One week ago I read Jenny Studenroth Gerson’s lovely viral article, “They Should’ve Warned Me,” and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I drove to the grocery store, mulling over exactly why the post rubbed me the wrong way, and thinking about what I would say to balance out the idyllic image of motherhood the author projected. I shopped as quickly as I could, raced back home, threw my groceries on the counter, and sat down to my computer. I typed this response post as fast as I could, and hit publish.
“I’m Glad They Told Me” is the first post that has ever gone viral on my website. I was floored. The response from other mothers who had a similar reaction to Gerson’s post was overwhelming. I was truly humbled by the support and sharing. A few days later, Huffington Post ran my response, and the comments and messages kept coming. From the bottom of my heart, I thank each of you who took the time to read, share, or comment on this post. I was so moved by how many women reached out to me to share their own perspectives. It became clear to me that many mothers felt ashamed and isolated after reading Gerson’s article, well-intentioned though it may have been, as their experiences had been a far cry from hers. They felt their voices had not been heard.
Of course, there were many people who agreed with Gerson that the often negative warnings (sleep while you can, enjoy your marriage now, your body will never be the same…) issued to expectant mothers were unnecessary, and that it was fantastic to finally hear a mother sharing her wonderful transition to motherhood. In fact, I too agreed that the constant dismal “warnings” are counterproductive and often mean-spirited.
But what if we didn’t do either of those things—fill mothers’ heads with unrealistic, sugar-coated imagery OR try to scare the bejeezus out of them with horror stories and unkind warnings? What if, instead, we just supported mothers? What if we gave them the room to speak honestly and openly about their experiences, including the ugly, hard-t0-hear stuff? What if we compassionately shared our own truths without a hidden, possibly malicious “warning” attached to it? Those warnings often magnify the underlying competitiveness that sometimes accompanies motherhood. When we hear those dire predictions, it often sounds like somebody else had a miserable time and hopes that we do, too. Or that maybe they want to one-up us with how hard they had it.
Being honest about the darker side of motherhood is different from that. It doesn’t look like a finger-pointed warning from a distance. It’s up close, and it originates from a place of empathy and truth. It allows the space for all experiences—the shiny, heart-bursty, magical moments of being a parent and also those moments we resent. Changing the cultural dialogue about motherhood means preparing women for the reality that they may struggle at first, but gently telling them not to panic, because we all struggle sometimes and it’s perfectly normal. Sharing a more complete picture of motherhood offers women a safety net, a support group, and a resource when they need help.
There were plenty of things I wish I’d been “warned” about. For me, trying to get pregnant wasn’t all giggles and dreams and fireworks in bed. It was the beeping of a basal thermometer, and miscarriages, and blood draws. It was feeling defective and broken and afraid. I also recall crushing disappointment when it was clear that my newborn would no longer adapt easily to my social schedule.
When my firstborn was four weeks old, I was a bridesmaid in my best friend’s wedding. Another guest had twins that were about six weeks older than my baby. She and I babbled on about sleeping and breastfeeding and schedules and then she asked, “Does nursing still hurt?” I nodded emphatically, surprised at her question. Most people had told me that it wouldn’t hurt after the first week or two, but I was in agony every single time. Once I had thrown a pillow across the room, watching it knock over a vase, as I had reached peak frustration with the nursing pain. I hadn’t known anyone else who had experienced the lingering discomfort that I had.
“It hurt me for eight whole weeks,” my new friend confided. “And then it just went away, and it got better. It gets so, so much easier. You’re almost there” My eyes filled with tears. I was understood. There was hope. I never forgot her words; she threw me a lifeline in a way that nobody else could. And she was right, too: at exactly eight weeks, nursing became a piece of cake.
Instead of offering volumes of unwanted negativity or blowing sunshine up your maternity skirt, what if we offered compassionate, well-intentioned, helpful truths to comfort and uplift mothers? I am teaming up with my partner Jessica Smock at The HerStories Project to issue a challenge to mothers this week. We want to hear from YOU now. Did anyone throw you a life preserver at some point—either during your pregnancy, postpartum period, or even later into motherhood? Did someone give you a piece of advice or an honest admission that you were profoundly grateful for?
Maybe somebody gave you permission to feel your feelings, or to let go of something. This week, all across social media, we are using the hashtag #sogladtheytoldme and asking moms to share the pieces of truth and wisdom they’ve received. Things like this:
- I’m so glad they told me it was OK not to be perfect.
- I’m so glad they told me some days would be awful.
- I’m so glad someone told me that nursing freaking hurts in the beginning.
- I’m so glad they told me I’m not the only one who feels this way.
- I’m so glad they told me that my hips might never be the same, but that my new body is beautiful, too.
- I’m so glad they told me that help is available.
- I’m so glad they told me my kids might annoy the crap out of me, and not to feel guilty.
- I’m so glad they told me I might not feel like getting dressed. Or showered.
- I’m so glad they told me I might become obsessed with the baby’s nap schedule.
- I’m so glad they told me I might miss my old life a little. Or a lot.
- I’m so glad they told me it’s impossible to do everything, and to stop trying.
Or maybe nobody told you anything like this. What do you wish you’d been told? What piece of advice or truth would have helped you to feel less alone as a mother? We want to use #sogladtheytoldme as a way to spread a broader, more balanced vision of what motherhood is really like, aside from the beautiful rainbows and sunshine stuff. Not that those feelings aren’t a hugely important part of motherhood, because they are. They are essential. But our culture is already flooded with serene imagery and idealization of what it means to be a mother. Let’s put the other side of the picture out there in a compassionate way. Let’s all add our voices and share our truths in the coming months. Let’s make an impact with #sogladtheytoldme. And remember, even if you didn’t get a message that you were grateful for, add a new story of your own and use the hashtag to share some comfort and compassion for another mom, even if it wasn’t something that happened for you.
We’d love to see your photos of your personal “I’m so glad they told me…” signs. Mothers everywhere, please take a photo of yourself holding your sign and share it on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook with our #sogladtheytoldme hashtag. Or just post a photo of your sign, or a simple text only post. Bloggers, we’d love for you to write your own blog posts or and share them with #sogladtheytoldme. Let’s spread a compassionate, real, honest message about motherhood as far as we can.
You can also email (use the contact me button above) or Facebook message me your photo if you prefer. Jessica and I will be compiling photos in our #sogladtheytoldme campaign to create a photo gallery sharing your amazing, powerful voices. Please spread the word to all the mamas you know! Together we can change the conversation about motherhood.
I was thrilled to be interviewed by both Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens and WGN’s Patti Vasquez this week. You can read Heidi’s fantastic column here.
And here’s an easy way to add the advice you received, or the advice you’d GIVE, to join the conversation. Fill out this easy form:
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