Motherhood is Shrouded in the Same Myths as Orgasm
Sometimes it takes "celebrity" to bring credibility and attention to our experience. Alanis Morissette, Hayden Panettiere, Gwyneth Paltrow and several other celebs have come forward sharing their personal struggle with postpartum depression.
As I read through their stories, it struck me that most of them started experiencing depression and extreme body fatigue several months after giving birth. There was a euphoria after giving birth that faded and left them feeling overwhelmed and under water.
I never experienced any extreme depression or body fatigue but I did feel like I was "covered in tar" and "outside myself" month 3 to month 6 post-birth. Of course, a big part of it was the massive hormone shift my body was adjusting to but a nice, healthy chunk of it was straight misogyny.
Motherhood and birth are shrouded in the same myths and misinformation as orgasm. You're penetrated for several minutes and you orgasm on demand; you give birth and you drop all the body weight, breastfeed in stride, and have a cry-free baby. We have this feeling that orgasm and motherhood are instinctual. Since most women become mothers, we see the experience as common. For some reason, you're expected to take to it without any period of adjustment. A baby is 24/7 - it never stops. Just that aspect of motherhood is a monumental physical and mental shift.
I remember feeling like I had to go right back to my regular schedule like nothing had changed. One morning I had Grayson nursing, propped up on a pillow on my lap with my computer and coffee on a side table when, suddenly, my coffee cup fell over. Coffee went everywhere, NOT on Grayson, but my husband remarked that maybe I needed help with the baby. I was crushed. I felt such failure and, looking back on it now, I'm not sure why I felt like I had to be working while nursing at all. The pressure to be perfect and not slow down weighed so heavily on me. I imagine it must be 1000x worse for celebrity moms.
Add to that the total hostility the culture has for women and children (and sleep deprivation) and you have the perfect recipe for depression. One day when I was in line at the post office - Grayson was about four months old - he started crying. Nothing I did could sooth him. People were glaring at me...one woman asked if he was hungry like I'd run errands before feeding my child. And I had pre-paid postage so I was just dropping off my package but, when I asked if I had to wait in line, they quibbed that I wouldn't get special treatment because I had a baby. Really? I just brought new life into the world and that doesn't warrant special treatment? If I was on crutches or had some sort of verifiable disability, from a legal perspective, they would have to accommodate my limitation. I don't see why women with children don't receive the same protection. When you have a newborn, you shouldn't have to wait in line for anything.
This happened to me at the bank and several other stores.
So I had the extra demands of dressing a baby, strapping them into the stroller or onto my body, packing anything I may need - worrying about them pooping on the subway - but I didn't feel acknowledged or supported. Yes, there were people who'd offer you their seat but there were others who would hit my stroller, mutter under their breath, and look down at Grayson with disgust. Most people didn't want you there. This one guy was really hostile and he had his 7 year old daughter sitting next to him - like, WTF, you don't remember what it was like?
We make women responsible for raising the next generation and resent any sort of accommodation they may need. For me, it's just like sex. Young girls have to understand how to deal with sexual attention, get their birth control in place and orgasm through heteronormative sex. If their birth control fails, we punish them with unwanted motherhood creating hurdle after hurdle if they want to terminate. If they can't orgasm, it's some shortcoming on their part. And when they become mothers they have to keep their babies quiet, look great, and never ask for help. I guess a baby is the ultimate manifestation of sex. Maybe that's why you feel this tension when you roll into the coffee shop with a stroller or sit down at a restaurant with your kid on your lap.
I truly believe that I warned off any sort of real depression by taking an extra dose of sisterhood (I ran three workshops right after I gave birth) and adopting a go-fuck-yourself attitude about mothering. One day at Betty's I described my motherhood mantra as an extension of My Body My Choice: My Child My Choice. I wouldn't suffer any unwanted advice or nasty looks on the subway. I hold my head high, make time for myself, and connect with my child banishing away all feelings of guilt or shame.
As I move forward in this journey (I can't believe that Grayson is 1), I'm learning so much about myself and the world around me. Even if you have a chef, maid and private trainer you can't escape the heavy demands of mothering in a male-centric culture. But when you know who you are and draw on the strength of self-sexuality, sisterhood, and equal partnership you can raise a feminist, sex positive son.
And that may be my greatest contribution.