I’ve tried to make plans with a handful of people in the last few weeks and the conversation always goes something like this:
Me: Let’s go blank, blank, or blank.
Their reply: You’ll have a baby next year.
First of all, I don’t need a reminder that I’m 32 weeks pregnant. Trust me, nobody needs to be told that a tiny person is living inside of their guts PUNCHING ME IN THE LUNGS. Secondly, you, the world at large, don’t need to tell me what I’m “allowed” to do now that I’m going to be a mother. If I say I want to go to New Orleans, I’ll figure out how to make it happen. I’ll 1) Have my husband stay with the baby because he’s the dad and can do that. 2) I’ll sell a kidney and hire a nanny to come with me to watch the baby. 3) I’ll leave my baby with my poodle and Netflix and hope for the best.*
I’ve noticed this a lot since I announced my pregnancy, people telling me what my life will be like based on really narrow views of what it means to be a parent. In the US it’s like once a woman gets pregnant she’s no longer a person, she’s a mom, and being anything more than that is on par with child abuse and sheer neglect.
I think that in the US a lot of our views on children and parenting come from our own cultural shortcomings. Americans have this weird tendency to overly baby children and wrap our entire world AROUND our kids, instead of expecting the kid to adapt to our lives. You don’t see this very much in a lot of other countries and you certainly didn’t see this when I was growing up in the eighties. Eighties kids, like me, were totally feral. We rode around in weird little bike gangs getting into shit until sundown. Our parents smoked in the house or in the car with the windows rolled up. Now, I’m not advocating for bringing back eighties parenting or eighties camel-toe, but there is something in the middle between “you’re not a person, live for your child or suffer social pressure and shame,” and “baby? Oh yeah! I had one of those! Where did I put it?”
We also have this weird thing culturally where once someone has a kid they’re not a woman anymore, they are a mother and only a mother. Women are reduced to vessels, community property, charged with the task of making a good human for the future and god forbid she do anything for herself ever again. We are told that pregnant women or mothers are no longer sexy or interested in sex anymore (and maybe they aren’t but that’s their choice to make, not society’s). A good mother doesn’t have friends or travel or take a spa day. Yawn. The extremes that we push on women are so exhausting. The whole Madonna-Whore Complex thing is just gag-inducing and unfair because we’re stealing identities and creating false ones while we shepherd the bodies of grown-ass women. It’s perfectly doable to be a really great mom and a woman with separate interests and thoughts and friends and sexual needs. No? The way I see it is that happy people, free from shame, are just better in life. So why wouldn’t a happy, fulfilled, three-dimensional woman be a better mother than someone who is cut off from the world and trapped in a bubble of judgment and expectation?
We don’t do this to men. We expect so little from men as fathers that Instagram posts of men holding their child or doing their little girl’s hair go viral. “Look!” We say. “That incompetent dumbass is capable of a thing!” Which is unfair to men and not even remotely accurate. I know many a single father who did an amazing job raising their children alone. But back to the main point: Men get to be sexy even after they’re dads. They’re expected to maintain friendships, and when you talk with a man you don’t assume he only wants to talk about the color and consistency of his newborn daughter’s shit. Why would he? Men are still considered to be people even after they are parents.
I can’t tell you how many people get offended that I don’t want to talk about being pregnant for 7 hours every day. A few things are fine, sure, I’m excited to be a mom! I’m excited for my baby! But after hours of talking about pregnancy, I get bored and want to talk about something else, like politics, writing, books, gardening, the majestic capybara. And people get weird about it. Like, but you’re pregnant, ISN’T THAT YOUR ENTIRE EXISTENCE NOW? No, no it’s not, Karen.
You don’t see this extreme pressure in other parts of the world. In Italy, moms are put on a pedestal but they’re also expected to still be sexy and attractive (sometimes that pressure is even too much). In France, it’s normal for moms to maintain their friendships and their own unique identities. Only here in our bastion of all things puritan and holy do we associate being a mom with some kind of sweatpant wearing martyr who has given up every sense of herself in order to be viewed by her peers as “good.” A mom is supposed to be exhausted, frazzled, and fulfilled spending 24 hours with her infant going “goo-goo” and “gaw-gaw.”
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t love to spend time with our kids, that we shouldn’t adore them and spend quality time marveling at them. Of course, we should (and I will). I spend so much time just looking at my dog whispering, “I love you,” that I can’t imagine that I won’t be the same with my little one. However, I will still travel with my girlfriends. I will still go on lunch dates. I will go to the spa. And I will still aim for sexy on the days that I feel like it. I’m carrying a child, not a bomb, and I refuse to be obliterated by everyone else’s expectations.
*Jokes are fun.