Wisdom Motherhood by Any Means Taking the filter out of your journey into parenthood. By Amanda Kohr Photos by Tanja Heffner and Ella Jardim. Home birth. Epidural. C-sections. Breastfeeding. Infertility. Artificial insemination. Stepparenting. Adoption. Fostering. Multiples. There are so many ways to become a mom. And for each method, there are a thousand more opinions. Not all of them are so nice and some are awfully intrusive. It’s not unusual to announce the specifics of your journey into parenthood and be met with questions: You couldn’t breastfeed? That sucks. Are you sure you’re ready for three babies? Doesn’t being a foster parent scare you? You had a c-section? I’m sorry. I’d adopt, but I’d much rather have my own baby. Are you sure you want to be a single parent? Are you sure you want to parent a child who is not biologically yours? A natural birth? Aren’t you scared? Are you sure? Are you sure? Let me first state that I am not a mom. I am, however, dating a man who has a 2-year-old son and is co-parenting with his ex, so parenting is not an idea I avoid. Motherhood fascinates me. I watch my boyfriend and his ex parent their son. I have several friends who are now carrying their first children and wondering how they will deliver. I have friends struggling with infertility, breastfeeding, and the stigma of single parenting. I know young moms, new moms in their late forties, and everything in between. And so I had a wide range of resources for this piece. I asked moms with myriad stories and opinions to share their experiences; their births, how they coped when the births didn’t go according to plan, their struggles with breastfeeding, the process of adoption, the adventure of foster-parenting, the level of thoughtfulness necessary for a co-parenting situation, and more. Our choices surrounding parenting, birth, and motherhood are too often stigmatized, making the already difficult process of entering parenthood all the more challenging. And how do we break down these generalizations? We listen. “I define my transformation.” Yoga teacher and Wanderlust teacher Mary Beth LaRue, shared these words with me when I asked her about her journey thus far as a foster parent. Mary Beth and her husband decide to investigate foster parenting after being told it might be difficult for her to conceive the traditional way—so without much of a fight, they decide to grow their family through foster care. “These past 4.5 months with Baby A, who came to us at seven days old, have changed my entire life,” Mary Beth shares.“I didn’t realize my heart could grow this large and love this little babe so unconditionally, especially in the face of so much uncertainty. We have no idea if he will stay with us or not but our job is to love and provide no matter what.” Mary Beth discusses her foray into parenthood on her Instagram, and recently posted about the need to end the bias surrounding foster parenting. “These children are just children,” She writes. “Not ‘foster’ children. They are kids. Just like all the other children in your life. And they don’t have the tools or resources we do to deal with the trauma they are experiencing.” Our choices surrounding parenting, birth, and motherhood are too often stigmatized. How do we break down these generalizations? We listen. Brittanie Davis, a mama in Northern Virginia, became a mom at 23 when she decided to take the plunge and adopt a baby in need. The journey was a bit of a rollercoaster; Brittanie tells me that she was working as a property manager when one of her maintenance employees expressed his struggle raising his daughter’s infant—there was simply not enough money, and it would be best for everyone to give the baby up for adoption. Brittanie instantly felt a connection to the child and asked if she could adopt him. “I always wanted to be a mom,” She tells me. “And it seemed like the perfect opportunity.” Over the next year, Brittanie underwent foster care training, hired two attorneys, and did everything else she possible could to make sure Baby G was hers. Even after she had been granted legal rights to raise Baby G, she remained in the foster care system, and opened up her doors to children of all ages and lifestyles. A few years later she became pregnant with her second child, a girl, through artificial insemination. Over the past few years, Brittanie has had 9 plus kids living under her roof. “People ask me all the time, ‘you’re really doing it all on your own?’ or ‘why didn’t you wait longer?’” Brittanie tells me. “They say, ‘you don’t have a husband? I’m sorry.’ But it’s not a bad thing. It always felt like the right choice.” Intrusion extends beyond adoption and fostering. After trying to get pregnant for three years, music teacher Sarah Issa El-Khoury and her partner looked into other options. Part of this journey meant answering a lot of unwanted questions. People ask me if I delivered naturally or if I had a C-section, which makes me think they’re only thinking about my vagina. – Sarah Issa El-Khoury “People would also ask me when we were planning to have kids, which frustrated me to no end. It’s hard to answer without making people uncomfortable,” Sarah describes. “We ended up doing an IUI, which doesn’t have a very high success rate on the first try. Well, it not only worked, but apparently, the meds I took (progesterone, ovidrel, and clomid) worked wonders, because we found out about the triplets around 8 weeks.” Her pregnancy and delivery were surprisingly easy—though she admits she was on careful watch because of the high risk associated with multiples. Sarah says, “The only real problem is I’ve ever had during my pregnancy are the strange comments that people make. People ask me if I delivered naturally or if I had a C-section, which makes me think they’re only thinking about my vagina. People ask me how the babies were conceived as well, which I think