I had a baby 20 months ago.
And my life stopped.
Being pregnant and becoming a mother was by far the most difficult thing that happened to me. Becoming a mother is the biggest oppression I have yet had to face as a woman.
That oppression is something I guess I knew but never truly consciously understood before I was a mother. I definitely felt motherhood would be difficult, I never wanted children before in fear that things would become so hard. Children freaked me out, motherhood freaked me out. And it was not something I ever looked into in detail, it was just too scary to acknowledge.
As I grew older I slowly changed my mind, convinced myself it would be ok, convinced myself I would manage, convinced myself my partner who I had shared 13 years of my life with would be a good father, would be trustworthy, would do his share. Convinced myself I wanted a child. Convinced myself I would regret it if I didn’t have one. Believed the myth. Didn’t trust my gut feeling.
Saying that things didn’t quite work out is an understatement.
All one ever hears of motherhood is at best incomplete at worst a totally male invented propaganda.
What I heard about it from friends and family ranges from “your life is about to change” to “it’s a bundle of joy”. Telling a pregnant woman “your life is about to change” is both a ridiculously obvious statement (duh! I know that!), but also a huge understatement. Nobody is prepared to tell you what it actually means. Your life is about to change? What is going to change? How? I don’t even want to comment on the “just bundle of joy” statement. Seriously, no matter how much you love your baby, having a child is NEVER “just a bundle of joy”.
What happens to the woman who just gave birth and who thinks having a baby is not quite a bundle of joy? What happens to the women who are not enjoying motherhood? What happens to the women who don’t manage, whose experience doesn’t live up to these myth?
What are women who already have children thinking when they repeat the “bundle of joy myth” and omit everything else? Why are they not saying more? Why are they not sharing their stories? Why didn’t anybody warn me? Why didn’t anybody tell me it could be so hard you can find it horrible? It could be so hard that you start thinking the only way you can find a release from this situation would be to disappear from the planet? Why didn’t anybody tell me it could be so hard 70 000 women suffer from postnatal depression each year? I used to ask myself these questions all the time.
I felt lied to and betrayed.
Women may have spoken about it before, but somehow the message never got to me. Patriarchy’s language is a powerful tool of propaganda; male speech is constructed as the reference, the objective point of view on everything. Women’s speech is subjective, gossip, not serious, not worth anyone’s attention.
Any women’s definition of anything almost always stays in the background, is trivialised, or is simply totally invisible. Even if it is about a definition of a purely women’s experience (like motherhood is), it is still male definition that will prevail.
“The society in which many of us have been reared has a legitimated meaning for motherhood which means feminine fulfilment, which represent something beautiful, that leaves women consumed and replete with joy.
I am not suggesting that motherhood does not or cannot have such a meaning, but that it is a partial meaning and it is false to portray this as the only meaning. For many women, motherhood may have been an entirely different experience. Such women may have generated alternative, even conflicting meanings (and names) in relation to motherhood but their meanings have been without authority or validity. Such meaning then, may not have been handed down, or if they were, would not have carried the same weight as the legitimated one.”
When we women speak about our experiences, our speech is never the mainstream; it is never accepted as the reality for women as a group. Instead it becomes an individual woman’s problem, she become the unlucky one with the bad experience, or the unfit one, she doesn’t live up to male’s definition, she is defective, she is wrong. That’s what makes it so hard for us to tell our truth. Because we know we will be neither believed nor listened to and we certainly won’t be taken seriously.
I am writing here to share my experience and tell my truth about motherhood. I am here to say that motherhood is not just a bundle of joy, not just going to change your life, not just hard work.
I am here to say motherhood is an impossible task in the patriarchy, one doomed to failure because it takes a village to raise a child but somehow we are expected to achieve this task on our own and unassisted.
Because motherhood doesn’t come naturally.
Because it needs to be learnt and no one is doing the teaching.
Because none of us has any idea what the hell is going on and what we are doing.
Because sleep deprivation is a torture technique and its effects include stress, depression and psychosis. And this is how women spend the first year of their baby’s lives.
Because most of the childcare and housework will be women’s responsibility no matter what other obligations we may have.
Because institutionalised sexism means women with young children are the most discriminated against group in the workplace.
Because you may just need your job when you are at your most vulnerable yet 30 000 women in the UK lose their jobs as a result of being pregnant each year.
Because no matter what happens to you and how destroyed your life is, all you can feel is an incommensurable feeling of guilt and the sense you are not good enough.
Because however supportive your partner may choose to be, it is your life that is shambled, not his.
Because childcare is an absolute rip off and having to work in order to pay someone else to do the job you are doing for free is totally insane.
Because if you ever manage to escape that violent man, you are very likely to be one of the 43% of single parents family who live in poverty.
Because patriarchy is turning an amazingly powerful loving experience into an event that leave you exhausted, depressed, disempowered, your self esteem shattered.
Because the whole structure of society makes sure that when women get pregnant, they walk straight into a trap.
I am here to say having a child in the patriarchy is not just changing your life, it stops it. It is not just hard work; it is a shock to the system. It is not just a bundle of joy, it is a nightmare.
I want to share my truth on motherhood because I know my experience or part of it, is shared by many mothers around the world, many mothers who never dare speaking up because they think they are the one with a problem, because they fear they would be judged, not listened to, labelled as bad mothers, inadequate, unnatural, not good enough, guilty, unloving, selfish, mad.
I want to share my experience because the women who do not have a baby need to know the reality, the thing we don’t tell them, the things that are never talked about. The things I would have liked to hear everywhere and louder.
I want to share my experience to liberate speech around motherhood. Together we need to burst the myth and the taboos, we need to speak up OUR truth about motherhood, generate our own meanings and fight hard for those meanings to be accessible for other women and other generations of women. We need to speak up until it stops being seen as women’s individual problem and becomes viewed as what it is: a political institution created by men to keep all women under control.