I read this heartbreaking blog post yesterday by a regret mom.
She ignored her instincts, caved to the pressure, and allowed her son to be circumcised.
He was a different baby when he was brought back to her. “He was screaming this awful, distressed scream,” she writes. “The word ‘scream’ doesn’t even describe the noise coming out of my son’s mouth.” She thinks she’ll feel sorry about it for the rest of her life.
But could anyone have helped her to choose differently beforehand?
Can you help people who don’t want your help?
If you are a regret mom, is there some way to share your regret story—about anything—with other people so they don’t make the mistakes you did?
I have a friend who is pregnant right now. She was so mistreated and abused during her first labor and delivery that she and her partner are terrified about this one. Terrified. I’ve suggested she hire a doula. I’ve mentioned that studies show that continuous labor support during childbirth leads to shorter labors, fewer obstetrical interventions, and more positive overall feelings about the birth. I suggested the kindest, nicest, most experienced doula in the world – the person I would want at my birth. My friend seemed really open to the idea of having someone there to help her and her husband. But she never called the doula.
I am also a regret mom. Thankfully not about circumcision. Thankfully, we chose to leave our son intact. But my husband and I both have a lot of regrets about our first birth. Could anyone have helped me and my husband when we were pregnant for the first time, being hurried, bullied, and misunderstood by the healthcare professionals who were paid to support us? Could we have avoided the bullying, the shaming, the enema, the epidural, the hostile nurses who seemed to take a sadistic pleasure in letting me know I was making “no progress”?
I didn’t know there was an alternative to hospital birth. Not because it wasn’t out there. I knew people, or knew of people, choosing gentler alternatives: a friend of a friend, my aunt Judy. But I wasn’t open to it. My husband felt the safest place for us was in the hospital. My family agreed. My homebirth aunt never spoke up. When I thought about home birth, I let roadblocks get in my way: my husband’s reluctance, our dismal finances. It was true that our health insurance would not cover an out-of-hospital birth. It was also true that if we had really wanted one, even though we were broke, we would have found a way to pay for it.
Maybe people have to make their own mistakes?
Maybe there is a reason we don’t pay attention when people want to help us avoid the mistakes they made?
I honestly don’t know.
Hindsight is always 20/20.
I have another friend with a severely disabled son. She is also a regret mom. She did everything the doctors told her to do, followed all of their advice to the letter. She vaccinated her son at birth against hepatitis B and also let the doctors vaccinate her against several diseases while she was breastfeeding him. My husband and I never intended to refuse the birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine. We told the nurse we wanted to talk to our pediatrician, get more information, and make an educated decision. The nurse narrowed her eyes in anger. I’ll never forget how mad she looked. I’m glad, now, that that was her reaction. It raised a big flag in my mind about the hepatitis B vaccine and pushed me to do my own research on all of the vaccines recommended for our baby.
“How did you know to question?” my friend asked me years later. She is convinced that her son’s brain damage was caused—at least in part—by the vaccines. “Somehow you just knew. Me, I went along with everything.”
If I could talk to my younger self and help her know what I know now, here’s what I would tell her:
- It’s okay to delay: If you make a decision to delay something to give yourself more time to learn about it—like circumcision or vaccines—you can always revisit the decision later and change your mind if you need to. But once you make a decision to do something, you can’t undo it afterwards.
- Your gut knows best: If something does not feel right, you need to change it. It’s not your fault that things are going wrong but it is your responsibility to fix it. I was practically a regret mom before our baby was even born. We had such bad prenatal care that I would cry in the car in the parking lot after every appointment. We actually switched from the hospital midwives to the doctors in the mistaken belief that they would be kinder to us. Though we did pay attention to our intuition, when the problem still wasn’t fixed, we should have tried again. That’s what this mom did to avoid the doctors forcing her to have a C-section she did not want or need. She’s my hero.
- Open your mind: Don’t close your mind to things that you think are strange—like placenta encapsulation or infant pottying or lotus birth—find out more about them and you may realize that they aren’t weird, but wonderful.
- Ask good questions: Don’t be afraid to find out more. Ask people to share their stories. Find out why your friend or family member made the decisions they made and how they feel about them now. Ask them what they wish they had done differently. Find out from a regret mom what she regrets and what would have changed her mind at the time. I have a long long list of regrets from our first birth: I wish we had talked to a midwife, just one, just talked; I wish we had stayed home for at least twelve hours even though the doctor insisted we had to “come right in”; I wish I had lied about my water breaking so I would not have been subjected to a misguided and non-evidence based hospital policy that put my labor on a timetable; I wish we had hired a doula; I wish I had not let the nurses take away my baby and scrub her with antibiotic soap while she screamed; I wish I had paid attention to what I knew would have been safest and most comfortable for me and my baby, which would have been to never have set foot in the hospital in the first place…
- Ask for and accept help: Some of us have a lot of trouble asking for what we need and allowing people to help us, even when we know we need it. I was making food for the friends and family who came over after our baby was born. When people offered to bring meals, I said, “No, thank you.” The best thing you can do for a new family is bring them a meal. And if you’re having a baby, tell people what you want and need. Childcare for older siblings, help with the housework, a meal left on the porch so you don’t have to socialize. It makes people feel good to help other people. By allowing them to help you, you are giving them a gift. Don’t be so selfish and neurotic that you deny friends and family the kindness of helping you.
The title of this post isn’t rhetorical. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you ever successfully helped someone who didn’t want your help?