The Long Way Home
"You're going to be a terrible mother," she said to me. I was a young teacher and obviously not yet a mother when I caught this comment. The woman who threw it was making a joke, I suppose, and what she was reacting to was my wobbly feelings about motherhood. It wasn't that I didn't love children or that I had made a decision about having them or not. It was that I had just begun teaching, something I had wanted to do for as long as I could remember. I was itching to dive deep into my passion. Having children seemed a long way off, and well, kind of scary. After all, I was the youngest of three siblings. My big sister took care of me. I had no experience with a younger brother or sister, let alone a baby. The older teacher's remarks were meant to be funny, but they hit home. Was I ever going to be a mother and would I be a terrible one I wondered?
As it turned out, the answer was yes and no, thank heavens. While I took my time to have my first baby, I think I did it at the right time for me. I was ready as was the case for all babies thereafter. And I think I have been a good mother. At least my daughters tell me I am and because it feels so nice when they say it, I'm going to go with that. But here is the point of this story: Motherhood, becoming a mother, being a mother is a deeply personal journey where one size does not fit all and where judgey people can really be problematic.
Women who have waited a long time to become pregnant; women who find themselves facing an unplanned pregnancy; women who are taking on the mantle of motherhood too young or all alone--the fact is not a single one of these women need judgement but they all need support. Sometimes the judgement comes from a co-worker who talks too much; sometimes it arises from our culture or is leveled by a parent or family member. The sources can vary but the result is always the same. Criticism, backhanded compliments, stupid jokes, and comments cloaked as 'kind advice' hit a new mother or mother-to-be or even a young woman contemplating motherhood where she lives. A strong woman secure in her ability and role may be able to shake it off (which is great by the way), but most women will question themselves and even feel diminished.
I had to learn to be a mother, and fortunately I was able to do so when I was ready. My oldest daughter never had to learn, really. She is a natural mother. I was at her side from day one when she had her first child. I still marvel at her when I look back. After a long labor and in the face of this brand new life she had just given birth to, she seemed serene. She was going to hold her baby, love her baby and breastfeed her baby and she would take the time needed to do it. The world could go spin on its axis. (Our children are often our best teachers.)
Thus far, I've doula'd young unwed mothers with the kind of courage I don't think I could have mustered at so young an age; new mothers living in poverty who have happily chosen to breastfeed because they feel it's the one thing they can give to their baby; as well as experienced moms who seem to have it all and all under control. Not a one of them wanted judgement and not a one of them deserved it. All were and remain fabulous mothers.
Mothering is hard work but it's important work and when all things are as they should be, it ends up being incredibly fulfilling work. I think being a doula is very similar.
I know many fellow doulas who have been doing what they do for a very long time. Then there are the really young ones who right out the gate have decided that the doula world is the world for them and they have jumped in headfirst. I know doulas, good ones, who have never had a child of their own, others who gave birth in their homes long before it was a thing. And I am in awe of every one of these women. But I am none of them. I have taken the long road home to being a doula. And I guess I know now why the above story about the teacher with a bad joke from long ago comes back to me. There is always a peanut gallery shouting at you or otherwise letting you know you just may not be good enough. As a woman who has fielded a few peanuts, I'm here to tell every mother out there, whether new, old, wannabe, or in spirit only, the heck with them. Take your journey, and invite me to join you. I know the route.