The moment my pregnancy test came back positive, I felt uncharacteristically ready. Joining the ranks of strong women who’d brought new life into the world had been a dream of mine. Sharing in the responsibility of raising the next generation felt significant. So when it came to learning everything I could about motherhood, I was all in — heart, body, and soul.
I soon learned that feeling “ready” for motherhood didn’t come without fear. I was young, timid, and afraid of doing things wrong. Confusion led me to listen to the loudest, doubt my ability, and nearly silence my instinct.
The first time I was shamed as a mother, was when my son began projectile vomiting at one-week-old. I was informed by the urgent care doctor that baby formula was to blame for my infant’s violent intestinal distress. When I tearfully confessed I wasn’t producing enough milk, I was shamed for my lack of dedication to breastfeeding. Further, I was commanded to nurse on the spot under the doctor’s supervision so she could “educate me” on what I was “doing wrong.” Humiliated under the clinical lights of that cold and sterile setting, I unsuccessfully nursed while every hope I had for motherhood streamed down my face. The projectile vomiting continued. After three more doctor appointments dismissing my concerns and shaming my feeding method, I found a pediatrician who both listened and later confirmed that it wasn’t the breast milk or the formula. It wasn’t any “new mom paranoia” or textbook acid reflux, but a cyst on my son’s bowel that required emergency surgery.
In spirit, my story is not unusual. New moms are “welcomed” into motherhood with a heavy helping of shame every day. It happens in hospitals, breastfeeding classes, grocery stores, on social media, and even our own homes. It happens with doctors, nurses, family members, friends, and strangers. And it’s wrong.
At a time when new mothers require more encouragement and support than ever, their physical and mental vulnerabilities are exploited through offhand comments, disapproving looks and gestures, condescension, and flat out dismissal. Made to feel foolish for their “unearned” right to an opinion, on-the-job training, and caring too much about the wrong things (and not enough about the right ones), new moms often begin their journey as caregiver disgraced and damned. In the name of maternal health, wellness, and community, it’s time we stand up and do more. New moms deserve so much better.
From pregnancy …
“‘I’m sick of seeing you pregnant,’ said the doctor claiming he would be supportive of my choices.” — Jessica
… to childbirth
“18 years ago I was young, having my 1st baby by myself, thought I was invincible so I wanted no drugs and the labor was LONG & hard. The nurse kept telling me I was an idiot and needed the drugs. As I kept saying no, she got angry at me. The shift changed, [I] still refused, and finally had my daughter. Nurse came back and was far more mean than before. Only to find out she’d started a bet with other nurses when I’d give in and take the epidural and she lost because I didn’t.” — Alicia
… to circumcision
“I had pushy hospital staff ask if we wanted to circumcise our son. We kindly told them no but for some odd reason they couldn’t grasp the meaning of the word no. It took my fiancé YELLING to get the f*ck out of our room and tearing the consent forms in half to send the message! My son was born perfect and I meant every word of it!” — Michaela
“I was told my son would be made fun of because I left him intact, that it was ‘biblical’ to circumcise.” — Mary Beth
“We were stuck in the hospital with our little one for a week after birth and every single day [we] were asked if we wanted our son circumcised. I was way too polite with them.” — Lily
… to feeding
“I had the worst experience at the hospital with the lactation lady. She was refusing to let me rent the breastfeeding pump because she didn’t want me to fall back on pumping when I should be breastfeeding directly. Instead of happily departing the hospital with my healthy baby, she sent me off in tears, shamed for renting a pump.” — Jeannette
“I was 100% shamed for not wanting to breastfeed. It was MY choice not to and I had come to the decision after much given thought and dialogue. I actually heard two nurses walking outside my door say, ‘Can you believe this terrible mom in here not wanting to breastfeed?’ Well, my boys have grown to be healthy and strong children. They didn’t come down with any illnesses because I wasn’t providing them with proper nutrition. They aren’t ‘struggling’ as one nurse tried to tell me. They’re fine.” — Lynette
“I was a young mom and because of this I felt the need to read everything I could get my hands on. So upon delivery, which was 6 weeks early, I felt confident. My delivery was smooth — all of 20 minutes of it. Still feeling in control, I began to breastfeed and it seemed all was well, but something was not right. Everything I read was not adding up to my experience. I questioned my concerns to the lactation specialist and she said I was too young and inexperienced to really know. So I continued to breastfeed, only to have my sweet [son] sent back to the hospital after being home a week. Guess what? I had no milk.” — Lydia
“I was shamed by a female family member for bottle feeding my newborn pumped breast milk. She said I was being lazy! I was so taken aback that I didn’t defend myself by going into detail about the fact that a tongue-tie (not the kind easily fixed) was preventing my little guy from latching on properly. Nor by stating that pumping milk every two hours was also exhausting since I had to pump and then bottle feed my baby.” — Sylvia
“I had to stop nursing my oldest at six weeks. He never latched on properly … my mother-in-law and sister-in-law made me feel horrible. They literally attacked me for not giving him the best. They blamed me that he had eczema because I didn’t breastfeed him properly. I felt lower than low. Even though I solely nursed [my second, third, and fourth children], I still have never gotten over the fact that I ‘failed’ my first born.” — Shanyn
… to sleeping
“I was with my 7th baby and I was told that [I] could not sleep with my newborn. After co-sleeping with my six other babies I think I would know a little something about how to safely co-sleep.” — Jessica
… to going out in public
“There was the time I took [my daughter] to the market at 9 days old. Oh, the looks and comments from the busy bodies! I asked one woman if I could call her the next time we needed food.” — Wendy
… to our postpartum bodies.
“When my triplets were about a year old, we had a garage sale. An older woman started chatting with me about them and remarked how busy I must be chasing after them all the time. She exclaimed, ‘I would think you would be thin!'” — Gwen
*Quotes edited for clarity and brevity.
Were you “initiated” into motherhood by being shamed? What would have made your entry into motherhood better? Share your stories in the comments.More On