Parenthood

When Moms Get Real: Breaking Down Stigmas Around Motherhood

Last month, The Riveter x Lactation Lab celebrated Breastfeeding Awareness Week at our West LA location. A panel of powerhouse moms held forth on all the things that they wish they’d been told when they became new mothers. “We’re trying to create community, we’re trying to start conversations, and we’re trying to show that we’re all in this together and you’re not alone in this moment,” said panelist Samantha Gutstadt, co-founder of the online comedy channel Don’t Call Me Mommy

The panel gave an honest take on breastfeeding, letting go of expectations, and motherhood in the age of social media. Here’s a breakdown of the distinguished speakers, and some of our favorite excerpts from the event.

Panelists:

Dr. Stephanie Canale

Founder of Lactation Lab, which empowers mothers and optimizes their children’s nutrition using a research-based approach to maternal diets.

Kate Torgersen

Founder and CEO of Milk Stork, the first and only breast milk storage and shipping service for traveling, breastfeeding moms.

Samantha Gutstadt

Actress, model, on-camera host, content creator and co-founder of the online comedy channel Don’t Call Me Mommy.

Veena Crownholm

Red carpet host, Miss California 2004, Miss America fourth runner-up and co-founder of The Millennial Mamas.

On breastfeeding 

Kate: Every breastfeeding relationship is different. … I didn’t start Milk Stork to make moms feel like they had to breastfeed. I wanted to give them the choice, and not have weaning be a professional decision. Like, “I’m a salesperson, I have to wean.” Or, “I’m a doctor doing rounds, I have to wean.” It should be a personal choice.

Stephanie: Women are so supportive and so helpful. But at the same time, I’ve never been judged so much. We say we’re so supportive of each other, but we need to practice that.

Veena: I really think it’s everybody’s own choice and their own journey and life. As long as you’re happy with that choice, that’s the best choice for you and your family.

On sex after kids

Sam: Spontaneous sex, I gave that up. We still try, but … not happening. We have episodes [on Don’t Call Me Mommy] that [cover] this need to talk about things in a very real way, and things that maybe weren’t being talked about. 

On social media and motherhood

Stephanie: I think it’s made it harder, actually. You see all these moms just breastfeeding their three-year-old or breastfeeding their two-year-old, and making it look not painful. They’re looking at the camera, they’re all dolled up. That’s not reality. It’s just the expectation and reality are so different. I think it’s setting people up for false expectations [that] It’s going to be easy and not painful. For some it is, but for a lot it’s not.

Veena: There’s so much judgment on social media. There are so many expectations.

Sam: I’d say harder and easier. I rely sometimes on social media to get advice. I’ll reach out to friends with issues that are coming up. 

On being a working mom

Kate: I’m constantly explaining working motherhood to people: I feel like I’m educating the world on what off-the-clock is.

On self-care

Sam: It’s a manicure that I put in my calendar as if it’s a meeting. It’s going for a walk with my dog who I love, and I don’t get enough alone time with anymore. Whatever that looks like, it’s much different now that I’m a mom. We used to do, like, all self-care. I just really try to carve that out and stick to it if I can. Make it like an appointment for me. I try to find one thing a week that I can look forward to that’s just for me.

Kate: Self-care for me is the word “no.” Honestly, I just feel like there’s so many times when your inclination is to say yes, and that’s when self-care goes away. 

On advice for expecting moms

Stephanie: Be adaptable.

Sam: You get to hit the restart button every morning. So, you had a bad day. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom or you’re not doing well at this. 

Kate: There’s no such thing as perfect: I would give you no advice. Because you’re going to figure it out. You have too much advice, is the problem.

Veena: We’re all on our own journey in motherhood and in life. It’s our own path, and so my path is going to look different than your path, and your path, and your path. But one is not better than the other. 

On how to better support new moms

Sam: Sharing among moms. Once I really started opening up topics, I suddenly felt like I could breathe again over certain things. Where I was like, “So it wasn’t just me?” If we start speaking real truths, veiled in humor of course, then we’re going to get somewhere. Because once you start sharing with other moms, it all comes out.

Kate: From my standpoint, it’s finding a community at work. When you return to work, you go back to your old identity, and inside you’re totally changed. I feel like, unfortunately, it’s the moms who are going to solve this. As women come back from maternity leave, even if your kid’s four, welcome them back. Ask for the benefits that you need. Go to someone who understands the pain point 100 percent, because they will become your firebrand within the organization. I think one of the great things about becoming a mom is that period of time where you make friends again: That’s the community that we all can return to.

Stephanie: I think we need to do more, mostly from the health care side, to support new moms. I think the reality is, you have the baby and it’s all about baby. Moms get their six-week or eight-week checkup, and everyone just assumes everything’s fine. Oftentimes it is, right? But sometimes it’s not. No one’s really checking in on Mom. Everyone just assumes that instincts will kick in. I think having those conversations, starting them in the doctor’s office, is one way to do it. 

Veena: One of the questions I love is asking people, “How are you doing, really?” Because when you attach the “really” onto it, you get a real response. I think it’s really asking the new mom how she’s doing. I just remember wanting to have a conversation about something other than the baby, and breastfeeding, food, and gas. It’s important as a girlfriend to go and spend time with them. Bring them a cup of coffee. … Give yourself grace. Not every day is perfect. It always feels good to have a genuine moms’ night out, because you’re connecting again and having real conversations. As women, if we can do that for our friends that are having babies, I think it really changes the experience and the journey.

Break down stigmas through shared experience 

Veena asked each member of the group to share three words describing their motherhood experience. Some that came up were: messy, relentless, exhausting, polarizing, love, scary, unbelievably hard. However, one word that each of these moms returned to was “empowering.” 

Motherhood, as Kate so perfectly put it, “Takes a lot of grit. It takes a lot of knowing yourself. I like the person that I’ve found through motherhood.”

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Hannah Fairbanks is a freelance writer living in San Francisco. When she’s not writing, you might find her reading, packing bento box lunches for her two young daughters, and adventuring around the Bay Area.