Leave Meghan Markle (and Other New Mums) the Fuck Alone!by Kirsty Taylor-Moran
Whether it is out and about at the supermarket or at mother and baby groups, somebody will have an opinion on how you are caring for your baby. The tactless, nosy and rude people will let you know their thoughts, and in my experience, the worst culprits for mum shaming are other mums.
It starts when you are still pregnant, perhaps a colleague raising an eyebrow when you order a non-decaffeinated coffee, the head tilting when they ask you whether you will take the full year of maternity leave or whether you prefer to ‘rush back’ to the office. Your meal choices, your chosen brand of antenatal vitamins and even your choice of footwear will be open to criticism. A prime example of extreme, and very public, mum shaming is how Megan Markle has been depicted in the Press. Imagine having the fucking audacity to cradle your own baby bump? For shame!
Again, you may experience it when you are at the hospital, made to feel weak and pathetic for asking to discuss pain relief options. Midwives will tut and scold you for not putting enough blankets on your baby in a ward that is roasting hot. When you meet other new mums, questions about your labour and delivery are the new pleasantries. Before having a baby I would not have dreamed about asking anyone about their medical history, but ‘did you tear?’ is the new ‘how about this weather?!’.
My baby is 5 months old and I’m just coming to terms with the fact that every choice I make for him seems to be fair game for scrutiny from others. A friend has described the intrusive and often interrogative approach by health visitors as if the state owns your baby and they are deciding whether or not you are competent enough to be allowed to care for him or her. Safeguarding is obviously an important factor, but you can expect a series of questions about your parenting style every time you visit a WellBaby clinic to have your baby weighed. You will be asked if you are breastfeeding, if you are co-sleeping, whether you are responsive to baby’s demands. It can be very overwhelming, especially when you are given the impression that there is very much a right or wrong answer.
This ridiculous, constant judgement breeds defensiveness. Mums that are beleaguered with guilt or sense that you might disagree with their decisions often feel the need to give detailed backstories, or even lie, to explain why they have chosen a certain path. I notice this most with mums who are giving their babies formula, I’ve been told stories that sound well-rehearsed because they are so used to having to explain themselves to all and sundry when it isn’t even anybody else’s business how a mum chooses to feed her baby. I have been praised both by health care professionals and random strangers in cafes for breastfeeding, but I have a real problem with this. On the one hand, it is nice to be acknowledged because I have had a terrible time with breastfeeding and it continues to be really hard work, but I feel praise is inappropriate. With the ‘well done you’ or ‘you’ve done well to come this far’ is the implicit judgement that I would not be doing as well if I had chosen not to breastfeed. Women are judged in all aspects of daily life and a decision to formula feed should not be another stick with which to beat us. We know that ‘Breast is best’, but the loaded question of how you have chosen to feed your child can only serve to make new mums feel shit about their parenting ability.
We see this again with Meghan Markle. How could she leave her baby to go on a jolly to support a friend? Isn’t she supposed to be breastfeeding? How selfish and irresponsible she is! First of all, breastfeeding and leaving your baby are not mutually exclusive, and secondly, her son has two parents. Men are not reviled publicly for abandoning their children to pursue hobbies, go to work or socialise, mums should not be either.
I have been asked my baby’s weight by complete strangers, chastised for not putting a hat on his head in 25-degree weather. I have been met with a disgusted expression when answering a question about which hospital I chose to give birth at. Even the judgement that isn’t an overt statement of criticism is beyond irritating; the ‘oh, you have given him a dummy?’ accompanied by a pitying look. It is endless, and quite frankly, it’s fucking boring.
In a local mum’s group, one mum spoke of how she was thinking about returning to work sooner, after ‘just’ six months. This was met with a collective sharp intake of breath and wide eyes by most of the other mums. If you can’t find support in a group of women who are experiencing the same thing as you, what hope is there for wider society? Caring for a baby is monotonous and maternity leave is not that fun. Of course, I adore my baby and much of caring for him is extremely rewarding, but it is also relentless and exhausting, and I can completely understand why a mum would want to go back to work for a break, the income or just some intellectual stimulation.
Next time you ask a mother a question about her child, first ask yourself why you are asking that question? Will you be measuring her answer against your own experiences parenting? Or will you offer unsolicited advice? Shaming mums for how they have chosen to dress, feed or care for their child is spiteful, particularly because many new mums will be emotionally fragile and already second-guessing everything they do for their baby. The feeling of being judged really undermines your ability to trust your instincts, this is bad for baby too. So leave us. the fuck. alone.