I can’t remember how I found Sharon Tjaden-Glass and her book, Becoming Mother, but I’m very glad I did!
Becoming Mother is the book that Sharon wished had been written when she became pregnant for the first time: “I wanted the book that I eventually wrote. I wanted someone to be authentic with me. To talk about more than the physical. To go to the dark places. To show me what was hard and what was wonderful.” And Becoming Mother does all of this and more.
I recently sat down with Sharon via Skype and interviewed her about her book, pregnancy, birth and parenting experiences. The following are excerpts from that interview.
Barb: I found it interesting that you included your weight gain (and eventual loss) at the start of each mini-chapter of the book. It wasn’t focused on, or even called out – but why did you feel the need to include this as part of Becoming Mother?
Sharon: As women, I think we struggle a lot with body image and self-acceptance in American culture, and so this drives many of us to have that question in the forefront of our minds when we become pregnant: “What’s going to happen to my body? Will I gain a bunch of weight and never be able to lose it?”
The reason that I included the weight gain and loss in numbers was because I thought it would give pregnant readers realistic expectations for what that physical change is like. Of course, after having gone through the whole experience of having a baby, I understand at this point that the physical changes of pregnancy are not as monumental as the other changes. However, I wanted to meet pregnant women where they are when they first start reading this book.
B: That’s one of the things that I enjoyed most about your book – the focus on realistic expectations, the authenticity of it all. When you were newly pregnant, how realistic do you think your expectations were for after the baby arrived?
S: I wasn’t married to the idea that we had to take minimal time off, but I did know that it was important to me to keep the identity of my pre-mom self alive, even after the baby was born. Once she was born, we were more forgiving of ourselves in terms of going easy on not keeping up with the previous expectations. But we both held true to our commitment to “not totally lose” our previous selves.
B: In follow-up to this question, can you speak to that shift that occurs as a woman becomes a mother and her self-identity can become secondary to her new role as mother?
S: I sensed that it would be possible that I could “fall down this hole of parenthood” and lose my identity, not totally understanding that I’m a dynamic self and that I would always be changing, regardless of what happens in my life. Taking on this role as a mother has reorganized so many facets of my identity. It has also filtered how I see and experience the world. It’s impossible for me to tease apart “mother” from my other identities because it has affected all parts of my life. At the same time, I’m aware that I don’t want this role to “wipe out” my other roles, the other aspects of myself that make me who I am. Because I know that one day the all-encompassing role of “mother” will narrow and narrow as my child grows up. And soon they won’t need me in the same way that they need me now. So I want to make an investment in myself by cultivating those parts of me that will endure past this season of my life. Like with teaching and writing and maintaining friendships.
B: Early on in the book, you talk about about “surrendering” as the first step in this journey. This is what I’m talking about! I’m not a fan of plans so much, but love the idea of surrendering to the process. Vulnerability during pregnancy is so intense – what do you think about this?
S: I think pregnancy is a constant reminder that you are not in control. And it serves a purpose. The further along you get in your pregnancy, the more control you lose: how much weight you gain, how sore and achy your body gets, your ability to stay asleep all night. Labor intensifies that message that you’re not in control. You’re in so much pain and there’s nothing you can really do about it. You can’t go backward. The only way is forward.
And then after the birth, it starts to click about how these physical limitations that reduce your control help your mental state. You’re much more pliable to giving in to what your baby needs. Whenever it needs you. Whatever you need to do, you’re open to it. It’s not so jarring after pregnancy and labor. Because you’ve been prepped for the past 10 months.
B: “On the hard days, I think – We have made a big mistake.” I so relate to this sentiment! In fact there’s been at least one day during all four of my pregnancies where I have not only thought this, I’ve said it out loud! It’s so important to normalize feelings of ambivalence toward pregnancy – even when it’s a wanted pregnancy. Did you ever talk about this with other pregnant Mommas? Or did you feel like you needed to stay quiet, not tell anyone how you were feeling?
