Motherhood is many things: primal, competitive, loving, complicated, necessary But one of its many definitions doesn’t make itself obvious until you find yourself caring for a little one of your own. In Western culture, motherhood is undeniably, desperately isolating.
It’s no surprise most mothers suffer some form of baby blues or depression early on. The whole ordeal of pregnancy and childbirth is idolized and romanticized and fetishized. Many women, including me, simply aren’t prepared for the barrage of opinions, religious beliefs and assumptions that come from close friends and complete strangers. For nine months, people are buying you gifts and giving advice and rubbing your belly like it’s going to grant them three wishes. Oftentimes, you feel like a princess, and like the world just wants to hoist you up on its shoulders. But also, sometimes, the attention is too much, and you long for the days when you could disappear in a crowd.
I enjoyed some of the pampering, but I was getting tired of being defined by my belly. Even people who knew I was a writer and a working artist stopped asking about these things in favor of discussing my pregnancy. I remember one conversation that made me feel like I was under a hot interrogation lamp, with two younger girls firing question after question — many of them extremely personal (do you pee yourself all the time? Have you had your bloody show yet? I don’t even know what that is, I heard it in a movie…)
It’s funny in retrospect, but at the moment, I kind of wondered if anyone cared about anything other than my babymaking.
I thought surely I would be viewed as an individual again after giving birth. As it turns out, once I had a newborn to pass around, the same people that were so tunnel-visioned on my pregnancy became tunnel-visioned on my baby. I got what I wished for: people stopped bugging me. But with that came isolation.
And it didn’t go away, not after a few months, not after a year and a half.
I kind of thought that becoming a mother meant I was part of “the club,” that now I’d have this instant connection with other mothers or have a sudden passion for mom groups. As it turns out, we’re all supposed to kind of hate each other. Or at the very least, be envious of each other. I used to try to chat up the other moms at the playground, but realized as months passed that this isn’t the standard protocol. It seems like moms where I live, especially seasoned moms of multiple children, kind of just keep to themselves.
Even the people I used to work with (when I was a server and bartender) are estranged from me. Chalk it up to conflicting schedules and sudden illnesses, but I think I’ve had a total of four actual “playdates” with other families. There’s one lady I sort of look to as the Alpha Mother, who I bombard with questions through text messages when I’m worried about something. She’s been very helpful and even offered a helping hand when I’m depressed, but for some psycho reason I never actually give her a damn call.
It’s the same with my cousin’s wife, who is so wonderful and sweet and big sisterly. We have met up a couple of times, but do I ever call her when I’m down? When my lamentations are something only a fellow mother could understand? No. Instead I just continue to be a weepy, lonely mess in front of my confused, toddling baby.
I know that part of my reluctance to reach out is just my postpartum depression holding me hostage. But I think there’s something in the nature of motherhood in our culture that prevents these connections, too. I think there’s an underlying sense of competition, no matter how strong the friendship between two women, that often prevents us from seeking solace in each other. All of my heartfelt conversations with other mothers seem to oscillate between comically passionate agreement and quiet tiptoeing over our differences. Even after a “venting” session, I walk away worrying I’m being judged.
Like I said, this could be my postpartum depression talking. There could be mothers out there who don’t feel like their friendships with other mothers are riddled with landmines. But this is how it feels for me, and it’s a shame, because who knows how many of my friends are isolated, too, living silently with their own depression.