I talked to one anonymous woman about her experience having a child and how that changed her — or better put, society’s view of her. Here’s what she told me.
One time I was carrying my baby on the street and someone walking past said, “Hey mom.” I couldn’t help but feel offended. People really want you to be one thing after you have a kid: a mom. I don’t want to be boxed in like that. If you’re a man, being a parent doesn’t have to define you. You go about your life and you have your career and your job and maybe you have kids or maybe you don’t and nobody knows. But if you have kids as a woman? People know. People care.
The word “mom” is tied to incredible expectations around how much childcare work you need to do and how emotionally connected you need to be to that work. Some people say — or feel obligated to say — “Oh, it’s such a joy that it’s not work!” But it is work! Washing baby clothes or making food or washing bottles or pumping or changing diapers, etc. is work. And honestly, it kind of sucks. No wonder so many people delegate those duties. But the feelings I have about that work, and the feelings I have about my child, are completely separate. It’s two different things.
For some reason, with mothers, the narrative in popular culture is that any nuance — any departure from a feeling of pure, overwhelming joy — is a problem. People are uncomfortable with the idea that a woman might be not be wholly satisfied with motherhood. I remember my husband once asking me, “You actually don’t really enjoy this, do you?” And I was like, “I’m not really enjoying it, no.” Our kid was four or five months. I wasn’t sleeping very much, it was challenging to leave the apartment, it was hard to take care of myself, and even when I did have the opportunity to shower and put on real clothes, I just ended up covered in baby spit and other lovely fluids. I was a professional who had worked hard for years to gain a foothold in a competitive career. Why would you be surprised that I wasn’t fulfilled by this? Did you expect my personality to change overnight?
The emotional work, the giving up of all control in your life, is even harder than the physical work. Anything you used to do for yourself is on the back burner. And it’s a worse mindfuck when you’re a woman and everyone wants you to be a certain way and then they’re surprised if you’re not. Whereas men are allowed to feel any way they want. If they don’t want to be super-involved, that’s fine, and if they do want to be super-involved, they’re praised for it.
Even my parents will be like, “Oh he is so great!” at every little thing that he does. I agree that he is great and he does do plenty, but where is my praise? I’m the one who went through two days of un-medicated childbirth, I’m the one who carried the baby, I’m the one who nursed the baby! Women don’t get kudos for that because they’re supposed to do all that. Instead it’s like, “Look at him feeding the baby, that’s so great!”
Before I had a kid, I sort of deluded myself into thinking I was just like a man. I deluded myself into thinking we were way past this stuff as a society. Going through this has made we realize we are so not. My friend who had a baby years ago told me, “I’ve never been more of a feminist than after I had a baby, because I realized how fucked the system was for women.” I remember reading about a study in New York Magazine that for the first time ever, more men said they wanted children than women. It doesn’t surprise me.
I can pay for childcare, I have a partner who totally pulls his weight, I have the luxury of a career I enjoy, and still it’s this hard. It’s helped me develop more empathy in general. I feel like I have a window into how much more challenging things could be. I remember very early on when I hadn’t gone back to work yet and I was in the depths of being at home, I was looking at this girl on Instagram, a fitness account, and she was like, “There are no excuses for not working out!” I remember thinking, “Actually sometimes there are.”
We put women in impossible situations. We’re supposed to do all of this work, love it, do it effortlessly, have it come naturally and we’re also supposed to look insanely great doing it. If men were in these situations they would be complaining all of the time. Can you imagine? Women are just supposed to suck it up.
The moniker of “mom” seems tainted to me, honestly. It’s all wrapped up in martyrdom and sacrifice. It’s not sexy. I need a new word.
Photo by Krista Anna Lewis; featuring a Saks Potts coat.