Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Natalie Slater

Understatement of the millennium: being a mom must be really hard. I was overly privileged to have the most selfless and loving mother, who not only made her job look easy, but also desirable. She raised three independent, free thinking, true to themselves women. Anyone who knows me and my sisters knows we are each completely different from one another. It may sound like I'm bragging about myself, but really I'm just bragging about my mom. Raising 3 women to feel confident enough in their own thoughts, dreams, and opinions, all the while not being afraid of where their thoughts, dreams, and opinions will lead them, seems like an incredibly difficult feat to achieve. Difficult because it requires self-confidence, patience, and trust; 3 personal attributes everyone, regardless of parenthood, can agree are hard to cultivate in oneself. 

I am 85% sure I don't want to be a mom. When I was 25, I was 50% sure. At 35, I expect I'll be 100% sure. How can I be so sure? Well, the older I get, the more I trust myself.  I'd like to think this is evidence of my personal growth and maturity, but I suspect it is more likely because the later into your 20's you are, the more seriously people accept what you say.  

Newborn MBB was wayyy cuter
than regular MBB
If I think about why I don't really want to be a mom, I'm always drawn to one particular childhood memory. My friend Lindsey chose a baby doll theme for her birthday party. We were told to bring along our favorite dolls and her mom made each guest a realistic diaper bag as a favor. Each bag came stocked with plastic bottles and disposable diapers. I liked playing with baby dolls and took pride in my Newborn Magic Bottle Baby, so I thought the bags were awesome. 

As one of the last girls to arrive, Lindsey told me everyone was already feeding their "babies" when I was handed my bag. I sat down, took out a new bottle, and put it to my Newborn Magic Bottle Baby's mouth. Instantly, I was reprimanded by all the other girls' giggles, admonishing I was "doing it wrong!" Not a fan of being informed of my ineptitude, I thought to myself that my baby didn't need a junky plastic bottle because she came with her own MAGICAL one. However, since it was Lindsey's birthday, I allowed her to show me how to properly feed my baby. She came over and pushed in the nipple of my bottle and placed it against my doll's pink lips and informed me this way looked like the bottle was actually IN her mouth. I sat through the feeding and "mommy talk" but hated every minute because it wasn't the way I liked to play. 

Even then, I felt like this was ridiculous and was totally uninterested. Newborn Magic Bottle Baby's special bottle made chugging and burping noises when you simply pressed the buttons. I didn't need to take extra steps to ensure she was fed properly. She was a doll. I could leave her wherever, whenever I needed to go ride bikes or climb trees because she didn't need me to care for her for real. Realistic feeding was way boring and not important to me. 

Lindsey always knew she wanted to be a mom and now she is one with a new baby on the way! Kids know what they want because they trust themselves. I still want to be able to ride bikes and climb trees whenever I feel like it. Maybe I've always known what I want too.

My main issue with motherhood is the way it is sold to women. We're told over and over again being a mom is the greatest joy in the world. This seems suspicious. Suspicious because mothers seem to be blamed for a lot of problems. The murder rate in Chicago: Blamed on single moms. The true reason for Adam Lanza's shooting spree: His mom. Fat kids: Moms. Skinny kids: Moms. Successful/Stressed kids: Moms. Moms aren't always the best, but are they always the reason children can turn out to be the worst? No. 

We keep becoming mothers because 1) Nature and 2) We're promised to experience an overwhelming force of love which will lead to complete-ness. While I fully believe I would fiercely love my potential child with all of my being, I think the packaging is shinier than the product. Sort of like the "The One" fairy tale for love when "you just know" who to marry. Somehow, even with the magic, more than half of the "just know" marriages end in divorce. It's the same with motherhood, although, you can't divorce your kid.
Style sesh with 2 of my favs!

I want to be clear I'm talking about the job of being a mother and not the kid that you create. That kid is great and wonderful. I love kids. All of my friends have the best, cutest, and smartest children. And kids love me; like, a whole lot. Even so, I'm just not sure I want one for myself. Which also seems to be causing a lot of the world's problems today as women are selfishly no longer having kids. We can't escape societal blame no matter what we do. 

