T here seems to be a pattern emerging among women to normalize what I call the mediocre model of motherhood: a rebellion of sorts against the idyllic “Leave it to Beaver” archetype of parenting. This is (to a certain extent) understandable. For a long while, the model of what the perfect woman should be was as stifling as it was unrealistic. The problem is that the pendulum seems to have swung too far in the other direction. And it’s gross.
I first noticed it once I became pregnant with my son. Euphoric but nervous, I approached motherhood with optimism and an absolute certainty that everything was going to be great. Naive? Perhaps. But why not? I was pregnant and happy and perfectly blissful. Surely other mothers could appreciate my enthusiasm and excitement, right?
Wrong. Once the pregnancy became obvious, I was overwhelmed by what I now refer to as the “desperation declarations” of other mothers. These so-called well-wishers would approach me with knowing smiles and words of congratulations mixed in with awful premonitions of just how much my life was about to suck.
My neighbor was one of the worst offenders. A stay-at-home mother of two, Lorraine never took much interest in me. Once I became pregnant, however, I couldn’t get rid of her. “Enjoy those heels now,” she’d say “because you’re never going to wear them again once you have the baby!” Another favorite: “Store up on your showers! Once that kid comes along they will be a thing of the past!” Granted I didn’t know much about being a mother, but the shower thing just seemed weird. And also nauseating.
I started to avoid Lorraine, but I didn’t get far. From grocery store clerks to strangers on the street, it seemed as though everyone around me not only shared her message but couldn’t wait to weigh in:
-The woman at the dry cleaner advised that I should start saving up for a new wardrobe because everything I currently owned was about to be ruined either by spit-up or fecal matter. She also warned that once the baby was born I would go days without showering.
-An especially overbearing prenatal yoga instructor told me not to take “any silence for granted.” This was apparently because I would never experience it again once I was a mother. Ever. Oh and she insisted I prepare myself for a reduction in showers.
-The woman at the furniture store insisted that I not purchase anything that wasn’t “kid-proof” because it would be destroyed. Immediately. And don’t even get her started on the lack of showers.
T he comments of these and dozens of other relative strangers were just the tip of the iceberg. Friends, colleagues, and even family members astounded me with their resounding chorus of awful. The only thing worse than the comments themselves was the earnest belief of the messengers that their “advice” was anything short of selfish, entitled, unhelpful, terrifying, uninspired, unimaginative, embarrassingly cliche, and wholly unsolicited.
By the time I had reached my third trimester, they had me almost convinced that my post-childbirth existence would resemble that of an insane woman living in squalor and constantly covered in shit, who barely had time to shovel found food into her mouth between 15 minutes increments of sleep (if I was lucky!).
There would be no leaving the house, there would be no change of clothes, there would be no friends or parties, there would be no traveling, there would be no showers, and there would definitely be no sex ( although if the showering bit was anywhere close to true I could somewhat understand this last part).
I started to get depressed. After an especially awful birthing-prep course that I literally count among the top five worst experiences of my life, I got into bed and didn’t get out for three days. I mourned my life. I cradled by belly. I sobbed. I started to panic. If what these people were saying was true, I was in no position to be a mother. I simply wasn’t ready. For the first time I began to doubt myself. I was terrified. I was devastated. And then … I was furious.
How dare these women do this? How dare they hijack my dreams of blissful motherhood? How dare they look at me with pity when I suggested that maybe my experience would be different? Why would anyone do this? I’ll tell you why: because these women were miserable themselves. But rather than try and change their circumstances, they simply decided to make it a requirement for everyone else.
T hese women were on a mission to make me understand that because they were miserable, I also had to be miserable. I HAD to understand that life was going to suck once I had my baby. I HAD to agree with the masses. I HAD to fall in line. I had to end up just like them. Because if I didn’t, then my existence would serve as a constant reminder that the terribly cliched existence of the chronically tired, undersexed, overfed, irritable and unrecognizable modern mother to which they wholeheartedly identified was, well, a choice. And let me be clear: it is a choice.
