Motherhood is Shrouded in the Same Myths as Orgasm

Tue, 03/22/2016 - 09:16
Submitted by Carlin Ross

Sometimes it takes "celebrity" to bring credibility and attention to our experience. Alanis Morissette, Hayden Panettiere, Gwyneth Paltrow and several other celebs have come forward sharing their personal struggle with postpartum depression.

As I read through their stories, it struck me that most of them started experiencing depression and extreme body fatigue several months after giving birth. There was a euphoria after giving birth that faded and left them feeling overwhelmed and under water.

I never experienced any extreme depression or body fatigue but I did feel like I was "covered in tar" and "outside myself" month 3 to month 6 post-birth. Of course, a big part of it was the massive hormone shift my body was adjusting to but a nice, healthy chunk of it was straight misogyny.

Motherhood and birth are shrouded in the same myths and misinformation as orgasm. You're penetrated for several mintues and you orgasm on demand; you give birth and you drop all the body weight, breastfeed in stride, and have a cry-free baby. We have this feeling that orgasm and motherhood are instinctual. Since most women become mothers, we see the experience as common. For some reason, you're expected to take to it without any period of adjustment. A baby is 24/7 - it never stops. Just that aspect of motherhood is a monumental physical and mental shift.   

I remember feeling like I had to go right back to my regular schedule like nothing had changed.  One morning I had Grayson nursing, propped up on a pillow on my lap with my computer and coffee on a side table when, suddenly, my coffee cup fell over.  Coffee went everywhere, NOT on Grayson, but my husband remarked that maybe I needed help with the baby.  I was crushed.  I felt such failure and, looking back on it now, I'm not sure why I felt like I had to be working while nursing at all.  The pressure to be perfect and not slow down weighed so heavily on me.  I imagine it must be 1000x worse for celebrity moms. 

Add to that the total hostility the culture has for women and children (and sleep deprivation) and you have the perfect recipe for depression. One day when I was in line at the post office - Grayson was about four months old - he started crying. Nothing I did could sooth him. People were glaring at woman asked if he was hungry like I'd run errands before feeding my child. And I had pre-paid postage so I was just dropping off my package but, when I asked if I had to wait in line, they quibbed that I wouldn't get special treatment because I had a baby. Really? I just brought new life into the world and that doesn't warrant special treatment?   If I was on crutches or had some sort of verifiable disability, from a legal perspective, they would have to accommodate my limitation.  I don't see why women with children don't receive the same protection.   When you have a newborn, you shouldn't have to wait in line for anything.

This happened to me at the bank and several other stores.

So I had the extra demands of dressing a baby, strapping them into the stroller or onto my body, packing anything I may need - worrying about them pooping on the subway - but I didn't feel acknowledged or supported. Yes, there were people who'd offer you their seat but there were others who would hit my stroller, mutter under their breath, and look down at Grayson with disgust. Most people didn't want you there. This one guy was really hostile and he had his 7 year old daughter sitting next to him - like, WTF, you don't remember what it was like?

We make women responsible for raising the next generation and resent any sort of accommodation they may need. For me, it's just like sex. Young girls have to understand how to deal with sexual attention, get their birth control in place and orgasm through heteronormative sex. If their birth control fails, we punish them with unwanted motherhood creating hurdle after hurdle if they want to terminate. If they can't orgasm, it's some shortcoming on their part. And when they become mothers they have to keep their babies quiet, look great, and never ask for help.  I guess a baby is the ultimate manifestation of sex.  Maybe that's why you feel this tension when you roll into the coffee shop with a stroller or sit down at a restaurant with your kid on your lap.  

I truly believe that I warned off any sort of real depression by taking an extra dose of sisterhood (I ran three workshops right after I gave birth) and adopting a go-fuck-yourself attitude about mothering. One day at Betty's I described my motherhood mantra as an extension of My Body My Choice: My Child My Choice. I wouldn't suffer any unwanted advice or nasty looks on the subway. I hold my head high, make time for myself, and connect with my child banishing away all feelings of guilt or shame.

As I move forward in this journey (I can't believe that Grayson is 1), I'm learning so much about myself and the world around me. Even if you have a chef, maid and private trainer you can't escape the heavy demands of mothering in a male-centric culture. But when you know who you are and draw on the strength of self-sexuality, sisterhood, and equal partnership you can raise a feminist, sex positive son.

