Having just given birth to my second child 8 weeks ago, I know it’s not easy to bounce back afterwards. When I was about 36 weeks pregnant, I was sitting in the gynaecologist’s waiting room, reading one of those trashy magazines. There was a story entitled, “How these celebs got their post-baby bodies back immediately.” I snorted loudly and threw it back on the pile. Seriously, the only way is to have surgery. No wonder I never read those magazines.
Apparently it is not just celebs who want to get rid of their baby bodies straight away. I was reading a blog post in The Age on the “Yummy Mummy” phenomenon. Fortunately, pregnant women are now seen as attractive in their own right; but the expectation is that after childbirth, a woman should return to exactly how she was before she had children.
…[R]eports of “pregorexia” – striving to stay thin during pregnancy – remind us of the dark underbelly of these positive changes. And pregorexia is not the only alarming trend surrounding the yummy mummy phenomenon. “Mummy makeover” is the term used to denote the set of radical cosmetic surgical procedures that women increasingly undergo post-birth. Some mothers claim to find a mummy makeover liberating but both pregorexia and the mummy makeover aim to eradicate the maternal body.
Both of these trends demonstrate how the idealisation of youthfulness has crossed into the maternal realm – women are expected to appear skinny and toned whatever their age and whether they’ve had children or not. Ironically, this means that while there has been much “motherhype” of late, mothers continue to sit uneasily in the public eye. It seems that mothers are simultaneously celebrated and eradicated.
Pregorexia and mummy makeovers horrify me. Let’s get real with regard to women’s bodies. Very few women are perfect, and pregnancy and childbirth will have an impact on the bodies of the vast majority of mothers. Maybe some lucky women will spring back into shape straight away; but from conversations with friends, I suspect they are in a minority. We need to get away from these idealised and unrealistic notions of the female body; it makes normal women feel inadequate and unattractive.
But it’s not just the return of one’s body which is at issue. Having a child is a massive change to one’s life, and you can’t just continue on where you left off. I’ve written on this before. Last year, I was somewhat doubtful about the appointment of Cate Blanchett to the 2020 conference two weeks after the birth of her son.
In the last few days, the French Justice Minister, Rachida Dati has come under fire for returning to work five days after giving birth to her first child, daughter Zohra, primarily from feminists who argue that this kind of behaviour puts pressure on women and leads to unrealistic expectations from employers. I wonder whether Ms Dati will regret her decision later. I think it would be immensely difficult to go back to work so soon after having a caesarian section, particularly if she intends to breastfeed. I should also note that she is a single mother, and so presumably is without the support that a partner could provide in these circumstances.
I suppose motherhood means different things to different women. Although the vast majority of women have been supportive of my choices, a small minority have been critical of my choice to work part time, although as I pointed out, it was a financial necessity. Another small minority have been critical of the fact that I “only” went back to work on a part time basis. These critics make me wary of being too judgemental of the choices of others. It is hard enough juggling work, family and everything else, let alone being judged by others.
That being said, I do think that the expectation that any woman can be a supermum deserves to be shot down in flames. In the long run, you cannot do it all. If you decide to devote more energy and time to your career, you sacrifice your family life. If you decide to devote more energy and time to your family, you sacrifice your career. It’s as simple as that. There simply is not enough time to have a fulfilling career and family life. The plain truth is that the same equations apply to men, and that those men who devote their lives to their careers also sacrifice family life (or vice versa, as the case may be). All you can do is try to get the balance that is right for you. In my case, the balance is presently in favour of family life, but I’m also keeping a small modicum of career in the picture. I suspect the balance will tip more in the direction of career when the children are older, but my family will always be my priority.
So: reality check for all new mothers and mothers-to-be out there. Motherhood changes your body and your life in fundamental ways, and there is no way that either can go back to what it was before you were a mother. You can’t do it all and be it all. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t have it any other way.