While I was initially shocked to hear the words spoken, I think my soul and psyche needed to hear author Alice Walker declare, as she did over a roaring microphone at a book reading this summer, that “mothers should not be slaves to their children.” Her words were one too many “I had dreams of changing the world until I had them” overdue for me.
Let me get the disclaimer out of the way now: I’ve longed to be a mother from the age of seven when I got a life-sized “Baby Heather” as a Christmas gift and know there’s an empty soft spot in my heart that only my own child will fill. But in recent years, I’ve begun to view motherhood as more of a looming threat than anything else- symbolic of painful professional sacrifices and loss of freedom and spontaneity. It would be unfair to myself and countless other women like me to say that this thinking has been brought about solely by fear. These are some other key contributors:
1. Popular culture/ the media rarely depicts women go-getters in their roles as mothers.
Powerful women who are breaking through gender, racial and class boundaries in the countless industries are believed to have done so in spite of motherhood. Their children, if they have any, play into the backdrop of their success, suggesting that being a mother is not an aspect of their achievement but rather an obstacle they had to overcome towards it. This is where I give a lot of props to actress/ rockstar/ businesswoman Jada Pinkett Smith who seems to have found a way to maintain her own professional identity while remaining a full-time mother in the public’s eye.
2. The nurturing nature that motherhood requires seems counterintuitive to the thick skin that many of us have had to develop.
If life has dealt you enough blows and forced your back against the ropes one too many times, then a degree of hardening may take place and make “guarded-ism” second nature. In watching the moms around me, I see the exact opposite, which makes me wonder if metamorphosis is required of me for motherhood. It’s that go-with-the-flow, “you’ll have it your way and I’ll serve it up with a smile” attitude that baffles me. That coupled with an equal dosage of eye-coding that signals to their children the “do it one more time and you’ll regret it” message from yards away. How in the world I will suddenly be all these things in one I have not yet quite figured out.
3. How does one rescue all the disenfranchised children in orphanages throughout the world if glued to a stationary crib?
This is one way of saying: there’s work to be done. And many mothers that I know are finding innovative ways to maintain the juggling act, but not all of them have figured out how to do it without being resentful. Listening to them, I’m certain that in the heart of every woman, there’s at least one book to be written, song to be sung, clothing line to be launched, class to be taken or taught, canvas to be painted, rally to be led, patient to be cared for, and country to be visited. That unborn child brewing in our imagination can be seen as the one force in the universe that has the power to make us forget all of these yearnings. Perhaps it is fear. Fear that being a mother will prevent us from doing what so many of us secretly want to do- change into our Wonder Woman outfits and take the world by storm.
4. There’s no assurance of Sexiness Guaranteed BKA “The Vanity Factor”
Now, you may think this is ridiculous, but let’s keep it real. You overcame those awkward acne years, dropped The Freshman (and grad school) 15, and finally came into a sense of style that’s all your own only to be faced with thirty pounds of instant weight gain and feet that look like pig hooves (forgive me but it happens to some women). I know that none of this will matter to me when I’m actually a mother for the first time, but I have yet to meet a woman who isn’t challenged by what pregnancy does to the body.
One of my closest and dearest friends, a mommy extraordinaire herself, promises that sacrifice and patience will be instinctive from the start because motherhood requires it. She leads me to believe that maybe I won’t lose myself by bringing forth my firstborn but instead find a me that’s been there all along that I never had the pleasure of meeting. I’m comforted by that thought. It leads me to believe that with a little Cocoa Butter to go on my thick skin, an infinite stash of all-day-wear Wonder Woman capes, and sexy silhouettes- the me that I know and love won’t have to die so that a child can be born.