“Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn’t know you had, and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed.” -Linda Wooten
I was afraid. When I brought my daughter home from the birth center, I was terrified. Not overtly. Not openly. Not wide-eyed and pale skinned. But beneath all the joy, excitement, fatigue and love was a deep sense of insecurity.
There was natural anxiety about breastfeeding, about baby gaining weight, about baby sleeping. There were even a healthy number of “oh shit” moments (both literally and figuratively) in which I found myself utterly destroyed by my infant.
Those types of insecurities are all normal, and even useful, I think. Being insecure about caring for a baby is one thing. The fear I felt was, and continues to be, more subtle, more pervasive and ultimately much harder to overcome.
The patriarchy poisoning our culture comes with an underlying hostility toward motherhood. Seen in the way mothers are treated by everything from the medical field to religion to the workplace, yes, but even deeper than that, its roots extend into the subtext of everything. Our language, for example: Mama’s boy – Mom brain – Titty baby – Mother fucker – Son of a Bitch – Any of the ‘yo mama’ jokes. These are all cultural representations of motherhood; negative, punishing representations.
It is implanted in the way we talk. It is depicted carelessly and even brutally in television shows, movies, books, advertisements. Most religions regard mothers as vessels, not as individuals. We enter motherhood with all the subliminal messaging of a culture that does not even bother to truly understand childbirth. Mothers are not set up for success. We enter motherhood with, at worst, a subconscious hatred for it, at best, skepticism about its value and most often with a slew of sources telling us all the ways it will change us…for the worse.
And so yes, I was afraid. Afraid I would lose myself. Afraid I would have to give up my dreams. Afraid of what I would have to sacrifice…for my children.
When I started this series on Motherhood, one of my goals was to investigate the conflicting emotions I feel about being a mom. I’ve thought about it a lot. One of the things I’ve discovered is my way of coping with the negativity has been to slide into a habit of judgement. I judge myself the way the world judges every mother. And worse than that, I judge other mothers…I participate in a culture of judgement aimed at motherhood. I own this about myself. I also hate this about myself. The more insecure I feel, the worse my judgement of others becomes.
How a mother feeds her child. How she dresses her child. How she disciplines her child. Does she sleep train? Does she work? Does she stay at home? What daycare? What school? What type of parenting? What doctor? My confession to you is that I have judged. I am mother…and I have judged other mothers. But here’s the thing, I first judge myself. Always. That judgement comes from the real place of fear that I’m doing the wrong thing. That skepticism is sewn into the fabric of all my decisions as a mother. When I peel back the layers of cynicism and superiority and defensiveness, I find fear. Fear that the world is right, after all. I’m not good enough.
I have, however, been a part of a wonderful mama tribe now for three years. Over the course of those three years I’ve seen the beauty in the diversity of motherhood. It is hard to shake 37 years of training in mama judging, true, but the circle of women that I have come to know has healed me of the pessimism. And so, they have healed me of much of my fear.
Ultimately, what I’m saying is that this current system of shame, criticism, mockery, and judgement does nothing to alleviate underlying insecurity. What DOES cure it, however, is people. Mothers, to be more specific. Mothers supporting each other. Mothers listening to each other. Mothers loving each other.
In the end, the question we should be asking isn’t “What kind of mother are you?”
As mothers, the question we should be asking is “How can I help you be the mother you need to be?” or maybe, more simply “how can I help you love your baby?”
This is a strength I am learning as a mother–how to support other mothers. It is a lesson born from the most intangible fear I’ve ever felt in my life. A fear that the world may continue to perpetuate, but one that I will continue to investigate, one that I will continue to work to overcome. For in all my days as mother, it has always been my tribe that has given me the most strength. It is my tribe that helps me love. I am not a perfect mother. I make mistakes. I.have.made.mistakes. But…I love my babies…and I love my tribe.
photo by ckmarley photography