I recently finished reading the book The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women by Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels. Before you ask, NO, I’m not pregnant. I just enjoy feminist social commentary…especially when done by two very well informed and very snarky women (who are mothers themselves). It’s a thought-provoking read which takes a critical look at how the media and the government have molded mothers into obsessive, competitive freaks with unattainable standards of perfection.
When I saw this book listed on PaperBackSwap.com, it caught my attention, I guess, because I’m at that age where people like me (and by “like me”, I only mean women who have, for whatever reasons, put motherhood on the back burner) are suddenly realizing that if they want a kid or two, they better get on board the Baby Train pretty damn quick! And true to form, it seems as though everyone around me in my age range is pregnant or trying to get pregnant. A couple of co-workers here, a couple of co-workers’ wives there, a colleague or two, random bloggers. . . One of my co-workers had a baby 5 months ago and I never saw her again. She has disappeared into the Baby Abyss! One of my colleagues also had a baby 5 months ago (and at age 37, she was put in the Geriatric Maternity Ward, much to her dismay) and is happily back to designing load-bearing concrete beams after a brief maternity leave.
Oddly enough, only one of my close friends is a mother, and for some reason we don’t really ever talk about how she deals with motherhood. One of the things The Mommy Myth points out is how fucking HARD being a mother (not a parent…not a father…a MOTHER) is and how no one is allowed to really express HOW hard it is. Mothers have been forbidden to say “GAWD! This seriously sucks!” It’s not all rainbows and sunshine and organic produce and fair-trade cotton diapers. But we all have to pretend that motherhood is glamorous and sexy and the one and only thing in life that makes every damn one of us feel the most satisfaction we have ever felt. Puhleeeeeze.
Mothers should all be nurturing SAHMs (stay-at-home-moms) teaching their children to speak multiple languages, organizing meaningful outings, giving only educational toys and healthy food, and providing classical music for the young minds they are charged with forming. Basically, June Cleaver…on steroids. Everyone that is, except of course celebrities who have teams of nannies and educators and baby nurses and chefs and personal groomers and any other serviceable person who is able to make her life in motherhood the most satisfying, most thrilling, most fulfilling thing she has ever done. Oh, and also mothers who are on public assistance. Those goddamn welfare mothers SHOULD NOT be SAHMs…shame on them for wanting to stay home and raise their kid. Right?
The authors of The Mommy Myth take an extreme dislike to people such as Dr. Laura (and really, who can blame them?!) who preach to white, upper middle class women that being a mom (not a mother, a mom – this is another interesting point the book addresses; the distinction between the terms “mother” and “mom”) is the only priority they should even be thinking about, and being a mom, (the right kind of mom, of course) is the highest service she can perform.
And here’s the thing, women buy into this bullshit! I realize it is sometimes incredibly difficult not to be duped by the omniscient media, but many mothers-to-be happily adopt the whole motherhood = righteous, holier-than-thou attitude and it’s nauseating.
It’s also a little more than frightening.
I know a woman who is currently 3 months pregnant. I genuinely like this woman. I do. For the past three years that I’ve known her, she has been adamantly anti-baby. She proclaimed that being a mother was not something she needed or wanted. It wasn’t something she craved. She couldn’t imagine being pregnant. She couldn’t imagine being a stay at home mom. It wasn’t for her and she just couldn't understand how women gave everything up just to have a baby.
Then seemingly overnight (although now that I think about it, probably back in the Spring when she turned 33), her and her husband were trying to get pregnant. She started taking special vitamins and charting her menstrual cycle (and keeping me informed – too informed). And then one day she glowingly declared that she was two months pregnant. It has been downhill from that moment. Downhill.
The baby talk never ends. Never. Every conversation (and I mean every conversation) includes at least some reference to her 3-month pregnant body, or her 3-month pregnancy experience, or the latest pregnancy article she’s read, or the most recent pregnancy-related advice she’s been given. She reads books about infant care and early childhood education (and graciously shares that information with me).
Yesterday her and her husband toured daycare facilities (yes, she's 3 months pregnant). The one they want to get into has a two-year waiting list (unless you’re lucky or extremely wealthy). She enthusiastically recounted every detail of this Harvard of daycares which offers 6-week olds to 4 year olds everything from computer classes and drama classes, to ballet lessons and sports development, to sign language and Spanish lessons. She told me – with a totally straight face – that she intends to teach her infant sign language because it’s been shown that children who are able to communicate their needs before they are able to grasp language arts, are simply happier. I didn’t really know how to respond. Part of me wanted to channel some kind of crass Roseanne comment and part of me just wanted to pat her on her head and send her on her way.
Everything she eats, she prefaces with, “don’t judge me, I’m pregnant”. Don’t you worry, you crazy little motherfucker, I don’t care what the hell you put in your mouth whether you’re pregnant or not.
This sudden and complete devotion to the New Momism (another term used in The Mommy Myth – basically the ultra-competitive, extreme mothering of June Cleaver on steroids) is unsettling to say the least. It’s kind of wigging me out. How? How the hell did she go from not wanting to be pregnant to being an uber-annoying pregnant woman of the highest degree who is already plotting ways in which to make her unborn child smarter, healthier, and just generally better than all other children? HOW?
But I digress. Read The Mommy Myth for a dose of humorous reality and a hard look at how our society has idealized motherhood.