And that may be my greatest contribution.

Editor in Chief & Keeper of All Things Betty Dodson

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Mother Carlin

Betty Dodson's picture
Wed, 03/23/2016 - 16:05
Betty Dodson

From day one of your pregnancy to the present, I continue to support your decisions and marvel at how well you’ve done dealing with all the changes that have come about with a newborn.

How fortunate Baby G is to have a sex positive orgasmic mother who followes her commitment to be organic in feeding herself, nursing her baby while continuing to handle running our website, organizing several Bodysex workshops and helping me birth my book for a fifth and final soft launch renamed Sex by Design; the Betty Dodson Story. That's a title you gave my first post in D&R ten years ago.

Also from day one of our partnership, you’ve been a one-woman task force handling everything without breaking a sweat. While you’d see the whole picture, I’d be drilling down suffocating in a million details. Since working together, I never doubted your ability to birth and raise a baby. I knew you’d follow your instincts and break all the rules and this is where you have my total support. So many times I could see my own mother in how you were mothering Baby G. I also admire Daddy Steve, a man who absolutely adores you and his son. I’m honored to be Auntie B in your family. It’s been rewarding to observe how you’ve both handled the process of marriage, pregnancy, birth and raising a child in America, a country that does not honor women and children.

I believe this is due to our large population that’s been influenced by outmoded religious concepts especially when it comes to sex and pleasure. Besides our many wars to support corporations, we also send our children into another battle field— the war between the sexes with no protective gear. Boys naturally want to “do it” while girls must prevent it. Meanwhile girls also want to “do it.” This sexual double standard is very destructive to our society that needs to understand the female sexual response for orgasm is centered in the clitoris not a vagina. We also need safe contraception to handle Mother Nature’s built in drive to procreate that’s equally strong in both girls and boys. When the desire for sex and pleasure gets repressed, we end up with a society of angry frustrated people, many of whom today are called Republicans.


Thank you Carlin for putting

Fri, 03/25/2016 - 21:18
devidur (not verified)

Thank you Carlin for putting up a post about motherhood: there is, for women who have not yet had children but considering (it involuntarily is on the mind, whether I'd like for it or not) so much more information than is currently out there. The shaming of women as "just a mum" is another barrier and taboo that we must be able to heal and move forwards on: and the lack of info does not help. Neither does not speaking about it, so thank you. There are unreal expectations on adult women after they've been through the trauma of girlhood and maturation in your twenties. Thanks for speaking the truth! 

Benign Neglect

Sun, 03/27/2016 - 07:34

This was such an interesting post, that it's taken me a while to work through my thoughts - apologies for the length of my comment.

Let me say straight away that parents, especially new parents, can list every single downside and negative aspect related to parenthood but I know none that would ever give back our children. Children are a joy and delight, as well as a challenge and trauma. Being a parent is a rollercoaster ride. 

We need to recognise that postnatal depression is a serious illness that 10% of mothers (and occasionally fathers) will suffer. Like many illnesses that disproportionately impact women, it has been alternatively trivialised and demonised by society. The causes are unclear but risk factors include:

  • mental health problems especially depression either before or during pregnancy;
  • no close friends or family as support network;
  • a poor relationship with their partner; or,
  • recent stressful events such as bereavement

Obviously giving birth and becoming a parent is a fairly traumatic and stressful event. Any of us can fall victim to this illness, rich, poor, successful or struggling. Falling over and breaking a leg does not make a person a bad parent, and neither does suffering postnatal depression.

It's important to seek help and treatment early on and not assume that things will get better on their own. It's also useful to ask your medical provider before giving birth, what their attitude and procedures are for checking and dealing with postnatal depression.

Parenting is a learned behaviour. It is the opposite of instinct. It's why mammals abandoned in the wild so rarely are able to parent their own young. We learn how to parent (or in some cases how not to parent) by reference to our own early experiences, our own parents.

There is a lot more anxiety associated with becoming a mother now than for our own parents generation. Despite holding down paid employment, recent studies show that women actually spend more time with their children than a generation ago. Why are mothers held to such a high standard these days? Every few years or so, another book is released and becomes popular. We are told how everything we are doing as mothers is wrong. Attachment mothering was popular when I had my first child. Two years later Gina Ford came into fashion and we were all told to mother to a strict regime, to enforce controlled crying etc.

