As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
This past Mother’s Day, a Saturday Night Live clip featuring comedian Amy Schumer went viral. In it, Schumer plays a mother with her breakfast in bed. She’s telling her preschool son about the day he was born. “It was amazing,” she says with a radiant smile. Then the camera cuts quickly to the pandemonium of the delivery room where Schumer screams on the hospital bed. The skit continues to juxtapose the mother’s serene conversation about her son’s birth and early days with contradictory footage of said days and the difficulties of labor, diaper changing accidents, breastfeeding bites, and attempts to catch a little sleep before the infant wakes up screaming.
This video seems representative of a movement among pop culture and social media to present the early months of motherhood (and beyond) in a harsher, more vulnerable light. It’s become popular to move past the glowing excitement of bringing a baby into one’s family to raw depictions of the exhaustion, messiness, rollercoaster emotions, strain on marriage, and loneliness. Parenting blogs like Grubby Mommy, Scary Mommy, and Rage Against the Minivan encourage honest discussions and portrayals of the difficulties of bringing up babies. It seems the media have been picking up on it too: in Canada, the CBC show Working Moms (2017), the recent Australian Netflix original series Let Down, and the new American movie Tully starring Charlize Theron all showcase the challenges of breastfeeding, co-parenting, exhaustion, changes to the mother’s body, self-doubt, social isolation, and self-neglect that so often accompany the post-partum period.
In the midst of the increasing pressures to have it all together, mommy Facebook groups and bloggers are combating the temptation to present only idealized versions of our families. Instead, through Instagram accounts like @takebackpostpartum, many are posting authentic representations of their bodies, untidy homes, and emotions. These “real” or “authentic” depictions of the post-partum period have been celebrated as refreshing by many. This movement to celebrate the whole range of motherhood allows mothers to grieve the things they have lost in the midst of rejoicing in all they have gained.
Many of these online communities seem to result from women seeking to compensate for the isolation in our society. We say it takes a village to raise a child, so what do we do when we no longer live in villages? Many people live far from their parents and extended families, and commuter living often keeps us from building relationships in our neighborhood. These realities mean the parenting experience can become reduced to the nuclear family. In an increasingly fragmented society, many are struggling to locate their village.
It is estimated that 10 to 20 percent of mothers will experience postpartum depression, as well as 10 percent of fathers and 6 percent of adoptive parents. Many believe this statistic is low because so many cases go unreported or undetected. Postpartum anxiety seems to be on the rise, and there are many cases of people who identify with neither condition but who struggle as parents with confusion, neglected social lives, feelings of inadequacy, disappointment and unmet expectations.
During my own struggle in the post-partum period, a health care provider encouraged me to “find your village.” I wanted to prove myself as an independent and capable mother, finally taking on the role I had so long believed would come naturally to me. However, I had to learn to put down my pride and ask for help. I called people in tears, greeted guests in a messy home, hosted in a bathrobe and greasy hair. In response, friends and family pulled together as my village and allowed me to cry, to laugh, to complain, to ask for advice (some of which I might not take, which was okay too), to reach out for help. Friends within walking distance and aunts who had to drive several hours came to bring meals, rock the baby while I napped, hold my hand, do my dishes. I could not do it alone. God’s grace came through their hands, eyes, and words.
The church has a vital role to play in an individualistic culture in which we’re constantly fighting the temptation to put up a façade of perfection, particularly when it comes to our family life. We are to be a sanctuary of truth where parents can shed the unrealistic and unhealthy pressures to keep up appearances and instead focus on what matters. We are to be a place of grace, to allow people to share their struggles and know they are not alone. We are to be the village where we support each other during the lonely and tiring years of parenting. We are to be God’s unconditionally loving family where God’s power is shown in our weakness. We are to come as we are, to offer up our gift of parenting, broken and imperfect, as all our gifts are, and to allow others to bear our burdens with us. Let us provide the haven where we have nothing to prove as parents, and where we are welcome with bags under our eyes and spills on our shirts, where we can rejoice and mourn throughout the ups and downs of parenting.