How to avoid being a military momma martyr

(Photo: Unsplash, Suhyeon Choi)

This post is sponsored by The Breastfeeding Shop.

Military spouses love to compare and share our life experiences with the military. We regularly swap war stories about appliances exploding the day our spouse has deployed. Or we share tales of woe about PCS moves gone horribly, horribly wrong. And we all tell about our most interesting and exciting birthing experiences.

It’s almost a rite of passage: Let’s swap birthing stories! Mostly, we do this when someone we know is pregnant or just to bond with another mother.

It starts off small. There’s always the spouse whose husband actually fainted during the epidural. She’ll say it with a smirk, too: “Big, bad Marine, down for the count. And he wasn’t even the one having the baby!”

Everyone will laugh.

Then we’ll move into the natural birth stories. These are almost shared with smugness. It’s like there’s an edge to doing everything au natural. Surely it must make that lady a better mom! Ladies who did opt for the pain killers might shrink back, feeling slightly chastised for their “weakness.”

Next up: Near misses. Did you hear the one about the spouse in Okinawa who rolled up to the ER, crowning, while a typhoon was bearing down? She didn’t even get to the epidural and was lucky to get in the building!

Finally, we come to the crowing (get it?) glory: Birth just before or during deployment. Spouses share about the baby that came hours before the buses rolled out. There are pictures passed around showing a beaming mom, surrounded by friends and neighbors; no spouse in sight.

Sharing birth stories can be pretty fun. . . until one or two people get the gleam in their eyes. The one that says: “Oh yeah? Well, let me tell you about my story. . . ”

When the story swap moves to full on competition, it’s easy to feel run down and defeated, especially as the stories ramp up.

My birthing stories were totally unremarkable. My husband was home for both kids. We made it to the hospital in plenty of time, too. I did opt for the epidural because I don’t do pain well. And except for a few moments of cord-wrapping terror, everyone emerged mostly unscathed.

I’m never going to be as tough as the ladies who just breathed through it. My spine is not at strong as the gals who did it without their spouse, either. I just can’t compete!

Here’s the thing: I shouldn’t be competing.

Bringing a child into this world, however it happens, should be celebrated. Instead, I’m left feeling slightly less-than because I opted to take the drugs. When I mentioned that I was going to have an epidural, I got all sort of horror stories from my military mama friends. I heard all about how I might harm my baby and why using a certain “method” was better.

Even when I talked it over with my husband, I still felt like I wasn’t good enough just because of the epidural. I fretted over the possible poor outcomes: Not latching right away, a less responsive baby, back issues, and on and on and on.

Everything was fine, by the way. Those other mothers got into my head and caused stressed for everything to literally be picture perfect.

Bringing a child into this world, whoever is there, should be celebrated. Whether you’re pushing with your spouse or your best friend, giving birth takes infinite courage.

One-upping each other with tales of deployed birth can make those who had everyone at home feel less-than. It’s like we haven’t passed this basic rite of military spousehood. It’s right there on all the lists: Give birth with spouse deployed. If you can’t check that box, are you really a full military spouse?

There are no medals in the world of childbirth. This isn’t the Olympics, with points for most harrowing or most painful. Our goals are the same, whether we birth at home or in a hospital or in a Zen Buddhist birthing retreat.

We all want to welcome a healthy newborn baby into the family.

As we share our birthing stories, let’s remember to keep it friendly. Tell all about the OB-GYN who honestly reminded you of Doogie Howser. But don’t challenge the next lady to top your story.

Birth is such a deeply personal experience. No two journeys, even with the same mother, are going to be the same. Respect the choices of others without judgement or shaming. At the end of the day, we walked out with our precious children.

That’s really the greatest birthing story of all, isn’t it?

The Breastfeeding Shop provides name-brand, high-quality breast pumps and breastfeeding supplies. Catering to the military community, the Breastfeeding Shop’s quick and easy service ensures that TRICARE beneficiaries can receive breast pumps and supplies at no-cost to them.

By Meg Flanagan