“Did you know that when you’re pregnant, you can get a rash called PUPPP that covers your whole body and is 2,000 times worse than poison ivy?” I ask my mother. “And did you know that some women actually get post-traumatic stress disorder from childbirth? Then they don’t bond with their babies immediately and the guilt makes them suicidally depressed.”
“Nothing like that happened to me,” she says, wrinkling her face. “I loved having babies.”
But her June Cleaver facade can’t fool me! Once again, I’ve been indulging in my newest guilty habit – reading parenting websites and “mom blogs” – despite being twenty-six years old, unmarried, and having no immediate plans for children. And now that I know the dark truths about pregnancy and parenthood, I’ve come to wonder if I might be better off raising guinea pigs than joining in this whole “cycle of life” thing.
Because I’ve got to say, it doesn’t sound like a lot of fun.
A brief summary of what I’ve learned about procreation from reading magazines and websites:
First you get pregnant, after months or years of costly fertility treatments that involve needles the circumference of ballpoint pens but are necessary because you’ve dragged your (expensive, office-appropriate) heels past the peak fertility age of twenty-four. Once properly inseminated, you develop hyperemesis gravidarum and puke up every ounce of (caffeine-free) herbal tea you ingest until you need an IV, by which point you’ve lost your job and your will to live. And that’s before the sudden appearance of stretch marks, which you affectionately call “tiger stripes” because it looks like an enormous cat tried to claw its way up your torso to reach that Dorito you’re shoving in your mouth (Doritos, or grilled cheese sandwiches, or Chunky Monkey are the only food you can keep down; as a result you’ve gained eighty-nine pounds and kids on the street say, “Mommy, what is that thing?”).
Then comes the birth. If it’s in a hospital, it’s overmedicalized and impersonal and you’re pumped full of pitocin until the baby comes shooting out into the hand of a twenty-six-year-old resident who’s using the other hand to text on his iPhone. If it’s a homebirth, you discover while squatting in your birthing pool that contractions feel like being disemboweled with a hunting knife, but your Baba Yaga-like midwife won’t let you go to the hospital for an epidural, because epidurals cause autism and malaria. In either scenario, labor lasts at least ninety-four hours.
Once the baby’s here, you must spend between six months and eighteen years feeling like a terrible, horrible mother because you A) Can’t/don’t want to breastfeed (and formula is an UNNATURAL ARTIFICIAL CHEMICAL POISON!!!), B) Find changing diapers less fun than backpacking through Honduras and sleeping with Irish scuba instructors, or C) Occasionally consider popping your baby in the free alt-weekly box outside Whole Foods so you can get some sleep and so your baby will be raised by the next person who comes for a newspaper, who probably has organic carrots in her shopping bag and would be a much better mother than you.
To save what’s left of your sanity, you write about your experiences on your new mommy blog. And oh, your blog commenters can sure relate! In fact, their stories are much worse than yours. They gained 237 pounds while pregnant and had to be taken to the birthing center on a flatbed truck. Their feet got so swollen they actually exploded, taking out the eye of their OB-GYN. They too planned a natural birth – ha! – but wound up screaming for not only an epidural but a dram of chloroform. Their baby once cried for seventy-seven hours straight, until their family was not only evicted but deported. Now they live in exile in France, where child-raising is much, much more evolved; every mother there is guaranteed by law a free nanny who’ll makes boeuf bourguignon for your enfants while you get your government-sponsored pedicure.
So here are your choices: 1) Move to France, 2) Get your tubes tied, or 3) Prepare to spend the rest of your life wiping diarrhea off your forehead and listening to something called “The Wiggles” on infinite repeat . . .
You might ask why I, a childless twenty-something, need to read these mommy confessionals – what the blog Jezebel delicately terms “torn-vag tell-alls.” Shouldn’t I be reading Cosmopolitan and focusing on Skill #3 on the “57 Ways to Drive Him Wild” list?
Well, as someone who hopes to have kids within the next, oh, decade or so, I’m curious for the glance into my own potential future that magazines provide. And beyond that, I like the candor and biting wit of mommy lit, a kind of dark honesty about everyday life that’s hard to find in mainstream non-motherhood-related publications. Even in this day and age, most women’s magazines are still all about how to be, or at least appear, perfect: “11 Perfect Swimsuits to Minimize Your Trouble Spots,” “701 Tips for the Perfect Summer Wedding,” ad nauseum. Blechh!
Motherhood seemed more appealing when all I saw was the US Weekly version.I appreciate that the current tell-it-like-it-is movement is a reaction to the kind of repressive feminine ideals that have dogged women since long before magazines were even invented. Still, sometimes all this honesty freaks me out. Did I really need to know what an umbilical hernia looks like, or hear about how mastitis feels like your breast is being chewed by a vole? Frankly, the whole motherhood thing seemed a lot more appealing back when all I saw was the US Weekly version – you know, the one in which Angelina Jolie totes a cherub straight out of a Renaissance painting on her slender, Versace-clad hip before handing it off to an adoring Brad so she can jet to Cambodia to shoot Tomb Raider 17.
I could just stop reading this stuff and stick to US Weekly instead. But I won’t. Yeah, it might scare me off having kids, at least for a few years. But when I do, I’ll be confident that I’ve already heard the worst, that there will be no ugly surprises around the bend, that my experience can’t possibly be as terrifying as hers, or hers, or hers. Right? Right?