The Big Corporate Motherhood Conspiracy
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Pick a major American city, wander down one of its trendy shopping streets, and on any given block you will likely see a plethora of stores devoted to all things maternal. Most obvious are stores selling pregnancy clothes, with larger than life posters of gorgeous, very pregnant women in styles any self-respecting, non-pregnant New York fashionista would be scrambling to wear.
Next to them are the baby supply boutiques with everything you could possibly want to accessorize your new role as mother (and the life of your newborn). Strollers big enough to be in the SUV section at your local car dealership -- with prices to match -- are parked next to cribs fit for a princess. Mixed in for good measure are the educational toy stores, the cloth diapering stores, the organic cotton baby clothing stores, and the baby beauty product stores. All proof that motherhood has become a trend.
Now, often trends, particularly fashion trends, are quite fun. Who doesn't love experimenting with new colors (remember when red was the "new black?") and new styles such as huge purses, thigh-high boots and over-sized sunglasses? However, turning something as life-changing as motherhood into a trend is, at best, misleading and, at worst, totally irresponsible. Some women, drawn in by the trend, become completely disillusioned when they realize that motherhood isn't always as delightful as donning the latest offerings from the runways of Paris (or the cheap runway imitations).
This motherhood trend has been partially fueled by the seemingly endless supply of A- and B-list celebrities popping out their progeny left, right and center. It started with Demi Moore and her groundbreaking Vanity Fair cover. And now, stories of pregnant stars and celebrity mothers are as ubiquitous as stories about their disintegrating love lives.
These aspiring celebrity mothers look stunning during pregnancy (Britney Spears notwithstanding). And, one to two weeks after giving birth, they appear with their little ones looking as though they had just spent the past two weeks with a personal masseuse, instead of going through the most painful experience known to womankind and staying up all night with a newborn.
The other culprits in this breeding bonanza are the industries and businesses that have woven a misleading myth of motherhood into our popular culture. They are following in the prestigious footsteps of the hugely successful wedding industry, which realized they could make millions by creating and perpetuating the dream of a fairy tale wedding and perfect marriage -- a myth if ever there was one.
And now, in a bid to repeat this success, a new industry has been born: the motherhood industry. Set up solely to sell women a new myth, the myth of the problem- and pain-free motherhood, it focuses only on the very best experiences that motherhood offers: the wonder of being pregnant, the experience of nursing a child, of watching them sleeping in their crib, of reading them classics such as Goodnight Moon and of course, of taking glorious walks with your partner and your perfect little bundle of joy tucked inside that SUV-sized stroller.
The fact that pregnancy can be extremely uncomfortable (to say the least), that nursing can lead to cracked and bleeding nipples, that your baby might wake up every hour of the night for the first year, that Goodnight Moon loses some of its charm after the one hundredth reading, and that you will have to learn how to maneuver your huge stroller through a busy mall while clutching a screeching 2-year-old, are facts that the motherhood industry conveniently overlooks.
Indeed, the relentless, challenging, overwhelming, sometimes downright depressing parts of motherhood are entirely disregarded.
And what of those gorgeous looking celebrities who seem to make the transition to glamorous mother without effort? Well, most celebrity mothers probably have spent the first two weeks post partum with their masseuse (oh, and their newborn). Celebrities can also add personal baby shoppers, lactation consultants, personal baby nutritionists, nighttime doulas, daytime nannies, and post pregnancy fitness instructors to their already existing arsenal of cleaning ladies, personal assistants and chefs. Any new mother would do the same -- and look gorgeous doing it -- if she could afford to.
So, what happens to the average everyday woman who may have felt a little unsure about becoming a mother, but who gets drawn into the trend being perpetuated by popular culture? Who, in her desire to have the cool new "pregnancy look," the new cute baby look, and imitate the celebrity mothers, conveniently overlooks, forgets, and disregards the fact that, unlike some of her previous fashion foibles, this one is forever? She cannot simply put it into the Goodwill bag with the 80s hypercolor T-shirts and the side ponytails.
Many women, if the blogs and the media are correct, are surprised and disillusioned when they discover what being a mother is really all about. They fall for the motherhood trend, hook, line and pacifier, and are bewildered when the experience does not live up to their expectations.
An article published in a major Canadian newspaper interviewed several new mothers who seemed to be surprised to discover that motherhood can actually be extremely challenging and, wait for it -- boring. Many of them were desperate to find someone else to look after their children and return to their pre-baby lives.
And these mothers are not alone. The Internet is full of stories and blogs of women disillusioned with their motherhood experience, some so much so they have voiced regret at having children, a feeling that does not bode well for the future psychological health of their offspring.
