Our first ‘child’ (when your boy starts sprouting a moustache it feels ever so slightly inaccurate to call him a ‘child’. A ‘mini man’ or ‘man in progress’ sounds a bit more on point) is almost fifteen so we’ve been out of the baby game for a number of years. A high number of years, at that. So, when I became pregnant with our daughter, who is now eight months, I was abruptly reminded of the competitiveness that comes with baby parenting. It’s like as soon as those two blue lines show on the pee stick, you are automatically entered into some sort of insane parenting league where you compete against your nearest and dearest friends as if you are life long rivals. And it doesn’t matter if you don’t want to be competing in that league. You’ve got no choice. You’re pregnant now. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to grip on to the idea that it is undeniably ridiculous to compete with one another on such a subject as parenting, you are drawn into it, against your will, and before you know it, you catch yourself saying something like ‘In my twelve week scan my baby signed the lyrics to ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ with its bare hands inside the womb, what did you see in your scan?’ and sounding like one prized muppet.
Months later I sharp remembered the competitiveness that surrounds birthing. This is something I will never understand. There are two camps with this one. You can enter the competition for the ‘Best Birth Ever’ or the ‘Worst Birth Ever’. Who in their right mind would compete against each other for having the worst birth experience? Why oh why? Having had lots of friends and acquaintances who have had babies (and enjoy discussing their birth experience in GREAT detail), I can say with absolute certainty that people do. Whether it’s the biggest birth weight squeezed through the smallest hips, the highest degree tears, the injuries sustained, the longest labour, the worst midwife – mums compete for the ‘worst birth’ title with steely determination.
Then there’s the ‘Best Birth Ever’ camp. This tends to be the competition that the pain free, drug free, hypno birthing, pushed-out-in-fifteen-minutes-while-the-midwife-was-on-her-lunch-break mums enter. I’ve seen mums fiercely compete against each other for who gave their baby the most peaceful, relaxing, smooth and tranquil transition into the world.
As a C-Section mum, one time round out of the two, I have experienced feeling rather lost in these discussions at times, like I don’t really have a place in this oh so special league. Not that I would want to be competing. But, you know what I mean. I’m a none-breast-feeding, C-section mamma. The worst kind! It doesn’t matter why I didn’t breast feed. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t personally elect for a section, or not to breast feed, actually. I’m judged on the start to life I gave my baby, whether I actively opted to give her that start to life or not. And I didn’t, by the way. But the very fact I felt I needed to justify that, is what makes it so sad.
I think that being a mother is the most challenging, the most rewarding, and the most important job in the world all rolled into one. We all know it’s damn hard. It’s nigh on impossible at times. We wouldn’t change it for the world, but there is no denying it is tough. So, why do we compete? Why do we make the job harder by entering into discussions that could potentially leave us feeling extremely inadequate and negative about our own ability as parents? Why are we so judgemental? Why are we drawn in to pathetic conversations where we debate who had the worst / best birthing experience? Fast forward a few months and we’ll be competing about Baby Led Weaning, or whose baby has moved through the weaning stages quickest, who makes the most exotic home made purees, then whose baby is sitting up unsupported first, then crawling, then walking, then speaking – who knows where it ends. My boy is almost fifteen, and I’m glad to say that I definitely haven’t been drawn into silly competitive chat in a while. However, I do take great pleasure in announcing his excellent grades on Facebook. Those posts are 99% fuelled with pride. 1% fuelled with ‘you told me my baby wouldn’t be as clever because he wasn’t breast fed. Well, there you go. A* in English. Boom.’ So, I suppose, there’s an element of competition no matter their age.
I would very much like it to stop, though. I don’t know why, as grown and mature adults, we are drawn into that sort of behaviour. It’s not a fantastic example to set for our little, milestone-meeting darlings. Take birthing for example: giving birth is not a day out at the races. Naturally done or otherwise. It is hardcore stuff. Physically and mentally gruelling. Sometimes it doesn’t go to plan and some of us are genuinely left traumatised by our experiences. To have to listen to others dreamily recall every minute of their ‘perfect birth’ can be hard. Really hard. I don’t think there’s many winners in this sort of competition. At one stage or another we will all come away from a playdate (the type of playdate you have at Costa) googling ‘what should my baby be doing at x months?’ after being made to feel like someone else’s baby, or their parenting, is better than yours.
We need to stand up and acknowledge that us women are nothing short of amazing. What our bodies are capable of doing, when ‘growing’ and giving birth to a baby, is miraculous. We get through those birthing experiences, whether good or bad, fuelled by a mothers love. That love is strong. Powerful. The biggest love of all. What, as human beings, we are capable of doing in the name of being a mum, is astounding.
It’s the same for raising a child or children. It is bloody hard. Exhausting. Draining, too, at times. Yet there we are. Rain or shine. In sickness or in health. There we are, doing the most amazing job in the world: Being a mum. Sod the competition, that’s something to celebrate right there. We are amazing, ladies. Pop the cork on that bottle of Moet that’s been sitting in the fridge waiting for a justifiably ‘good enough’ reason to open it; we’ve got something to celebrate. Withdraw your entry from that competition. It’s not worth competing in. You know why? Because we’re all bloody amazing, that’s why!
Next time you overhear a mum preaching how good or bad their birth was, or arguing that their child is more advanced than yours, congratulate them. Then leave. Leave with the knowledge that you are just as amazing as them. Because you’re a mum. And all mums are amazing.