Motherhood is not for the faint of heart.

The indignity begins when you give birth, spread-eagled on a hospital bed while everyone within a three-mile radius with some type of name tag comes in to take a peek under the sheet.

When you're in mid-contraction, however, you don't care. I'm pretty sure at least one custodian and possibly a homeless man checked my dilation at one point. But hey, that's life.

Sadly, I've discovered that the complete loss of dignity of giving birth is nothing compared to the humiliation mothers endure once the little ones arrive.

Take, for example, when my older sister and I finished lunch at Olive Garden several months ago and decided we needed to nurse our babies. My car was parked directly facing a busy four-way stop at rush hour. Sure, we could have moved the car to another spot, but when your baby is crying and hot and hungry, you just put aside your dignity and give the babies what they want.

Subsequently, we also gave the people on 2100 South quite a show with our reckless disregard for modesty.

Now, some mothers are incredibly adept at breastfeeding discreetly, whether they are in a mother's lounge at church or riding a tricycle while juggling fire torches.

I am not one of these women.

Roughly 55 percent of Salt Lake residents have seen me nursing in public at some point, and the other 45 percent have seen my daughter's behind waving in the wind while I change her diaper in the backseat of my car.

It just comes with being a mom. The best thing to do is laugh at ourselves and realize motherhood means shirking social graces and cultural niceties.

Like all those times I've caught myself singing a ridiculous tune about cottage cheese while pushing my daughter, Nicole, through the grocery store. Often I don't notice I'm singing this at the top of my lungs until a kind woman gives me an understanding smile just as I belt out a rousing chorus of "Cottage cheese, cottage cheese, can we have some more? Yes please!"

There's really no escaping these humiliating moments, no matter what stage of pregnancy, delivery or child-rearing you are in.

When I was eight months pregnant, for example, and going through my hysterical crying phase, I broke down in the middle of the ZCMI food court because the Great Steak & Potato kiosk was closed. This was not a quiet moment of grief because I craved greasy potato fries; this was a full-on panic attack wherein I vacillated between hysterical crying and uproarious laughter.

A friend finally made me sit down because people were staring at the crazy pregnant lady.

Now that Nicole is 15 months old, my embarrassing moments include picking pear chunks out of the hair of restaurant patrons as I repeatedly apologize and promise to work on Nicole's dinner etiquette.

And from what I hear from other moms, it just gets worse as children grow up and learn to talk. One reader told me about her moment of mommy shame when her daughter asked loudly in the grocery checkout line if the large, older man behind them was "wearing his big girl panties, too."

Yes, a fine moment for any self-respecting parent.

A friend of mine retells with horror when her sweet little girl turned to her in church to ask her mommy why her rear-end was so much bigger and jigglier than all the other moms'.

Ah, sweet angels.

But, I have hope that there will be a day in the future when Nicole is 15 years old and I try to hold her hand in the mall (gasp!). She'll shrug me off and say, "Mom, geez — you're embarrassing me."

My eyes will light up as I say, "Embarrassing you? Embarrassing YOU!" Then I'll launch into the story of how I was seven months pregnant and lost bladder control on the steps of the Utah State Capitol while covering the legislative session.

Of course, she will respond with a well-placed eye roll and a retort such as, "Mom, stop. You're humiliating me."

Yes, at that moment I will have won a small — but important — victory for blushing moms everywhere.


E-mail: estewart@desnews.com