Motherhood is full of secrets. Secrets I resented other people for keeping from me when I was pregnant. A pregnant woman can't get a straight answer out of anyone and then, after you've had your baby, you feel deceived. How could no one have told me how hard this would be, you think to yourself incredulously. How could they keep this from me?
I think the simple answer is that, if you were naive preggers me, I didn't want to hear it even when someone tried to tell you. I friend tried to drop The Realness of Motherhood on me during the late stages of my pregnancy and I thought seriously about never talking to her again. I realize now that she was the only one who told me the truth and nothing but the truth. And here I just thought she was being a bitch.
I was mad at her for sharing the truth of her experience and I told myself, that won't be MY experience! I'm gonna be one zen mama! And then that all went to hell. I've never felt such pressure to have a good time doing anything as much as I did trying to experience the joy of my daughter's birth and first few weeks. Women with postpartum don't talk about it because we feel like monsters. It's oppressive to not be able to talk about The Realness of Motherhood and so many of us do this dance of concealment - even those without postpartum. I think we do it because we think we are protecting people - and seriously, don't scare pregnant women with too much realness because they still have a growing human inside their bodies that has to exit and they are mostly focused on not pooping on the table during birth so they deserve a pretty big break - but what we are doing is conspiring against other mothers - and parents in general - when we keep the difficulty a secret. We make it impossible for people to speak their truth. And where I come from, that means they are being oppressed.
Why do we oppress - and let's face it - marginalize women/mothers in this way? I have some theories but the main one goes something like this:
If women weren't afraid that would be judged for telling the truth, then they'd tell the truth about motherhood and, I'm going to get all Al Gore here, that truth would be VERY inconvenient for other people.
Like men. You know the ones: The ones who are scoring huge from the heterosexual scenario because they adhere to the traditional notion that if they make more money than their partners - and in some cases, even if the don't - they feel like it's her job to keep the house clean and be the primary caregiver. Those guys. And I know you are thinking that they don't really exist anymore but I can tell you based on the shocked and stupefied reaction I get from people in general about going back to work when my daughter was four months while my husband was preparing to take the next eight months off, those guys are still super plentiful. Also, speaking of work, capitalist power structures and other institutions that rely on the labour of women to support profit-making at the expense of quality of life also find this information inconvenient. It's easier if it's a personal women's problem to have a difficult time parenting because then hey - it's just her problem (and we all know how super annoying women can be about their rights and such). However, if all women feel crushed under the weight of motherhood (and all related responsibilities and other responsibilities of life) to at least some degree, well then, we have a problem that needs addressing. Contemporary groupspeak/think likes to blame parents for being the problem - that parenting is hard because they are so busy wiping their kid's asses and making them feel all entitled so that they can annoy their future bosses by wanting - gasp! - work/life balance. This kind of criticism is leveled at parents without recognizing that this kind of "helicopter" parenting is born of some very strong cultural shifts that have put children on a pedestal at the expense of their parents health and quality of life and contributed to a culture of fear for parents that is fueled by the medical establishment and parenting industry that is all about doing the "best" for your child even at the expense of say, your sanity.
Anyhoo - before I go too far down the rabbit-hole hot-mess of modern day parenting, I do want to reiterate the point that I quite possibly have no made yet, which is:
The more women remain silent about their experiences, the more we contribute to a culture of fear that continues to oppress us.
Women - and all parents - are becoming much more vocal about the suckage of parenting which I give them a hearty thanks for. But it needs to grow bigger, perhaps more dramatic, and more socially acceptable. I don't want mothers to have to furtively duck around common issues to all mothers, waiting for someone to finally, please god, say that their child does this, that, or the other before they can finally explode and say OMGYESMINETOO!!!DOESTHISMEANHE'LLGROWUPTOBEASERIALKILLER!?!?!?!?!
I have begun to take pride in speaking my truth - something that let's face it, has taken time, meds, intensive counselling and the undying support and love of my partner and mother but hey - anybody can do it, right!?! The truth is, it's hard. But there are two things I'll promise as a result:
- You find connection with other women/parents that you never thought possible - a community of support in fact; and
- You'll be part of changing the course of and discourse about what it means to be a mother in modern society.
So tell everyone about how you had to wear diapers after birth, and how weird and saggy your boobs got, and all the insane things that go through your mind since having a kid.
But tell the right people. And be a great listener.
Postscript: This doesn't matter, but the Duchess of Cambridge agrees with me, so there's that.