One of the most annoying subjects to come across in parenting/birthing communities is the concept of the ‘mom wars’. This is essentially a virtual battle raging about parenting choices where women feel targeted for their experiences and lash out at one another. Whether it is breastfeeding mothers vs formula feeding mothers, attachment parents vs CIO parents, or what-have-you, the crux of the matter is that everyone is doing it wrong and should be ashamed of themselves. Well actually the problem is not that we are judging one another ruthlessly, but that we are essentially at war with ourselves and aren’t even aware of it.
The main argument thrown around is that women should not be made to feel guilty for their choices, since all decisions are based on what is best for each individual’s family. There are those on either side that insist that they are right while the ‘lets-all-get-along’ crowd is stressing out because they just want everyone to be friends and play nicely.
The idea that some elusive ‘someone’ is making everyone feel guilty really baffles me. I have made some interesting choices so far in my parenting journey but I have yet to come across anyone who has purposely set out to make me feel bad about those decisions. Typically, those that criticised my choices where simply trying to inform me based on their own beliefs and understanding of a particular subject. That being said, if I would feel guilty when confronted with my choice, it is because the guilt was already there to begin with. I know this because when approached with a different opinion, I don’t generally feel attacked unless I already have doubts about my stance on the topic. I can’t rightfully argue a point that I haven’t thought completely through myself. So if a woman feels guilty when others share their experiences, it is because they themselves intuitively feel that something is ‘off’ about theirs. It is an internal signal that something isn’t right and needs to be addressed.
Being sensitive about a subject is a clear indication that there are some unresolved issues surrounding that experience that need to be dealt with. Often the ‘guilty’ feeling is actually other emotions in disguise like anguish, anger, betrayal, disappointment, etc. The problem is that the mourning process is still incomplete and the emotions surrounding the experiences have yet to be properly processed. When such feelings are repressed, they can resurface when someone breaches the subject and then we subconsciously implement coping mechanisms to deal with this influx of raw emotions. This can manifest as feeling targeted by others for example, when they are simply sharing information. Essentially we are choosing to feel judged as a way to avoid the real issue and diverting that emotional energy to attacking those who dare criticise us.
Think back about an instance where you may have noticed a woman lashing out at others about the manner of birth or the ability to breastfeed (as they are often the sensitive subjects in question). The anger directed at defending their experience as being ‘safer’ or ‘essential’ is often rooted far deeper than the perceived insult by the opposing party. There is a hidden hurt there than demands to be acknowledged. These women are in pain and cannot face it because they are repeatedly told that ‘having a healthy baby’ is more important than the emotional repercussions of unwanted outcomes. This ‘guilt’ (read rage, confusion, disappointment) is hard to bear and the mind demands that the experience be transformed into something more bearable to deal with. With physical health often being touted as being more important than mental health, it is no wonder that so many women feel disvalued about their experiences and seek to hide the truth behind them from others and themselves especially.
After the traumatic birth of my son, for many months afterwards I could not bring myself to even think about the birth as it was too painful for me emotionally. I went as far as deleting birth groups off of my facebook because seeing the posts about the wonders of natural homebirthing was a slap in the face. I was angry about what happened to me and actually felt animosity towards others who had better experiences than me. It was irrational but my negative repressed feelings were so strong that I couldn’t think straight. I then went through the typical stages of grief: first I was in shock about everything and pretended that everything was okay and didn’t let myself think about it; then I went into denial by trying to convince myself and others that my experience was necessary and for the best; then I allowed myself to question those assumptions and became angry at myself and those present during my birth for allowing it to happen the way it did; this led to my anguish over the whole ordeal after finally accepting the truth that it could have been different had I known better; and now I find myself forgiving the people involved and especially myself for the outcome, owning up to it, accepting it, and especially learning from it. It took me eleven months to go through this process. Each individual has their own pace, whether it is a few weeks, months, or even years; but healing IS possible and can actually turn into a positive for other people.
My birth experience and the process I have undergone to heal from it has given me the fuel to continue advocating for alternative choices in maternal care because I don’t want others to have to go through what I did. This is why I share information on a daily basis about subjects like natural birth, homebirth, breastfeeding, intactivism, and positive parenting choices. I know firsthand just how difficult it is to accept new information about a sensitive subject but it is infinitely worth it to push past the hurt and seek to heal from it. I made the choice to stop feeling targeted by people sharing information on subjects that were sore to me after acknowledging the hidden hurt behind it.
So the way to end these so-called ‘mom wars’ is not by launching a campaign against ‘judgy moms’ necessarily, but instead turning our attention to helping each other actively heal from those experiences that cause us grief and bringing to light those emotions that are often swept under the rug. We need to acknowledge our individual experiences and feelings for what they really are: learning experiences. We do not need to be at war with each other or ourselves anymore.