A bundle of joy

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.”

Dale Spender.

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 motherhood is so often a place of loneliness, isolation and depression.

Because 30% of all domestic abuse starts in pregnancy.

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.

 

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21 thoughts on “A bundle of joy

  1. Pingback: 50 Shades of Grey Area | not who they say I am

  2. More people need to admit that their child does not “complete them” or cause them utter joy every moment. I love my little boy, I really do, but there are times when I realise I didn’t really want a child: somehow when I was vulnerable I was persuaded that it was the thing to do, I’d make a “great mum”. The people that told me this were all mums. I think they wanted to share out the pain.
    One female and self-declared feminist colleague once said that it “was the duty of all educated women to have children”. Silly fucking elitist idiot. Feminist my arse.
    I long for my life back. And I’m one of the lucky ones, I do have the good partner – somehow I’ve managed a successful career and progressed, maybe because I felt that I needed to be something other than “mother” and I was lucky enough to be in the position to do so.
    But let’s not be fooled: this is not just about kids. How about your parents? Who will look after them when they are infirm, needing care, desperate, dying? Patriarchy does the double dirt on this one. Mother to one, daughter to the other, carer for them both.

  3. I’m so grateful to have found your blog. I never meant to find myself in this situation: a 50-yr old single mother (yes I’ve remarried but still consider myself a single parent)… My son is 16 now, I’ve almost gotten him to that magic adult threshold, but **MY** career plans have been derailed; I feel too old, worn down, exhausted to do much more than “Survival Mode”, the bare necessities most days!
    (May I have the password to protected post?) I’m very cautious about what I post online due to ongoing conflict w/narcissistic abusive ex…)

  4. Thank you for this piece. So rarely heard amidst the happy Mommy blogs that push that ‘having it all’ wholesome family life.
    Around me, a women’s writing group has begun, but the theme is the glorification of motherhood. Really! Who amongst us DARES to speak up against that?
    So much for women’s progress in the world.
    Best to you.

  5. I had my son when I was 22. I was a newcomer in the U.S., did not quite speak the language yet, and I was away from my family and friends at a time when I was most vulnerable. It was an awful time, really. I adore my son, (he is almost as old now as I was when I had him); he is the most important person in my life -but it still was an awful experience. I totally blame the patriarchy on the bundle-of joy brainwash, on the lack of resources for mothers, on everything.

  6. Not a mother, but now I don’t feel bad for not wanting to be a mother. I never wanted to have children and the women in my family always teased and still do pressure me into wanting motherhood and marriage. All I do is see them struggle, depressed, angry,miserable, and working all the time meanwhile their husbands do fairly easy and noble work outside of the house and don’t have to do the demanding work of raising the kids ( which is an understatement to what it entails because even me helping babysit is EXTREMELY demanding and draining to me), housework, looking pretty, and cooking the food. They just get to come home relax, eat dinner, fuck their wives, and enjoy their lives.

    Yet the mothers in my family still advertise it as this great experience and shit, and I’m just like I guess it’s easier for them to delude themselves into thinking they aren’t miserable slaves doing all the work.

    What’s trivial about motherhood is that it exists outside of patriarchy of course, because we all need to reproduce and take care of our daughters, but I think motherhood outside of patriarchy is way better and the way motherhood should be.

    The family and motherhood now is all about patrilineal descent and oppressing women.Having children is dangerous because the world we live in is very damaging to kids, the food, the water, the media, patriarchy in general. And then again having kids is not good for the environment since we are overpopulated. Not to mention many women have children unwanted or aren’t emotionally developed and have underlying security issues that lead them to want to have children, which is really unfair to the kids.

    It’s just a bad idea to me for many reasons. I know that maybe if we lived in a world without men, then motherhood would be a collective effort, way less hard, way less draining, and actually would produce more happiness and less misery. But under patriarchy, I’ll skip.

    I’ve been called selfish and practically a whore for not wanting marriage and a family, but I don’t think it is woman’s purpose to reproduce human life. I know we have that capability but you can certainly have a meaningful, happy, and fulfilling life without leaving a biological legacy.

    Hope your life improves with your children. I say expelling the men from your life if you can will make it less night-mareish.

  7. This is a really powerful and important post. Well done for finding the strength to publish it. You’re a strong person, getting stronger.

    “What happens to the women who are not enjoying motherhood?” – this really spoke to me. New motherhood is a really lonely time, and physically/mentally exhausting as you outlined. And yet we’re still expected to keep up the “good woman” façade and not complain (too much) and barely be honest with those closest to us, let alone strangers i.e. healthcare professionals, other new mums who we’ve only just met, colleagues.

