I think it’s safe to say that I was completely blown away by how hard motherhood is. It’s not that people didn’t warn me. People had certainly told me that my life would change, that I would have less time for myself, that I would be sleep-deprived. What they didn’t tell me was that the sense of exhaustion, overwhelm, monotony and isolation would at times feel so intense, so endless, that I would just about lose my mind.
I have always thought of myself as hard-working, gritty, and emotionally-grounded. I believed my success in my young adult life - finishing top of my class at an elite boarding school, my admittance to Stanford and later to a top-tier business school, my job as a management consultant - were not due to any particular talents of mine but rather to my tenacity and conscientiousness. As a consequence of this belief, I suppose I felt that motherhood would be easier for me, or rather, that I would be particularly well suited to it. I assumed that if millions of women have been doing this for millions of years, then I was certainly up for the task.
I have been deeply humbled.
Not only did I have textbook labors and births for both babies, but I had 6 months of paid maternity leave for each child, a supportive husband, and access to paid help when I needed it. And yet the last year of caring for a newborn and a toddler has left me completely wrecked. It is an unusual morning when I don’t wake up feeling as though I were hit by a truck. I haul my tired body out of bed, drink cup after cup of coffee and try to make it through another day, one hour at a time.
It's not that I don't enjoy my children. I love them more than anything in the world. If I were given the chance to rewind and do things over, I would, without hesitation, choose to have my two children again. But I also feel that for myself and for many women, motherhood is suffering.
The thing that I can’t quite wrap my head around is why. Why is it so hard? Why did nature design things this way? It doesn’t make any sense to me. You see, I have gone around living most of my life holding onto the unspoken assumption that what is natural is generally good for us and that most of our ailments and suffering can be explained by our unnatural lifestyles. We are obese because our food is toxic. We are depressed because we don’t move enough. We are tired because we work too hard, sitting at desks in front of computers. Yet what could be more natural than birth and motherhood? This thing that nearly rips your body in half and then leaves you bleeding and broken, caring for a screaming baby whose life depends on milk from your sore, swollen breasts, who doesn’t let you sleep through the night for months, even years, and who demands your constant care and attention - what could be more natural than this?
I honestly don’t have the answer. It seems to me that nature has been cruel to women. If I were a Catholic, I could write it off as the price we all pay for Eve’s original sin. But I don’t believe in that crap. I’m an atheist and a feminist.
I don’t have any answers, and I won't attempt to theorize in this post. If anyone knows how God or evolution managed to so royally mess things up, then please by all means, reply to this email and let me know! In the meantime, I guess we might as well have good clothes.