Another controversial post for you today… It’s something I’ve been thinking about ever since I got pregnant. And something I perhaps shouldn’t confess to but, you know me, I like to be honest. And overshare. And tell people things that are best kept to myself. Hmmm.
But, anyway, it’s Sunday after all. Confession time. Here goes: before I got pregnant I used to view women with children in a rather unsisterly way. I don’t know what it was, but a part of me thought they’d kind of failed the feminist movement somewhat by conforming to biological stereotypes rather than going out there and changing the world (I am aware of how ridiculous this sounds, it’s not like I was changing the bloody world either). But I thought they’d taken the ‘easy option’ by choosing motherhood over furthering their careers. And I was aware that lots of women did manage to further their careers while becoming mothers but they seemed to be in the minority and seemed to spend the entire time banging on about how hard it was, which just struck me as showing off.
It may sound absolutely insane. Like I said, it was just a small part of me – I’m not completely inhuman, I did also understand that they were sacrificing many of their wants and needs for the future generation. But I would roll my eyes if I was on a train and heard two mothers chatting about some aspect of their child’s care as though it was the only thing that mattered. I’d get irritated if I heard them complain about how tired they were (you CHOSE this life, I’d think, very uncharitably, suck it up). I’d hate the women with pushchairs in shopping centres who’d ram past me to get to where they wanted, completely oblivious to my existence. I’d tut out loud at children having tantrums in supermarkets. I’d do a SATC Samantha at badly behaved children in nice restaurants. I’d inwardly judge women who decided to be stay-at-home mums with fierce prejudice. I’d even be a bit pissed off if a pregnant woman without a bump yet barged past me on the tube to grab a seat.
I know, I know.
It really did feel a bit ‘them vs us’ – the childless (or childfree as I liked to think of it) versus the mothers. How horrible of me. But I don’t think I’m alone in feeling like this*.
If I’d had a difficult day at work, I used to think how easy mothers had it, being at home all day watching This Morning and online shopping. HA! One thing I have learned: there is nothing mentally harder than being at home alone all day with a young baby. Single mothers have my utmost respect.
One of my friends said that having a baby is like joining an epic worldwide club. A club of overtired, empathetic women. It’s so true. You suddenly feel sorry for the pregnant woman on the tube who knows she has to grab that seat because at ten weeks she feels lightheaded standing. You offer her yours gladly. You feel deep sadness for the poor woman trying to have a nice meal out while containing a bored hyperactive toddler. You wish you could help. When you see a woman pushing a hooded pram with grim determination you notice her eyebags and stained leggings and you wonder how old the baby is, and how much sleep she had the previous night. You want to reach out and hug her and tell her that it gets easier, it really does. When you hear women chatting about childcare, you feel great relief that you’re not the only one going through such things and often end up joining in (motherhood is a great way of getting talking to ANYONE!). You feel these women ARE you, they belong with you, you GET them and you like them even if in your former life you would have had nothing in common. It is actually one of the best bits of motherhood – this sudden deep solidarity with other women.
I wonder why the old me felt so scathing of mothers. I wonder if it was jealousy, or some kind of defence mechanism. I always worried that I wouldn’t get around to having children and that I’d regret it long term – was this my own survival instincts prepping me for the future? Telling me somehow that that life was crap, that I’d had a lucky escape? I don’t know. I do know I feel a bit ashamed now. It doesn’t mean I don’t look back on my old life and think, god that was a great life, I had so much freedom and time and opportunity. In many ways I miss it. I miss being one of the childfree. Because without a child, you ARE free. I am aware of motherhood’s limitations. I don’t think that there’s a clearcut winner in the ‘having a baby’ versus ‘not having a baby’ life choices. Both have their difficulties, both have their advantages.
But at the same time, this new empathy, this new KINDNESS and respect for others that I’ve developed since having Daphne. That’s something I didn’t expect, and something I’m so grateful for.
I guess the short version of this post is: motherhood has made me a nicer person.
* It may be that EVERYONE feels like this before they have kids, in which case, I feel much less sociopathic.