Much of motherhood is described as great times. A positive pregnancy test. The waters surge in the fruit and vegetable section. That split second where all your hopes and dreams of the past nine months hang in the air as you wait for your baby’s first piercing cry. First birthdays and first teeth and first words. Bath times that resemble Dove commercials, where bubbles delicately float as your lathered cherub gently splashes in the water.
But that’s not the reality – or at least not the whole picture. At least not for me. As I mark six months into motherhood, I feel reflective (if a little emotional) about how far I’ve come and how far society has to go in its representations of being a mom.
Caring for a baby can feel so incredibly lonely, which is ironic because going to the bathroom without an audience is now a luxury. But if we were more honest, more real, as a society in how we portray motherhood, then maybe we’d feel a little less like the only soldier in the trenches.
A lot of mothering isn’t in the big moments: it’s in the in-betweens. The fifth consecutive diaper change, as you desperately try to leave the house for a breath of fresh air before the sun sets for another day. Cafes turned cold and rushed showers spent listening to the screams. Endless laundry, sore muscles and inexplicable tears. The mourning of the little baby who disappears before your eyes, and waves of pure admiration at each new development.
The hours spent trying to put them to sleep, only to miss them as soon as they do. The secret pleasure when all they want is you, coupled with the yearning for freedom you once had. More love than you ever thought possible to feel, overflowing from every pore. Favorite clothes rotting away in the back of the closet, too small to match the person you’ve become. Those glorious belly laughs that dwarf eye bags, stretch marks and bleeding nipples.
I wish we saw more. The crude, the messy and the banal; the wildly, wildly wonderful.
In everything we watch and read, motherhood seems to be portrayed as one of two extremes. There’s the pristine, pristine world of Instagram feeds, where angelic babies play with neutral wooden toys and wear Scandi-inspired clothes while perfectly made-up mothers nurse and sip green smoothies. Where behavior experts explain in 10-second clips why saying ‘No’ to our little ones as they doodle on our walls is traumatic, or why saying ‘Bravo’ to their accomplishments sets them up for a life of failure and overdependence.
Celebrities bossing girls straight from the labor room, businesswomen building multi-million pound empires and politicians debating politics, all with tiny babies in tow. If you don’t do any of these things, you may feel like you’re not meeting society’s (unachievable) expectations.
On the other hand, there is the representation of motherhood as an impenetrable and dark place. The NHS estimates that one in 10 new mothers will be affected by postpartum depression, and shows how dead water fall, Angela Black and The Scream helped bring conversations about maternal mental health into the public sphere.
It is essential to understand how motherhood affects women in order to better support them. We need more of these nuanced depictions of the consequences of inadequate mental health support for new mothers. But I can’t help but feel that the trope of the mother struggling with her sanity almost glamorizes what is a terrible reality, commodifying it for TV audiences while the state still fails to act.
Describing motherhood as being stuck in a black hole or floating on cloud nine hurts women. For many, like me, it may seem like both, or something in between. Sometimes it’s intense joy, and sometimes it’s exhausted apathy – and quite often it’s pure survival.
The things we watch and read are important because they validate our experiences and make us feel a little less alone — and a little more normal. When I see depictions of motherhood, they mostly take the form of middle-class idyll: pressured mothers who live in huge Victorian homes and sneak sips of red wine to help them cope. to their slightly cheeky blond children and incompetent husbands. I rarely see depictions of working-class mothers – except in certain sections of the media, where they are reviled as a burden on the state for having multiple children or not working.
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The representation of Muslim mothers is even more difficult to obtain. As a Muslim woman in her twenties with a new baby, I find myself unrepresented in everything I read and watch. We are the outdated, English-speaking backdrop to stories about escaping traditional education and finding freedom. We are dressed in shalwar-kameez and surgically tied to the oven. Or, as a former prime minister graciously hinted, we are so submissive and housebound that we are responsible for radicalizing our children.
I want to see on my screen the vivacious and multi-dimensional young Muslim moms around me in real life. Young women navigating systemic barriers and structural racism alongside the sometimes impossible work of motherhood.
Things are looking up – Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett’s fantasy republic of parenting The column tackles parenthood in the 21st century head-on, and writers like Leila Aboulela present an image of British Muslim femininity that also touches on motherhood. But we need more.
Being a mom is hard; There is no doubt about it. If I could open a book or turn on the TV and see myself in the mirror – a humorous and nuanced take on motherhood for those without live-in nannies; the beauty of mothering captured in stories about, or played out by, people who look like me – I think that would be a little easier.