Sunday, October 3, 2010

Mythos* Maintenance: Another Job for Mothers?

(*Please note that I'm using the term "mythos" in a literary sense, that is as a narrative culturally constructed and socially maintained. It is in no way a comment on it as fictional or untrue.)

After what felt like a particularly long week at work, I spent a lazy Friday evening lounging on my couch, cursing Direct TV for providing nothing worth watching. Then I saw that Bill Burr's new-ish stand-up show was coming on Comedy Central. I enjoyed it.

One of his bits was about motherhood. Here's a clip:

I'm not easily offended by comedy, and I can see how some people could take offense at this piece (and a lot of other stuff Bill Burr does too, but you're usually not a very good comic if you're not pushing the edges). Over at Good Enough Mother, she analyzes this little bit of comedy by admitting that there are harder jobs: astronauts and coal-miners in particular.

But she has a poignant response involving the amount of pressure that mothers feel, both from themselves (you know, not wanting to permanently damage their kids) and from society. Specifically, she says:

This is the part that really chaps my backside. It’s the completely unrealistic expectation placed on us by society. Like the (false) idea that once we have kids it’s all about them and they should be the center of our lives. Or that motherhood is always a fulfilling experience that we will enjoy 24 and 7. Or that we should stop pursuing things that we are interested in because all of these other people take priority. No, no and no.
I see this as directly related to Bill Burr's comment that mothers are "constantly patting themselves on the back." And I see that directly related to a phenomenon I've started seeing everywhere: the pressure to help maintain the mythos of motherhood.

For example, I attended a breastfeeding class at the hospital yesterday. (As a side note, the class provided me with nothing I hadn't already read, which was a little disappointing). The instructor was running late, so all of us pregnant ladies were standing around with our husbands/partners in tow, chatting. As one could expect, the conversation was quick to revolve around the thing we all had in common: our progressing pregnancies.
At one point, it went something like this:

Pregnant Lady 1: And I had to take the three-hour glucose test.
PL 2: Oh my gosh, you poor thing. I couldn't even imagine having to drink that thing again.
PL 3: Oh, I know. It was so awful. I got about half way through and was begging for some water. The nurse wouldn't let me have any.
PL 1: I had fruit punch the first time and orange the second time. They were so terrible. And mine wasn't even cold. They didn't have it chilled or anything.
PL 3: What? That's terrible! Mine was cold.
and so on and so forth.

Now, I took the glucose test. I don't think I'll be ordering any bottles of it to keep on hand, but it wasn't that bad. I just chugged it down and waited an hour for a quick blood draw.

Do I really think that I'm somehow tougher than these other women? That I'm the champion of glucose tests and that these women need to suck it up? Of course not. I think that these women were participating in--and being encouraged to participate in by the surrounding pregnant ladies--the important job of maintaining a cultural mythos.

In this case, that mythos is that motherhood is difficult, and that women deserve praise for their ability to go through it, even from the very earliest stages.

All of this rambling is to say that I feel left out. I don't feel particularly good at participating in this ritual. I found myself saying something like, "I just chugged it. Wasn't so bad" and feeling like I had failed somehow. The same goes for most of my pregnancy symptoms. I've been sick to my stomach several times, but I've only really experienced morning sickness sporadically. When people ask about it, it seems like they want me to bemoan how difficult it's been and seem somewhat disappointed when I say "Oh, I've been sick a few times, but nothing major."

And part of my problem is I just don't want to focus on negative things. Yes, my feet swell, my clothes don't fit, my back hurts, and I have mood swings that challenge my adolescence to a duel. But I've had worse things happen to me.


  1. I found the same thing while I was pregnant. No one wanted to hear that I still went to the gym, hiked, at normal food, slept, etc. Yes I had to pee A LOT, but there are bathrooms everywhere. I imagine it would be a little different if I had to walk 1/2 mile every time...

    BTW you don't have to drink their horrible orangeade stuff for the glucose test. Anything with 50g of sugar will work. I drank 2 cups (measured) of lemonade.

  2. YOu're onto something
    Many people tell me how bad their children sleep. And while I may be heard to mention my lack of sleep on a day like today (3 hours last night) overall a couple of night feeds is just something to be expected with a newborn baby with a little belly.
    I don't strive to "fix" this very normal sleep pattern,
    I don't buy books that promise to let me get my life back
    I just occasionally carry big bags under my eyes. ANd I fully expected that.
    The other day this mythos you speak of was getting me down and I was talking to a family member considering number two. As happens she has started getting "Warned" about how hard twill all be...I said to her...well climbing mountains is hard but most people would tell you it was the best thing ever and suggest what you should pack....Where did that perspective of parenting go?
    Thought provoking post!

  3. I really like the mountain climbing analogy. Shouldn't people be telling us what to pack? Isn't that the way we respond to most difficult life situations--with helpful tips and encouragement? If not, I am going to make it a goal to do so more consciously.