Are you bragging or complaining?

One of my friends recently posted on facebook that his car had just attained 200,000 miles on the odometer. Was he bragging about his high mileage and still-functional car, or complaining that his car was so old and he couldn’t afford a newer one?

Often, people make statements, and others read into them — make inferences from them, that may or may not be accurate. Sometimes, people will make back-handed statements — they will speak deprecatingly about themselves or their accomplishments, when they really want people to pat them on the back for their accomplishment. [I am reading Pride and Prejudice again, and noticed that Elisabeth, Darcy and Bingley have this conversation at Netherfield — Bingley admires Darcy’s style of letter-writing, and particularly his neatness, saying that he himself writes too fast to be neat, and also ends up forgetting to write half the words he intended. Elisabeth compliments him that he cannot write fast enough to keep up with his thoughts; but Darcy points out that Bingley is appearing to be self-deprecating, but is actually intending that Elisabeth have just that reaction — of turning a self-confessed fault into a compliment.]

Was my friend bragging or complaining? I believe he was truly bragging. In any event, several of us posted comments about our own high-mileage cars, bragging about how far we’d driven them, how good condition they were in (or not), how long we hoped to keep driving them, how many miles we’d hope to get out of them, etc. There were a few in the 200,000-mile club; my brother bested them all, with nearly 350,000 miles on his ’99 Accord (he bought it new, has maintained it well; drives it a lot in his job as a piano tuner — not to mention driving to his wife’s family in Nebraska and elsewhere [he put over 5,000 miles on it within a few weeks this summer, doing one of those trips]; and the only problem he has is that it has recently started leaking a little bit of oil).

Some of you may be cheering my friend and my brother on, in their high-mileage bragging; but I daresay that some of you may be at least nervous, if not nearly aghast at the thought of driving a car that long.

I wonder what the mood would have been, had my friends reacted negatively to this friend’s announcement. How might it have been different, had somebody responded, “200,000 miles?!?!? That’s insane! I wouldn’t feel comfortable driving a car that had over 100,000 miles on it!! You need to sell that thing before it leaves you stranded on the side of the road somewhere, or blows up on you, or something! That’s just ridiculous! I’ve never heard anything so stupid in all my life!” Or, “Why in the world would you drive a car with that many miles on it?! Can’t you afford a better car??” I think that might have dampened the cheerful aspect of the post a wee bit, don’t you?

Doesn’t the same thing happen when women gather together and the subject turns to birth?

I remember being in a conversation with several women, just a few months after I gave birth the first time. We had gathered up around a first-time pregnant mom, and the women in the group were going around telling the “MY birth was worse than YOUR birth” game, a.k.a. “let’s scare the first-time mom about labor and birth so much that she chooses an elective C-section under general anesthesia, so as to miss the whole process entirely!” I don’t even remember who all was there, nor do I remember who the pregnant woman was, but I do remember getting pretty irritated at all the women there. And as soon as I had an opening, I interrupted, “Oh, it wasn’t like that for me at all!!” And I painted a positive picture of how empowered I felt after giving birth. And what do you know — the mood changed! Suddenly all the women were trying to outdo each other in positive aspects of labor and/or birth!

That conversation has replayed in my mind numerous times in the nearly 5 years since it happened, but it has only been recently that I realized that probably many of the women were trying to be like Bingley — they were wanting… confirmation?… a compliment? … somebody to tell them, “Oh, that does sound bad, you must be a strong woman to make it through all that!”? They were complaining in pretense. What they were actually doing, was bragging. Sure, there was room for complaint, undoubtedly — but I think they were wanting that pat on the back for having given birth under such adverse circumstances, but couldn’t just say it as honestly as that. It rather reminds of the old grandpa telling his grandkids about how he had to walk to school when he was a boy, five miles, through the snow, uphill both ways!

8 Responses

  1. Uh, guilty as charged…
    6 births with out meds and a mean nursie last time…yep maybe I brag a little bit.

    I do though always admit a good environment in hospital has a LOT to do with the nurse I get and the amount of time I’m there before baby is born. I’ve had some really easy births, and one particularly annoyingly difficult one. So I try to balance. I can say I’ve never had a c-section, never had tools used, and heal quickly…and can pee on my own right after. I also only have stress incontenance for a few weeks. I’ve had friends with much worse stories…much worse. I am truly blessed actually.

  2. So true. Another variation of the conversation you were involved in may be that the “my labor was harder than yours” women will sometimes “turn” on the woman who had a great experience/enjoyed birth, accusing her of having had it easy. They will then oftentimes go on to give the “I hate you” comments so common on this topic.

    I remember my sister telling me that, upon her husband sending an e-mail announcement of the birth of their son, a co-worker of his responded that she “hated her” for having such a short labor.

