Please be aware that as I’m writing this post, I’m trying really hard not to sound like an insensitive cow.
There’s a question I’ve been pondering this past week or two
Why is there always a caveat on discussions of motherhood?
Think of any recent motherhood related comment you’ve made lately. Do you always tend to back it up with a disclaimer?
“My children are such nightmares, they’re constantly pushing my buttons, I haven’t had a whole night’s sleep in four years, I’m not sure how much more of this I can take…… but I wouldn’t give it up for the world.”
“Actually, my baby is sleeping and feeding really well, she’s such a delight…. but please don’t tell anyone I said that, I know how hard it is for most new Mums, I don’t want to sound like I’m gloating.”
Funny how it seems that no matter whether our experience of motherhood is good or bad, we always, always, have to acknowledge how others are experiencing it. But do we really? Can’t we just talk about our own experience – without having to take the rest of the world’s feelings into account?
I know this might seem like a bit of a change of pace coming from me – suggesting that we don’t need to consider others’ feelings. Because I’m pretty PC – I like being a decent human being, and I don’t want to upset anyone unnecessarily. And because when I speak and write – particularly in my professional capacity, more often than not, I’m talking about the issue of motherhood for the masses. So when I write about postnatal wellbeing, I’m actually talking about how these issues pertain to my audience. So yes, I always try to look at all sides of the story when I’m in work writing mode.
But, my little query about this “motherhood caveat” was prompted last week by the massively blown out of proportion debate over fitness queen Michelle Bridges’ comments on her “mature aged” pregnancy. And it got me wondering whether this is yet another case of political correctness gone mad.
For those of you who haven’t been bombarded by the outrage, here’s what Michelle said about her pregnancy at age 44, in an interview with Who Magazine.
“I feel very lucky… But I also feel all of my years, and all of Steve’s years, of looking after ourselves and taking care of our health and our bodies, it just goes to show. For someone my age for it to happen so quickly it’s obviously got to do with good health.”
For a comment which, on face value, appears quite positive, it sparked such a huge outrage.
Michelle was basically lambasted across social and traditional media channels for daring to suggest that her good health had something to do with her falling pregnant at a mature age.
The major criticism squared at her was that she was smug, insensitive and giving people “false hope” that they could cure their infertility through “good health”.
This isn’t what I got from the article.
Firstly, this is a woman who is pregnant at 44 – she freely admits how lucky she is – she must be over the moon happy – surely she’s allowed to talk about it – even if she is probably getting paid megabucks to have her feelings printed on the cover of Who Magazine.
Secondly – she’s talking about her own experience of conception at her “mature” age.
She didn’t say “I definitely got pregnant because I’m so fit and healthy and the reason everyone else who wants to be pregnant, but isn’t, is due to the fact that they’re super-unhealthy filthy slobs”. By the way, that’s not my opinion at all – caveat #1.
Personally, I’m not offended by what Michelle was reported to have said. For a few reasons.
1) I’m going to ‘check my privilege’ of my own experience with fertility – being that I rapidly conceived both my daughters, with no prior fertility issues, at the age of 32 and 34. (There, that’s my second caveat).
2) I don’t take health advice from celebrities – even ones who are health and fitness celebrities. And by the way, as a Personal Trainer, I’m pretty sure MB doesn’t have any qualifications in reproductive medicine – so why do we expect her to make an expert commentary?
3) I don’t feel like she was talking about me – or anyone else – I feel like she was talking about her own belief, about her own health and her own conception.
So it begs the question – do we have the right to speak openly and freely about our own health, bodies and wellbeing, and our beliefs about these issues – without considering other women’s experiences?
Do we always need to take everyone else’s feelings into account when we talk about our own personal circumstances? Should we carefully scrutinise every single word we utter and run it through a filter of whom it may or may not offend before it leaves our mouths?
There, I said it.
It’s been something that has been bugging me lately through the whole realm of motherhood discussions.
