On Motherhood and Unspoken Violence. From a (nearly ungendered) individualist to a tortured site of mass expectations (and a furious feminist)

This post is for ‘mums-to-be’ that want to build their damn free mothering Self.

Pre-reading note: If you are keen to get the spirit of this post, consider that it does not reflect my intimate choices. It simply conveys my politics around motherhood.

After nine months of pregnancy and a few weeks of motherhood, I feel the need to share what we, ‘new mums’, need to get through. This post also wants to be an expression of empathy for all of the women that reject their body being a site of external expectations and social disciplining. 

Few experiences in life as much as motherhood can make you realise how small is the number of women who genuinely empathize with you, respect you as a self-worthy individual, and support you as such. Every piece of ‘advice’ – especially when unsolicited – is often loaded with ideologies and intents of proselytization. By writing this I’m probably doing proselytization myself 🙂

To begin with, during pregnancy, I had always thought that sharing stories – like birth, breastfeeding and parenthood stories – had the extraordinary potential of creating spaces of empathy and mutual support for both women and men. Indeed, I think sharing stories can still be all of that in some – maybe exceptional – cases. Over the last year I immersed myself in several readings and conversations, and I actually realized that such spaces are tragically transformed into platforms of judgmentalism, competition and disrespectful-towards-others self-realization. All of this showed me the unspoken symbolic violence behind the act of telling some birth, feeding, motherhood and so forth stories. 

I premise I publicly apologise for all of the times I have embodied one of the following categories as a past childless woman, without realizing how loaded my words can become to mums-to-be. 

Here’s the prototypes I have come across throughout the last few months:

  1. The anxious ‘selfist’: this category includes all of those who tell you that you need to do something if they did it (Eg. breastfeeding), but without challenging the quality of their performance. Let’s take this unsolicited advice I have received once: “Don’t breastfeed for more than three months because it’s impossible”. This message carries two logical implications: 1. You will want to/be able to breastfeed. 2. You will be unable to do it for more than three months, because you cannot beat the patience and nipples’ resilience of your interlocutor. This category of mums entitled themselves to be not necessarily the best but surely the only possible ‘model’ of motherhood. Many of these category members compete about who coped longer with pain during birth before begging for an epidural, or who breastfed their baby for longer. The same category compete about the babies’ weight after birth, the babies’ most generous sleeping patterns and, in a farthest future, the babies’ social skills. For this category, going back to work has been (either a liberation or a difficult) experience that you also need to have. Their life events and experiences will mark your future! Try not to have these people around 🙂
  2. The performative (at times even fake) alternative: this is the category of women that will always tell you they think outside of the box. During pregnancy, they had all of the food they would have not been allowed to wolf down; they drank all of the alcohol they would have not been allowed to have; they ran and jumped while in their pregnancy third trimester; and they even did not prepare their hospital bag until week 39. An applause for these outlaws!
  3. The fundamentalist naturalist: this category ranges from those who feel hippies, in peace with the natural world and their own body (alias the ‘Woodstackians’) to the radical Catholics, for whom women need to suffer terrible pains to give birth and rely on no medical intervention (no epidurals, no c-sections, etc.) in order to be real mums. Typical comments of this category sounds like “I wish I had had a C-section!”, or “I am so sorry for women who underwent a C-section, some of them don’t know how contractions are like… and I mean, I feel like a heroin ‘cause giving birth is somehow like experiencing your own death first”. In other words, to the eyes of fundamentalist naturalists, women that had to/chose to have a Caesarean are presumed not to have felt any pain at all, or not to have the guts of giving actual birth. Departing from such presumptions, any illness that hits the caesarean-born baby is motivated by the way (s)he was born: “Does he often have a cold? It’s because (s)he was born with a caesarean”. “Does (s)he sleep a lot? It’s because (s)he was born with a caesarean”. For this category, feeding the baby is another battle field: if you bottle-feed you are a loser. Most fundamentalist naturalists, however, will come to tell you that they actually respect anyone, and understand everyone’s choices. 
  4. And now the unquestionable heroine, whatever her choice is. This category tend to heroicize what they have chosen for themselves or somehow happens to them: it can be about coping with contractions without epidural, delivering a baby within one hour, or crowning in the twinkle of an eye. For this category, what is choices, personal adaptation, or mere contingency, become an heroic act.

When you are pregnant, everyone will tell you “your life is not going to be the same”, because everyone has already decided what your life should primarily be about when you become a parent. After nine months of judgments and unsolicited advice, they are actually right: their voices made my days way worse, and my feeling about becoming a mum had somehow become ‘polluted’ by some of these voices. But parenthood really does not need to become a ‘model’… the way you live it makes it all.

Dear future mum, that’s my two cents. Speak how you feel only to the people you really trust and you care about. And in spite of all of what I have vented here: do not get isolated, because it’s definitely not what we need as women and mothers… But do not over-communicate either, because what you will get back might be a more acute sense of isolation.

 

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