S: I did, (talk to other Mommas) but always in a joking way. I think humor about these feelings helps bridge into those conversations about how tough motherhood can be. You hear it in conversations all the time—when mothers want to “complain” about something, they use two popular methods. 1) Use humor or 2) Use qualifiers: I love my son, but sometimes…
I’m really not the kind of woman to pretend that everything’s okay, especially to people that know me. People that know me and ask how I’m doing, they know I’m going to be honest about how I’m doing. So I didn’t feel like I had to keep up a positive face for everyone to reassure them that I was happy about being pregnant or becoming a mom. If I was having a hard time, I owned that hard time and shared it. The problem with this is that some people feel that your statement that you’re having a hard time is actually an inquiry, or a signal that you’re seeking advice. I’m not. I’m hardly ever seeking advice. And if I want advice, I preface my comments with, “I really want your advice.”
B: If only people understood this! “When I want your advice, I will ask for it. Thank you very much!” I always say that unsolicited advice is usually not very good advice, anyway…
You do a great job writing your birth story. And while I’ll encourage people to read Becoming Mother for all sorts of reasons, in particular, reading your well-written account of one woman’s journey – emotional and physical – through giving birth is intense, profound and not without challenges. I know you’re pregnant again and want to know how you might be handling things differently this time? What has changed for you?
S: It (self-advocacy) was extremely challenging (the first time). Robbie Davis-Floyd talks about this very thing—the authority of knowledge in childbirth. That doctors possess more scientific knowledge about childbirth and so we often defer to their judgement. But on the other side of this, women often don’t give any weight to their own bodily knowledge, their own intuition about what’s going on. It cannot be trusted. And I definitely felt like this. That if I pushed my own bodily intuition too far that the doctor would lash out at me. I felt like there was a drive for the doctors to have “birth be this one way.”
We have changed providers and place of birth because of this tension with the doctors. I wanted to have a provider who would allow my birth to be what it will be, rather than forcing it to be something that it’s not.
B: Which would you say was harder for you: birth or breastfeeding?
S: Breastfeeding by far—because my body was not responding in the way that it should have. Some women have labors in which their bodies cannot get the baby to descend or dilate enough or fit through the hips. That’s how it was with me and breastfeeding. Always like trying to thread the frayed end of a thread through a tiny needle.
B: I love that image. It conveys so well the level of frustration you feel about something that ends up being so challenging when you think you “should” be able to do it no problem…
How about your relationship with your husband, Doug? How was the first year post baby on your couple relationship? Is there anything that you wish you’d known before that you found out the hard way?
S: I wrote about this in detail on my blog in my post, “When I Became Real to My Husband.” I think this demonstrated to me that loving someone did not depend on what you have to offer the other person. (This is a great read for an authentic, real look at the postpartum couple relationship – Barb)
I wish I would have known that it would take close to a whole year for sex to be really enjoyable again.
B: Right? All the books say “Six weeks! Six weeks!” Well, not my book…
Last question: What do you think about the great American myth of being Superwoman on the other side of becoming a mother?
S: Do you know Brené Brown? (Do I ever! She’s my future BFF – she just doesn’t know it yet…Barb) She talks about shame triggers, body image and motherhood. I feel like the myth of Superwoman in motherhood is just one more way to control and shame women. “Women are judged by their willingness to follow the rules and men are judged by their ability to break them.”
Well, Sharon Tjaden-Glass broke a few rules herself in that she wrote her book, Becoming Mother, even as she was going through her own pregnancy, birth and early parenting journey.
For Sharon, “Being creative isn’t something that I have to work at. It’s something that I am. I just have to make time for it. If I don’t make time for it, I feel blocked and unfulfilled.” And we are all the better for her commitment to staying creative and sharing her account of what it was like for her as she was Becoming Mother.
I want to thank Sharon for taking the time to talk with me about her experience and encourage readers who are pregnant now or know of someone who is, to consider this book as part of their overall preparation. It’s a well-written, honest account which provides realistic expectations (of which I am always a fan!) of what it’s like to move through pregnancy, birth and new parenting. You can purchase a copy of Becoming Mother here. And you can follow Sharon Tjaden-Glass on her blog here.