Let’s talk about shame… A newly recognised feeling for me. But first, let me tell you what led me to want to talk about shame, and why it’s so important to talk about.
I went to an event today, the kind where you purchase your ticket and an expert talks about their subject matter and if it’s your ‘jam’ you buy their course/product/services etc. I’m a learning junkie, and this IS ‘my jam’….
As I arrive, it’s an intimate group of 30 odd. Eddy (5 months old) is asleep in the pram, covered up.
Firstly, here’s what (working) mothers are thinking when they attend an event with a child in arms;
Me, as a First-Time-Mum: Look at me, I’m out, my baby is clean, I’ve showered, we have a FULLY stocked nappy bag, I have 8 different outfits (for both of us) just in case. But also… where’s the nearest exit, is it too hot, is it too cold, what should I do if he squirms, what will I do if I need to feed, what if someone says something to me about feeding my baby, what if, what if, what if… and that my friends is First-Time-Mum anxiety. A filthy little trick of feeling on top of the world and a hot mess all at the same time.
Me, as a Second-Time-Mum: Well my second child spent the entire first 9 months of his life crying… consequently so did I. We didn’t go out much.
Me, as a Third-Time-Mum: mine was a premmie and spent time in NICU so my thoughts were very different. If you even so much as WAFT your germs my way, Mofo, I will deck you! (also applies to First-Time-Mums) Yes, he’s small, no you may not touch him. Yes, he’s small, please (stranger) do not touch him. Yes he’s small…. Along with thoughts about whether I could actually see about having another arm artificially attached, you know, so there was one for each child. #officiallyoutnumbered
Me, Fourth time around… I’m rolling in there like the badass mother that I AM! This ain’t my first rodeo. I’ve already survived morning drop-offs, there’s school, there’s kindy, (don’t get me started on the sock/shoe gate that happens every.single.morning in my house) and G’ma has taken number 3 (because she’s a bloody saint). I have got this mum business under control, I am all over it.
This seminar, its learning yes, but I also I can exhale. Everyone is safe and accounted for. Now I can focus on me. I hardly even notice the appendage that is my fourth child (sorry fourth child, I love you). I’m literally so used to having him with me, I feel weird when he’s not.
About an hour in, Eddy (5mths old) wakes up, gives me a gummy smile, has a feed, and continues to be cute and make baby noises. to be clear, he did not cry, scream, grizzle or vom (bonus!) etc.
And then, as I was unclenching a tiny little fist, that was full of my cheek….
I was asked to leave.
As in you will need to take your baby out, he’s a distraction.
And maybe he was a distraction, his face is very cute, and he’ll send a big grin most strangers’ way, and look, I don’t even notice his normal baby noises anymore. They just are.
And as I do the walk of shame… Different to in my twenties. Less heels and clutch in one hand and more baby over my shoulder and manoeuvring a pram with the other arm. I’m struck by this feeling that I haven’t felt in many months. What is it?
Outside we go, and as I’m doing laps of the venues carpark (not dangerous at all) I’m chewing over what MY problem is. Yes. This is the first place we go as mothers, I’m looking to blame myself.
And we’re doing laps, and I’m automatically saying it’s not my fault. The tape in my head is saying; he didn’t even cry, why didn’t I check if I could bring babies, why won’t he take a bottle, I’ve failed as a mother, this is so HARD, and most importantly,
WHY/HOW DID I JUST LET THAT HAPPEN?? and it goes on, and on, and on like this as we’re walking.
And while I’m shuuushing and walking, the work of Dr Brene Brown that I’ve been listening too comes back to me. (I’ve been listening to an audio book – The power of vulnerability, if you have a hot minute (or 5 hours) I’d highly recommend it).
Oh, this is what Brene is talking about… THIS.IS.SHAME. I feel shame. I’m experiencing a shame spiral. One of the key things I remember Brene saying, is shame is like the Gremlins (90s movie) it can’t survive in the light. And I start to feel better. Less hot and sweaty, less hot tears trying to spill, and a whole lot less blame.
Dr Brene Brown is a researcher and storyteller. She has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy. More info here
And according to Dr Brown “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experiencing of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance, and belonging. Women often experience shame when they are entangled in a web of layered, conflicting and competing social-community expectations. Shame creates feeling of fear, blame and disconnect”
- I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't): Making the Journey from "What Will People Think?" to "I Am Enough"
Brene has a Shame Resilience Theory, you can read more about it here . But in short;
According to Dr Brown, the four elements of shame resilience are;
Recognising shame and understanding our triggers (eg physical responses like our heart racing or tightness in our chest)
Practicing critical awareness (knowing why something exists, how it works, how our society is impacted or impacting on that something and who benefits from it)
Reaching out and telling our story
Speaking shame is so important as its survival depends on going undetected.
Subsequently, if we recognise and understand out triggers, practice critical awareness and reach out to others, we can grow our resilience as we practice communicating about our shame with our most-trusted advisors who use their own compassion and courage whilst listening and supporting us.
So, having recently heard this theory on shame resilience, I was struck (walking, walking, walking) talking myself out of my shame spiral, and recognising what had happened and what I was feeling. Eddy had fallen asleep (because he’s an angel), and I was ready to go back in (because I’m stubborn).
Did it make me feel better? Yes, a little. But it made me keenly aware of how our actions (however innocent) can really affect others, and the importance of shame resilience, involves moving towards empathy, courage, connection and compassion.
To all those event organisers out there, or even anyone, anywhere who’s getting their knickers in a twist because someone brought their DEPENDENT baby(!) I’m sorry if it seems inconvenient and a distraction to you, however here’s a hot tip.
Here’s what mothers are NOT thinking;
I’ll bring my baby for attention. No mothers wants strangers touching their babies or asking if they sleep through and if they’re a good baby. Not they don’t sleep through, haven’t robbed any banks yet, so this one could be a winner.
Here’s what mothers are not thinking;
Good lord, I hope my baby gets hungry, then I can get my boobies out in public. I really love that.
Here’s what mothers are not thinking;
I’m not hot, sweaty, or flustered in any way.
So for every.single.mother out there, whether you are staying-at-home, or working-from-home, or you are working-in-the-office. It’s a battle you’ll have to endure at every pass, but each time it gets easier, and you get stronger. I can guarantee you, I will never ask you to do the walk of shame with your babes in arms at one of my events.
Save those walks of shame for your twenties.
Because I’ve been there, and it sucked.
If you’re feeling shame, speak your truth. Because like those little gremlins, shame cannot survive in the light.