by Polly Williams
I always knew I would be a working mother. During my formative years my parents got divorced, my mum put herself through university and became a Stock Broker, one of the few women in the early 80s (and still today) trading on the floor, among a sea of men. While my mum was working, my aunt, a mother to four boys, helped raise me. She was a stay-at-home mum, doing the most incredible job, and I was in awe of her too, but my mother was my role model and a beacon for what women could do. She raised me to believe in equality for women, and importantly the necessity of ensuring financial independence as a woman.
So, when I became a mother for the first time it never occurred to me that taking time off work would be an option. It wasn’t a decision I had to make, but a given. I pumped non-stop and stored litres of milk in the freezer, made a schedule that ensured I would be home for every bath time and set my alarm for 5 am every day so I could be ready in time to dress and feed my daughter before I left for the day. It was of course a choice, but for me, it was a necessity as well.
In my naivety, it never occurred to me that I would be shamed for this choice. But I have been A LOT. From other parents (mainly mothers) to doctors and nurses, nursery schoolteachers and everyone in between. Comments such as ‘oh it must be so hard for your daughter not seeing you all day’, to ‘but don’t you feel that you’re missing out on so much’ and ‘oh yes I forgot you have a job, doesn’t it just break your heart’. A nurse once said, when breastfeeding had become impossible anymore, ‘ yes it can be hard to know what she needs if you are away from her in the day and once when my daughter was sick and we took her to get checked, the doctor pointed out that the reason she might be sick was because I wasn’t at home in the day and was leaving her with a nanny. Brilliant Diagnosis, thanks Doctor!
From mothers to medical professionals, we all seem to think that its ok to have an opinion. To point out how people live their lives in any way that is different from our own. What I find hardest to comprehend is that much of this comes from other mothers. Women who should quite frankly know better and who have undoubtedly received mum shaming because we all know mum shaming comes in many forms. From the breast to bottle debate, the swaddle or not to swaddle conversation or the many debates over screen time and ipad use and please don’t get me started on commentary around other mother’s bodies (there’s room for a whole article on this alone).
We as women need to stick together. It may sound cliché but it’s true. I need women in my life to make me whole, to go through those shared experiences with. We as women should be allies to each other and as mothers, we are a very lucky bunch who get to raise the next generation while trying to figure out how to do it without screwing our kids up in the process. We should all be learning from each other, leaning on each other because ultimately none of us know what we are doing, apart from trying our best.
So, the next time when you look at a mum in the office, or a mum on Instagram or a mum trying to nurse her baby in public and you disagree with the choice is making, ask yourself what could you learn from her? How is her experience a mirror to what you are going through as a mum? And if none of this resonates with you, well then just keep quiet because mum shaming doesn’t help, it only hurts.