    This was all assumed because my sister’s hubby was at work many of the hours that she was in labor. The co-worker’s perception was that, since he was at work, and since they were only at the hospital an hour or two before baby was born, my sis’ labor was incredibly short for a primip. Her labor was really about 20 hours, start-to-finish, but it had the illusion to outsiders of being much shorter, since they weren’t all about the drama.

    Or, what about uninformed bragging/complaining? One of my favorites is when women talk about their “long” labors: 12 hours, or 6 hours of “active labor.” I kinda get the deer-in-the-headlights look with these comments. If they’re talking directly to me, I gently reply that it sounds good/average/even pretty great for labor and birth (not compared with me; compared with NORMAL). I don’t know where these women get their info, but it is frightening that a woman would consider an average length of labor as “really long.” No wonder epidurals are so popular! Our expectations are completely unrealistic!

    In the CBE workshop I attended last month, one of the speakers noted that “everyone wants the labor they didn’t have.” The long laborers want the shorter labors, and vice versa. Though I do not personally feel this way, I think one thing I will stress in my upcoming birthing classes is that the labor *you* have is the perfect labor for *you* and your baby. Wouldn’t it be nice to see the grass on your own side of the fence as green once in a while? I think it’s called contentment🙂

    • This was all assumed because my sister’s hubby was at work many of the hours that she was in labor. The co-worker’s perception was that, since he was at work, and since they were only at the hospital an hour or two before baby was born, my sis’ labor was incredibly short for a primip.

      This happened to me. One of my SILs, in hearing that my second child was born without time for the midwife to get there, assumed that my labor was short. It wasn’t. (If you want the long version click here.) The reality was that my labor was long but the contractions were so sporadic that I didn’t want to call my midwife until they were in some sort of recognizable pattern, or until my water broke. Well, my water broke about an hour before he was born, which did not give my midwife long enough to make the 90 minute drive! My SIL (whose sister’s 3rd child was born after only 45 minutes of labor, and whose midwife missed that birth) complained that she would like to be one of those women who have short labors, or who “sneeze their baby out,” or something like that. While I of course set her straight about my “short” labor, I would certainly classify her as having short labors. Her first was something like 8 hours, and I think it was her longest, although I may be mistaken. Indeed *she* would be in a group of women that most people would envy for their short labors!

      Wouldn’t it be nice to see the grass on your own side of the fence as green once in a while? I think it’s called contentment.
      Absolutely!! Well said!

      • I realized last night that my parting line really could be considered bragging: “I’m more content than you are with my labors/births!”

        This wasn’t intentional, but bragging sometimes is sneaky that way, isn’t it?

        Anyway, I don’t mean to say I’m more content than someone else, just that it would be great if we could all appreciate how our own bodies work (and that it’s different for everyone).

        Thanks for your posts, Kathy. You always provoke some good brain activity.

  3. If I get caught in a “my labor was longer then your labor” conversation again I’m going to scream!
    Not everyone agrees in when to start ‘counting’ (when contractions were this far apart, when they were this long, when they got the first induction medication when they thought they were in labor, when they were dialated this far etc) and it is irrelvant in so many ways anyway!!!

    • Amen, Briome! One of my hugest pet peeves is the textbook discription of labor, because it is SO narrow and does not make room for any variation, like contractions that never make it closer than 10 min apart, or never get “regular” or any number of diferences that make the “long labor” discussions moot.

      You are so right that it is counted differently by everyone anyway, and “how long” really *is* irrelevant, save to give some context, perhaps. I personally hated this discussion after my first was born prodromally, since I couldn’t put my finger on “when labor started.” I’ll admit I was a little jealous of women who knew when labor started. It seemed so simple, and I never expected to not know something like this. Now, I understand why, and I’m okay with it.

  4. Ugh. Something along these lines happened but it got twisted so bad. A friend who was due with her first was planning a med-free birth at a birth center – so she was so psyched for it, talked about her upcoming labor and birth with such joy. At a church gathering, we were gathered around asking how she was feeling, etc…and the stories started to flow, “Well with my first this happened…and that happened…” The someone said, “Terra – remember with Keaton – what you labored for 36 hours or something…and got the epi and then ended up in a c/s because his heart rate was hanging around 40 or something…gosh, so scary…I hope that doesn’t happen to you, E!!” (E = the friend who was pregnant)…no matter how hard I tried to come back and say, “Yes, but, 16 months later I had a beautiful natural birth and it was amazing…” It kept coming back to “but your horrible c/s…” Seriously – are we trying to encourage her or what?! ugh.

    Sorry I just barfed all over the comment box…lol

  5. I was guilty of this after my first. But for me I think I was just trying to process his birth and my feelings. I never thought about what it might do to others. I also wasn’t trying to be longer, faster, whatever. More that whenever birth stories were the topic, it was a chance to download my feelings.

    It is funny how now when I share my great birth experience, people disregard it and are like, “Whatever” and go on and keep sharing their negative ones.

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