Today, our co-ordinator Katherine talks about her least favourite word. Many thanks to her for sharing her wonderful writing with us!

“Should” is just an ordinary word until you become pregnant. Then it transforms, or rather upgrades, to an unachievable ideal.

It starts as soon as your period is late: “you should expect to get a positive pregnancy test on the day of your missed period.” Any conception forum will prove that this is incorrect and causes a lot of anxiety.

“You should experience morning sickness from 5 weeks on”: not everyone gets morning sickness, lucky devils, but this too causes anxiety.

“You should feel movements from x week,” “you should start glowing from the second trimester,” “you should enjoy your pregnancy.” All this pressure and the baby isn’t even born yet. It’s not something I really even recognised until much later. I felt reassured by these rules my body and baby should follow and I was fairly fortunate to follow some of these timelines. However, they aren’t reassuring for everyone.

The biggest “should” milestone before baby arrives is WHEN they should arrive. Baby should be born on this very inaccurate and whimsical date and then you will receive phone calls and messages from people demanding to know where this baby is and when can they come and visit.

Once baby has arrived, the “shoulds” really ramp up. You should feel a rush of love. You should breastfeed in the golden hour. You should enjoy the tea and toast. Oh, and you shouldn’t make a fuss.

Then there’s the comparisons. Breastfeeding should be the most natural thing in the world. You should be up for a shag after your 6-week appointment to get contraceptives. Baby should be sleeping better by 6 weeks and in a Moses basket, never with you, and of course you should be thinking about getting back into those jeans you wore the night you conceived.

Baby groups can at times be full of should. You should be singing/signing/reading/doing messy play at all times to ensure that offer from Oxbridge (I am being slightly factious, but this is how it felt at the time). Discussions around weaning, nappies, sleep, and feeding all contain a lot of shoulds and to be honest, it’s overwhelming.

This is not detracting from the fantastic things that baby groups provide; they were at times an oasis in the desert of motherhood, but for a lot of it there was far too much information about what we all should have been doing. It is difficult when such a large population attends these events, but I’m surprised no one asked what I thought I should be doing, which would have been “I want to enjoy my baby, not worry about all these things.”

I recently had a conversation with a friend who had a newborn and it was possibly the most refreshing conversation I’d had with a new mum for a long time. She said that she’s grown up enough to know what she should and shouldn’t do, and someone who doesn’t know her or her child isn’t going to tell her or persuade her to do anything differently. I really wish I’d had this confidence as a new parent.

And that’s the point: we don’t give parents enough confidence to make their own choices, we just tell them what they should do.

At The Motherkind Café, I hear so many mothers say they don’t feel good enough because they haven’t done x,y,z. A lot of the time, it’s that they aren’t really enjoying their maternity leave like they feel they should have done. Seeing them relax when I say it’s rather common is glorious. The Motherkind Café gives mothers space to discuss these pressures and I really wish more of these spaces existed.

I’m starting a petition to remove “should” from the dictionary, it’s completely unnecessary.

The next time anyone tells you what you should or shouldn’t be doing, roll your eyes, scream the word “fuck” in your head, and then come along to a Motherkind session and we can all laugh about it over a cup of tea.

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