Motherhood myths

The mythology surrounding motherhood is something I could seriously do without. 

From the supposedly “instinctual” nature of mothering to the notion that mothers are meant to suffer with a smile, I’ve had enough. 

And I’d like to reassure you that you don’t need to let these ideas control your life. 

Motherhood myths that set my teeth on edge abound: 

Childbirth is natural 

OK, so it is. But you know what else is natural? 

Earthquakes, floods and drought. Chaos is natural.

Childbirth is chaos! 

Sorry, forget you just read that.

Childbirth was chaos for me.

I have friends who had birth experiences that were profound, meaningful and “natural” and not the least bit traumatic. 

I’ve noticed this whole “childbirth is natural” thing usually leads to a strong push (ha!) for “natural childbirth” (no painkilling drugs).

And I’m totally cool with that!

What I’m not so cool with is the way “natural” is often a euphemism for “better.”

And for those of us who fail at the “better” kind of birth, it can feel like a real slap in the face when we walk past the poster at the clinic that proclaims, “She thought she could do it, so she did.”  

It’s OK if you didn’t “do it.” 

Did you have a C-section, an epidural, a baby vacuumed out of your body while an emergency medical team of 15 gathered at the foot of your bed? Me, too! 

Maybe we should start a Facebook group. 

You’ll fall in love instantly

While claims of love at first sight between adults are usually pretty dubious, being swept away with an immediate, all-consuming love for your baby is apparently totally normal. 

More than normal, actually — it’s expected. Pretty much required. And you’re a bad mother if you don’t feel the right way!

Just kidding.

Plenty of mothers have much more neutral reactions to the site of their newborns.

When my daughter was born, I vaguely recall the doctor bringing her over for a quick presentation. 

“Well, there she is,” was pretty much my initial reaction. 

You’ll learn to ‘read’ cries

“Whenever she cries a certain way, I know exactly what’s wrong — her binky has fallen out of the crib and she can’t reach it!” 

This is actually the essence of something I read on one of those mama message boards.

(Another myth: Once you’re a mother, you’re supposed to use words like “binky” without a trace of irony.) 

And, in fact, I’ve met many women who claim they can read their baby’s cries. 

I’m super-envious. As for me, I still can’t read my daughter’s cries and she’s almost 5.

Trust your gut

I know this is meant as an empowering command: “Go forth and follow what you believe to be true, Mama! You know best what’s right for your baby!” 

And I’m sure this works for many women. But not for me.

What if your “gut” is telling you the best solution to your problems is to slip on your shoes, tiptoe out the front door and drive up to Duluth with nary a word to your family? 

But I suppose “trust your gut” sounds better than, “You don’t really know, and neither does anyone else.” 

Suffering is noble

Did you see the commercial that featured a “job description” for a role that was ridiculously punishing and unrewarding and even worse, unpaid?

And then all the “job interviewees” are like, “No way! Who in their right mind would do that?” 

And then the big reveal: “Guess who does this job day in and day out? Moms!”

Ugh, what patronizing propaganda. Does motherhood involve sacrifice and a shifting of priorities? Yes, of course. But does it mean we should relish indignities and embrace suffering as a badge of honor? 

I don’t think so.


Shannon Keough lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two children. Send questions or comments to skeough@mnparent.com.