When did the natural process of labour, breastfeeding and motherhood become so hard?

When did a 2-3hr Zoom lecture become the best way to prepare for birthing and raising a child?

photo credit - Jesse Walker Photography

I'm currently 35 weeks pregnant going through all my pregnancy and motherhood classes with the hospital when my husband asked after signing him up for a 2 hour breast feeding class, 'how hard could it be?' That's when it hit me. At 28 years old and only 31 days away from our due date, I had only ever held a baby maybe twice in my life. I didn't know how to hold a new born let alone push it out of my body, wrap it or get it to latch to my breast.

The classes we attended were intense and left me with more questions than I felt were answered. When my pelvic floor physio asked me if I had any questions about labour I replied with 'I have so many questions I don't know where to start. I just want to be prepared.' I believe all new mums and parents just want to do the best for their child, which left me wondering, how did a completely natural process become so damn difficult?

It takes a village

In many cultures and throughout history we as a human species have lived in tribes and been very close to our community and village. Living in a city in the middle of Sydney I am surrounded by a huge amount of people and yet I couldn't tell you the names of my apartment block neighbors. I have incredible friends but none of them have had babies or much experience on this topic. My family, both immediate and in-laws all live 2hrs if not a whole state away and while they are willing to help where they can my mother who gave birth to my younger sister 25 years ago is really the closest source of experienced support I can lean on (and let me tell you a lot has changed in the last 25 years...).

Throughout history and practiced in many cultures, a pregnant woman was surrounded by loved ones all willing to help and provide wisdom and support. This trend through history has become almost non existent in Western countries. I believe this is a contributing factor to the amount of anxiety and depression seen in new parents. I may not have ever needed a 2hr long Zoom class on breastfeeding if I had the close support of those with lived experience guiding me and supporting me through the process.

As such, in my situation I feel a little lost and that makes me quite anxious. I am so grateful for my loved ones and the various services that I have close access to, but it does make me wonder how a close nit community is something that I am missing in many aspects of my life.

Social media

Now I love social media, it's where I hang out for at least an hour a day and I connect with many incredible people, but I do believe it has made the process of pregnancy and motherhood much harder than it ever was. Instagram is my social media poison of choice and while it has helped me connect with other mums which has given me the support I have so desperately needed, it has also filled my head with images of what motherhood looks like. Glowing pregnancies, homemade everything, clean minimalist display looking homes and a relaxed lifestyle generally clad in linen on the beach. You know the pictures I am talking about.

Of course we all post our greatest hits online, and of course we all deep down know that what we are seeing is the very best of the best and yet we still judge our worst days against their best. Through the first half of my pregnancy (and for many women, their entire pregnancy), I did not post any photos of myself. I felt horrible and in every photo taken all I could see was a 'fat and tired' woman. I know, boohoo. When you grow a human being its hard and your body expands, I get it. But I never had that glow people speak of, even when my husband or friends would say that I was glowing, I never felt it. All I could feel was the missing hours of last nights sleep, the extra weight on my frame, the pain in my back and ribs, the difficulty I had to breath and a brain fog that left me feeling stupid and forgetful. I felt horrible, and then I would go online and see the pure radiance of the pregnant woman and mothers vibrating through my screen unintentionally pointing their finger telling me what a failure I was.

I had never connected with so many beautiful people the way I did when I started sharing the more shitty parts of my pregnancy. Suddenly admitting my shame, guilt and feelings of being 'fat' led to an influx of DM's telling me just how similar their experience was and is. It's easier said than done to not let social media become your measuring stick for life, but what helped me most in the end was unfollowing all the accounts that made me feel like crap and connecting more with those women who felt the same way.

Trusting your instincts

At the end of the day we are all animals and while I have seen cats, dogs, cows and the like all needing assistance during labour and medical intervention at times, they are all generally pretty good at having their babies and looking after them without much help. So what happened to us?

Deep down I believe our bodies know what they need to do, whether it's that twinge in the gym you ignore before you injure yourself, the craving you have that led you to a particular food or the little voice that warns you it's a bad idea but you go ahead and do it anyway, suffering the consequences later. When it comes to labour (and as someone who has not yet experienced it) I believe my body will know what it needs to do and do that to the best of its ability. My only concern is the fear I have around the process not allowing me to drop in a listen to the cues that are there. I mean hell, I ignore my body's cues at the best of times, let alone when I'm trying to push a watermelon through a 10cm hole.

Having trust in my body and the process has been a hard idea to swallow. I think this is due to all the information and marketing we are force fed everyday. That in order to to be the best mum you must know all the things, have the most expensive, incredible pram, car seat, cot, change table, clothes, the list goes on. We are conditioned to think that if we can't vaginally deliver our babies, breast feed or settle our bubs we are failures and need the next best tool to help our lacking ability. We are instilled with so much fear and judgement from the moment we see two faint lines on our at home pregnancy test that of course we don't take a moment to listen in to what our bodies and instincts, our intuition is telling us, because we are already failures.

Getting out of my head, trusting the wisdom of my body, my biology and listening in to my instincts and intuition has been a huge turning point for me during my pregnancy and I believe this will help me through labour and into motherhood. But it is a lesson, a thought and theory I have not come across in many birthing books or ever in classes.

I don't believe there is a lot of compassionate support in the standard pregnancy to motherhood Western system and while this may be changed just by surrounding yourself with a loving experienced community I also believe there are many external pressures that make this whole process a lot harder than it needs to be. It is my hope that you don't feel the same sense of loss and confusion I have experienced but know that if you do, you are not alone. Many of us have fallen victim to the comparison trap and pressures of being perfect. Please give yourself a break and believe you are doing your best and that is more than enough.