Well, to hell with it. If giving birth to my son was truly going to result in the end of myself, then I was going down swinging. I was going to fight to the death and take everyone down in the process.
But guess what? It turns out, I didn’t have to.
I delivered my son on a Monday. On Thursday my husband and I returned home with him. There was no nanny. There was no house keeper. There was no gang of relatives on hand to help. It was just the three of us.
The first thing I did was take a shower.
No quick in-and-out sprinkle, mind you, but a long and leisurely aqua feast. How did I manage such a feat? I put my son into his bouncy-chair and brought him into the bathroom with me. Crazy, right?
You know what I did next? I cleaned my house. I strapped that baby to my stomach and cleaned my entire house top to bottom. Our place was small so it didn’t take very long, but it did allow time for me to notice a few things:
The “5-10 “ loads of weekly “new baby laundry” I was warned about? Bullshit. The tons of dirty dishes that pile up until you can’t see your sink? Bullshit. The days on end of never going outside, brushing your teeth or changing out of your pajamas? Also bullshit. You know what else was bullshit? Basically everything.
We were told to get at least two dozen bottles to help with feeding. We decided to “risk it” and only buy six. It turns out we needed three. What about all the clothes ruined from spit up and other bodily fluids? It never happened. Never happened one single time. Yes, our son spit up and yes we were splashed with everything from saliva to diarrhea. When that happened we simply WASHED OUR CLOTHES. Who knew?
As soon as the doctor gave us permission, we took our son out to eat. Much to the horror of our heinous neighbor, we popped our son into his car seat in our convertible and drove to one of our favorite Italian restaurants. I even managed to wear a sexy dress and 3 inch heels (although I’ll admit it was just as much about my feeling good as it was to piss off the neighbor).
And this restaurant adventure was just the beginning! We went to the Hollywood Bowl. We went to grown-up parties. We took our baby to the cemetery for movie night. We went on picnics. I took him to the gym. I took him to museums. We brought that baby everywhere we went.
Yes, it took extra time. Yes, sometimes we melted down. Yes, it wasn’t as effortless as it may have been before, but life after baby for my husband and me was starting to look a lot more like the life we’d had before. In fact, I’d say it was almost identical – except so much more fun because now we had this awesome new person who was making everything that much cooler. So why on earth had everyone told us we would be miserable?
The sad truth is because they needed to.
T he emotional climate of modern motherhood seems to have shifted. You don’t have to look far to see articles or videos or fictional story lines perpetuating the belief that motherhood equals misery. Why? Because lots of women today are unhappy in their own existence. But rather than do something about it they have simply decided to normalize it. They made a choice.
The good news is that with choices come alternatives, and mothers can choose to be happy or not so happy. New motherhood is not about settling, it’s about evolving. Anyone who says otherwise is one hundred percent wrong.
When you have a baby, that baby is born into your life – not the other way around. As a new parent the challenge should be about finding ways to incorporate a new person into that life rather than turning your back on it just because everybody says so.
As mothers we don’t need to be perfect, but we don’t need to be train wrecks either. There truly is a blissful balance and one that is not synonymous with terrible marriages, dirty clothes, and wistful glances at photographs of how it “used to be” and how we “used to look.”
As a mother of a now delicious 7-year-old (AND a second child), I am here to tell you that motherhood really is wonderful! If you are thinking about having children, DON’T BE AFRAID!! Your life isn’t going to go to hell. You CAN wear nice clothes and you CAN have a happy marriage and you CAN continue to do all the things that make you happy.
The choice to be happy should not make you an outlier. As women we should be building each other up instead of bracing one another for the crash. We should be normalizing laughter instead of tears. Because motherhood really is the best thing ever.
And sure it comes with challenges. But I promise if you choose it, motherhood also comes with love, and it comes with fun, and it comes with naps, and romance, and travel, and sex, and reading, and adventure, and heels and flip-flops and everything in between.
And showers. Lots and lots of showers.