Thursday, 05 August 2010
It’s no surprise that when a woman becomes a mother she changes. Your body changes, your attitude changes, your pee schedule certainly changes but perhaps most interesting of all is how you suddenly develop super powers.
You become adept at identifying the smell of your own child's poop in a crowded room, you wake in the night anticipating your baby's imminent cry and in defecting to large knickers over the floss string thongs, well, super hero status is of no question. Yet perhaps her most honed talent, the one that sets her apart, is her newfound skill of stabbing other women in the back.
I had a hunch when I entered the minefield of motherhood that suddenly the idea of sisterhood was lost, trampled somewhere between conception and the announcement of impending baby. It became stomped on and replaced with women feeling forced to defend their lifestyles and actions. It typically starts with comments on your bump. Wow - you are huge!! How pregnant are you? They must have your date wrong! You are tiny - Are you not eating? Why can't we just tell a pregnant lady - she looks perfect - just beautiful?
A flood of what I thought was well meant advice would infiltrate the forty weeks - on best vitamins, best classes, natural childbirth, Lamaze or Bradley, midwife or doula, induce with pitocin or wait and do it 'naturally' with sex and bouncing balls and curry. It can be overwhelming. The advice comes flooding in - emails, voicemails, text messages and Facebook posts from people you haven't spoken to since you were 5 offering "Try having sex. It worked for me." Thank you, oh perfect stranger.
Then after you give birth comes the real fun - the piece de resistance - they just come out of nowhere - literally clawing out of the woodwork. Before they are five feet into the door and handing you a casserole dish comes the question - "So...how’s the nursing?" The disappointment shown with a head tilt and scrunched face when you say ‘formula’ is paralyzing. You'd think they had just started with a urinary tract infection or something and before you can even explain why, (which you never need to do) they have moved on to telling you that it will be better 'next time.' Next time? What? My stitches are still healing and my hemorrhoids are still hanging out.
Two words that I wished I had used (and please excuse my vehemence) - Screw You! (And my anger is directed at one woman who made a snide comment in a park that will forever hurt). Shame on any woman to put pressure on another - particularly a new mum. I spent months hiding away from these breastfeeding nazis for fear of being confronted or shunned in public about my nursing failure. I had tried, dear God I had tried, and had more milk in me than a cow at market but it didn't work out and I will not now, not ever bother to defend myself again as I spent doing months after. It is no surprise that this perceived failure led me to fall down the rabbit hole into post partum depression.
And then, for me, the most recent line that I have noticed drawn in the sand by women is the war waged between 'Stay at home mums' vs. 'working mums'. Instead of supporting one another’s choices - because that is what feminism gave us - the choice - we instead make slight comments, questioning remarks.
So, which bee hid in my bonnet today? Sadly, it's my own fault - my guilty pleasure is an online tabloid that delivers an unhealthy amount of celebrity gossip. Today my quick fix was not nearly juicy enough to avert my eyes from the actual meaty journalism that this paper delivers.
There lay an article celebrating the 'Return to Housewifery' and after torturing myself through the whole thing I was left feeling inadequate and attacked.
Nevertheless, in an effort to perhaps make you laugh or cry or both... I thought I would share some with you some of this commentary... Brace yourself.
Kate, who is due to give birth to her second child in six weeks, adds: 'The idea of leaving him with someone far less qualified than me while I go out to work doesn't make any sense. 'My education wasn't for nothing. I use what I learnt to make learning fun for him. We do so much together - swimming, football, tennis, playgroups, music groups and pre-school clubs. 'I love it at night, when we snuggle up and read books together. Paul agrees that I've made the right choice for all of us. 'We don't have many meals out or designer clothes, but none of that is important to me. We live in a two-bedroom cottage, and we would love a bigger house, but we'll have to wait."
How wonderful! How delightful. Gosh, what a selfless woman you are. And to survive in a two bedroom cottage wearing non designer clothes?- Goodness me, what a sacrifice!
Another interviewee, Poppy Pickles, simply became a Saint in my eyes with this glorious assumption...
'Children have really lost out by being parceled up into day care. Surveys show that young children thrive through getting one-to-one care from a loving adult. Mums are best placed to do that.' English graduate Poppy Pickles is another highly- educated young mother who is adamant that she doesn't want anyone else looking after her children Daniel, five, and Rosanna, three. She says: 'I worked hard at school and I enjoyed university but I never saw myself as having a high-flying-career, leaving my children to be looked after by someone else. 'The best person to look after my children is me. They are both very secure, very loved children, and they take me entirely for granted - which is what I want. 'They know Mummy is always here, and always at home for them.'
