This article has been brewing in me for three years – that’s how long I’ve been a mother for. I’ve thought long and hard about writing this article. Many have advised me against it. But ultimately, the importance of initiating discussion and change for the better outweighs my reluctance and fear. Outspoken mothers these days are too readily labelled as whiny and put in their place with the statement ‘it was your choice to have a baby, so deal with it’. Well frankly, I’m not going to shut up and walk away, not this time anyway.
After I spent forty-two hours in labour and had my abdomen sliced open, I was expecting society to embrace me; instead reality dished me a cold slap in the face. First came breastfeeding. Society was telling me I should, that it was best for my baby. But it was harder than labour. People stared at me. People asked me not to breastfeed in front of them. Someone told me it was child abuse. I stayed home as much as I could while I breastfed – an entire year. If I did go out I was reduced to feeding in tiny rooms, or crouched over my baby, and if you’re not relaxed the milk just doesn’t come.
Outings: I’ve had a waitress shrug my comment off when I explained there was a fish bone in my daughter’s flake even though she said there were no bones in the fish. I’ve had a woman approach me and my daughter at the Dali exhibition – which was set up to encourage children involvement – and remark disgustingly, ‘Why would you bring children here?’ like my daughter was a dog or something. I’ve had single girlfriends complain of mothers and prams and why we walk so slow and why we leave our Christmas shopping to the last minute and take up the shopping centres with our prams.
However, it is in the workplace where the harshest realities are learnt. Unlike our mothers, generation x and y women have been raised with the notion they can have both the career and the family. This drive and motivation to succeed doesn’t switch off once you become a mother. Society promises both the career and the family to a growing girl but when she becomes a mother, she sees it is an impossibility.
As a mother in the workplace, doors are slammed in your face. We get criticised from all directions: if we want a career – heaven forbid us wanting something – we’re selfish. If we work part-time we’re dismissed as a serious contender in the workplace and can forget promotion. If we work full-time we’re neglecting our children by taking them to childcare. But when the inadequacy compounds us and we decide to stay home full-time to care for our children, people ask what we do all day like we’re bludgers. A friend of mine decided to do just that and had this to say to me: ‘You’re either a great mum and a shit employee or a great employee and a shit mum – you can’t be both.’
As an emerging writer I’ve had my fair share of disappointments, yet I don’t hold any of the involved responsible – they’re all victims of an un-childfriendly society. When I redraft my novel, I usually take a trip to Lorne and write non-stop for a week. I have written 7 drafts of my novel in three years and raised my daughter. Last year I was made redundant at work and decided to just focus on my writing. But without the extra money coming in, I had to forgo my trips, and this makes redrafting difficult with my daughter around. I can usually redraft half of my novel in that one week. I investigated fellowship opportunities but residencies are usually offered for only three weeks or more. There’s no way I could leave my daughter for three weeks – it would be detrimental to her, but also my husband can’t take that much time off. One particular three-week residency at a state writer’s centre offered a three bedroom cottage on a secluded farm. When I enquired if my daughter could visit on the weekends they agreed. I was delighted. But then they put this on their website: ‘children and pets are not permitted’.
I promptly telephoned but they were adamant that those were now the rules. I tried to negotiate a shorter stay – I was refused. I asked if I could visit my daughter on the weekends they said no, the fellowship was set up for dedicated writers to finish a draft of their novel, not people going back and forth. They asked me to put my complaint in writing. The director said they would get back to me before the submission deadline. They never did. I never sent my application.
I already know what you’re thinking – not another whinging mum. It was my choice to have a baby so I should grunt it and bear it – right? But is it a choice? How much of the decision is genetic, how much of it is free choice, how much of it is society and what it expects of women? In fact, you could argue that these days it’s actually harder to make the decision not to have children then it is to have children. If you’re married and you say you don’t want children people presume there must be something wrong with you (or that you’re selfish). When I tell people I don’t want to have a second child they tell me I’m selfish.
If you took away the genetic instinct to have children, and the pressure by society to follow norms, how many women would actually have children? Is motherhood really a choice or something we’re not only genetically meant to do, but also expected to do? What I find astounding is that society imposes motherhood on women yet is completely inflexible towards them when they become mothers. If society wants women to have children then it should start nurturing and respecting children and mothers instead of treating us like animals.