Comparison is the thief of joy.
So said Teddy Roosevelt, our 26th President. I’m guessing that he was not talking about women and their birth experiences, but this quote absolutely applies to what can happen when we compare our own birth stories with others.
Recently I facilitated a postpartum support group for new parents and their babies. And on that particular day, the group was made up of new Mommas and babies all of whom were younger than six months of age. Some of the babies weren’t even two months old yet! So for these women, their births were fairly recent and I wanted to explore with them their expectations about birth and their actual birth stories to see where they had merged and where they were completely different.
As I imagined, all of the women present stated that their births did not match their expectations at all! But, as I also imagined, this did not mean that they had negative birth experiences. Just births that ended up being very different from what they had expected.
One of the stories that struck me the most was a young Momma who said that she’d had to have an epidural – which was not what she had expected to choose before the birth. She had planned and expected to go through her birth completely medication and intervention free. But what she hadn’t expected was a baby in a posterior position, a really long labor (close to 40 hours from start to finish!) and the intense combination of exhaustion and back pain that led her to ask for the epidural.
In her re-telling of her birth story, I was able to see that this decision to use the epidural as a tool in her labor and delivery allowed her to rest, progress in her labor and eventually deliver her big and beautiful baby boy vaginally. As she was telling her story, though, I could sense some sadness about having to make this decision to use the epidural. I explored this a little bit more with her and what she told me next, made me understand why she was having such issues about her experience and why she was feeling unhappy about how her birth had turned out. She offered this as an explanation:
Out of all of my friends, I’m the only one who had to have an epidural. I’m obviously not as strong as they were, or I would have been able to do this without drugs.
I had to ask a few more questions about her friend’s births before she was able to see clearly and then reframe her own birth story. “All of her friends” were graced with babies who were in the anterior position for labor and delivery, they all progressed fairly easily and ended up with labors that were 12 hours or less from start to finish.
But in her hurry to compare herself and her birth with those of her friends, she failed to recognize what made her story different from theirs. In her comparison, she didn’t recognize just how much more time and work she had needed to put in, and unfortunately this comparison robbed her of being proud of her hard work and effort toward the birth she was working toward. Instead, she only focused on the fact that she had somehow “failed” because she had “caved” and gotten the drugs.
When we spend our time comparing our birth stories to others, we deprive ourselves of owning our own story and finding and celebrating the accomplishment and joy in what we have just done. We’ve brought a brand new human being through our body and into this world! Whether that be through vaginal or Cesarean Birth makes no difference to the magnitude of our accomplishment. Holding up our birth story in comparison of those around us only highlights the details of what they got – and what we didn’t get. When we engage in this negative comparison, we only see our births as less than, instead of all the ways in which it was so much more than. It diminishes our own story. It shrinks it. It makes our birth experience less than the miracle that it was.
This “Comparison is the thief of joy” addiction that we all seem to have starts long before you’re pregnant, and if you can’t get hold of this and start working on weaning yourself off of this addiction, it will follow you straight into the early weeks of postpartum and then into the days, weeks, months and years of parenting that are to follow.
If you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself comparing stories of breastfeeding, baby’s sleep habits, infant development, and one parenting decision after another – until all the joy of having this baby to love and care for and raise into a productive human being has been stolen from you. You’ll be filled with self-doubt about every little decision you make. Your insecurity about making the “right” decision about what pre-school your child should go to will cause you to lose sleep when your baby is only 18 months old – a full year and half away from even being able to attend pre-school.
Stop for a moment and be grateful. Be grateful for the opportunity to have a baby inside of you, growing and developing in that perfect environment that you’ve created without even thinking about it, without analyzing and struggling over just how to achieve it, without comparing it to other women’s ability to create a more perfect environment. Just breathe and be grateful for this new life inside of you.
This little person who is coming to teach you so much about yourself – who you are and what you believe and how you will be as a new parent. Understand that for your baby, there is no comparison.
You are, by virtue of being their mother and father, the very best they could hope for. They will not be spending their time as your new little baby comparing their experience with others.
They will be doing what new little babies do so well – living moment by moment, not worried about what might have been or concerned about what could be better. This is their experience right here, right now. They have no need for comparisons. And neither do you.
Do not let anyone steal your joy.
Did you find yourself comparing your experience with others when you were pregnant? How about your birth story? It’s fun to hear others stories at times, but when it’s a negative comparison, it doesn’t feel too great. Has comparison been an issue for you as a new parent?