By Crystal Prince
As mothers, we are generally the main caregivers for our children, leaving great pressure, responsibility, and consequence of both good and bad with each decision we face, most of which we will not know the effects of until much later. With each and every mother and child being as different as snowflakes in personality, physical growth and culture, deciding which paths to take that fit our own lifestyles and priorities can be our greatest challenge. As we all know, our babies do not come with their own individual hand-book; therefore, many of us are left feeling incompetent, powerless, and side-lined in their role as mothers. So, how in the world do we overcome this?
While working closely with women as a doula and educator during one of their most impacting journeys of life called “motherhood”, I have found empowerment to be an essential attribute every mother should seek to obtain. Robert Adams gives us his version of the definition of ‘empowerment’ in his book Empowerment, Participation and Social Work (fourth edition), “Empowerment: the capacity of individuals, groups and/or communities to take control of their circumstances, exercise power and achieve their goals, and the process by which, individually and collectively, they are able to help themselves and others to maximize the quality of their lives.” In the world of motherhood, we can utilize the three different types of empowerment that Robert Adams speaks of within community empowerment, group empowerment and self-empowerment.
Community and large group empowerment can be seen through many organizations such as International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN), March of Dimes, La Leché League, and Postpartum Progress. We can see large groups of women joining together to bring awareness and support to one another, usually with a common challenge to overcome. These groups work largely to empower and educate women nationally and world-wide by using evidence-based research and an understanding of how to help mothers get through their challenges.
Small empowerment groups can branch off of some of the groups mentioned above, as well as other individual local and social media groups. This is where we as moms can really dig in, get educated, relate on a more personal level, and build relationships with other mothers that may be experiencing similar challenges from the small things like diaper blow-outs and teething troubles, to larger issues like tongue/lip tie, infant prematurity, and postpartum depression/anxiety. Some topics we can laugh off with anecdotes. Some topics we tend to feel ashamed of, not realizing that many mothers go through very similar things. All topics, we as mothers should lay aside our judgement and remember that our priorities, goals, lifestyles and values are not the same. That we are not the same snowflake and we are not building the same snowman. Instead we should embrace and respect each other’s strengths, weaknesses and individuality. With this respect to motherhood, you can help embrace your own and others’ self-empowerment.
Now, self-empowerment is something to be gained from a variety of resources. Large and small groups as mentioned before; education through books, online research, classes, and experience; support from a spouse/partner, family and friends, and self-confidence. Some of us will find this part with ease. While most of us will struggle with self-empowerment off and on throughout motherhood (yes, the rest of your life). And that is okay and completely normal. I’ll say it again and elaborate. It is okay and completely normal to wonder if what you are doing is right or wrong, it’s okay to lend an ear to education and advice, it’s okay to seek holistic and medical professional advice, and it’s okay to take that advice. It’s okay to plan one way, only to see the future now in present time with a different perspective and change your mind. After all, as humans we cannot be knowers-of-all, but don’t let it take away your educated pursuit and right of motherhood. In any basic childbirth education classes, we are taught the acronym B.R.A.I.N.E.D.: Benefits? Risks? Alternatives? Intuition? Nothing/Not now? Emergency? Discuss? /Decision. Carry that with you through the decisions to be made. Weigh heavier on decisions that cannot be recalled. For example: I can give my baby a pacifier and take it away, but I cannot take back a vaccination; I can change positions during labor, but cannot take back waters being artificially broken. Not that any permanent decisions can or should always be avoided.
Motherhood empowerment is something to be treated much like a sports game (my favorite analogy for this). Have trusted coaches and cheerleaders- Get in touch with other mothers, doulas, support groups, and physicians. These are the people that you can lean on in times of question and to cheer you on when you feel like you just can’t go on. Take caution on your intake/diet- Weed out the judgment and negativity, while being able to accept positivity, encouragement and constructive education. There will always be people in the crowd “booing” your choices, just heed advice from those trusted coaches and trust your gut. Exercise- Find support wherever you need it, be supportive by sharing knowledge and lending an ear, and be active in matters that you find your own challenges and passions. Empowerment will take self-effort and evaluation and may take some sweat, but WOW the strength that it can bring you. Have a game plan- Planning is a great thing and helps us reach our goals, but as in any game, we can come across obstacles, so be ready by consulting your trusted coaches, your own knowledge and instinct to change plays and strategies. You won’t always win every play, but try and try again. You’ll get through it enjoy this motherhood adventure, probably better than you could have ever imagined.
Crystal Prince- Motherhood Empowered, LLC
Doula, Educator & Real Mom of Motherhood