New Moms

For the Modern Woman, Motherhood is A Lot Like Jail

| by Suzanne Venker

I love babies. I love holding them, playing with them, kissing them, changing them, watching them sleep -- all of that. I loved babysitting when I was a teenager, particularly babies and toddlers. I babysat three times a week, on average.

But babysitting ain't the same as mothering. Caring for babies around the clock is a whole different animal. You can't give them back once you've had your fill of babiness, and you get no break - none! At least not today. Fifty years ago, this wasn't the case. Fifty years ago women had far more help on the homefront than they do today -- not from husbands, of course, but from grandmothers and other moms. These days are long gone, however. Our transient society means families no longer live near one another, and our day care culture means neighborhoods are desolate. Consequently, mothers at home are incredibly isolated. They reach out for help in all kinds of ways -- mommy groups and preschool -- but it isn't the same. They're still on call 24/7 in a way mothers have never been before.

For the first time, women are navigating their way through unfamiliar terrain without the help of seasoned mothers. Caring for babies, in particular, is a shock to the modern woman's system. Unlike our own mothers, today's women got used to a life unencumbered by the demands of motherhood. They don't shift from college to babies; they shift from a life of full-fledged freedom -- with plenty of time, money, and sex -- to, essentially, jail.

That's what it means for modern women to stay home with babies today: jail. They may want to be there, but this doesn't make it any easier. It's very difficult to go from living on one's own, doing what you want, when you want, to being at the mercy of another human being who's dependent on you for survival. It's a quick lesson in sacrifice if there ever was one.

The sleep deprivation alone is enough to put any of us over the edge and cannot be overstated. The difference in how you receive your baby in the morning after you slept through the night is huge. Between breastfeeding, sleep deprivation, the inability to run an errand by yourself, the forfeiting one's morning coffee, the sicknesses, the ear infections, the grappling with today's baby equipment -- it's amazing more mothers don't go over the edge.

Of course many do, especially today. Indeed, anti-depressants are one of the deep dark secrets of at-home motherhood; and the reason is obvious: With no one to help Mom on a regular basis, she just can't take it.

I'm not talking bona fide postpartum depression, just the regular type of depression that can affect a new mother. Maternal sacrifice is so foreign to the modern woman that it tends to get the best of her. In my perfect world, families would live near one another again; Grandmothers would be willing to help out; and all mothers who are willing and able would stay home. I truly, honestly believe that if this were the case motherhood -- even during the baby stage, despite the sleep deprivation -- would be thoroughly enjoyable.

But, alas, this isn't likely to happen. So instead mothers form as many playgroups as they can to keep themselves from going crazy with baby care. They get the help they need from other mom friends, and they even have the Internet. This is all good.

But caring for babies is still overwhelming. It takes doing it several times to get it down -- but by that time, women stop having babies.

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