Wow Poppy Pickles, (now there's a good working class name) who we later discover used to work at Sothebys - thanks for making us other mothers whose children have to go to day care feel really good about our 'choice'. Incidentally, those surveys that showed that "children thrive getting one-to-one care from a loving adult" - are they the same surveys that suggested that only children delivered naturally, exclusively breastfed and fed entirely organic produce would emerge as scholars and global leaders? Thought so.
Poppy who obviously feels she has a voice for the unheard generation adds: 'I don't feel as if feminism has passed me by - surely it is every woman's right to choose. I choose to be at home. (Absolutely right, Poppy, we do have a choice- now leave it at that) - "I want to see my children's first steps, hear their first words, and be there to take them to school and pick them up. Those tiny moments in the day are so valuable to children, and you can never get them back."
Oops, nope, instead of balancing your argument or throwing in a "but that's just my choice" you just had to throw a knife in the heart or back of every mother who doesn't follow your example or hasn't a choice in this. The article continued to voice the opinions of several other women - although none with such a perfect name. For me - it served only to reaffirm the thinking that when women become mothers they feel so under scrutiny and fearful of making a 'wrong' decision that they go on the attack to defend whatever 'choices' they make.
Sadly, it ends up being something like - It's your choice - we all have a choice - except you are making the wrong choice. Even more frustrating is that it is just the women doing this to each other! We wonder why men don't struggle with the worry that their children will transfer the love that they have for them onto someone else during daycare. No - we claim that 'society puts such pressure on us' - but who in society? This is solely put on mothers shoulders...by other mothers.
If we choose to go work, the argument is that we are 'failing' our family. We might be championing ourselves or affording our family a better life but we can never quite escape the mud that is thrown our way by the homemakers, the domestic goddesses, the SAHM's that we are somehow denying our children and ourselves the most primal instinct. If we stay at home we are so fearful of appearing dumb or without drive by the 'career women' that we fight back claiming that our children will know their mother and as a mother we will never miss a thing. Why on earth are we so intent to pull each other down?
And then there are the mums that don't have a choice? That have to work for their families to survive. Whose belts are already tightened with both of them working and yes, they have crunched the numbers to know that 'one of us not working isn't a better financial choice than having a child in child care'.
One woman in the article actually addressed this -
"it all comes down to having the right priorities. It is entirely possible to survive on one income - but you have to be prepared to live a far simpler life. 'We have very little money,' she says. We live on my husband's salary in a two-up, two-down, terraced house and there is nothing left over for any extras. None of us has had new clothes for ages. We drive one car, a Ford Focus, and we allow ourselves one meal out a month.'
Sadly, giving up new clothes or a trip to The Beefeater Restaurant is often not enough. And please don't suggest that our priorities are not in order. Food on the table and a roof over heads will always trump staying home, and that's not choice but necessity talking.
However, the funny thing is - for the women that have no choice - they are perhaps least attacked. They are not a threat to their 'mother' friends and make no comment on their peers' choices. In fact, perhaps given that they have fewer friends to bemoan or compare themselves to at the end of the day they probably have more time spent focused on their children. Ah, it's a cruel irony.
We women fought so hard to have a choice and now we have to question each other by suggesting what exactly the right choice is. Of course I have no answer and even if I thought I did I wouldn't offer it to anyone else. That's because in all honestly I don't believe there is any one right choice. Not for the children. Not for the parents. Not for any of us. There is only what works for each of us.
So women, (and if I was Oprah I'd have you sign a petition) how about we try and do the following:
1) When a pregnant friend tells you that she plans to give birth naturally no matter what your thoughts - you respond positively, ignoring every urge to tell a horror story, or even worse throw a flippant remark like, "That's what we all say." Wacka wacka...
2) When you visit your friend that has just given birth, you do not need to ask her if she is nursing. If you stay more than an hour you will know and if you can't stay that long you probably don't need to know. If she is bottle feeding - NEVER tell her that it might be better next time. It might be but it might not and either way her nipples are never your concern.
3) When a new mother tells you that she is either going back to work or staying at home, you just say "good for you". That's it. If it's her choice it will make her make her feel good and if it is not her choice it will make her feel less anxious.
I've come to the conclusion that when offering unsolicited advice to a woman on motherhood, less truly is more. It's funny but the word sisterhood sounds so inclusive, yet motherhood can often feel terribly lonely. It shouldn't.
Have you ever encountered hurtful comments from other moms about your parenting choices? How do you handle those situations?