Comments from these mothers include such thoughts as â€œchildren are mind-numbingly boring,â€ and â€œlooking after children makes women depressedâ€ to the slightly more disturbing: â€œI was an attractive, fulfilled career woman before these kids. Now Iâ€™m an overly-exhausted wreck who misses her job and sees very little of her husband,â€ and the even more disturbing: â€œIt is no secret to my children that I consider myself to be carrying out a prison sentence and I'm counting the days 'til I am free."
And little real support is available to help them cope with their disillusionment. There are, of course, endless parenting advice books, all promising to put the reader on the fast track toward their fantasy motherhood experience. Most of these books have overtly misleading titles such as The Happiest Baby on the Block or The No-Cry Sleep Solution . The fact these books often end up gathering dust in the back of a cupboard before your child has reached his or her first birthday, suggests just how effective they are.
And let's not forget the thousands of products that promise to transform your life with baby into everything you thought it could be. The fact is that no products or books are going to give you the motherhood you imagined when you bought the fashionable pregnancy clothes, the gorgeous crib and the fancy stroller. And the reason? This motherhood does not exist. There will be moments that live up to the image fueling the motherhood trend, but they will always be offset by moments that seem to come straight out of a Stephen King novel.
So what to do? Well, a good place to start would be to stop treating motherhood as the new black. Perhaps those considering having kids, should be allowed to dream about their new pregnancy wardrobe and wander through the baby stores imagining how darling their little one will look in the fuzzy pink baby Ugg's playing in the new princess sandbox. And then, they should be asked to spend 48 hours at home doing some repetitive mind numbing task like data entry, with only a couple of minutes per day to either eat, grab a shower, or get dressed. During the first night they will be woken every three hours, but still required to function the next day, performing their mind-numbing task and again with only a few precious minutes to themselves (if that). The second night they will be kept up, with only a few hours here and there to sleep while various wet sticky, smelly substances are thrown at them, in a bid to demonstrate what it might be like to look after a sick baby.
By providing potential mothers with this balanced perspective, they will be able to make a more informed decision. Instead of falling for the motherhood trend and only later discovering it is not all it's advertised to be (suffering through endless hours of disillusionment and boredom, until finally hiring a nanny and running screaming from the house), women will come into their new role much more aware, much more prepared and much more able to deal with the challenges and joys of being a mother.
Even the stores and the culture promoting the motherhood trend will benefit from offering a more balanced view. An increase in the number of satisfied mothers will, in turn, produce more satisfied, grounded children. This will help to ensure fewer children get involved in gangs, drugs and shooting sprees and instead become functioning members of society, with lots of money to spend on things such as beautiful but unnecessary mother and baby products.
A fantasy? Perhaps. But no more so than the myth of motherhood now being perpetuated. This is not to suggest no one should ever again have children because it is so awful. It is simply trying to point out what should be obvious; you can't base your decision on having a baby on the same criteria you would use to buy the latest iPod or the cute little outfit you tried on at Sak's yesterday.
Which brings us back to the question: to procreate or not to procreate? Well, if you think you want to have a baby, you will need to look into the idea much more deeply. Start by talking to other women about their experiences with motherhood and reading about it. A wealth of information on motherhood is available on the Internet and in bookstores. A few to try include BellaOnline, a compendium of articles on whether or not to become a mom, and books such as Do I Want to Be A Mom? A Woman's Guide to the Decision of a Lifetime by Suzan Eram and Maybe Baby: 28 Writers Tell the Truth About Skepticism, Infertility, Baby Lust, Childlessness, Ambivalence, and How They Made the Biggest Decision of Their Lives by Lori Leibovich.
If you still canâ€™t decide, try to clear your mind and look at both sides of the equation. Let yourself by pulled into the dream for a moment (we all know that fantasy roll playing is a very good thing). Imagine yourself wearing, and looking gorgeous in, the funky new pregnancy fashions. Gaze at the stroller in front of you, and envision you and your partner strolling along with latte's in hand while your perfect baby, dressed in the latest Robeez and GAP Baby outfit, coos at the birds. Then, before you find yourself dragging your partner home to get on with procreating, pause. Shift this vision to the darker side, and now picture you and your partner practically running, with a screaming baby in your arms, in a desperate attempt to get home, as the latte you ordered congeals in the bottom of the stroller. Then imagine doing this after having only slept for two hours the night before.
If both these images are ones you think you can handle, then talk some more, think some more and nudge your partner toward the bedroom. If not, then perhaps take your hard-earned money, buy yourself a sexy, non-pregnancy top, a bottle of wine, and lead your partner to the bedroom -- or whatever location is most convenient -- birth control and all.
Janina Stajic is a freelance writer, mother and community activist. She teaches pre/post natal yoga and is the chair of the Nanaimo Mother & Baby Society.