My husband is a huge military history buff. It is a joke that no matter where we go on holiday, even to visit my friends for a 30th birthday party, he will find a museum or a convention and I will be taking photos of tanks. I don’t mind too much (he doesn’t spend money on alcohol or gambling) and I do find the social history aspect of his hobby interesting.
During World War Two in particular, women made some incredibly difficult decisions. Violette Szabo, went on a second mission to occupied France on her daughter’s second birthday, in the knowledge that she was more likely to leave her daughter an orphan than see her alive again. If you don’t know her story it was made famous by first a book then a film, called Carve her Name with Pride.
Mothers across the continent made decisions knowing that they may never see children again. Whether or not to send their sons and daughters hundreds or thousands of miles away on a perilous journey with no guarentees they would be safe at the end of it is one I hope I never have to make. If you can bear to read it, in Five Chimneys Olga Lenyel describes how she lived with the decisions she made that sent her sons first to Auschwitz and then put them in the queue for the gas chambers. I don’t know if I could have shown the same strength to survive in the same circumstances.
Women are still faced with choices today that don’t have an easy answer. Heidi Loughlin wrote in her blog how she was determined to give her daughter the best chance in life even if it meant delaying her treatment for breast cancer. I’m sure you’ll join me in passing on my sincerest condolences to her and and her family for the loss of Ally Louise.
The closest I have come to a similar decision was whether or not to keep frozen embryos to use later in the hopes of giving my son a sibling. My husband and I agreed that we could not justify the thousands of pounds needed to fund a cycle of treatment that had a 1 in 4 chance of success when we could use the money to invest in our son’s education or first home. Some very dear friends of ours felt giving their son a friend for life was worth every penny spent and tear shed, and I respect their decision as they do ours.
I did want to donate our two embryos to another couple, to give them the chance of parenthood and experience the miracle we had when my son was born after years of childlessness. We discussed what it would mean to have biological child raised by strangers and what we would do if an eighteen year old appeared on our doorstep one day with questions only we could answer.
In the end we were too old to give our embryos away and nor could we donate them to research to improve the success rate of IVF for childless couples in the future, so the ice babies were defrosted. I still feel a pang of something when I consider whether we did the right thing. But ultimately we made our decision and right or wrong, good or bad, I have to own it and accept it.
Every mum has to make decisions. Some are easy, some less so and some are heart-wrenching. I obviously write this blog because I am passionate about breastfeeding and believe the alternatives aren’t as good for my baby, even though I did use formula myself. I fully apprecate not everyone agrees with me, but my biggest bugbear is the constant censure that any attempt to support breastfeeding and put the use of substitutes in context makes mums feel guilty. So we just have this conspiracy that contributes to the worst breastfeedng rates in the world.
Firstly, Eleanor Roosevelt said it better than me:
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
The majority of my parenting choices aren’t mainstream and are met with the odd raised eyebrow. Does that mean I feel guilty for them? No. Do I want you to feel guilty because you are different to me? Hell no. Guilt is a waste of emotion and energy. Either change what you are doing or change your attitude towards it.
In fact, you could easily be a far superior mother to me. I am fully aware of my limitations and failings, and I am still at the relatively easy stage of it. However, I chose to identify and own my strengths and weaknesses and use that knowledge to help my son. I don’t need to be perfect, because my husband, family and friends all work with me so we can give him the best possible childhood.
Secondly, I think mums are better than that. Hiding from research that shows formula companies have a long way to go make a product that is as good as you and your children deserve does smack to me of ‘don’t worry your pretty little head about it’. You cope with situations far more complicated than the choice of how to feed your children and come out of it just as awe inspiring as always.
As we celebrated Mothering Sunday we all took a moment to remember our own mothers and as new mums we often reflect on how we compare. We often use them as our role models, but still parent differently in many ways. I don’t love my mum any less for our differences. She is a wonderful source of advice, and while I don’t use it all as it doesn’t all work for me or my son, I don’t want her to stop giving it. The decisions I make are all the better for her input, even if I appear to still go my own way. We still love and respect each other, because mothers are stonger than you think.