It's Not Your Fault
You know, sometimes I have trouble identifying what's my fault or not. I'm just going to put it out there that I think a lot of women do. Women and girls are blamed for some surprising things like sexual assault and violence against them in general so, obvi there is something amiss when it comes to how women are key scapegoats for a social world that so often devalues them and their work - or should I say - their labour. Being a woman is labour-intensive; being a mother is even more so. It should therefore not be a surprise that woman routinely blame themselves - when things go wrong, when everyone's not happy, when they don't love motherhood. But the reality is, it's not your fault.
I've mentioned the book Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety (2005) already in a previous post that I don't feel like linking to because I'm supremely lazy, but I want to mention it again because it offers some insight into what I have teasing out about my experience since my descent into postpartum depression and anxiety two years ago. Namely, the book articulates what I feel is the injustice of motherhood: That somehow everything is both up to mothers and their fault despite the circumstances of their lives, their mental and physical health, their dreams, wants, and desires. Once a mother, always a mother. You've heard it. And it's true. But how it gets interpreted is a bone of contention for me, and for Judith Warner, author of Perfect Madness.
First Warner talks about when life doesn't quite work out as you'd planned as a woman, a mother:
Life doesn't quite work out. [Women] believe then that they have chosen poorly. They blame themselves, just as the women in the early 1960s did. "Locked as we all were then in that mystique, which kept us passive and apart, and kept us even from seeing our real problems and possibilities, I, like other women, thought there was something wrong with me because I didn't have an orgasm waxing the kitchen floor," wrote Betty Friedan, in 1973, of her Feminine Mystique years. Like the women of the pre-feminist 1960s, most women today almost never stop to think that perhaps the choices they've been offered aren't really choices to begin with.
The next part is the best part though. Warner writes, "What kind of choice is it really, after all, when motherhood forces you into a delicate balancing act - not just between work and family, as the equation is typically phrased, but between your premotherhood and postmotherhood identities? What kind of life is it when you have to choose between becoming a mother and remaining yourself?" Obviously no fucking choice at all. Or at least, as many of us experience it, one hell of difficult and depressing one.
When I get to the heart of it - this was my greatest fear. Losing myself to motherhood. I honestly believe that the thought that I would become something "other" - a mother of all things - is what kept me from ever really wanting a child. I have to be honest with myself and accept that who and what I thought a mother was was not very valuable to me as a child-free woman. Motherhood was not an achievement to my mind. I hated when I had Aya and people acted like it was an achievement. How is having a baby an achievement? I still don't get it. I will accept that having a baby is any of the following: A Miracle, Magic, Common, Ordinary, and Insane - even though those are all contradictory - before I accept that it's an achievement. As I said to my friend as I was emerging from my postpartum fog, "Any idiot can have a baby" and I stand by it still.
Confronting my disregard and disrespect for mothers has been a haunting and humbling experience. Oh but what I didn't know. Because, as I've said before, mothers make it look easy. It's strange that I can and could see all the ways that womanhood is devalued in our society but I couldn't see how woman were devalued as mothers because I was too busy participating in the devaluation. When I became a mother, I almost instantly wanted to rid myself of the label, the identity, and the intensity of the experience. I wanted out like the building was on fire.
I had to accept that I disdained of mothers. I felt their contribution was lesser, their identities not hard fought for and won, their lives mundane and entered into willy nilly because we are all supposed to grow up and want magical weddings and 2.2 babies and a yard full of plastic junk. Well, I didn't. I wanted to be smart and successful. To be my own woman. And have my own carefully carved out identity.
I eat humble pie every day because the most difficult experience of my life has been my journey as a mother. The awesome strength, wealth of knowledge, and sheer resilience that it takes to be a mother has me awestruck daily. I am ashamed of my denigration of mothers because I am now so honoured to count myself among them. To be one of the tribe. To fully recognize the sheer strength of will it takes to not only raise a child but it raise a child in a culture that shits on mothers as the vector of all the entitled little brats that apparently walk the halls of every school and playground. The same little brats that grow up to change the world and carry with them the beauty and kindness and strength that their mothers instilled in them. To have the beautiful future that their mothers fought tooth and nail to ensure for them.
The next time you go to criticize yourself or another mother, remember that it's not your fault that women have only petty outlets for their fears, resentments, and loathing.
Instead let's start thinking about how it might not be our fault, but it is our responsibility, to rail against a social order that only pays lip service to the beauty, grace, and strength that all mothers embody.
Let's go all Attica and shit.