I AM enough

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I am enough.

I fell for Brené almost immediately. Granted, I watched her TED lecture on vulnerability when I was an emotionally raw new mother. But I remember being smitten immediately when I heard her talk about holding our perfect little babies and telling them “you know what? You’re imperfect, and you’re wired struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging. And when I watched her second TED lecture about shame and heard her say that for women shame is “do it all, do it perfectly and never let them see you sweat,” I was hooked.

So when Katrina Pavlik suggested I write a blog for Breastfeed Chicago about Brené I said yes without a second thought. I was sure I’d have something to say that you’d want to hear.

And then I got stuck. I love Brené and find her work powerful. Her lectures and books speak to me like poems that I keep seeing in a new light as my own life evolves. But how could I make you see? Why should you care?

So I put the whole project on the back burner for a while.

Then one day my cousin posted this link to a podcast about women who felt let down by Ina May Gaskin and the natural birth movement. Women who really wanted a natural birth, who did all the right things and who were not able to have the birth they wanted. The comments section was a series of incredibly powerful stories of heartbreak, trauma, shame and resilience.

And as I was reading these stories something else fell into place for me. I’d been observing from the sidelines all the hoopla about that one formula commercial. (You know the one where the ugly stereotypes of moms and some dads lash out at each other until they chase a stroller down a hill to save a baby. I’m not going to link to it but you can easily google it.) And the question that nagged me was not whether it was pro-breastfeeding or anti-breastfeeding. It was this: why did this go viral? What emotional chord did it strike for people? Why on earth were people sharing this?

And that’s when I realized that the feeling the commercial was tapping into was not guilt about the choices we make – it was shame about who we are. Guilt is when we feel we’ve done something bad. Shame is when we believe we are bad. Guilt is “I made a mistake”. Shame is “I am a mistake”. When we feel shame we believe deep down that we are not enough and therefore are not worthy of love and belonging. And this commercial tapped into two huge shame triggers for women: our bodies and our babies.

Maybe some people shared the commercial to show how judging can be hurtful. But I think it was way more visceral than that. Shame is not about what other people say to you. It is about your own internal dialogue: what you say to yourself. I believe people shared this as a way to connect with others. As a way to say “See? I’m not the only one hurting. I’m not the only one failing here. I’m not the only one who’s not enough.”

And that’s when I realized that Brené and I had something important – urgent even – to say to all of you. Shame is a normal human emotion. The only people who don’t feel shame are psychopaths. Shame can also be enormously damaging and isolating. But there is a way forward and it’s called shame resilience.

There are basically two steps to shame resilience. The first is recognizing when you feel shame. Sometimes there are physical signs: your face turns red, your palms sweat, your neck feels tingly, you want to hide. For me the most telling sign is hearing my inner voice tell me I’m an idiot. Recognizing and naming shame is the first step to controlling it rather than letting it control you.

The second step is to reach out to tell your story to someone worthy of hearing it, who can stand with you in your struggle without running away and without judging. Maybe even someone who can share her own story of feeling the same way. Brené says that you are incredibly lucky if you have one or two people in your life that can stand with you in your shame.

I’ve been a moderator on Breastfeed Chicago for a few years now and I often struggle with what to say. It’s easy when someone is asking for information and we can connect them to the right page on kellymom or the number to infant risk. But solutions don’t always cut it. I need to keep reminding myself that behind many posts is a shame story, someone who feels like she is doing her best and she is failing, someone that needs my empathy more than my knowledge, someone who needs me to say “I know what it’s like and you are not alone.”

And maybe that’s the answer to these so-called “mommy wars.” We can practice courage, compassion and connection by telling our story to someone worthy of hearing it. We can support each other when we hear these stories by simply saying “I know, I’ve been there too and it sucks. And you know what? You’re imperfect, but you’re wired for struggle. You are worthy of love and belonging, mama, and you are enough.

Danit Schleman lives in Wicker Park with her husband, dog and 2 daughters (3 and 1) She works in Diversity and Inclusion for a Management Consulting firm and enjoys cooking and yoga in her (limited) spare time.

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