Years ago, I went to my first mom’s group meeting, lugging my 5-week old in his bucket carseat. My c-section scar was still hurting when I lifted the seat and my breasts were so large from nursing that I felt unlike myself. Normally petite, albeit with C-cups passed down through many generations of voluptuous Russian Jews, I was newly sporting G-cups and had only lost a few pounds besides the initial 8-lb baby that had been extracted. I was not feeling anything like my old confident self, never mind my quirky and honest self.
I was however, very enthusiastic about meeting the group, bonding with them, and finding one or two women with whom I could really connect, who would be open to spending time together during our maternity leaves.
So, what did I say when it was my turn to talk? Not much of substance. We were asked to check in and share our highs and lows. I think I probably used the words “fine”, “great”, “fun”, and maybe “cute”. I probably said that my nipples hurt, too.
When I left the meeting, I realized that I was the only one who had given birth via C-section, and I didn’t share how terrible that made me feel. I had also endured a very difficult situation that prevented me from breastfeeding my baby for the first 10 days of his life. When I saw all those other mothers, somehow I had squashed that experience in the back of my mind, ignoring the fact that it had made me feel like I wasn’t a real mom, that I had somehow failed.
Since then, I have always held that meeting in my mind as an experience during which I wished I had been braver.
Last month, I read The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed To Be and Be Who You Are. In this guide to “wholehearted” living, the author Brene Brown explains that keeping up a façade of perfection prevents others from being able to connect with us.
That’s exactly what I had done back at my Mom’s Group. In my attempt to be who I wanted to be, I wasn’t myself, and so I didn’t allow my potential friends to make a connection with the real me.
Brene Brown’s book is not about motherhood specifically, but that one lesson from the book spoke loudly to me in the context of moms. It made me think that I would like to have in my toolbox a list of phrases that help me show my vulnerability. Thinking of the Mom’s Group setting, I came up with:
This is hard to talk about…
I feel embarrassed to say this but…
I hope I’m not the only one who…
I might cry if I say this outloud…
Sometimes we need to ask for support from other people. Using a phrase like this is a way to “flag” what we are about to say as something that needs special attention or empathy.
So I resolve to be a little braver. And I encourage you new moms, when you show up to meet with a group of moms, to be yourself. If chit-chatting about strollers and carseats is just what you need, terrific. But maybe sometime you can borrow a phrase from my toolbox and take a chance.