Ms S

Since becoming a mother I have experienced so much sexism that it would take me an essay to write it all down fully! I really wish that everyone talked more openly and honestly to girls, and boys, about the reality of parenthood particularly for women. I think that parents are pretty good at doing that amongst themselves, but I wish so much that I had been told about the realities before I took the decision to have a child. I love my son and wouldn’t change him for the world, but I just wasn’t properly informed or prepared. And the change to a woman’s life is so massive. The biology of parenthood is not fair on women, but neither is the way that mothers are treated and the things expected of them. I believe that we are not told the truth because if we were, it would put us off becoming mothers.
To start at the start of the process, I now find the term ‘morning sickness’ hugely problematic. It should be called ‘pregnancy sickness’ because it lasts all day. It is like having norovirus for weeks without a break – I am not exaggerating at all as I have experienced both. It is horrible and utterly exhausting. And yet we minimize it, don’t treat it (I know that there are good reasons for not trying new medications here, but there really is no help available). And it’s not generally considered something you can take time off work for.
Labour is obviously massively painful and physically destructive to the mother, that is just how it is. But I’ve come to notice now how women in labour are often a subject for humour in television and film, and our wider culture. It makes me think, when is it ok to laugh at somebody in agony and distress? And the answer is, when it’s a woman.
Postnatal care is below the standard needed for new mothers to maintain decent mental health. This was my experience and there are many articles online documenting this. After 40+hrs of labour, during which I had been physically unable to sleep or eat, I was left in sole care of a newborn baby (who wakes up at least every 3 hrs for a feed) for the first time. This is also when I was expected to learn to breastfeed, which despite being a very natural thing does take some practice to get right. This is the norm, but how is that sensible, for the best care of the baby or the mother? Women, including myself, are put on wards where people come and go, babies and women cry all day and night. I ended up going home with a newborn having lost two nights’ sleep. When this is the way that new motherhood begins – and there is no break from that crying, waking baby once you get home, 24/7 – I feel it is no wonder that postnatal depression rates are so high.
I believe that things could be done differently too, it is just a question of money and resources. My grandmother spent a week in hospital after the births of her children, my mother several nights, and for both, the baby was cared for by midwives who woke the mothers only for feeds so that they could rest and recover. That was the norm then. But providing that care costs money, I guess, and women’s mental health is no longer a priority here.
I could go on, about postnatal discrimination in the workplace, unequal burdens of childcare and housecare, the different standards expected of parents’ bodies (‘dad bod’ made me so mad – fathers’ bodies have done no work in the process of childbearing yet are allowed to stop caring for their bodies, while mothers are expected to ‘get their body back’ after pregnancy and labour). But I don’t have all night!