either. She needed the support that wasn’t there but we are blessed to have it now. We all need the help. Whatever we choose for our babies.
I remember witnessing an unpleasant encounter in a hotel bar restaurant one day. It was not long after my husband and I married but before we had children. I saw a young couple with two small children, one of which was a baby, arriving for Sunday lunch. The mother breastfed her child at the table. They were all there to have their lunch, so fair enough. I wouldn’t have even noticed only an elderly couple next to the family complained to them and I looked up when I heard the fractious tones. It was all quite awful. This should not be the way. Feeding a baby is feeding a baby, wherever and how you do it. We can support each other better than that.
So these exclusive Mother and Baby groups need to get their act together. This elderly couple were not going to change their minds at this stage ( I am unaware of their own parenting status) but a young mother doesn’t have to be made feel guilty and wretched by other parents. As a teacher, I don’t agree with turning away a new student on the grounds that they have a different faith, belief or any reason really. Therefore, l feel the same for a new Mother. When that group turned away my friend that day, did they realise the harm they may have had done? She feeds her baby, loves her baby. It is not like bottle feeding Mamas are filling their bubbas with Coca-Cola or spoon feeding them mashed up Rolos. I don’t see how the person who turned away my friend didn’t just offer her a chance to come in and have a coffee with the other parents, seeing as she has made the journey. I am sure the others wouldn’t have minded at all.
Mothers, we need to be there for each other. Don’t turn on each other. We are at our most vulnerable with a new child. Respect each other’s choices. Let us be kinder. We just don’t know what is really happening in people’s lives. A kindness could be a total game changer.