    I also found/find it hard to not physically be able to get everywhere I want to any more. “Feminist” events held at incompatible times, in inaccessible venues without a crèche – need I say more?!

    • Thanks Ellen. The silencing of mothers is really powerful isn’t it. I remember early days going to the children centre looking at new mums who looked as distressed and exhausted as i did. And all we could say to each other is “i am fine thank you”. Really sharing honestly the horror of our experiences was completely impossible. When i started talking honestly (in women only discussion group…) about my experience, the reaction from other women was incredible. They really felt the pain i was talking about and it really resonated with their experience, it wakes something up in them. And they know that its allowed to talk about it. Its really powerful and i cannot stop recommending women to try to create safe space to share their experience.

  8. In the 70’s I was in a very feminist conscienceness raising group. It validated my own dislike of motherhood. By that time I had two children and after the birth of my first I knew right away it was wrong for me. I could make no connection with this dependant baby and it could have been fatal for both of us. My only experience of mothering was from own mother and that had been a nightmare and gave me no benchmark for how it could be done . Finding feminism and Adrienne Rich ‘off women born’ made a positive difference. Surrounding myself with like minded womon helped in ways I can hardly describe other than it was like a bright light squeezing through a period of what seemed like impenatrable darkness.
    I am shocked that women who call themselves ‘feminists’ in online chats fail to recognise one of the major oppressions, that of being a ‘mother’, that effects womon. One my greatest feminist friends in particular had 5 children , we are still close, supported each other in our recognition of the ‘trap’ mothering was. We helped each other still do on the matter of our now adult offspring.
    I hope I can add something of support here . My main aim was to refute the notion I was some ones mother, daughter, wife, et al and that gave me back my identity that at one point I thought I had lost and become a zombie. Rad Feminism was a salvation, Greenham was Liberation, building womons VAGW support services was positive activism and realising that children were not ‘all there was’! But there were the dark days when I wanted to leave them all behind, to run away from ‘fucking mums world’ I hated it then as I do now seeing how it rips womon apart and the ‘yummy mummy’ silence is deafening!

    • Thanks for sharing this, it is so revealing that things haven’t moved on since the 70’s. I definitely recognise a lot of my own experience in your comment. And reading Adrienne Rich was the only thing that made sense to me when i was pregnant and crying every day while i was watching my life literally fall apart before my eyes. I didn’t find many text which addressed motherhood apart from that book. Do you have any other reading suggestions by any chance?

  9. I have felt much of what you describe and agree with a lot of it, but I wonder, how can blaming “the patriarchy” be helpful? We are all as much a product of the patriarchy as anyone else, it’s not a conspiracy that men and women consciously enact with every generation, it’s ingrained in our society and practices, and maybe it benefits some short term to maintain the status quo, but to hope for change shouldnt conversations try to be less divisive and more try to include men in the discussion? – motherhood not just a “feminist issue” and a source of bitterness but an issue for all people – if only they knew it. Too much emotion and we’ll only be given the “hysterical woman” label anyway!

    • Thanks Sarah for your comment. Agreed we are all a product of patriarchy indeed however, we need to look at who is creating the rules and who benefit from them. Patriarchy is created by men to benefits men. Women are the victim of it. When a man decides to beat his wife when she is pregnant, when a man chooses to not do any childcare or housework, when a boss sacks a woman because she is pregnant or denies her a promotion because she has a small child, when the male government chooses to cut benefits and impose austerity measure which overwhelmingly affects women and make mothers and especially single mothers significantly worse off, it is men who benefit from that, economically or by gaining free labour at home etc…
      The basis of feminism is that we are sharing our experience and NAMING our oppressor.
      This is male violence we are talking about.
      I am not sure men who choose to be violent do it because they lack education. You see i am pretty sure they do it because they can (the whole system protects them) but also because they are gaining something from it and they know it. A man who batters his wife when she is pregnant knows she is at that time the most vulnerable and he takes that opportunity to reassess his power and to turn the power dynamics of their relationship in his favour. What is the point in including men in the discussion when it is their choice to be violent against us and they could choose to stop that at any point if they wanted?
      Naming our oppressor is not divisive, it is essential.
      The fact that so many women are reluctant to do that because they are (rightfully) scared of men’s reactions and potential violence against them is exactly why we need to it over and over again.

