I am #blessed (and also, like, actually blessed) to have a tremendous number of older female relatives and unrelated but nevertheless loving aunties. I was the first grandchild of my generation in my family and, moreover, the first grandchild among all my grandparents' many, many friends. So when I was pregnant, I did not lack for a cohort of older women to tell me what was up. But just as there are things every auntie needs their beloved younger person to be aware of, there are things every pregnant woman needs older women to know.
Don't worry! It's not all bad stuff! Sometimes we want you to know how much we love and appreciate you! Because you're awesome, older women! We bow before your experience and oftentimes mystical knowledge. But other times we are going to need you to slow your roll for a bit, because you're kind of a lot. And it's cool, we love you and all your extra-ness, so we'll deal with it for the most part. But you'd be helping us out tremendously if you'd stop and listen because you're not the only ones who know a thing or two.
With love and respect, here are some things we'd like you to be aware of.
1. Thank You For Helping Me Through This
I think there's a tremendous amount women can glean from a community of other women, and the more diversity within that group the better. So that includes women of earlier generations. These are ladies who have been there: they have the direct experience and also the benefit of hindsight and perspective. So take a minute to appreciate all that your mothers, aunties, and grandmothers have to offer you. This is literally how human beings have managed to carry on for 200,000 years — learning from (and with the help of) previous generations.
2. I Need You To Not Talk About Hypothetical Future Pregnancies Right Now
Even if I've said in the past I want more children, I need to focus on the here and now. I know your experience and perspective allows you to look at the big picture in ways I can't, but right now, from my perspective, I haven't seen my vagina in several months and the thought of being pregnant a minute longer than is strictly speaking necessary is painful, so stop.
3. No, I'm Not Going To "Toughen Up" My Nipples To Prepare For Breastfeeding
I've often heard, always from older ladies, that if one wants to breastfeed one must basically torture their nipples with a rough washcloth before the baby is born "so it doesn't hurt when you're nursing."
And, OK, at first blush one might understand why that makes some sense. But, like... it's going to hurt one way or the other by that logic, yes? So... why take it upon yourself? Also, I hate to break this to you, but a newborn has its own unique way of destroying your nipples. So, more likely than not, you're just going to hurt your nips only for the baby to hurt them differently.
So, yeah, no, hard pass.
4. Yes, I'm Going To Keep Working After I Give Birth
And I'm going to have a lot on my plate. This means there is literally zero space for any of your judgment. So I'm going to have to ask you to stop trying to ladle out a heaping helping for me.
(To be clear, not all older women will do this — some may be awesomely supportive! And not everyone who does this to you will be an older woman — mom-shamers come in all ages and genders. But, in my personal experience, the most pearl-clutchy people I faced in regard to this issue were usually older people, and in particular older women.)
5. I Will Happily Indulge Your Witchcraft
I can't be the only woman who was surrounded by superstitious old ladies who would dangle things over my belly to try to determine my child's sex or give me home remedies to help my heartburn or gift me religious statues for various protections, right?
Do I believe in this stuff? Not really. But I love the traditions and good intentions of the people sharing them with me, so I welcome any and all hocus pocus, strega magic, and assorted enchantments older women want to bestow.
6. I'm Not Made Of Porcelain
Older ladies, famous for their fussing and worry, are sweet... but OMG, gals, I can pick up this pillow without being concerned for the baby's welfare. I can even exercise and it's going to be fine. I appreciate the concern, but the constant admonishments and gasps need to stop.
7. I Don't Appreciate The Gender Stereotyping
"Oh it must be a girl: she's stealing your beauty!"
"Ooh! A good strong kick: it must be a boy!"
Nope. That's not how any of this works and I need you to acknowledge that and knock it off.
8. I'll Accept Name Suggestions (To A Certain Point)
If I'm actively seeking names, I'd love to hear your suggestions: after all, so many good old-fashioned names are due for a comeback. Please, there's no bad suggestion in a brainstorm, so keep 'em coming!
Please do not insist that the baby must be named after your great-aunt Ermengarde after I've politely declined (or just let it drop... take a hint). And if I have a name, don't try to talk me out of it because you don't like it.
9. Please Spare Me Your Horror Stories
Pregnancy is a horror story in and of itself. I don't need to hear about just how badly you tore because "our family makes big babies." There's literally nothing I can do about things like this, so it's best not to have to dwell on them for months. Besides, pregnancy dreams are weird enough as it is: I don't need these little seeds taking root in my subconscious.
10. This Isn't A Judgment, But Things Are Different Now
Seriously, I'm really not judging you, but we know now that giving your infant honey is a really bad idea. So, too, is putting your baby on their tummy to go to sleep. And while having a vaginal delivery after a c-section was once dangerous, it really isn't now. You did what you thought was best based on the knowledge you had a the time. I'm doing the same: we have different knowledge now. And one day I'm sure my future space granddaughter is going to be horrified by something I did in good faith. I will try not to take it too personally.
11. I Know I Can Learn From You
Above and beyond the emotional support a community of women provides, I know you have a lot of "institutional knowledge" in that wrinkly head of yours, and I love you for it. Yes, some things have changed, but most of the really important stuff — perhaps the most important stuff, in fact — hasn't. I'm excited to begin my journey as a future older woman absorbing your older-woman wisdom.