A lot of pop-culture leaves you with the notion that each new stage of your life is you crawling out of a chrysalis. Apparently you’re an entirely new person the minute you choose commerce over science in school, or when you turn eighteen, or when you become a parent. Sure, a lot of these moments hold immense sentimental value, or mark important points in your personal development, but when it comes to how motherhood changes women, the conversation always seems to end with some platitudes about ‘womanly duty’ and such.
Motherhood can be immensely fulfilling, yes. But for a lot of women – let’s just come out and say it – it can be stifling, when their personal choices and aspirations fall to the wayside. And as much as we want to think “your life, your rules,” it doesn’t always work out that way. Mothers are expected, by patriarchy no less, to be a lot of things rolled into one – counsellors, friends, educators, health care practitioners, cooks, cleaners, managers, and more, and all of this free-of-charge of course. It’s an identity defined by a woman’s relationship with her children, but even with the best of intentions, it is an identity defined by self-negation.
A new series of Amazon ads points to precisely this – how motherhood, for so many women, means the retirement of so many parts of a woman’s self.
It’s genuinely great that the ads do what a lot of Indian media doesn’t – recognize that women have had lives before their children. “Tum apne saare interests bhul gayi, tum khud ko bhul gayi,” (You’ve forgotten all your interests, you’ve forgotten who you are) goes the voiceover in one ad, urging moms to go back to their hobbies. But here’s the thing, women don’t “simply forget.” It’s just that motherhood hardly leaves them the time or mindspace.
Motherhood should be a choice, not an obligation or a compulsion. But that isn’t the message that young women like myself are getting. Take our State programmes on breastfeeding – they make it look like motherhood is the be-all-and-end-all of women’s lives. Additionally, we’re always seeing cultural cues that paint motherhood as the unspoken and socially accepted death sentence to our careers, our relationships, and – as Amazon notes – our interests. I’m not a mom. And I have no desire to be, but if I did, it looks like a pretty bad bargain right now.
In a patriarchal world, motherhood is not comfortable. And many women like myself have caught onto this. Which is why there is a carefully constructed narrative around motherhood – they say it makes you complete, they say it’s only natural, they call you the source of all life. But they don’t tell you how your life is about to be flipped over like a poorly cooked omelette in an ungreased pan.
Women have written about how motherhood interferes with an earlier sense of purpose – whether it came from a career they excelled at, or a passion like badminton, skating and photography. Obviously this isn’t 10 out of every 10 cases, but a majority of women do find it taxing. In fact, the Pew Research Centre found that the notion of motherhood being super difficult has not changed in the last 20 years. Notions about fatherhood, on the other hand, have.
Now you have more men choosing to be stay-at-home-dads, or readily accepting their roles in the home. But we are still fed images and stories of how domesticity does not suit men the way it suits women. The hugely successful “Shrek” movie franchise explores the burden of fatherhood on a male who was used to a certain lifestyle. You had Michael Kelso on “That ‘70s Show” confronting his philandering ways after the birth of his daughter. And you’ve got a host of TV dads seeking refuge in “man-caves” like the garage or study or bathroom. But there are no mom-caves, because you’re on call, all day every day. And if you can’t do your duty as a mother, then really what good are you?
Amazon’s ad is a fluffy attempt to make you think about your mother as an individual. It is the tiniest of nods towards the cumulative years of unpaid care-work that mothers do. When I jokingly tell my mom to stop nagging me, she says, “I’m a mother. This only stops when I’m dead,” and I realize that motherhood is always characterized by self-sacrifice.
Why this happens isn’t really in the purview of the Amazon ad. That’s really for us, as viewers and havers-of-mothers, to think about. And until we have those answers, I guess I’m just super content not being a mom.