A buddy and I were chatting tonight about motherhood and vulnerability, and how tough it is to get some some women to open up about how they’re really doing, for example after having a new baby. There seems to be, especially among women who are hoping to have multiple children, a feeling that they need to pretend it’s easy…like “Of course it’s great! Otherwise why would I do this again? I don’t look crazy…do I?” And these kind of sentiments shove any post-partum struggles way down out of sight.
Sometimes, in hopes of attracting others to motherhood, moms will put on a brave face and only present the good. But this is a bit like trying to recruit future Olympic athletes by pretending that it’s a cake walk. Not effective because it’s not authentic. It is better to admit the difficulty and affirm that it’s worth it. As G.K. Chesterton insisted, a mother’s task is challenging not because it is minute or unimportant, but because it is gigantic.
Where does the pressure to pretend that one of the most physically and emotionally challenging life experiences– new parenthood– is a smooth ride, come from? It’s part of what I like to call ‘femachosim’–the tendency to be competitive about motherhood, and to shy away from admitting any vulnerability or suffering which would seem to indicate weakness. There is an underlying insecurity in this attitude…a fear of being told their suffering is their fault, and that they shouldn’t have wasted their time having kids. These kinds of things do get said.
In an essay in the anthology “Love Rebel: Reclaiming Motherhood,” I discuss this devaluation of motherhood and femininity in general. I question the validity of a feminism which looks down on the intrinsically feminine power of bearing and nurturing children, and only values professions that have typically been done by men.
A friend of mine who recently returned from maternity leave has heard comments at her workplace like, “being a stay-at-home mom is for lazy, lost losers.” This attitude can make new moms feel parenting should at least be an easy ride and not a challenge. “How hard can it be? It’s just changing diapers…right?” So they hide their struggles.
The fact is that motherhood is extremely hard, besides being beautiful and rewarding, but that we moms choose it anyway. We choose the sleepless nights, the intensity of labour, the vulnerability of having our hearts walk around outside of ourselves in tiny little bodies we are totally responsible for. It’s overwhelming and exhausting and challenges every fibre of our being. And we choose it anyway. We choose to love. We choose to give of ourselves constantly. We choose to have enough hope in our world to believe that life is worth living and worth sharing. We don’t choose it because it’s comfortable. We choose it because it’s transformative. If that’s lazy I need a new dictionary, because I can’t imagine how those things are at all connected.
So you new moms out there, if you’re struggling, reach out. Don’t suffer alone and isolate yourself, for fear of not being a super mom. I saw a great t-shirt tonight that said, “World’s Okayest Mom.” It made me laugh so hard! None of us are perfect. But we’re in this together, and it’s a lot more fun that way. Spend time with other moms. “Waste” time visiting over coffee. The laughter and conversation you have there can save you hundreds at a therapist later!
Many people suffer from post-partum depression for a time after birthing, and there is help. A good place to start is postpartum.org, which also has great materials for your spouse to read. Your hormones are raging and sleep is a distant dream…so don’t beat yourself up if that takes a toll. Reach out. Talk to your doctor. Talk to friends who are supportive. Take steps to get help. And don’t be afraid to ask for it. Lean on others, so they can one day lean on you. That’s what friendship is. It enriches life so deeply.
With a support network of mom buddies, your life with kids is really awesome, despite the difficulties…there are so much opportunites to share, grow and love together. So next time someone asks how you are, think twice before you pop out “Fine.” Your honesty might open the gate for the other women around to share their struggles and find the support they really need as well. How rewarding is that?