If you had to guess who wrote this and under which circumstances, what would you say? A mother of a starving infant in WW2? A victim of abuse still living with her abusive partner?... I was going to keep my baby safe. If I had to build a fortress with my own flesh, I would.
Whatever your guess might be, I doubt that you would imagine a healthy young woman living in a well-to-do neighborhood of the US. Why the hysteria, you ask? I keep wondering the same thing, not only about this particular writer but 26 others who submitted their essays as part of a book called Mommy Wars. As a recent mother myself, I am curious about the different decisions parents face and what prompts them to take the paths they do. Erroneously, I thought that this book might give me interesting insight into other families' situations and their thinking process as far as child rearing is concerned. Well, I was wrong. The mom, whose quote I put at the beginning, was trying to justify her choice of staying at home instead of working. A tad dramatic, though, I would say.
Out of the 28 women who wrote for this book, only one was sane and came across as a truly happy individual, perfectly content with her life. The other 27 were scary, dramatic and painfully negative. To be quite honest, if I had read this book before becoming a mother, it might have scared me into never ever having children. I was really surprised to see that regardless of the writers' employment status, they all (minus one) shared one thing in common - a dramatic conclusion that a woman cannot achieve balance in her life and must sacrifice something. The word 'sacrifice' was used more times than I could count. Here is a quote from one of the writers that echoes the sentiment of the rest: "Once you're a parent, you can figure you'll be out of whack for the rest of your life". What does this mean? Why are these women out of whack? My daughter is now eleven months old. Should I be out of whack too? Or not yet? Or maybe I am but do not notice it yet? I do not understand how so many different women from seemingly different walks of life (at least to an extent), all arrive at the same odd conclusion.
I love non-fiction and enjoy immersing myself into another person's life, as far from mine as it could be. I've read stories of women from plural marriages, Middle Eastern countries, criminals and drug addicts. At some level, I could understand their stories and relate at least remotely. Here, however, I was lost.
What does it mean when a housewife proclaims that she "needed to be a round the clock mother"? Am I magically not a mother when I am at the office? I am trying to grasp the meaning of it but I fail. I laugh imagining sitting in an interview and being asked if I have children (it is illegal, I know, but just for the sake of an argument). "No", I would say. "I am not a mother. Let me check my watch. In two hours and thirty minutes I will be, but right now I am childless".
A working mother observes: "On the sidewalks of the college town in which I live, young mothers push strollers around (...). These mothers are not having fun". How does she automatically know which woman works and which doesn't? And whether or not they are having fun? By observing their stroller-pushing skills? I was not working during my maternity leave but am now. I am trying to envision myself pushing the stroller now and a few months ago and cannot help but wonder if my technique has changed.
What is wrong with these women? Or is it me? Why the weird attacks? And why does anything need to be viewed in terms of a sacrifice? If I go for dinner with my sister instead of my husband, am I sacrificing my time with him for the sake of being with her? Should I be torn? Or does it only apply to children? I don't understand why these women are so gloomy. Having a baby is far from dramatic. You open up some space in your life to welcome a new member of it, but life is never a constant and you always enrich it by adding new experiences, new emotions, new layers of complexity. Why is it impossible to have a great bond with your son or your daughter but also work, while he or she is with a dear to them family member or in daycare making new friends and forming new connections? My sister and I are as close as could be, yet we both have lives of our own and, alas, even live in different countries. Why is it that we are made believe that bonding only happens if your baby is breastfed and more specifically latches on in the first 60 minutes postpartum, or only if you hold him or her immediately after birth, or only if you carry them around on your body non-stop, or only if you co-sleep, or only if you are there 24/7? Why can't we look around us at all the people we love who loves us back, with whom we have precious bonds, and who (hooray) still do have lives of their own and respect ours?
What is wrong with being happy, enjoying life and this new human being we are privileged enough to meet and see grow, all the while continuing to enjoy the person we grew to be before becoming a parent?