And ofcourse there are as many ways of being a parent as there are people. There is no absolute right or wrong just as there are no perfect mothers or perfect children. There is only good enough.

Fatherhood is still much less stressful. Benign neglect is the best father technique that I've come across and it doesn't seem to harm either the child or the father. It seems very similar to the mothering style of our parents generation, basically love them but let the kids get on with being kids and give them space to grow into themselves. 

New York sounds like a fairly unfriendly place to bring up kids in Carlin's post, possibly a city ripe for a child-friendly revolution. With my two young daughters in London most of the people I came across were genuinely helpful and kind. There were a couple of disapproving looks, once when breastfeeding early on from an elderly guy, and a couple of times when one of my children threw a wobbly tantrum. I learned to care less about the disapproval of strangers, to value more the many small kindnesses that came my way.

Most of us will just muddle through and our kids will thrive, despite or maybe because of our mistakes. We learn through making mistakes. When we make mistakes, our children learn that mistakes are ok, a way to learn and grow and that trying new things, being creative is good. I can imagine nothing worse than being the child of super-mum.

I don't know how stressful it

Sun, 03/27/2016 - 09:03
vanessa123 (not verified)

I don't know how stressful it must be to give birth and have a child whose wellbeing is constantly at the forefront of you mind. I do however have an elderly parent who suffers from severe alzheimers and its stressful. When its at its worst, when people are trying to be helpful I take their comments as an indication that I am a failure, or perhaps they think I'm so stupid that I haven't thought of their suggestion on my own. In truth, people are on the whole mostly nice, and sometimes they're just trying to help as best they can. Perhaps the lady was asking you if you'd fed your son out of simply trying to be helpful, and instead you took it as a personal attack because you're stressed and worried about other peoples opinions.
"Really? I just brought new life into the world and that doesn't warrant special treatment?...When you have a newborn, you shouldn't have to wait in line for anything."  You're very right people should be considerate of you, but actually we all have things that are important to us that may make us deserve to rush through a queue. 
Its great to highlight the struggle of postpartum and generally I love the female positivity of this site, but sometimes I think it goes too far with its opinion. 

Courage & Kindness

Sun, 03/27/2016 - 15:01

I just wanted to wish you well. My partner's father had Alzheimer's and my heart goes out to you. The stresses of being a carer whether for a child or parent or partner can be brutal.

We could all benefit from being just a little bit kinder to ourselves and each other. 

Mother Myths

Thu, 03/31/2016 - 03:44

10 motherhood myths that my friends and I just came up with:

