If you have recently glanced through women’s magazines, how-to books on fathering, and news articles about celebrity moms, you might conclude that new mothers are treated like royalty, or at least the mothers of royalty. By these accounts, new mothers glow, parents and in-laws dote, partners are awed, and girlfriends constantly stream in to help with the house, the kids, and the shopping. Communities provide daily casseroles and comfy slippers. All this is supposed to happen because mothers bring the miracle of new life. But does it really happen?
Ask your mother or grandmother what things were like when she had her babies. Was she treated like a queen? How was it for your sister or your friend? Was she pampered, protected, and served hand and foot? Maybe, or maybe not. When I ask new mothers if they have gotten the queen-bee treatment, most say, “The what?” Of course, some respond, “My husband is the best ever!” or “I rely a lot on my sister; she comes by every day.”
Many women, though, feel that when people come to visit the new baby, the guests expect the house to be clean. Some mothers say that people were helpful with the first baby, but not the second. One mom told me that her coworkers’ only response to her having a baby was to be more demanding immediately before she took maternity leave.
The image of the Holy Madonna, a woman tenderly cradling a newborn, has been immortalized in everything from sculpture to holiday postage stamps. For rock-star-cum-diva Madonna, pregnancy and childbirth became a passage to mainstream acceptance. Madonna a saintly Madonna? The woman who in her early career was known as Boy Toy? The woman whose performance in Italy was censored by the pope? Yes, the very woman who, smoothly coifed and dressed in pastels, soon appeared on the cover of Good Housekeeping magazine. Motherhood made her safe.
For very rich, royal, or famous women, labor and childbirth are a public event. For a movie star giving birth, the fanfare can be staggering. But does all that hoohah truly mean that woman are supported? The actress Brooke Shields struggled with postpartum depression.
Sadly, people respond better to the image of motherhood than to mothers themselves. Few women can go through early motherhood with the assistance of two nannies, a night nurse, and a personal trainer, but we all deserve to be treated like a Madonna, honored and pampered for bringing forth life. The more practical assistance and moral support a woman receives, the happier and healthier both she and her infant will be.
I started noticing the fascination with the image of motherhood during my pregnancy with Alexander. As my belly grew, so did the smiles and gentle or nosy comments from strangers. When Alexander was a newborn, people peeked into his stroller and cooed. When he was 6 months old, they enjoyed the smiles and laughter he gave them in return. But when he was 18 months old and having a tantrum and running behind a store counter, I realized that my image as Madonna, and his as adored prince, had faded. It was clear to me then that the Madonna myth needed to be replaced by a deeper respect for the incredible challenges of motherhood and a greater appreciation for its rewards.
Tori Kropp is a Perinatal Registered Nurse at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco and an international figure in the field of women’s health, pregnancy and early parenting. She is known as the “Dear Abby of Pregnancy” and has helped deliver over 5,000 babies. She is the author of The Joy of Pregnancy, The Complete, Candid and Reassuring Companion for Parents-To-Be. She is well known as a woman’s health blogger and author of the popular advice column, Ask Tori, RN.