It seems you can’t talk about anything motherhood related, whether good or bad or ugly, without adding some sort of disclaimer to your commentary. From my personal experience, I think most people are decent, good hearted citizens. When we talk and share our experiences, we’re not purposely trying to upset anyone. But in a social media soaked world where there will always be someone who disagrees with you and MUST CONVEY THEIR F@#$ING(!))DISGUST WITH YOUR COMMENTS THROUGH A REPLY FEATURING LOTS OF YELLING CAPS AND A HUNDRED ANGRY EMOTICONS AND AN INCESSANT NUMBER OF EXCLAMATION POINTS(!!!!!!???!), can we possibly ever make a comment which doesn’t offend at least someone? Do we have to provide a disclaimer on every sentence that pops out of our mouths about motherhood?
Perhaps this MB issue is because her comments were on the topic of fertility. When it comes to motherhood, infertility is just about the most emotionally charged topic there is. How can it not be?
This post isn’t about infertility – I don’t really want to debate whether Michelle’s good health was the secret sauce behind her pregnancy – not in the least because we can’t possibly presume to know anything about MB’s fertility. I know how multi-factorial infertility is. It’s a cruel curse, indiscriminate, unpredictable and devastatingly permanent for so many people. I do realise how fortunate I am to have had two healthy pregnancies when all around us so many friends and family members were battling infertility, IVF, infant mortality, premature births and all manner of other concerns. I lost count of the number of occasions where I quite literally thanked my lucky stars to have things go so smoothly for me, when so many of my friends faced heartbreak, uncertainty and tragedy. And there’s another caveat.
What this column is about is how we, as a society, now infer meaning into every comment a mother (or in this case a celebrity mother-to-be) makes.
How do MB’s comments about her own fertility translate into accusations against other women’s infertility?
Why do we do this? Why do we take everyone else’s comments and make them about us? Rather than expecting a caveat on topic of conversation, why can’t we place the onus back on ourselves? Can’t we at least try to not get caught up in the Insta-outrage so often catapulted at many online Mums, to be able to listen to what another mother says – process it through our own experience and realise it’s actually not about us, or to understand that most people are simply talking about themselves and not passing grand judgements on the rest of the motherhood population.
So many people are being attacked for their innocent comments. Why are we so quick to anger when it comes to motherhood? Why can’t we save our rage and vitriol for the people who are purposefully incendiary, the trolls, the haters, Bill Cosby, or the 53 domestic violence perpetrators who have killed their female intimate partners so far this year?
Perhaps this was the wrong example for me to base this blog post on. As I said, infertility is a highly traumatic topic for so many women (and men). Maybe I should have chosen something less emotional such as cloth vs disposable, working mums vs stay at home mums, or any one of the other “Mummy Wars” in which we’re currently engaged.
Although I doubt it would have changed anything. The level of Mummy-rage out there is obscene. I’ve seen online debates get insanely heated over ridiculously non-offensive topics. Name calling, bullying, threats and all manner of vicious online behaviour ensues in any kind of Mama v Mama debate. And if you don’t believe me, check out this post by Em Rusciano about how a yellow silicone pineapple cup full of peas sent a bunch of women into a feeding frenzy. Pun intended.
Why can’t we just let women share their experience – honestly and truthfully – which indeed includes their own opinions and beliefs, without the rest of us having to infer how their comments pertain to us? Why are we so defensive. Why are we so angry? Why are we so quick to judge – and to feel as if we’re being judged.
Here’s what I believe to be true.
There is not one single aspect of motherhood that is 100 percent universal to every single woman in this world.
Not one. (No, not even being pregnant – high fives to those of you who are Mums through adoption, surrogacy, marriage or foster care.)
Every single mother is different. Every mother’s experience of health, wellbeing, fertility, conception, pregnancy, birth and motherhood is different.
My experience of motherhood is different to yours. It’s different to my mother’s, my best friend’s, my cousin’s, my workmate’s, it’s even different to Michelle Bridges’. Funnily enough.
Her experience is different to everyone else’s too. So why should her experience all of a sudden reflect society’s? Why should she be forced to add a caveat to her comments? Why should any of us?