Before this blog turned into a big ol’ feminist party, it started off as a place for me to complain about how hard it is being a mother, but the two things aren’t completely unrelated.
This weekend I was invited onto Dil Wickremasinghe’s Newstalk show Global Village to talk about the blog. We talked about not judging women for their choices, raising feminists and honest parenting.
You can listen to the podcast here incase you missed it.
During our conversation Dil suggested we should be open about maternal mental health and tell women they will likely struggle with this at some stage. If they don’t , well isn’t that great ?!
I think the same can be said of honest parenting. I like to tell everyone how difficult being a parent has been for me , which might make me sound like a bit of a killjoy and an uncaring mother, but I do it in the spirit of solidarity. I wish in my early days of motherhood I had somebody telling me , ‘God this is a bit shit, and bloody hard‘ – then I might not have felt so isolated.
If on the other hand you listen to my pitiful rants and think I’m talking crap – then good for you! Really. Thumbs up for you and no harm done.
Being truthful about your parenting experience as a woman also highlights the fact that parenting does not come naturally to women, any more than it does to men. If women are perceived to be better with babies it’s because they spend more time with them in the early days. If the mother pegged it back to work the next day and left daddy holding the baby, we might see a different story.
“As a parent..”
You’re not supposed to admit that being a parent changes how you experience things and how you live your life. It’s probably not very feminist to admit that being a mother has changed me – mostly , ultimately positively. But show me a mother who has not had their life, and indeed mental health, in some way impacted and I will show you a….well, a lucky and I would suggest rare thing.
Sometimes it seems that you need to diminish your motherhood, in order to be a serious and respected woman in the workplace, or even a ‘proper’ feminist.
When you step back into the world of work after having children one sometimes feels one should hide all evidence of those tiny humans and deny that the realities of raising children and co-ordinating their daily lives is having any impact on the successful running of your own life.
I haven’t slept properly for about, oh, seven years now, blessed as I have been with two non-sleepers. Yawn, the tedious tale of the tired parent. But actually functioning without sleep is difficult and unhealthy.
I’m not saying that parents should be given any kind of special treatment here. But maybe an understanding that we are all humans with lives and complexities outside of our work personas is something that should be discussed more.
‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation’ – Henry David Thoreau
Bleak, perhaps, but let’s give each other a break is all I’m saying, parents or non parents, we all have our shit to deal with.
What’s normal anyway?
One of the reasons people don’t like you banging about being a parent is because it’s normal. No Big Deal. Loads of people have kids, what makes you so special you self-indulgent egotist?
Just because something is normal, doesn’t mean it can’t also be remarkable. Just because something is common-place, doesn’t meant it can’t be magical, or overwhelming.
Think about how we talk about childbirth in the modern age. It’s all about how quickly you can revert to your previous life, and ‘bounce back’ into shape. It doesn’t matter that a human has just exited your body, 9 months after taking shelter there – the main thing is you get back to how things used to be quick smart. Any discomfort or outright pain you might feel is just one of those things. Suck it up : Pain, of all kinds, is normal after having children so don’t expect any sympathy.
This is the age of identity and experience, of the sharing of our stories and sometimes this means we can be quick to belittle the personal narratives that people tell. Particularly if they seem to want sympathy, and particularly if we think they aren’t entitled to it because other people are having things a lot worse.
It’s classic ‘whataboutery.’ I recently read the tragic story of Ariel Levy’s premature labour, where she gave birth to her child at 19 weeks, alone in a hotel bathroom. The child died and subsequently her marriage failed and she lost her home. This was published in The New Yorker and Levy, a writer, has also written a memoir including the story. It’s a devastating story, beautifully told. Some people though think that Levy’s story is too normal to be deserving of our sympathy. Writing in the Guardian, Hadley Freeman relays the reaction of US journalist Charlotte Shane , ‘ Millions of Americans have divorced..10 million Americans lost their homes in the recession..it’s estimated that up to a quarter of all pregnancies result in miscarriage.’
In other words, get over yourself Levy, your tragedy is too normal and common place to be worthy of our sympathy. I can’t imagine how lacking in empathy and unaware of how humanity works you would need to be for this to be your reaction to that story.
Hopefully most of us recognise, you can be experiencing terrible pain and difficulties in your own life, and still feel compassion, outrage or despair at the plight of others.
Life is joyous and tragic and devastating and sublime, even when it’s normal.