Today a friend of mine posted this article on Facebook. I usually love a little list: Nineteen Things You’ll Only See in West London was today’s favourite (you’re welcome). And I don’t mind admitting that this list made me do the ‘eyes-raised-to-heaven-eyeliner-saver-thing’ (you have been warned). The piece on Facebook today, however, was supposed to be genuine words of advice for new mothers. It gave me The Right Hump.
I’ve read a million different books and articles, listened to advice and googled just about everything to do with new motherhood. It came with the territory. After about the first month of Romilly’s life I very quickly realised that it was mostly self-serving or self-pitying, some was downright tedious and others plain mad (my midwife gave me a bollocking for wearing make-up. Because my application of teint idole was an obvious detriment to our daughter. Fucksake). What I figured it comes down to is this:
What else in life do you start with an anticipated sense of negativity?
Starting a new job brings optimism and hope for the future, a new relationship is exciting and full of potential, fucking hell even using a new serum makes me go ‘SQUEEEEEE!’ (that’s nothing compared to the noise I make when I get new shoes. It’s like a baboon orgasm). And pregnancy itself is, in between vomiting in wheelie bins and losing sight of your mimsy, properly exciting. A whole new person is growing that you’ll love like a loon even if it looks like one of the podlings from The Dark Crystal. Or worse…like William Hague in scratch mits.
So why does all the advice given to new mothers seem to come from a position of ‘You’re fucked. Don’t fight it’?
Are these people trying to perpetuate some hideous self-fulfilling prophesy? Are they so pissed off at themselves and their choices that they want everyone to enter motherhood on a default setting of ‘oh christ I’m obviously going to be shit at this, so I’ll just roll with it.”
Or is it because they feel of less value? The classic ‘if you make it look easy, then no-one will praise your accomplishment’ tactic. A woman spends the whole of her pregnancy being centre of her universe. When the inevitable happens and she pops out a little ankle-biter in a hail of amniotic fluid and accidental bed-crapping, her child is centre stage. Forever. Does widespread lamentation of how tough it is lead to acknowledgement of a job well done? No. It doesn’t work in any other situation (in fact it’s likely to get right up people’s noses), so why would it work for child-rearing?
You will, of course, be the centre of your child’s universe, but don’t hold your breath for flowers and gratitude. That stage won’t arrive for at least another 30 years. If you’re lucky. Because frankly, luck and reasonable judgement is all you have to work with. Cool huh? I’m not trying to make child rearing sound easier than finding the # key on a MacBook, but to my mind, if you need help then ask for it, otherwise you use your judgement. Every stage is not a ‘riptide’. It’s about dealing appropriately with the stages of a newborns development. If that’s the sort of statement that sends you into a screaming ball of incandescent rage, then might I suggest leaving NetMums alone and taking a trip to the general practitioner.
The most offensive quote in the article for me was describing new mums as “they hunch over their babies, nursing. They are limp and worn like wrung out washcloths”. I can say with certainty that there are some for whom that is true. From experience I know that constant and unrelenting breast feeding can be incredibly physically wearing. But in the whole scale of things, it’s short-lived. And sacrificing yourself to tit martyrdom is a personal choice, but not one you have to live with. If you feel like it’s crippling you, buy Aptamil for crying out loud. And have the sense of self-worth to tell the first person to criticise you to get fucked.
What I’m clumsily trying to share here is ‘why buy in to the self-flagellation?’. If something’s not working then change it. Don’t search for a ‘tribe’ in order to share experiences. Be friends with people who would have appealed to you pre-motherhood. Surround yourself with people you like, not people with whom the sole thing you have in common is reflux, sleep schedules and sore tits. Don’t get sucked into the assumption of competitive sacrifice. Don’t subscribe to the default. Having an off day is one thing, but believing up front that all days with your new child will be off days is a path to misery and resentment. It is entirely possible to have a baby and hoover. In fact, it’s entirely possible to have a baby and do lots of very normal mundane things. Like screen printing tea towels or baking a cake (if that’s your thing. I’m more an ‘wearing eyeliner and alphabetising my handbags’ kinda gal). Just because ‘they’ tell you that ‘motherhood is a struggle’ doesn’t make it a given. ‘They’ cannot speak for you. Just because they have a newborn too doesn’t automatically make them right, good or not a complete out-and-out fucking neurotic maniac.
And let’s take a moment to remember the woman who appeared on Embarrassing Bodies with a birth trauma that left her pooing out of her front bum. Because for every article that supposes maternal struggle, there are some who have absolute cause to howl from the rooftops. I’ll bet that poor woman would have loved a good old-fashioned sleepless night or twenty…