I can’t work out if I am being unreasonable to feel the way I do about recent conversations with my mum. On the one hand I wonder if I am being competitive, on the other I feel like my birth and breastfeeding experience is being marginalised. By that I don’t mean ‘listen to me, me, me I gave birth too’ but more that any reference I make to the whole thing, while trying to support my sister, is dismissed as being ‘not as bad’. The words my mum used were, if not ‘not as bad’, something like ‘yes but K’s is so much worse than yours was’ and also when talking about breastfeeding ‘I didn’t think you had any problems with breastfeeding’. Anyway this has come about because while I have been trying to help my sister through dealing with her tear/episiotomy/stitches and learning how to breastfeed I have naturally used phrases like ‘when I had my stitches’ or ‘Bob used to…’. A couple of times when I have spoken to my mum like this she has responded quite sharply, telling me that my 2nd degree tear and stitches is just not the same as my sister’s third degree injury and stitches. Fair enough, I actually do understand that for many women a third degree tear means they will have on-going continence issues and expect a generally longer recovery period. Still, that doesn’t mean that I don’t know what it’s like to have stitches in the same place you pee and shit from (to be blunt) or that I can’t empathise with the way my sister might be feeling about it.
As a middle child I am fully aware that I have these ‘look at me, me, me’ traits and also that I use humour a lot of the time to get attention. I cringe when I realise I am doing it. At the moment, though, I feel really aggrieved by some of the things my mum has said or implied. The facts are that my labour and birth experience was very much like my sisters apart from the fact that she needed 4 pints of blood. Now of course I understand that losing 4 pints is really very bad and I know this left her feeling really awful.
My labour was long just like my sister’s. My baby’s heart beat dropped dramatically just like my sister. My baby had blood tests done while he was still inside me, just like my sister. I was prepped for a C-section, just like my sister. I had a forceps birth with episiotomy, just like my sister. My baby ended up in the Neo Natal unit, my sister ended up in high dependency. Yes of course there are differences and of course my experience is not a recent one – I am fully recovered – but when it comes to being able to support my sister I actually think I am one of the peopl close to her who can empathise properly having experienced pretty much the same thing fairly recently and if that means I have to drop in a few ‘when this happened to me’ type conversations then so be it.
I do feel pissed off that my mum has belittled my episiotomy experience though I can understand why she might think that for me it was nothing. After all, I had so much more to deal with at the time that the fact I had stitches and found walking and moving painful was fairly insignificant. I had to walk even though it was painful because I had to get up and go to see B in the neo-natal unit for over a week. I had to drive to the hospital (often on my own and often at night) which meant getting in and out of a car, which is painful with stitches in your fanjo, several times a day to try to breastfeed him and fend off bottles from the well-meaning nurses. Ah – the breastfeeding. I think perhaps I was more offended by my mum saying ‘but I didn’t think you had any problems with breastfeeding’. Again the reality is that I left the recovery ward and didn’t see my son for hours by which time he had already had formula. In the neo-natal unit I wasn’t given any useful help to breastfeed and my right breast was really sore. When B came home more than a week after he was born I struggled for 2 days to get breastfeeding properly established and to get him off the bottles. I remember being in tears, I remember the pain I had in one breast which I gritted my teeth and fed through regardless.
I really don’t want to be making this all about me but I felt quite offended by mum’s attitude and wondered if I should just shut up. And stop offering support unless I can do it without referring to my own experience, particularly if mum is in earshot.