Competitive Mamas

“So… is she crawling yet?”

“So… is she sleeping through the night yet?”

“So… is she signing yet?”

“So… is she talking yet?”

When other mamas ask me these kinds of questions, my standard response has now become: “Willow will do it when she is ready, just like all babies.” I have complete faith that our daughter will do anything and everything in her own good time, just as she waited for the perfect time to enter our lives.  She will eventually do what all babies do, regardless of how early little Owen said “mama” or how soon little Angelique made the sign for “potty”.

As a child I had some delays in meeting infant and toddler developmental milestones, but I still ended up being placed in gifted education programs and growing up to become a productive member of society (albeit one who requires a GPS in order to get to the grocery store).

The “mama questions” are, more often than not, followed by either advice about how to encourage or force my daughter to master the desired skill, or by a list of the exact timeline of “accomplishments” of the offspring of the person asking the question.  I’m starting to realize that questions such as these are rarely a genuine expression of interest about Willow.  Instead, they are a socially accepted tool to allow one to offer unsolicited advice or to brag.  A way for another mama to justify the parenting choices she made, or to attempt to plump up her sagging self-esteem by presenting her child’s development as a reflection of herself.

Comparing our kids in this way is neither helpful, healthy, nor supportive.  The Nipissing and other developmental screening tools and regular check-ups by trained physicians are helpful in identifying children who may need appropriate assessments and follow-up from specialists, and as a teacher I am a big fan of early identification and intervention from the appropriate professionals.  I am not a fan of depending on a child’s rate of development for a parent’s own sense of self-worth, especially when it becomes a game of competing with other parents in a game of “whose child is the most advanced”.

Is this why I am not desperately trying to befriend other mamas (in the way that I was assured I would need to for the preservation of my “sanity”) and prefer to hang out with my original set of friends, most of whom either have older children or none at all?  It seems that mamas in many of my different circles (with a high degree of variance in socioeconomic, cultural and religious backgrounds) all end up having the same kinds of conversations.

Maybe it is okay to just honour myself by giving myself permission to be a wee bit of an introvert.

Again, it is hitting home that I will never truly be part of the Mommy Club. And I’m discovering that I’m okay with that.

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“Not meant to be a mother.”

“This is God’s way of saying that you are not meant to be a mother.”

A coworker said this to me, in a matter-of-fact tone, after inquiring why I wasn’t pregnant a year after getting married (I had stupidly not made it a secret that we wanted a family). To her, it was a simple statement based off of the latest book on spirituality that she had been perusing. She probably never thought of that conversation again. I eventually moved onto another job, wisely told NOBODY that we were trying for a baby, but obsessed over that comment every day for five years after it was uttered.

It’s what no fertility-challenged, loss-grieving woman wants to hear and what many of us, deep down, believe might be true. It is the stuff that depression, anxiety, and self-doubt are made of. It’s a powerful self-defeating delusion that can stop us from seeking treatment options or from moving on to adoption.

Here’s the thing. If God/the Universe only granted fertility to those who were going to be “good” parents, then I strongly disagree with His/its view on parenting. As a teacher, I’ve worked with many children who have been neglected, abused and abandoned by a biological parent, often one who had multiple other children with no apparent history of infertility or loss.

I believe that Willow chose the right time to come into our lives and to remain long enough to be born. I believe that we were blessed and chosen to be Willow’s mommy and daddy, and although I would not wish the pain of infertility and loss on anyone else, I know that it was an important part of our journey that helped to strengthen our marriage and our determination to be the best parents we could be.

I love being a mommy. I thrive in this role that I craved for so many years, and I don’t take a moment of it for granted. Our little girl is strong, healthy, smart, loved and lovable.

I think we are doing pretty well for people that God/the Universe was supposedly trying to force out of the gene pool.

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Selfish

“I feel like there was a fog in front of my eyes for 36 years, and the second Lily-Rose was born, that fog just lifted and everything became totally clear and focused. To say it’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me is the understatement of the century. Look at me, I’ve become a cliche.” – Johnny Depp

Having a child is, hands down, the hardest and most rewarding challenge of my life. The fact that I would literally sacrifice just about anything for the health and well being of our wee one speaks volumes about the kind of “mother love” that I had read about but never really understood before Willow entered the scene.

I used to struggle with small decisions, ever fearful of offending or upsetting others. While I am still mindful of the comfort of others, I no longer require their approval to do what is right for myself or my family. I have been freed from my social shackles.

When Willow was sick and had to be tube-fed formula for a few weeks, I faced severe judgement from the Nipple Warriors. Obviously I was a horrible parent to listen to the pediatrician who claimed that my dehydrated, hypoglycemic, jaundiced child would die if I continued to only offer her the breast, from which she was too weak to nurse. I might have been devastated at hearing people tell me that I was “wrong”. I might have worried about offending my “breast is best” pals and having them judge me… Except that I no longer have the luxury of making decisions based on how others will perceive me. I need to make the best choices for Willow, regardless of the judgement and ignorant comments that sometimes come my way in the process.

Sometimes we hang out with people who make us feel uncomfortable, drained, upset or unsafe, because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Sometimes we say “yes” compulsively to gain approval and end up in uncomfortable situations doing things we really dislike (while robbing ourselves of precious time) because it allows other people to be happy.

Serving others is a worthwhile pastime. Kindness, time and patience can be wonderful gifts to our loved ones when they are given freely and without resentment. Sometimes, sacrifice is certainly warranted in relationships. But I have finally experienced the clarity and focus of which Mr. Depp speaks, and there is really no going back.

Are you posting derogatory items or writing offensive or inflammatory remarks on my Facebook page in order to cause conflict or spread hateful views? I don’t need to be the person with the most “friends”. You have been pruned from my friend list.

Are you so deeply lost in your disease that you are a danger to yourself and others? I am no longer putting myself or my daughter in an unsafe situation.

Are you upset that my new bedtime is 7pm and I am choosing five hours of precious sleep per night over spending time going out with you in the evening? Suck it up, buttercup.

I am okay with being considered selfish at this stage of the game. I am okay with being labelled anti-social. I am okay with a lot of things… because I really don’t have time to sweat the small stuff when this gorgeous small person needs me to be there for her.

Thank you for the perspective, my sweet Bean.

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