Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer was back at her desk two weeks after the arrival of her firstborn. Two weeks; the AQ team vaguely remembers snatches of this hazy, exhausting time and we’re pretty sure it involved nothing but pyjamas, nappies and plenty of spit-up. Oh, and severe sleep deprivation. Certainly not suits, make-up and board meetings, that’s for sure. So should we be applauding Mayer for carrying on regardless – after all, it’s 2015 and we can have it all, right? – or should we be mourning the fact that society now seems to take this attitude as the norm, expecting women to birth babies and bounce back into the career saddle before the baby’s even worked out a regular feeding schedule?
It’s not just about working mums, though; perhaps we’ve lost our way when it comes to motherhood in general. We read a brilliant blog recently (Mindfulmiablog.wordpress.com) that questioned how we’ve got to the point where it’s socially acceptable and even perfectly normal for a woman to feel bewildered, overwhelmed, exhausted and drained in the weeks following the birth of her baby, because she’s likely doing it all by herself. Some cultures have ‘lying-in periods’, where the other women of the community rally round to care for the new mum, bringing her food and giving her massages; we crow about how quickly so-and-so snapped back into her skinny jeans, or marvel at how the lady down the road is back teaching Body Pump a month post-section (is that even safe?).
And don’t get us started on how we actually managed to get our babies into the world in the first place. Kate Middleton had a textbook birth and didn’t need to ‘resort to powerful drugs’, according to British media. So we’re also at the point where having an epidural or a shot of pethidine is akin to throwing in the towel and (whisper this bit) having a C-section? Heartbreakingly, we’ve even seen posts from husbands praising their wives for going through labour and birth drug-free. Had these poor women accepted whatever readily available, thoroughly researched drug had been on offer to make the experience more bearable, would the husbands have been telling the world via Facebook how their wives ‘wimped out’?
Any day of the week – in the media, on social media, in our communities – there’s evidence of this creeping pressure to be Superwoman, to have it all, to show the world how amazingly well we’re coping. To show we’re so capable these days we can pop out a baby in half an hour without so much as a Panadol, then swing past the gym for a quick class before we settle down for a day in the office (in our size-0 pre-pregnancy suit, naturally).
Where’s the sisterhood? Where’s the natural desire to help a fellow woman through what always used to be understood as one of the toughest times of her life? Sure, some women may well want to be back at their desks two weeks post-birth. But for those who don’t want to, or can’t, let’s all just rally round and do what we can to get her through. Make her meals, pop round to chat, hold baby while she takes a shower. Reassure her it doesn’t matter that her skinny jeans might be distant strangers to her thighs a while longer yet. Remind her the outcome of her birth was a beautiful baby; how he or she arrived, with or without drugs, simply doesn’t matter. That’s how we can celebrate motherhood. Not by expecting new mums to have it all.