Women are very relational; we just love to help! We see the needs of people around us and we want to fix it. We see people struggling and we want to offer advise on how to do it a better way. Sometimes our best intentions of doing the good deed of helping can actually be received as just the opposite.
When my son was suffering with an unknown illness, I was constantly on the receiving end of well-meaning advice. He had many symptoms: hives, weakness, inability to walk some days, refusal to eat, nightly vomiting (from 2 a.m. – 9 a.m.) and then recovering until 1 p.m. Others wouldn’t know the whole situation, but offer their advice on what I should be doing and if I just did that, he would “get better right away!” So many times I would listen and thank them, trying desperately not to cry from the crushing burden of this disease and then what felt like criticism on top of it. Every time another suggestion came, it felt like a critique of my mothering. If only I did this or that remedy my child would improve. The truth was that we had done everything – tried everything! – even flying to Phoenix to meet with a healthcare practitioner who worked in different ways than the normal doctor. Anything that we could do, we tried, and he didn’t improve. My heart was bleeding every time he wept in agony, gripping his sweet little head. And yet, perfect strangers would advise me since obviously I must not be doing something right. (As a side note, we did finally get the correct diagnosis and with a nightly injection of medication, he is almost symptom free.)
You would think, then, having been on that receiving end, I would be the first one to hold back on suggestions to others! Sadly, I find I’m just as guilty. And I had an incredible experience recently that put me in my place again. I am so grateful for this – we all need to be humbled from time to time. (Especially if it enables us to love others more completely!)
I recently gave birth to my sixth son. He is such a beautiful light in my life! His birth, however, was much different than his brothers. All of the previous five babies were born naturally and without medication. Now, believe me when I say that after each birth, the conversation usually included my husband telling me what a great job I did and I responded, “I’m such an idiot, why do I do this? The other women are so much smarter than I am!” But there is something about the natural birth process that was very empowering for me and so every time, that was the route I took.
I am definitely not an “everyone should go natural” advocate, however. Far from it. I was, though, less compassionate in my mind to those who chose to have an epidural, silently cheering their “easy way out” and slightly jealous, though confident in my own choice. Yet, with my sixth born son, because of a failure to progress, a need to use Pitocin (which I had experienced the torture of previously), and my anxiety raising, I chose to take the epidural. The experience was not what I expected. At. All.
The first hiccup was the needle being inserted incorrectly and creating pain shocks down my leg. The pain was so overwhelming my blood pressure plummeted and they had to give me medication immediately to keep me from blacking out. Second insert of the needle worked. Then, there was the long – waiting – of – n o t h i n g n e s s. I kept asking the nurse what I should be doing and, “nothing!” was the answer. I might not have been doing anything physically, but my heart, my emotions, and my thoughts were doing quite a lot. You know how they say exercise releases anxiety? As I sat there with my body numb, my feelings, which had built to a level of high anxiety began to numb as well. It wasn’t a release; I didn’t feel great. It was just stalled – everything in me seemed to be on hold.
At least when I birthed the natural way, although it was painful, I was active; I was doing. I was working out the anxiety, the pressure, the pain. I never realized the emotional burden that came with the ‘nothing.’ Giving birth to a baby is a monumental moment! And when I pushed my baby out (which I never would have known how to do had I not already given birth 5 times as I couldn’t feel anything!), it was just like a shrug, when I ought to be a trumpet blast! As the emotions slowly worked their way down over the next few days, the bliss of new baby eventually emerged. Yet how confusing it might be for a new mother to be emotionally numb when you “ought” to be happy. Also, how stupid I was to think that the natural way was the heroic and more difficult way!
The birth of a child is miraculous no matter which way he or she enters your world. Every mother is going to have challenges – emotionally and physically. In many ways, I realized, that despite not having to endure the pains of contractions, the epidural route was much more difficult emotionally. On behalf of natural birthing mothers who just don’t know any better, please allow me to apologize to all mamas who have to have an epidural or a C-section. I am so sorry for not seeing you in the choice. You have great dignity. You have profound worth in your motherhood. You have your own difficulties that are not the same as mine but are just as challenging. Please forgive me.
I share this experience hoping that it will help us all to hesitate before assuming we understand another’s situation, to ask questions out of concern and to listen with a compassionate heart. Let us offer advice only when it’s sought for and be a shoulder to cry on and an arm to hug instead. Let judgments disappear all together. We really do not know what it is like to walk in her shoes. You may be jealous of the adorable, sassy heels she can sport, but you have no idea the hidden blisters her smiles disguise.
Theresa Martin is a published author. Her book Woman, How Great Thou Art is available here. She blogs at New Feminism Rising.
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