Ha! So starting a blog when my baby was less than three months old, and imagining I’d write in it every day, was a little ambitious, no?!
The truth is, I’m up to my neck in baby-caring, child-rearing and all that stuff. Asher’s virus passed, and we were not doomed, but then he decided to stop being the World’s Sleepiest Baby. It’s full on, and with the baby not consistently getting the ‘evening is for sleeping’ memo I keep sending him, I am brimful of Asher (and Leila) from first thing in the morning until my eyes close as soon as after 10pm as Sire will allow. I keep thinking of blog posts, then having no time to write them. This evening, he sleeps! So I write. Quickly, before I am summoned from above.
It is hard work, right now. There I said it. But I almost didn’t post that, because when I complain about my insanely fortunate lot, I feel uncomfortable, and this article is brought to mind. It was written, oh, ages ago, and I have totally missed the firestorm/boat in writing about it. But since I read it, I’ve turned it over and over in my mind.
If you don’t have time to read (though I recommend you do), in a nutshell it is a writer launching a wincingly frank attack- I think it’s fair to say ‘attack’- on mothers who moan about motherhood, how hard it is, how tired they are, etc etc. The writer has never had children herself- it just never happened for her, and now in her late forties, she feels it is too late. Her message to mums is to bloody well stop complaining and appreciate what they’ve got. It’s angry and, by her own admittance, bitter. She feels that the problems of motherhood are ‘finite and surmountable’, and fizzle away to nothing compared to the joy and privelege of having kids.
As an argument, it’s deeply flawed, as many commenters on the piece pointed out. And I’d agree with them on many levels.
First, some problems experienced by mothers are far from finite and surmountable. Childhood illness, behavioural difficulties, an adult drug-addicted child, a child who self-harms. All of these problems cut as deep as it is possible to go. Not least because your love for your child- and the pain you feel when they are in pain- is so powerful that it scoops out your insides and leaves it all out there, quivering and vulnerable.
But I don’t think the writer is really referring to these sorts of problems. She’s referring, I think, to me close to tears late yesterday night, whisper-shouting to G ‘I don’t know what to DO, he just won’t SLEEP!’ and despairing that, once the baby finally did sleep, he’d be up in a few hours to feed. She’s talking about me feeling frantic as I try to dress both children, both of them crying for reasons rational (baby: hungry) and mad (toddler: doesn’t want to wear pants as Angelina Ballerina does not wear pants). And she’s also referring to me, eyeing the clock at 6.30pm, hoping that Asher’s bedtime will follow soon after Leila’s, and that the baby monitor will stay blissfully quiet, so I can dirnk some wine and watch goddam Call The Midwife in peace already.
Yes this stuff is easy-peasy, in the grand scheme of things. These moments are finite. These ‘problems’ are surmountable. And I certainly don’t buy the ‘motherhood is the hardest job in the world’ line that is so often trotted out. Loads of jobs are harder. Mine, for a start, sometimes. Toddlers/TV presenters… they are fairly interchangeable. And the hours aren’t much better.
But the thing is, lots of (all?) mothers and parents DO find parenthood hard at times. And, therefore, it IS hard. To deny people- and specifically, women- a voice, to tell them that their experience is not valid, and to get back in their box and speak only of unicorns and rainbows, is a dangerously regressive step, I think. That way lies a return to the days of ‘Mother’s Little Helper’, a dismal road to isolation and a place where mothers are crushed by post-natal depression (an issue which the writer dismisses as, basically, no worse than ‘normal’ depression. Which it isn’t- but that doesn’t mean it’s not terrible and that women suffering from it should ‘stop moaning’ any more than any other sufferer). And this kind of thinking takes us back to a place where women just keep quiet and get on with being mothers, without making a fuss, as is their role, thankyouverymuch.
No, whatever our blessings, we are all entitled to find life hard. Even to find our blessings hard. Children are people too- and they are people who shout in your face and wee on the floor. Dealing with people can be tough. And then there’s the physics: people need sleep. Some of the time, as a mother/parent, you can’t get no sleep. And that is hard, mentally and phsyically. It just is. No amount of deliciously-scented-baby-head makes it not so at 1am, 3am, 5am…
But… I think the real reason the ariticle disquiets me so is because- despite the obvious flaws if you try to pick apart the argument rationally- essentially, I think the writer has a point.
The piece is not a reasoned, rational argument. It’s basically a howl of pain (disclaimer: I think I may have pinched that description from one of the comments on the article, but it fits), and it’s a pain I’m pretty sure I would feel if I were in the same position. I really don’t mean that to sound smug (‘but luckily for me, I’m NOT in the same position, tra la la!’), just honest. I always wanted children, I assumed I’d have them- just like this writer- and if I had reached a point where I didn’t have them, and never would, I would feel a very deep grief. I totally understand why people don’t want children, can see the benefits of not having them, in fact (hello, freedom/money/travel/sleep/culture/romance/etc!). But I did- still do, luckily for them- want them. For me, personally, since having my two I see the phrase ’embarassment of riches’ in a new light. I’m embarassed by how lucky I feel, by how lucky I have been to have them.
And I’m slightly embarassed by how I can get entrenched in a negative whinge-bog. I reserve my right to moan- and moan I shall!- but it must, must be tempered by stopping to feel the almost painful perfection of their tiny silky heads under my palm, to listen to the trusting in-out of their breath as they sleep, instead of hurriedly closing the bedroom doors and dashing off to iplayer. To say to myself: I have her, and I have him. And that, for me, is not just enough, it’s everything.