One of the Broads I trust most in the world texted me the other day and said something that slapped me silly in the best possible way: “Most of the things that people say to you when you first have a baby are all negative.”
Ok woman, you have my attention.
This Broad is someone who has openly discussed her challenges with anxiety and has helped my understanding of this bewildering world of overwhelming emotions. She also happens to be a new mom. I've watched her transition into motherhood with fascination. I've sat, perched, staring at the phone, just waiting to employ all of my Postpartum Doula skills, and with two broad (lowercase b) shoulders to cry on for the inevitable breakdown that all mothers surely have.
All mothers have breakdowns, don't they?
I see this friend almost every week, and she's thriving. The first few weeks postpartum, I kept trying to hide my surprise, or at the least, minor disappointment that I didn't have a chance to prove my postpartum whisperer prowess.
When she texted me that amazing observation the other day, she gave the example of someone asking her how her baby was sleeping. She said “good” (considering it’s a baby, and no baby sleeps through the night. Ever.), but “good” wasn’t an acceptable answer, apparently, because the retort was “Oh yeah? Just wait until…”
This clearly isn't limited to new moms or pregnant women, but the things we say to new moms and preggos are fascinating. Think of the last time you talked to a pregnant woman. Did you ask her something like, “how bad is your morning sickness?” And if she says she’s feeling great, did you say, “oh yeah? Wait until heartburn.” We love giving people horror stories. “I was in labor for three and a half months, and the baby had to be born through my mouth, and I tore so bad, I was actually two people for about thirty minutes. I hope you don’t poop on the nurse.”
<An aside: every single person who has ever gotten pregnant within in cell range has asked me if they will poop in labor. I’m not the poop whisperer. Stop asking.>
This phenomenon blows my mind (not poop…how we talk to people). We do this all day long. If we ask someone in the hall at work how they're doing, and if they say, "wow, great! I'm well rested, and I had a good breakfast, and I'm not really caught up at work, but I'm not super overwhelmed", we want to slit their tires just to give them something to sulk about.
Conversely, if we ask someone how they're doing, and they say, "Ugh, I'm not 100% today. I'm really behind at work, and my girlfriend is giving me the stink eye and I'm not sure what I did. I just ate three strawberry pop tarts, and I'm not sleeping that well", we'rehorrified that anyone could actually tell you the truth.
I guess we're aiming for Truman Show-esque interactions with no honesty or room for emotion.
My friend who’s having an <annoyingly> fine postpartum period, started to think that maybe people didn’t believe her, that maybe she was coming off as the fake girl we know on social media that do all of the Pinterest birthday parties for their kids. Or seem to have an endless amount of time to take professional photos every weekend of their family sitting in the middle of a park wearing matching shirts and no one is crying. That never show their messes, or that they’re hung over and forgot to wipe the mascara from under their eyes, and that use #blessed unironically, even when you know they’re dying a little inside. No one wants to like these people, because most of the time they’re full of it, and if they’re not full of it, we try to bring them down to our level in the sewer with the rest of the unwashed masses. We all want to know that other people have weird black hairs that grow in inconvenient places near their ears.
Why are we so competitive with this crap? The hard truth is that competition is bred from insecurity. (If you just screamed, “I’M THE LEAST COMPETATIVE PERSON THAT I KNOW!”, you’ve just given me a writing job for life.) It just seems like everything these days is focused on the negative, doesn’t it? And negative loves negative.
What if we could shift perspectives? I mean, perspective is the only real thing we have control over. Sheesh, we don’t even have control over the voice(s) in our heads, but we can choose how we decide to look at the world.
“Whoa Nelly!” you cry. “Are you trying to say that we can just think happy thoughts and we won’t have anxiety/depression/mood shifts/grief/meat sweats??”
No, and don’t call me Nelly.
Anyone who can read this, or is having it read to them by their live-in man servant who feeds them DeFazio’s pizza on a chaise lounge, please understand me clearly: if you are having a hard time, or do not feel yourself, don’t use blogs and social media to make yourself feel better. Go talk to someone today.
Having said that, I think we need to really step back from the groupthink culture of “Happiness or Bust”. It’s not all or nothing. There are good days and bad days. We should set realistic expectations for the things we’re experiencing. We should be asking where the balance is between having realistic expectations while not allowing ourselves to go down a rabbit hole of negativity.
I focus on moms because they’re what keep my Amazon shopping habit thriving, but let me stress that this is a daily practice for me (read: bloody knuckle street fight), and I know this goes for everyone. My job is to show new moms (and dads) that being a new parent is going to be hard and change your life…and that it’s doable, and worth it. If we’re doing our jobs as friends and love ones, we should be giving enough space for people to have the good and bad days, and not assuming what will come next.
I think we don’t like the space. We just can’t take silence. We don’t even like the quiet in between breaths before we pick up our phones to make ourselves feel better. When my friend brought this topic up to me the other day, I had to really think about how I listen as a Postpartum Doula and as a friend. Am I shoehorning my own thoughts into a conversation when my assumptions about what they’re feeling are wrong?
I think we need to start having different conversations. This week, I’m going to practice using space to allow people to be sad when they need it, and embrace it when they don’t. When someone tells me they’re doing well (assuming I actually ask), I’m going to smile and ask them for details, and then remind myself that they’re not pointing their beautiful life at me.
To my friend who is selfishly doing really well in her first 6 weeks postpartum: I’m happy that you have set expectations for yourself that encourage you to thrive. I’m happy that you have the clarity to change your perspective when things get tough, and I know you have set yourself up with an amazing support network to keep operations running smoothly. Also, you’re really hurting business with all of your put-togetherness, and please have a meltdown soon.