When my husband and I reached the full-year mark of life without a full night’s sleep, the common wisdom about parenting a newborn (ie: “He’s still not sleeping through the night? Have you tried giving cereal before bed?”) had a sinister conspiritorial tone to me. It was if everyone was privy to some silver lining that I didn’t know about. I really was looking through a glass darkly and still going through the days smiling brightly. Why would I do such a masochistic thing? Because I thought everyone else knew how to make parenthood easy, and that I was just maladjusted to the role of mommy.
Maladjusted, maybe. But what I didn’t know is that many of the mothers around me also struggled with their new role. As long as we kept our mouths shut about our sorrows; for example, if we had a ‘traumatic’ birth, or felt the glares from fellow shoppers who resent a noisy babe in arms; if some days we were just fed up with the fecal incidents, or if we were gradually losing our grip on reality from sleep deprivation, then the hardest thing about it all–the isolation–grew.
If you think about it, for many women, becoming a mother is the biggest identity shift since adolescence. And remember how easy that was? Never mind the struggle of becoming a teenaged mom, which is a whole subject unto itself; even fully grown women face countless difficult changes that mothering a very young child brings. The most obvious is for the woman who defines herself through her profession, and on entering motherhood, finds herself redefining her whole identity. And what about the artist who, in her previous life, painted for comfort and now finds that making playdough turtles at the kiddie table has to be enough of an artistic outlet?
I think we are rewarded for our complicity in what I like to dramatically refer to as “the conspiracy of silence” with an absence of dialogue at the national level about maternity leave, child care, postpartum depression, and more. When we do talk about motherhood, we like to talk about all the good stuff, like how rewarding it is, and how motherhood really ‘suits’ this woman or that one.
Kept quiet, perhaps because of a taboo, is any talk of when motherhood doesn’t seem to ‘suit’–about the woman who really is more comfortable in a business suit (hard to imagine). But even more hush-hush than that is our collective low esteem of motherhood as bona fide work. Take this oft-heard comment, for instance: “Gee, it must be nice to stay home all day with the baby.” [read: "Must be nice not to work."] Nice? It’s many things, let’s just say it’s very “the-Agony-the-Ectasy,” but to say it’s nice trivializes how mothers spend their days working at the most important (and some might say, the hardest) job in the world.
One of the most interesting things about adversity, in my mind, is how people react to it. Naomi Wolf reacted to her own jarring experience of maternity by writing a book: “Misconceptions” about the myth vs reality of pregnancy and childbirth. Still others deal by going to the gym compulsively. And Bay area former punks, Racheal Yellow, Karen, Soulmine and La (short for Paula) reacted to the isolation, sleep deprivation, and boredom by forming a band called the Lactators. “All the crap that moms endure is pretty much fodder for punk songs,” says the band.
A rolling bass line, joined after a couple measures by a fuzzy guitar riff lifts off a Lactators song called “Buffy the Vampire Slayer is my Best Friend.” when the kid’s in bed/another long day’s come to an end/tv is my drug of choice now. Sometimes a sudsy bath of Calgon “take-me-away” soap bubbles is less satisfying then singing along to a visceral, in-your-face record. i would rather be standing on the hellmouth fighting demons/than screaming ‘get out of the toilet’/one more time. Erstwhile punks-turned-mamas hear their deep sighs of fatigue transformed into a righteous shout.
When I’m looking for some “me time,”a hot bath is sometimes not enough. These are times when books like the “The Mask of Motherhood,” and “The Time Bind” begin to seem too contained and scholastic. And if I just can’t bring myself to get to the gym to let the cork out of the bottled up frustration, then listening to a punk rock band like this one is my drug of choice.