Should motherhood define us?

The scale of the adjustment from no children to one has never since been matched despite the best efforts of the arrival of a second child and the departure of my career. There’s no doubt that motherhood has changed me.

I’m confident I’m not alone in that assertion but does motherhood, should motherhood, define us?

Elements of the media clearly feel motherhood does define women who squeeze out a sprog or few. The obsession with labelling women as mumboss, mumpreneur, Instamum, the grandmother of them all yummy-mummy, or its backlash slummy-mummy, make it clear that whether a woman is groomed or not; running a household, a business or a team; or perhaps is vlogging and flogging herself to the highest bidder on the internet, the most significant thing to remember about her in every context is that she’s someone’s mum.

For most mothers at least trying to do a good job, the centre of every decision is occupied by their children. Where they live, the hours they (don’t?) work, whether they pursue career advancement, how often they wee – children are generally speaking the Most Valued Players in every game.

But what is insulting is the obsession with reducing the rest of a mother’s life, personality, interests, abilities, qualifications, passions and experiences to bit-parts in a mother’s world. We see them relegated to the subs bench, only allowed onto the pitch once the real work is done and the most important player, Mum, has received the right amount of attention.

Not everyone feels these terms are negative – some people insist they are a compliment, shorthand for, “Wow she’s a mum AND a boss/ entrepeneur/ looks good – she’s smashing it!” but isn’t this a bit patronising?

It suggests that managing to spin all the plates without them smashing all over the floor is surprising – you clever girl!  But this exclamation mark is one that never gets applied to dads – no one ever questions how a father can have children and be successful elsewhere – and so you start to apply a question mark instead.

If it takes two to tango, why, like DNA, is the raising of a new life not split 50-50? The possession of a vagina does not determine the superiority of one’s ability as a parent. Once birth and breastfeeding are out of the way, what exactly can women do that men can’t?

Facing down a four year old’s determined resistance to dressing herself in the morning feels akin to watching the change in outdated gender norms. We all know it needs to happen, it’s for everyone’s benefit, but progress is painfully slow. Cheek-biting and concerns about the future are shared responses to both, but society’s obsession with defining women with children as mums first is a problem that is not going to be solved with stickers and a trip down the supermarket toy aisle.

Men have their status as entrepeneurs, bosses, or just plain old breadwinners taken for granted. They are committed to their graft, their attention is never divided so the words used to describe them have no need to be either.

In contrast, the mum-isms suggest a mother’s attention is always divided and whenever a woman grows a new one the assumption is triggered that to be a good mother she must always be available to her children.

Being called a mumboss or otherwise is only a compliment when we assume we are congratulating a women for managing to juggle it all. The absence of a fatherhood equivalent suggests dads are never even expected to do the juggle. Being a good father does not hinge on being available – being a mum comes first, we are told, but being a dad doesn’t.

This problem is huge, systemic, wrapped up in generations of gender norms and predetermination and simply changing the words we use is not even close to the whole answer.  But is a start.

And while we’re at it, perhaps we also need to reject the premise of the question that asks does motherhood define us – a question that pits women against one another and often tells us nothing other than what an individual believes “define” means.

Instead, until we adjust the compass to make it possible for fathers to be dadbosses, or mums just plain old bosses, the pointing, probing, relentless question we should all continue to demand the uncomfortable answers to is, should motherhood limit us?

Image credit: Lola Hoad Design

Behind the smile: the internal rantings of a new mum’s mind

These days I become wildly protective of new mums whenever I meet one. Panting like an over-enthusiastic fat labrador in my efforts it can get a bit embarrassing if the new mum looks at me nonplussed and says she is absolutely loving every minute…Better safe than sorry though, eh…

I do feel bad when this happens though. I feel like the angry person scowling in the corner of the tastefully decorated monochrome gender-neutral nursery, spoiling the ambiance with my CLASHING SWIRLS OF RAGING COLOUR grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, whereas occasionally most of the time, being a mum is easily the best thing ever for me too.

My assumption of the worst for new mums in fact comes only from a good place. I’m several years past those precious early days (treasure every minute, they’ll be gone before you know it bleurgh… sorry just vommed a little – gone soon, you say? Er, yes please) but the memories of the unsettling storm of rampaging hormones, sleep deprivation, uncertainty, anxiety and the pressure of keeping a whole other human alive rocked, rolled and turned my world upside down.

Not least to turn me inside out was the fact that my previously reptilian skin, thickened by years of catering to that toughest of crowds – The Teenager – was not immune to the pummice stone that is motherhood. Like the best exfoliator the friction of parenthood sloughed away cell by cell, layer after layer, my bullshit identity – the person I thought was me – until there was nothing left except a tissue veneer loosely keeping my organs from jelly-like splashing all over the floor.

I might have become a bit “sensitive”.

On one occasion, I cried because a family member wondered whether pregnancy yoga relaxed my first baby so much that she didn’t want to be born. In the fragile emotional state I was in, knowing that this was absolutely bloody bonkers was not enough to have me rolling my eyes and moving on. She continued to wonder whether this was why my labour was so (fucking horrendous – my word, definitely not her’s) challenging and my bullshit-deflectors failed me completely.

I just heard yet another shitty judgement on me, my body and my ability to be a mother. And I cried. And I cried. And I cried.

