This morning I was catching up on news in the Times, but skipped over anything devastating, such as war, famine, and politics. All that was left were a series of articles and editorials about motherhood which I read with interest.
The first article was about Mayim Bialick (sp?) who is a super-mom. She believes in co-sleeping with her kids and nursed her children exclusively until they were four! I’m not sure how she did that as she is a television star and had to have spent some time away from them. She must have had lots of help! She believes in not setting behavioral limits on her kids and, like me, directed them to read books and explore rather than watch tv. Her description of motherhood seems pretty all-consuming, but according to her, it gives her great pleasure.
The other stories debunked the myth of motherhood written by men that many mothers struggle with. For example, Charles Darwin postulated that women are designed for motherhood and for nurturing, while men are designed for being the provider and being out in the world. According to Darwin the great myth of motherhood is the pinnacle of existence for women. He pointed to mother birds who sit for extended periods of time on the nest as our example of maternal sacrifice. Once the miracle and pain of childbirth are past, women are meant to be washed with a sense of love and tenderness that even sleepless nights and subsequent exhaustion and the unrelenting needs of the small tyrant do not diminish. Staying at home and tending to the needs of the family are women’s goals.
In actuality, women postpartum look in the mirror at bodies still swollen and aching either at the cesarean scar or at the episiotomy stitches. The nipples are tender and sometimes crack and bleed before they toughen up from nursing. The following months are taken up with poop and throw-up, and trying to get some rest in the few moments between feedings and laundry. One’s mind grows foggy from lack of sleep and sometimes it’s hard to remember a time when doing more than nursing, diapers, and laundry made up your day.
There are women like Mayim who get great satisfaction from this time of life. I remember New York City mothers who loved sitting in the park with the stroller and chatting with other moms before returning home to feed the baby and do the other chores. We moved out of New York City when I was pregnant with my oldest child, so I didn’t even have the park to provide adult conversation. I pushed Seth in his baby carriage up and down the deserted streets of Englewood, New Jersey hoping to run across another adult, but I never did. I loved and marveled at the miracle of my beautiful children, but found I needed more intellectual stimulation.
I went back to school for my Masters when Seth was an infant and was lucky to get a loving child-tender named Viola who took care of him when I was at school. At night when I was trying to study and write papers, Seth howled. Like all three of my kids he was a poor sleeper, and I learned to read while feeding him. There were nights, though, when a paper was due and he wouldn’t sleep when I understood child abuse! I went back to teaching when Abby was a baby, even though my mother in law was appalled that I would work when I had her son and my children at home to care for.
I wouldn’t have it any other way, though. I adore my kids and am grateful for them. But I know I am not the only mother who struggled with motherhood and staying at home as the contented homemaker.