is so intrusive and no one’s business.” Birth is natural, period. I once dated a guy who told me that I would be a wimp if If I choose to use an epidural to birth our future (hypothetical) children. “My mom had four kids without one,” He bragged, as if he had done the work himself. “And my wife will be strong enough to do the same.” Um, yeah. We are no longer together. But his words illustrated another issue—there are dozens of stigmas regarding delivery. Epidural or no epidural? Home birth? Hospital? C-section? I always cringe when folks refer to non-epidural births as “unnatural.” My own mother had me in a hospital, with an epidural (as many mothers do) and really enjoyed my birth. She remembers every detail. And with the exception of an Amazon prime addiction, I feel like I turned out okay. I spoke with Jenna Loemeier, a mother of two little girls in Michigan whose vision of a seamless birth was disrupted with unexpected health issues. She wasn’t planning on using an epidural, but labored hard, and eventually opted in. The medicine was administered poorly and sent pain down her spine and neck. She was forced into a C-section when, once again, the numbing medicine didn’t work. After labor (baby was a-okay), Jenna was unable to breathe—her lungs were filled with fluid and she’d lost a lot of blood. I always cringe when folks refer to non-epidural births as “unnatural.” “My body was wrecked,” Jenna says as she reflects on finally being able to hold her child.” I could barely walk and I felt as though it were a miracle that I was breathing. But my angel baby was perfect. She knew me, she drank milk from me, and she was thriving. Knowing that she was healthy and happy is what kept me from falling apart the next year.” Despite the magic that inevitably came from motherhood, Jenna still questioned her birth journey and analyzed the nitty-gritties, feeling guilty for both the c-section and the epidural. “I couldn’t pinpoint a certain person or group of people, but I think that belly births aren’t celebrated enough,” Jenna explains. “It’s not that I don’t feel like a ‘real mom’ but there is something odd about delivering a baby by surgery from your belly. I’m so tired of hearing about how magnificent women are to birth babies when I was unable to… I don’t want to normalize c-sections, but I don’t want women who have truly needed them to feel left out either. If anyone thinks it’s the easy way out they are way wrong.” To boob or not to boob Another area that faces a stigma is breastfeeding. The topic is so hot—is it better to use formula or be on the boob? And if you can’t breastfeed, but want to, how does that make a woman feel? I spoke to another Jenna Rae, a new mama in Colorado, who decided against breastfeeding because of the multiple medications for PTSD, depression, and anxiety that she was taking—all of which are not recommended for those who breastfeed. “I felt an enormous stigma having to talk to medical professionals about taking medication that wasn’t recommended. I had to choose between keeping my mental health on an even plateau or doing what everyone ‘assumes’ is the right thing—not take medication, just deal with it, etc.” Jenna explains. “Even now I pack a bottle when we go places but this is a really ‘liberal’ city.’ You whip that bottle out in the park and you’ll probably get mom-shamed by every mom in a five miles radius of you.” Catie Hatcher, a mama in Southern Virginia, also recently had a baby and opted for breastfeeding and an epidural-free birth. Labor was incredibly difficult for her and she refused epidural several times. Though Catie’s contractions were strong, she wasn’t dilating, and was told to refrain from pushing, which Catie says “was so mentally and physically difficult.” When her son was finally out, there were massive amounts of meconium in his lungs, and he rushed to the NICU minutes after he was born. She also didn’t get to leave the hospital with her baby—a mental struggle for any new mom. And because her baby was in the NICU, where the babes are fed with bottles, Catie struggled to get her baby to switch to the breast, something she really wanted to do. The advice I give any mother to be that I come across is this: Educate yourself and believe in yourself. No matter the outcome, you are a warrior. – Jenna Rae “We went to lactation specialists multiple times to get advice,” Catie reveals. “We used nipple shields which basically offer a larger nipple on top of your nipple to help the infant latch and feed. And we used an option called S&S method where my husband actually had to help. Because my milk had not come in but my baby was extremely hungry—his stomach had expanded quickly—we had to supplement with formula until my milk came in.” “I’m lucky to have a partner who cares as much as I do and was able to be around the first two weeks. Breastfeeding, while natural, is not always easy,” Catie continues. “As a new mom, I’ve found that breastfeeding is not talked about enough. There is more support now with lactation specialists, but it is still difficult and can feel very lonely when you feel you can’t feed your child.” “The advice I give any mother to be that I come across is this: Educate yourself and believe in yourself,” Jenna from Michigan added. “No matter the outcome, you are a warrior.” When it comes to motherhood and birth, we find lots of room for judgment. What if we swap out the criticism and make way for celebration? Motherhood takes an astounding degree of strength, whether it be birth or the mental capacity to fight off stigmas. This Mother’s Day (and every day, really), let’s remove the filters, the stigmas, and the judgment and focus on the common thread in every venture into parenthood: love, and it’s ability to always deliver. — Amanda Kohr is the editor at Wanderlust. You can find her exploring new highways, drinking diner coffee, and on Instagram.