Part of the problem is that much of the shit that gets fanned in a new mum’s direction often originates in helpful intentions. It’s really hard to say “Oh just fuck off would you” when you know this would be seen as an “over-reaction”, not to mention the fact that lots of the most hurtful things are said by family members (no escape), or (even harder to negotiate) your partner’s family members, or even your friends.

These will probably be the people you have to draft in at some point or other to babysit. Piss them off at your peril.

Instead, tell yourself that they don’t realise their offer of unsolicited advice is not going to evoke feelings of gratitude. That your response might in fact be, “Oh well, if s/he thinks I need to be told this then I must look like I can’t cope”, won’t have occurred to them.

Tell yourself this so you don’t drive yourself crazy, or sad, or both.

The fact is that some people left their sensitivity bone behind back when two cells were becoming four, so protect yourself. Tell the boneless ones “Thanks” or “because I want to”, and entertain yourself by reading some of these internal rants that otherwise will never see the light of day because I need babysitters…

You should/ you must/ you will… Oh just fuck off would you? There is no should, must, will about it. This is my baby and I am going to do it my way. I don’t give two flying fingers of fudge that you have three children of your own, have cared for the entire under-5 population of a small Pacific island, nor that you have a PHD in offering unsolicited advice to anyone unfortunate enough to have ears and a baby, this is STILL not your baby and I’m STILL going to do it my way.

And besides, I have spent the last four night’s at ninety minute intervals reading ev-er-y-thing in the internet so I already know there are approximately seven THOUSAND conflicting pieces of advice out there about how to get my DC/ DS/ DD2 (wtf?) to sleep through the night. AND I’ve already tried eight thousand of them.

What works for one baby, might not work for ten others so please go and file your “expertise” under sh for “shut up”.

You’ve got to be strong now… Ok then, look at me. Look me right in the face – it might be a little drippy right now, but this <circle your head with a very pointy forefinger> has also just grown a person and pushed it out of her body/had it hoisted from the escape hatch.

Do you see me?

I AM the dictionary definition of strength – I am a chuffing HERO.

And if you don’t believe me, take a look at my strung-together under-carriage. Like an abandoned Halloween mask left draped over the pumpkin flame five minutes too long, that thing is terrifying right now, and who KNOWS if it will ever mould back into shape.

Still need convincing? Well how about I flash you my cracked and bleeding nipples – it’s not just milk dribbling out of those butt-ends right now, you know… Was that a WINCE? These are WORDS motherchuffer, just imagine how it FEELS.

I am a WARRIOR – who may be feeling a little unstable because, hormones – BUT Bow. DOWN.

Reassess your judgement of me as WEAK because I am crying a little – I am a GODLY-GOD-DAMN-GODDESS.

The baby is ok – that’s the main thing… Oh is it? So me, mum, the person who changed her life, wardrobe, eating and drinking habits, who has not slept properly for months (sleep in the late stages of pregnancy is a cruel, cruel joke – like preparing for a freaking famine by going on a diet) and who has just had her body torn apart in countless ways so that “the main event” can journey earthside, is not the most important person?

Are you high?

I’m a freaking hero (there may be a theme developing here). And if I tell you that the birth was hard, just fucking listen, people. It was HARD. I have just been through the most traumatic hours of my entire life and you need to make space for me to talk about it.

I might talk about it a lot at first, I might bore the tits off you. But as my tits are being pulled and pummelled, are growing and shrinking, stinging, cracking, bleeding and oh, yes lactating; as MY tits are doing all of this a little bit of boredom for your’s is no big deal.

So no: the main thing is not that the baby is ok – the main thing is that I am ok. An ok mother is an ok baby.

He/ she is/not hungry/ tired… I DON’T CARE. Even if you KNOW-KNOW – you’ve had seven children of your own, bottle fed three, breast fed four and tandem fed two of those, if you’ve co-slept AND cot-slept, sleep-trained AND gone insane, this baby is NOT YOUR’S so BACK OFF.

Let’s face it, there is a VERY small list of things that can go wrong – hungry, tired, wet, poo-y, hungry, hungry, wind, hungry – so even if you’re right, it doesn’t matter because we’ll get there eventually, without being made to feel like a twat for not knowing immediately like you do, apparently.

*Also see You should/ you must/ you will…*

You’re making a rod for your own back… Maybe. But it’s my back, right? I’m not going to actively “teach” my child to sleep nowhere except at a precise angle of 45degrees on top of me, but only when I’m wearing the green pyjamas and have the top two buttons undone so his little shell-like can rest on my pumping life-force, just so I can leave him/ her with you to scream for a few days while I go and party in Ibiza, am I?

So why are you so bothered?

Besides, maybe I don’t care. Maybe right now stuffing enough rods to build Trump’s fence down the back of my breastfeedingfriendly shirt is worth it, if that is all that stands between getting some sleep and getting none.

Maybe picking him/ her up whenever he/she cries makes ME feel calmer.

Maybe carrying him/ her in a sling all day instead of in the pushchair means that no one has to listen to the screams.

Maybe this is all just MY way and is none of YOUR business.

And maybe, just maybe, you do have something valid to add to the conversation.

But maybe just maybe, I’m not ready to hear it.

And maybe, just maybe, you need to respect that, button it, and say “You’re amazing. Well done.”