by Jennifer Robinson
I’ll start with an example: Hillary Clinton, who I watched accepting the nomination for the first ever Madame President of the United States in a “well-cut white pantsuit, with immaculate hair and makeup”. Fine.
It was a nice suit, she looked great, but isn’t the discussion around having the first female President of arguably the most powerful nation on earth a little more important?
Isn’t it amazing that one of the busiest and potentially most important women in the world stood on a stage where a few moments earlier her daughter introduced her as her hero, a woman who has always been there for her?
Isn’t it important that if Hillary wins, at the end of her potential two terms there would be an entire generation of young Americans who have never seen a white middle aged man in the Oval Office?
Right, but where does she get her hair done though? I heard it costs over $500 a visit.
I often hear about the conflict surrounding ‘having it all’, i.e. juggling work and a family and what is often referred to as ‘mum guilt’ – which speaking as a soon-to-be mother of two – we feel all the time anyway about everything, it’s not limited to leaving your kid with a nanny while you go out and make an effort towards breaking your own personal glass ceilings.
I’m fortunate in that I’m not trying to be a President, or an athlete, or an actress – maybe my day-to-day worries are a little different. I’ve got kids of both the male and female variety (technically one actual kid and one work in progress), so I’ve ticked that standard life achievement box; I have a good job, so I’ve ticked that life achievement box too.
Oh! But I’m not married yet. Why am I not married? Doesn’t he want to marry me? Have we talked about it? Where do we see our relationship going? Isn’t it time? Five years is a long time… You’ve given him two children, surely it’s only fair. As though our children are my marriage bargaining chip.
“Well you’ll be 30 soon!” Oh great, ageing, please bring that into it. Tell me again about how good a sleeper your newborn is.
What if the main questions on my mind are more like: Where do I see my career going and how can I balance that with bringing up happy children? How do I manage having two halves of my family on different continents? Where do I want my children to go to school? Can I reasonably afford a second part-time home help to ease the load on my nanny once the second baby comes along? Is that a thing? A maid for the nanny?
An endless source of mum guilt is internet baby forums. I went on them A LOT when I was pregnant with my first baby, but this time I have avoided anything to do with them except to check out the weird names people are calling their babies these days.
It seems to me that all these forums do is cause you to question yourself, full of women with extensive birth plans and doulas and queries about whether all-natural-drug-free-hypno-home-births are a good idea after two C Sections and how to find a doctor who will agree.
I’m often asked with a kind of quizzical expression as to why I have my babies by C Section (I mean, I’ve had one, and I’ll have another one this year, I don’t think it’s often enough to be considered a theme for my life) and rather than get into the actual medical reasons I extensively discussed with a Consultant Obstetrician, I don’t really know what to say. Do I need to say anything?
I’ve had a nurse call me a coward for not doing it all naturally – even though a glance at my medical history would show that this wasn’t an option. My first midwife was really pro home birth. I don’t hold grudges against them or campaign for C Sections for all. I really do believe in personal choice when it comes to birth, so long as that choice is not taking an unnecessary risk, and while I can’t say that it bothers me, there’s usually no point in getting into the real reasons, so I just say something like “because I know where I’d rather have stitches”. I didn’t realise that the way in which your child exits your body is something to feel guilty about.
I’ve had a nurse call me a coward for not giving birth naturally – and while I can’t say that it bothers me, there’s usually no point in getting into the real reasons. I didn’t realise that the way in which your child exits your body is something to feel guilty about.
Something I have truly noticed as a second time mum is that first time mums tend to think of the birth as the huge event. It’s not the end. It’s not even really the beginning. It might take you up to a year to settle into your new completely upside down life. Like me, you might struggle with postnatal depression. You might be totally fine and spring back into your step within a week. The only thing we can say for sure with babies and children is that you have to be fine with not knowing.
By the time you figure it out and start congratulating yourself, they’ve grown up a bit more and are no longer at that stage.
My final thoughts on ‘mum guilt’ are that a) children adapt, and crucially, they forgive, and b) to your children you’ll be a hero.
They will grow up and see the sacrifices you made, they will understand that you chose to work and it didn’t diminish the love you have for them in any way. You can let them eat chicken nuggets for dinner three days in a row. You can put your crying baby down in a cot and leave the room to collect yourself. When the hyperactive world we live in is constantly throwing things at us to feel guilty about, there’s no need to add to it yourself.