Monday, May 25, 2009


I'm in the early stages of labour and have nothing better to do, so what better time to reflect on the relationship between maternity and femininity?
I remember discussing babies with my girl-friend at some point, and both of us came to the same conclusion: neither of us felt that we had any maternal instincts, so we weren't inclined to go through all of the rigmarole and head-ache involved in trying to become pregnant without the (direct) involvement of a man. It's a common enough meme circulating through the public mind-space of young women today; it is somehow assumed that if I don't have that traditional feminine "Ah! Can I hold it?" reaction to other people's babies, then I'm just not cut out for maternity.
The maternal instinct, however, is something deeper than that. I will be honest, I don't have a great deal of interest in other babies. They're cute, and I try to act suitably impressed when I'm presented with them, but on some level my reaction is still that sort of masculine, "Oh. Yeah, it's a baby. Does it do anything yet?"
My babies are a different matter. I have five now (the smallest one is currently trying to make up her mind about whether she wants to come out or not), and, not entirely surprisingly, I have a tremendous amount of maternal feeling towards them. It was something that surprised me when I had my first. I had always associated maternity with a certain sort of personality: the organized, practical, PTA, Sunday-school-teacher type. My own mother. I think in part that my belief that I had no maternal instincts was really the profound sense that I could never be that kind of mother, and, on the other hand, the feeling that somehow being a mother meant being all of those other things.
Now, of course, the stereotype is different: Mom no longer bakes apple pie and makes quilts to sell at the Church bazaar (my mother does -- but she also wears "Genuine Antique Person" sweaters and proudly encourages her grandchildren to call her "Grandma" in public even though she looks young enough to pass as their mother.) The new Mom is still organized, but instead of going to the PTA she arranges play-dates for the tots, takes them to kinder-gym, and drives them to soccer games in her extra-safety-feature-enhanced mini-van. Naturally, she is more liberated than the old Mom, so she also takes time out for herself from her frazzled day to drink new-age herbal teas.
What both of these images have in common, is that they have nothing whatsoever to do with the profound mystery of femininity, nor with the essence of maternity, nor with the intersection between the dignity and vocation of woman and the individual and irreplicable vocation of each particular woman. What I discovered, to my joy and my surprise, was that there is absolutely no contradiction between my self and my motherhood. Becoming a mother did not mean becoming a soccer mom, or a PTA mom, or an All-American apple-pie mom, or a hyper-efficient liberated business mom. I didn't have to buy into any of the marketypes that advertisers like to use to sell overpriced, trendy mom-friendly products in parenting magazines. I was able to remain myself. In fact, I suspect that I'm a better mother for being myself than if I tried to become the picture-perfect mother in the mini-van ad.