  10. A very brave and powerful piece. I was one of the women who loses a job as a result of having a baby…I was bullied out of my job and ended up being moved elsewhere in the organisation, in an area that did not use my skills at all. After a fairly meteoric rise through the ranks, my salary and grade remained static in the remaining ten years I stayed there after I had my baby. I was continually sidelined and overlooked. My career had pretty much ended.

    The dynamics in my relationship changed beyond all recognition. Suddenly, I was a ‘housewife’ in the sense that everything to do with the home (as well as the baby) became my responsibility, despite it being equally divided before my pregnancy. I suddenly found I had two dependents…one an adult male.

    Interestingly, a friend of mine lives in a very alternative community and she had an amazing birth and post-partum experience because all the women gathered to help and support her, and they all still do support one another.

    • Thanks Jacobetta. I have heard so many of my friends tell me their stories of discriminations at work, its so disgusting. It is so common Its like all the bosses in the country (world?) are actually waiting for us to get pregnant in order to bully us out of employment!
      Your point about relationship also is spot on.
      Pregnancy and motherhood is a crucial point in time when men reassert their power over us. I am not sure how that works, maybe the fact that we are so vulnerable when we are pregnant? Maybe they take us for granted now that we are carrying their child. Maybe they know we are about to also loose our jobs and we cant really afford to leave them so they can bully us or beat us?

  11. My first inkling that motherhood was a myth came to me after retching in the woman’s bathroom at graduate school. I was two months pregnant with a much wanted child. I remember feeling how unfair it was that the burden of reproduction was placed solely on females. I was nauseated 24/7 for about 4 months.

    I often looked back to that day during the ensuing nightmare that my own motherhood journey became. I had no idea how that brief glimpse into what motherhood actually meant portended the horrific reality of my life a short while later.

    I applaud you for writing this sister. When I was on the feminist forums in the late 90s, talking like you are now (but not nearly as informed or eloquently stated!!), I was shut down. I felt completely and utterly alone and when I turned to my online sisters for support I was told that my concerns were not valid (one of my major concerns was and still is about the availability of child care for mothers to work alternative hours or attend community events).

    Thank-you. You have encouraged me to think more about my own journey and perhaps also contribute to this fantastic blog. xoxo

    • Thank you for sharing some of your experience sister. And so sorry to hear motherhood was also a nightmare for you. I can only agree about how the feminist world on and off line has treated you is horrible and so unsisterly. I have had similar experiences myself and also encountered a lot of violent anti-mothers sentiments within feminist circles. This has left me utterly depressed and speechless for many months. And i still do not understand it to be honest. Its great you are considering contributing to this blog! I will be looking forward to read you (no pressure 🙂 xxx

      • To say “it gets better” is trite, perhaps.

        I am glad I gave birth and mothered, now. But. recognition of the nearly (?!) insurmountable challenges is important.

        I am nearly 20 years at this mothering thang. I have raised an awesome child but she is not without scars, sadly.

  12. Thank you for saying what I’ve been feeling for years! I have three children who I love but honestly I could just run away sometimes. They have started school now which is when everyone tells me I can get my life back a bit and be myself but honestly after 9years I don’t know who I am anymore I’m just a mum. I can go days even weeks without hearing my name and just being referred to as mummy or “insert name”s mum. I want to return to work but finding anything that fits around the school year that doesn’t involve working with children (my worst nightmare) is very difficult. My partner works full time on low wages and I don’t want to be working just to pay for what I do already. I know that’s my choice but I do have to agree that motherhood is a trap. I feel completely invisible since having them well unless someone wants to criticise. I have came to accept motherhood is a case of your dammed if you do and your dammed if you don’t. Breast feed your an exhibitionist, don’t your selfish, don’t smack your a hippy with out of control kids who need a smack but do and your a child abuser the list goes on at on your just never right. As I said thanks again for letting people like me know we are not alone.

    • Thank you sister, your reply is also making me feel less alone!
      there are a lot of truths in your reply. And plenty of things i hope to develop in future posts myself because they are totally affecting me too. I can completely relate to you and your situation. Yes we are invisible, yes when health professionals or teachers… call us “mum” i also feel i totally lose my identity and i hate it. Yes it is SO hard to go back to work after so long out of the workplace. Yes to the “damned if you do damned if you don’t”. As women we cannot win. Whatever choices we do is always going to be the wrong one. I really encourage you and any other mums reading and relating to this to share their experiences. Here on this blog, or amongst a group of trusted friends, consciousness raising groups… It makes such a big difference when we start talking!

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