A neighbor recently stuck her head around my kitchen window and brandished a couple of bags of diapers. It was a touching, if odd, gesture — I don’t know the woman that well, and my baby’s not due until December. She then handed me a smaller package — several pairs of paper underwear and some industrial-strength sanitary pads — and told me my vagina would never be the same. Oh, and it would be "best [to] start thinking about a waterproof mattress protector." My husband, who was preparing dinner, involuntarily gaped at my lady area. When she left, we closed the curtains and sat in silence, our appetites annihilated and spirits crushed.
Pregnancy is an odd time. People you’re barely on first-name terms with want to pat your stomach and impart wisdom (whether they’ve had kids themselves) — and you’re supposed to be cool with this. You’re no longer your own person, you see, you’re simply a vessel to handle. For the most part, I don’t mind the constant advice. It’s generally well-meaning. But increasingly, parents want to share not only the good and the bad of raising a human, but the torturously ugly. I’ve been told I’ll spend my days covered in poop, and I can say goodbye to my social life. I even have a friend who has vowed never to procreate as several of her mom friends have told her parenting is "hell on earth."
It’s become fashionable to complain about motherhood. Sleepless nights and all-consuming boredom are taken for granted, and it’s now widely accepted as fact that childbirth = vaginal apocalypse. Once it was bad form to regale a pregnant woman with tales from the labor suite. These days, many moms consider it their duty to tell the "truth" about birth. Why? What am I supposed to do with the information? In just over two months, this baby is coming out of me, one way or another. I’m not naive — I don’t expect eight hours of uninterrupted sleep and unperforated genitals. (I was a nine-pounder, and my mom was in labor with me for 24 hours.) But I’m trying to stay positive and not dwell on the what ifs, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll be one of the lucky ones.
I didn't go into this pregnancy with my eyes closed. My husband and I have been together for 13 years and have been married for five years. We loved our last-minute weekends away and boozy lunches, and we thought long and hard about the compromises we’d have to make if we invited a plus one into our cozy twosome. I'm under no illusions that parenthood won't be incredibly challenging. So there's really no need for perfect strangers to tell me that my days of restful slumber are numbered. It's not helpful — it's just a massive buzzkill.
Look, I get it. Kids can be exhausting and frankly, a pain in the butt. And I’m glad the narrative around motherhood is shifting. The tired trope of the perfect housewife cooking dinner from scratch and attending every PTA meeting has been put to bed, mainly thanks to authentic parenting role models such as Mother Pukka and Molly Gunn. Finally, women feel comfortable admitting that being a mom is really hard work at times.
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But I worry we’re moving too far in the other direction. Moaning about children has become the norm, but saying your experience of labor was alright, or telling another mom, "You know what? I think I got this," is viewed as smug. Personally, I’d rather hear the good stuff. It seems ungrateful to go on about the trials of parenting when there are so many women who desperately want kids and are struggling. Sure, I’ve had days where my back aches and I’m so tired I can’t think straight, but unless I’m feeling particularly down, I’ll tell my friends I’m alright when asked. I’m 34, and it took me almost a year to get pregnant. I realize how lucky I am.
There’s another reason we ought to adjust our mindset towards motherhood. In a recent article for The New York Times, Karen Rinaldi argued that by calling it a sacrifice, we disempower women. How often do we talk about the sacrifices men make when they become fathers? "By reframing motherhood as a privilege, we redirect agency back to the mother, celebrating her autonomy," Rinaldi writes.
Maybe our standards are too high. Millennials are notorious perfectionists. From our careers to our downtime, we expect to excel in every area of our lives. If we think being a mom is going to be all homemade kale purée and cute outfits, disappointment is inevitable. But if we accept that sometimes there’ll be vomit in your hair and fish fingers on their plate and that’s OK, I think we’re doing just fine.
This post was written by guest writer Alix O'Neill. For more, check out our sister site Grazia.