Comparison: the unspoken side of being pregnant, giving birth and mothering

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Comparison: the unspoken side of being pregnant, giving birth and mothering

One thing that is rife amongst women worldwide is comparison. We compare ourselves to others in terms of appearance, status, intelligence, ability in specific fields, job title, whether we are married or single and so forth.

Comparison’s existence, amply fuelled by the media, education systems and sport etc., is often so subtle that it goes unnoticed.

One of the biggest areas of comparison I’ve found working as a counsellor with women, is in pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood. It would appear that for many women the experiences of being pregnant, giving birth and mothering are tailor made for comparison, jealousy and competition to not only exist, but to flourish.

Comparison can start rising even in the pre-conception stage as women look around at what their friends and other women their age are doing in terms of if, or when, they have children. They can also experience lots of comments from others, especially from family, comparing a woman’s childless status with other friends and family members. Reminders to women that their ‘biological clock is ticking’ or that they should be getting ‘clucky’ are everywhere. Friends, family, peers, and the media for example, all jump on board, thereby subtly feeding the cogs of the comparison mill.

Women also slip into comparison mode themselves, especially when falling pregnant is difficult due to fertility problems. Pregnant women and mothers with children seemingly appear everywhere they look, making it easy for feelings of grief, sadness and jealousy etc. to arise as they compare their situation to that of other women. The flow-on effect is that resentment can be huge as these women commonly struggle with feelings of inadequacy, isolation, depression, anger, failure and self-blame as they feel let down by their bodies and/or circumstances. Correspondingly, self-worth and self-confidence drops.

For those women who do fall pregnant, the comparison meter goes up a few more notches as women compare themselves to other pregnant women. This comparison can be as subtle as unspoken thoughts around factors such as weight gain, health, lifestyle, natural versus conception through assisted means, if the woman is single or partnered, age – especially if the other woman is considered very young or old to be pregnant, and if it is the first or subsequent pregnancy. At other times the comparison is quite overt with conversation centred, for example, on the sex of the child, picking baby names, levels of partner and family involvement and so forth.

Judgement and perceptions of being right or wrong, jealousy, defensiveness and justification usually all surface with varying levels of intensity, depending on the degree to which women are attached to their beliefs and the actual realities of their situation.

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Why women override and hurt themselves with ideals

This excerpt presents a great explanation as to why women often avoid being honest about their feelings and their choices.

Another big area of comparison around being pregnant and giving birth appears to be in terms of the type of birth the woman is planning and the actual birth experience itself. Topics such as natural versus caesarean, type of pain relief, home versus hospital births, length of stay in hospital, even down to the details of how many stitches a woman may have had, are all secretly weighed up and ranked on a comparison scale to other women’s experiences.

Once the baby is born, the next level of motherhood comparison and competition commences. Bonding and attachment are huge areas that often stir up feelings of vulnerability within women. Sometimes mothers don’t feel a close bond with their babies and/or feel like their babies don’t accept and love them. Usually they don’t dare express what’s going on too openly for fear of criticism and rejection by others. Instead, these mothers try to bury their feelings and emotions and put on an ‘everything is going great’ mask for the external world, while underneath they are continually comparing their experiences to that of other mothers and feeling a complete failure.

Breast versus formula feeding is another notably contested space amongst women. Women often also compare their baby to other children in the family and perceive one of them as either the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and/or ‘slow’ or ‘advanced’ child and treat them accordingly. With all the pressure of trying to meet their own and other’s expectations, enjoyment in mothering can become a distant hope or something that is given up on all together.

Competition is commonly created through the way women usually hold pictures of how well they will cope with combining the care of the baby with other commitments such as household chores, work, study, other children, family relationships etc. They watch other mothers and measure themselves accordingly.

The level of competition between women can often be quite fierce as they compare and view their child’s development as a sign of success or failure as a mother. The age that the baby first smiled, slept through the night, rolled, started to crawl, got their first tooth, said their first word, and so on are used to gauge their child’s development compared to other babies. Women then use these markers as evidence of mothering competency and their levels of self-worth and self-confidence fluctuate accordingly.

The above scenarios all paint a startling, and some might even say absurd picture. These behaviours, fed by the ideals and beliefs accepted as being the ‘right’ or ‘normal’ way by the majority, overwhelmingly portray a picture that tells women that they and/or their baby are abnormal if they don’t meet, or do better than, the standard benchmarks. Mothering becomes a daily nightmare of trying to meet continually unattainable targets. It’s no wonder that depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol use, social media bullying and other forms of relief seeking behaviours are on the rise as women seek to escape from the barrage of competition which is constantly being generated.

Why would women behave in this way, especially towards themselves, each other and those they love? If we stop for a moment, breathe gently and settle our bodies, it’s possible to feel a sense of there being something more to women than what is seen on the exterior. This might only be felt as a little niggle deep inside ourselves, but it’s nonetheless telling us that things aren’t as straightforward as we have been led to believe. What if this was where our true mothering and womanly intelligence lay, and if so, how did we get cut off from the pure gold that all women carry inside themselves, i.e. the wisdom, delicacy, sensitivity, and remarkable levels of awareness?

"What does not make sense means something. In fact, it tells you a lot. So do not discard so easily what could possibly turn out to be your Divine Wisdom signalling that, what you feel and sense does not feel right, what does not feel true and makes no sense in this life we call human life, is with universal certainty, not the truth you otherwise know life could so easily be."

Serge Benhayon Esoteric Teachings & Revelations Volume II, ed 1, p 411

The wheels of comparison usually start rolling from a very early age, corrupting that simple loving connection that children have with themselves. Instead, this is where we women have frequently learnt that our worth is linked directly with our ability to measure up by meeting the expectations and gaining the approval of others. Little wonder then that uncertainty and self-doubt tend to circulate so freely and readily during pregnancy, childbirth and throughout motherhood.

Kicking the habit of a lifetime starts with being aware of how comparison plays out in our lives and feeling the effect of putting ourselves above or below another in any context. From there we can begin to turn down the volume of the outer world while turning up the sound of our own soul with its remarkable stillness, very practical knowing and simplicity. We think because we have not done something before that we need to look around us to find out not just how to do it, but how to do it the right or best way, especially when it comes to being pregnant, giving birth and mothering.

This self-judgment of seeing ourselves as somehow lacking or empty, or even superior to someone else, is a precursor to comparison because it sets us up to look outside instead of knowing, trusting and living from all we have already existing within us.

A woman’s self-worth is built not on favourable comparisons around being pregnant, giving birth or mothering, but through connection with and curiosity about her inner self. It can be accessed whenever any of one of us begins to go inwards to discover and live from a connection with this constant ancient inner self, rather than looking to the fickle and ever-changing outer world for clues, solutions, direction or, most dangerous of all, our sense of self-worth. It’s a redefining of self-care and self-love, leaving anything less as simply background noise that fades away more and more each passing day that a woman’s inner stillness is once again given voice, movement and authority in our lives.

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Self-worthPregnancyMotherhoodParentingBirth

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    By Helen Giles, Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, MMH (Family Therapy), Post Grad Cert Family Therapy & Counselling, M. EPA.

    I love that life is amazing with every relationship offering constant drops of pure gold, whether that be in my work as a perinatal counsellor or through friends, family and others I meet in everyday life.

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    Photography: Clayton Lloyd