  1. You will not love your baby immediately. This is not to say that you might not experience an immediate and intense upswing of emotion when handed your baby for the first time. Some women do. Some women (including me) don't. The lucky few who experience this immediate bonding are no better, no more loving than the rest of us. They are drugged up and high as a kite on their bodies oxytocin, whatever drugs their medical care have pumped into them and intense societal and personal expectations from the experience. Personally, I looked down and my only coherent thought was "Well bugger me, that hurt - you'd better be worth it".
  2. Sometimes you will hate your baby, you will definitely not love them all of the time. No woman, struggling to get into work by way of daycare, whose baby has just vomited on their blouse for the second time that morning, with a small but very visible sputum, loves their baby. At that moment in time, tired from nighttime feeds, you would have to be psychotic and dangerously unhinged to be feeling anything other than violent dislike. A man I know, desperately in love with all three of his kids, admits that all he wanted to do one night, after driving around town as the baby screamed and screamed in the back of the car;  all he wanted to do was to leave that child at the petrol station and go home to his wife. At that moment in time, love does not describe his feelings.
  3. The books are wrong, whatever they say. There is no such thing as a perfect parent. It's okay not to feel love towards your baby sometimes and it's even okay to hate them occasionally because loving is something we do, not something we feel. Loving your baby means that despite feeling incredibly angry, frustrated, knackered and pissed-off, you stop, take a breath, clean up and carry on. Occasionally it means admitting that you need help and looking for that help from the people around you.
  4. It doesn't get easier, it just gets different. There is a sweet spot of parenting, where the amount of skin contact and cuddling your child wants from you meets up with your own need for skin to skin contact and cuddling. Try to recognise and hold onto that moment for as long as possible. When they were little I clearly remember wanting just to put them down to sleep, desperate to reclaim my own body, my own space.  Eventually even the most needy and clingy of babies will grow into a teenager who groans at the embarrassment of a parental hug, even at home in private. Insist on your due hugs as the payment for those labour pains or you will find yourself bereft until grandchildren.
  5. Faking is not the worst thing. Children learn from what you do rather than what you say. If you are a nervous or needy parent, your kids will grow up to be nervous or needy. If you are a fussy eater, your child will also grow up to be a fussy eater (and if you're a woman with daughters, the spectre of eating disorders is never very far away). If you are constantly striving for perfection, never satisfied with life as it is in the here and now, then your kids will internalise that belief system and will find it equally difficult to be happy. Perfection is rare and difficult to achieve. Do you really want to set that as a minimum standard for your babies future happiness. Knowing your own faults and weaknesses, it helps to be able to fake it. Fake confidence. Fake a healthy attitude towards food and body image. Make yourself take the kids swimming or for a walk or to play tennis once a week. Pretend to be chilled out. Pretend that it's the effort that counts not the results achieved.Eventually it will become true.
  6. Boys and girls are different. It isn't a myth. They really are. I didn't believe this before having kids, didn't want it to be true and even now I'm not at all sure how much of it is related to nurture versus nature, but by the time they hit six months, boys and girls are different. Girls are socialised much more significantly than boys from a very early age, from the amount of time we spend holding them, to the speed with which we react to their cries and from the reactions when they behave inappropriately. Boys are allowed to get away with a broader range of behaviours than girls. They are encouraged to require more attention simply by the way we respond to them more quickly. They are encouraged to be more active and less reflective, because we tend to use distraction rather than emotional cuddling to resolve tears. You can try to change this with your own child, fight against your own learned behaviours etc, but the world is set against you on this one. You can mitigate but never overcome the system.
  7. Your child is not you. They are not your second chance at anything. When they are born, they are filled up with opportunities and expectations. Gradually as the years pass by, they grow into themselves. You will realise that they are (probably) not going to be the next Einstein, the next Mother Theresa or whatever. If you were desperate to be the life and soul of the party as a kid, be prepared for your child to be an introvert happy to sit on the side. They are not you. If you were desperate to make the first football team, and they would really much prefer to join the drama club, relax, chill. They are not you. If you were insanely competitive academically and always wanted to score the highest possible marks but they're basically content to trundle along in the middle of the pack. Chill. Relax. They are not you. If you were the rebeliious atheist in a home of mormons, be prepared for them to discover God aged 16 and be born-again. Relax, Chill.
  8. People will not admire you for being a mother, for bringing life into the world. Mostly strangers will act benignly indifferent to your situation but some will be total arses about it. They will occasionally moan about your child for just being a child i.e. noisy, hungry, confused and confusing. They will push ahead of you in queues and fail to offer you seats on public transport. People at work will not cut you any slack. They will push ahead of you in promotions, belittle your working hours and additional responsibilities whilst taking time off to play golf. The only reason to become a mother is because you want to be a mother because society doesn't give a toss. Politicans' talk is cheap, their actions are not, and none of them are willing to spend money making motherhood easier through decent afforable childcare, improved parental leave etc.
  9. You will become invisible. You are now officially "the mother of..." Your name is lost to anyone outside of work and your immediate friends and family. People will automatically look first to your child, ascertain whether it's a boy or girl and always, always ask about the baby, the child and never about you. You are no longer even remotely significant as an individual. And yet occasionally, the kindness of strangers will astound you. Just as you feel as if humanity is totally overrated, someone will reach out and do something amazing.
  10. Your child will not always love you. Worse still, sooner or later they will tell you, scream at you with total venom, that they hate you and that you are ruining their life. This is ok because it isn't their job to keep loving you: it's you job to keep loving them. This is a one-way street. It has always and will always be a one-way street. They owe you nothing. You owe them everything. It isn't fair and it isn't rational. Loving someone never means that you have to roll over and give them everything thing they want. Sometimes loving them means establishing healthy boundaries and behaviours. Sometimes loving a child means saying "no" and meaning it. And everyday we wake up and love them all over again is a success story.

& I would love to hear from other people, the myths and truths they discovered after the baby was born.