Friday, September 23, 2016

The Politics of Motherhood

Amidst all the different kinds of politics that exist in our society, there is one distinct category of politics which is never really probed into- mom politics. I really don't know if any kind of literature exists on this, but my two years of motherhood, and being acquainted with many different kinds of mothers, have given me a strange insight into this phenomenon.

What exactly is mom politics? It is essentially moms trying to engage in a game of one-upmanship, passing judgements on the kind of mother the other person is, and often trying to force their parenting styles on the other. I am a part of several moms groups on Facebook, which exist for the purpose of connecting different mothers, and providing a forum for discussion and seeking advice. To put mildly, in my humble opinion, it is nothing but a platform for mothers to pass heavy judgements, often engaging in severe arguments. Don't get me wrong, they can be really helpful too- I got the details of my son's current pediatrician from one of these groups. But apart from a few instances, these groups are no less than an online battlefield.

When does this politics really begin, in the lifespan of a mother? Based on my personal experiences, I am 100% sure that this has an evolutionary basis. It must be something which is passed on in our collective unconscious (Jungian psychology at its best). This conclusion is purely on the basis of my personal experiences, but I am sure everyone has a similar tale to tell.

I had a fairly uneventful pregnancy (save a manic case of morning sickness and nausea which lasted about 5 months) and since I was pretty physically active during those days, I always assumed I would have a normal delivery, to the extent that I never bothered to read or gather any information regarding C-Sections. Cut to the date my son was born- due to abnormal BP levels, my doctors advised me to go for an emergency C-sec. On hearing this, I started howling at the hospital, and told my mother how my BP wasn't my fault and I don't know why this has to happen to me. Looking back, I see that a strange sense of guilt had overpowered me at that time, and I felt the need to justify that I had to opt for an "unnatural" method of delivering my child. To end this story, I had a very uneventful surgery, and my baby and I emerged absolutely healthy from the episode. What is the politics here you might ask? It is in the brouhaha that followed, from all kinds of people, women predominantly who heard that I had a C-Sec. The essence of the reactions was essentially "Oh my god- what sacrilege!". It is absolutely amusing that these reactions are evoked even today, when I discuss the story of my son's birth. The C-Sec moms sympathize and the natural delivery moms just smirk. I can almost hear them gloat. I appreciate women who have delivered their children naturally, I really do. Labour pain is something which I can only imagine, and I also know that the healing process for the mother is much easier and faster- it is called natural for a reason. But just because you didn't have a health issue, and were able to deliver naturally, really doesn't make you any kind of an expert in what I should or shouldn't have done to ensure that I didn't go for a C-Sec. And in the end, it really doesn't matter. I am healthy, my child is healthy, and that is all that is important.

A similar story regarding breastfeeding. Since I had a C-Sec, I had a harrowing time with the process of breastfeeding initially, because apparently in such cases it takes upto 72 hours for the body to understand that the child has been born and milk production needs to begin. So those initial days were terrible- because mothers around me expected me to be a natural, and I wasn't. It took me about a week to really get into the groove and I am really proud of the fact that my son was breastfed till 10 months, and he weaned himself off. It was also possible because my doctors were awesome, my mother and my husband were absolute rockstars in terms of providing me with the support which is required. As easy and natural as the whole process seems, you need an excellent support system to really nail the thing. But that is besides the point. The point is, that some mothers are not able to breastfeed, or just don't want to. And there is absolutely no reason for the world to make them feel inferior. An acquaintance of mine called me within a month of childbirth (she had delivered her baby around the same time) and I remember she asking me what formula milk I use. I told her I breastfeed and she, very honestly, told me that she is not able to. I remember asking her twice, very forcefully I might add, "But why? It's tough at first but you need to persist". And she repeatedly said she couldn't. I am sure she hated me at that time, for not being empathetic. On my part, I feel I said that because I had heard a similar thing from another new mother, and was very influenced by her entire rant on how I MUST breastfeed. And I somehow probably felt that because I was following it, everyone else should, and could, as well. (One tight slap to me-from-2014.)

Having gone past this whole phase, I often feel like shaking people and telling them that no one cares. When we human beings go out in the world, our successes and failures are not dependent on how we were born. No employer ever asks whether a recruit was born via C-Sec or forceps or normal delivery, or whether their mother breastfed them or gave them formula milk. What does matter is how we raise our children. Whether they are good human beings and whether they have healthy lifestyles. Whether they are kind, and helpful. Whether they have a positive impact on the people and places around them.

I don't expect men to understand this. I often find it rather silly when men pass comments and judgements on a woman's mode of delivering her baby or her choices - really, just shut up! But the fact that women, mothers, judge other mothers is quite saddening.

It is rather disappointing that mothers (me included), instead of sticking out for each other, and helping each other out, always end up engaged in some kind of a competition. The underlying theme is always "My style is better than yours", "My child is better than yours". I have friends who are new to motherhood like me, and one thing which is common in all of us, is that we all have a tendency to prove that we are good mothers. This validation, leads us to constantly compare and evaluate other mothers, and coming to the conclusion that we are the best. The working mothers think they are awesome because they manage to balance work/home/family. The stay at home mothers think they are awesome because they have given up careers and professional lives to raise their children. I am somewhere in the middle, and I know that both are really tough. And instead of passing judgements on a mother's choices, we must understand that motherhood, or rather the 'kind' of motherhood, is a life choice. We choose our paths of motherhood, and the choices we make in this path are the best that we do given our circumstances. Whether we send our children to day care, or leave them at home with grandparents and/or maids, or stay at home and take care of them- it's a life choice. Like the subjects we studied, the people we marry, the friends we make. There is absolutely no need to shame a mother, because frankly, a mother has enough guilt of her own to deal with.

A close friend, whose child is the same age as mine, once called me and asked me what I give my child to eat the entire day. After I narrated the entire day's worth of meals, she heaved a sigh of relief and said "I do more or less the same! I thought since you're at home and I work, there must be some difference". Something about that conversation stayed with me. The seemingly inconsequent questions on whether your child is potty trained, or bottle fed, or when he/she is starting school, and how much he/she talks- all end up being a process of proving the success of our motherhood, and in this journey of proving our self worth, we often say hurtful things to other mothers.

What is so important to understand is that a mother struggles every day to prove to herself and the world that she is doing the best she can. And most mothers, are doing a really good job. Their methods, their parenting styles, their concerns might be varied, but they all want to raise healthy and good children.

The struggle to be a good mother is lifelong. I know I will face dozens of such situations when my child starts school, and in the future. I cannot reiterate enough that being a mother is physically and emotionally extremely exhausting and the least that mothers can do, is to be nice to fellow mothers.


Unknown said...

Don't have to repeat that I love that u write beautifully and right from the heart... But I will. Ranju u r a brilliant writer and ur honesty is what makes it so easy to read and relate to. I am not a mother yet but i could feel the warmth of ur emotions. Love you. Just keep writing.

Rama Rathnam said...

Awesome read! Thoroughly enjoyed it. So honest and true. I remember a dialogue in movie waaris where the character of smita April is being taunted by women. She says aurat hi aurat ki dushman.

Rekha said...

Super Ranju. Straight from the heart.really loved it

Aditi said...

You write about such awesome stuff Ranjoo! The what as much as the how... Sooooo proud of you!

mindabyss said...

I can relate to everything you wrote and id also like to add that during Tis process the comparison turns into somekind of competition. My baby walked early, my baby talked early etc. and unconciously we start doing what we shouldnt i.e push the baby for more. Thus, the child starts to live in a competitive environment from the day its born. If we go easy on ourselves, we can definitely give our baby an amazing and carefree childhood.