When I got pregnant with my first baby 10 years ago, I was so excited to have a homebirth. I was fully committed to natural childbirth, breastfeeding, co-sleeping and being an awesome mom. When my son was born, I realized quickly that I loved birth so much that I wanted to become a doula. I read all the books I could get my hands on, went to doula training and attended births. I soon became a certified doula. My main goal: a natural, intervention free birth, beautiful breastfeeding, and happy moms and babies. Many people would say, “Awesome!” After all, if I was busy being an awesome mom, I also needed to be an awesome doula, right? I kept track of all my statistics on natural vs epidural births. I wrote out birth stories for my clients, trying to put a positive spin on interventions, and spent countless hours helping moms breastfeed. Over the course of several years, I continued to support families as a doula and build my own. I soon had 4 children, three of whom were very small. I had nursed two toddlers while pregnant. I still had three children sleeping in my bed. When I went to the mall, I wore two in my mei tais and chased after another. I was an awesome mom and an awesome doula.
So why didn’t I feel like one? Why did I feel like I was drowning?
I slowly began to realize that my awesome mom status had very little to do with what I did. I started realizing that I wasn’t really taking care of me, of my marriage, and that caring for my children in a way that made me sacrifice my well being wouldn’t work out well in the long run. When I started to re-evaluate my life, I also started taking a closer look at my job as a doula. I had been photographing births for years, but not seriously. At this point, I decided to forego birth stories completely and replace them with photographs. When I was hired as a doula, I was also hired as a birth photographer. I started to see births as they were, not how I imagined or hoped they would be. You can’t hide things as easily in a photograph. Not long after, I started photographing births where I wasn’t the doula. I saw families excited about C-sections! I saw families happily snuggled up with their 2 hour old newborn while they bottle fed her. I saw families go through what I would have considered a tragic birth and walk away elated. My exhaustion as a mom was at it’s peak, my marriage was falling apart and everything I knew to be true and “best” about birth was being put into question.
I felt like a superhero who had lost her cape.
I won’t say it happened overnight, but I started to shift my thinking. I started to give myself permission to leave my clingy toddler for 30 minutes so I could exercise. I allowed my husband and I to hire a baby sitter for two hours so we had time for our marriage. I allowed myself the ability to enjoy a birth that was full of interventions. I happily congratulated moms who planned a C-section. I stopped trying to convince my doula clients to switch care providers. What I soon realized was that it was never about how something was done. It was always about how you feel about something. If I am breastfeeding but feel angry or resentful towards my baby or spouse or mother-in-law, I am not doing what is best. If I fall into deep depression because I am so sleep deprived sleeping with my baby, I am not doing what is best. If I tell a friend who is planning a scheduled C-section, or bottle feeding, or enrolling her child in kindergarten, or buying them McDonalds not to because I see those things as wrong, I am not doing what is best. And lest anyone worry that I don’t buy my kids McDonalds, you can rest assured that I do. I am human, after all. What I found through all of this was that I wasn’t any less of a person because I bought my children McDonalds. My belief system hadn’t changed, but I had given myself permission. Permission to love myself. Permission to love others and to be empathetic to them wherever they were.
Permission to love a completely imperfect picture of my dirty, fighting children who dressed themselves and who had just finished eating sugar cereal. And to share it online. And love it.
We were all born with the ability to choose right and wrong. We were also born with the capacity to decide what is right and what is wrong. You can argue that there are biological or religious truths. You can say that we were created to be a certain way or do a certain thing. The fact remains that there will always be someone on the other end saying you are wrong. Ultimately, it is only your truth. And it is perfectly ok! It is just fine to look at your beliefs and hold strong convictions about them and design your life around them and then live that way. It is not ok to force others, belittle others, judge others, or push others into doing the same. And it is also ok to look at your own life and decide that maybe something isn’t working.
We live in an age where we are connected to others in so many ways. We have social media and email and phone. We blog about our experiences and share our daily trials on Facebook. What happens is that people are far more intimately involved in our lives! And sometimes in a very non-direct way. They think they have the right to say things they would never otherwise say to our faces. We share a beautiful image of our family and it goes viral and all of a sudden people are commenting on our parenting choices! Never in any other time has this been the case. So what does that mean? It means we need to start loving each other. We need to start caring for the person behind an image. We need to stop worrying about how a baby comes into the world and worry more about whether it is loved and cared for. We need to stop worrying how a baby is fed and worry instead about making sure it is actually being fed! We need to accept all families in their unique forms and circumstances and beliefs and traditions. We need to love the diversity that is around us and that makes us who we are.
I think above anything else, we need to love ourselves. We need to not compare ourselves to others. Learn to be authentic and true to who we are, but first love ourselves. One of my favorite authors, Brene Brown, writes, “Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.”
When we can step outside our own little box and look at the world through the eyes of others, we not only get to see the world in a new way, we get to see ourselves in a new way. It can transform you… usually for the better.
Elizabeth Boyce is first and foremost the mother of five beautiful children and wife of one amazing Husband. She is also owns Earth Mama Photography, a fine art portrait and documentary studio located in Dallas, Texas. She is still an “earth mama” and enjoys bare feet, long skirts, and all things tie dye, but isn’t afraid to feed her kids fast food. You can see more of her work at www.earthmamaphotography.com