Losing your illusions

Awash in pastels, a young woman — with clear, dewy skin, a cascade of subtly highlighted blonde hair and a beatific look on her serene, unlined face — lovingly cradles a baby. 

“This is motherhood,” seems to be the implied message. “This is what you should expect.” 

These soft-focus Madonna-and-child images were omnipresent during my first pregnancy, and I felt deeply alienated by them. It was all so clean-looking and sweet. 

But I’m not a “sweet” person. I’m most definitely on the sour end of the personality spectrum. My sense of humor is dark. I’ve been known to create less-than-complimentary nicknames for pompous colleagues. I tend to hold a grudge. 

In other words, I’m your average flawed person. I try to be decent, but I’m not always successful. 

The motherhood propaganda didn’t seem to hold a place for people like me. 

As far as I could tell, once my baby entered the world, I was expected to undergo an immediate transformation — from an eye-rolling misanthrope to a blissed-out, Zen earth mother. 

I was skeptical. I didn’t envision this actually happening. And I was right! 

After my daughter was born, I was the same old blotchy-faced Negative Nellie, but with a new crushing sleep deficit and an infected C-section incision. 

Maternity: Take 2 

The great thing about a second pregnancy is you’ve probably already had your motherhood illusions destroyed, so you don’t need to waste your time with things that didn’t work out the first time around (birth plans, “vision boards”). 

You’re now older and wiser and can focus on the things that really matter to you (solo travel during the second trimester, Better Call Saul). 

To illustrate, let me outline some “then and now” scenarios from my own two pregnancies: 

 

Then: “I should really draft a birth plan.” 

Now: “Let’s watch one more episode of Boardwalk Empire before we head to the hospital.” 

My modern motherhood indoctrination strongly emphasized the importance of a birth plan. Without it, I was taking the risk that some episiotomy-happy obstetrician would knock me into twilight sleep and sweep my baby into a cold nursery where she would be subjected to many unnecessary vaccinations.  

When I was admitted to the hospital for the birth of my second baby, a nurse asked me if I had a birth plan. 

“Birth plan — ha!” I laughed. “None of this was the plan,” I said, referring to the increasingly dire circumstances of my labor. The nurse and I cackled like old witches.  

 

Then: “An un-medicated, natural childbirth is the No. 1 goal.” 

Now: “Do I have to attempt a VBAC?”

After preparing for a so-called natural childbirth, I was disappointed when I went into labor three weeks early with a breech baby — a situation that resulted in an emergency Caesarean. I was sad and felt like a failure. 

The second time around, I was so over it. Both the OB and midwife said I was a great candidate to try for a VBAC. 

Note: The VBAC happened, but it was crazy traumatic. I’d wanted to schedule a C-section, but was discouraged from doing so. Tip: Stand up for yourself, even if your wishes don’t match everyone else’s ideas of what’s maternally “correct.”   

 

Then: “Exclusive breastfeeding at any cost!” 

Now: “How ‘bout we start supplementing with a bottle?” 

With my first baby, breastfeeding was a real challenge. I visited a lactation consultant who put me on an around-the-clock regimen of breastfeeding, supplementing with a tube and pumping. I did it for weeks, and it was horrible. (Also, it didn’t work.) 

The second time around, I was going to breastfeed, sure. But I had my bottles and formula at the ready, and I used them. 

Did some sanctimommies judge me? Probably. But that’s OK! 

Remember, being a “good enough” mother is actually good enough. Forget the ideals, created to sell expensive baby gear and promote feelings of inadequacy. 

Step back, take a breath and embrace your imperfect motherhood in all its complicated, beautiful glory. 


Shannon Keough lives in St. Paul with her husband and two children. Send questions or comments to skeough@mnparent.com.