Fathers are allowed to strike a better balance between self-care and parenthood because they are never told to be enamored by their little ones and the task of raising them. If they end up being absent and terrible, they get a pass because it's expected they could be emotionally distant or physically unavailable. But a shitty mother? Condemnation! I'm not suggesting bad mothers should get passes. We just shouldn't deny the possibility that women are oftentimes duped by snake oil salesmen promising magical babies as the cure for all of their ailments. Maybe motherhood isn't glittery and shiny for every woman. Maybe it just fucking sucks sometimes and you have to learn to get used to it. Maybe our mothering capabilities are not always as innate as we expect them to be.

Bake and Destroy
Natalie Slater is the creator of Bake and Destroy, a vegan-ish, pro-doing-life-your-own-way website. She's been featured in BUST Mag (amazing), just finished her first book, and has an open and honest conversation with Marty DeRosa on his podcast, Wrestling With Depression

When Natalie found out she was pregnant, she didn't know how to feel. Did she want to be pregnant? Was this the right direction for her life? The right timing? She honestly wasn't sure. She questioned it which is a radical decision for any woman to make. To be a mom or not to be a mom: this should be the question.  

We've been so manipulated into believing we HAVE to be mothers we've forgotten our basic human right to think for ourselves. Even though I'm not sure I want to be a mom, I could possibly become pregnant. If that happens, I'll have a choice to make. Like Natalie, I'll have to question it. 

Ultimately, after a conversation with her own mom about her family's history with infertility and miscarriage, and support from her husband, she chose to become a mother. But she continued to question her decision throughout the duration of her pregnancy. This seems logical to me because YOU HAVE A PERSON FORMING INSIDE OF YOU THAT YOU WILL HAVE TO CARE FOR FOREVER AFTER IT PAINFULLY COMES OUT OF YOU ONE WAY OR ANOTHER. (Childbirth is natural and the female body handles every ounce of pain during labor beautifully. But still, it's terrifying.)

Natalie and Teno
Once her son Teno was born, life was not all sprinkles and cupcakes. She suffered from postpartum depression and says she felt like she was in "another dimension." When her husband was in the shower and her son was on her lap, she started to cry. When he came out and asked what was wrong she told him she wasn't happy. 

A lot has been said about postpartum depression since Brooke Shields went public with her experience a few years ago. People are much more understanding about it now. However, we still frame the conversation around a problem to resolve within the mother which isn't necessarily unreasonable but we should also be discussing that motherhood in and of itself may cause or heighten unhappiness for women. After your first child, your life will forever change in a combination of good and bad ways. That's a big deal and shouldn't just be written off in the fine print. 

Natalie was lucky because her mother and husband were completely supportive of her, but she still suffered greatly after giving birth. She lost friendships and gained weight. A struggle that made her contemplate suicide because she hated her body so much. No matter how much she loved her son, he couldn't fix her body image issues. She lost her father after becoming a mother as well and recalls pushing herself out of her sadness a little too soon because she felt guilty for neglecting Teno in order to grieve. Guilt often accompanies the reality of motherhood but can rarely be heard in its sales pitch. We've confused selfishness with self-care; a harmful mistake that will hurt not only ourselves as women but also our children. 

These issues may not be unique to Natalie but her way of dealing with them is refreshing. She's been open and completely honest about her experiences and has incorporated Teno into her life. Could it be because she is a feminist? Probably. It's obvious she loves her son so so much. His birth added so much joy to her life. He has his own food review series on her site and pops up often on her Tumblr. Even though she cares for him completely, she has remained Natalie, the autonomous person. Natalie, the mom, is only one piece of her identity and while it may trump other parts with regards to importance, it hasn't overtaken her; an accomplishment which requires intentional work and self-focused reflection.  

While I'm still 85% sure I don't want to be a mom, I'm only 85% sure. Things could change. But if I'm not meant to be a mom, I know my life will be OK. There is plenty of need for my love and care in this world even without children of my own. If I were to create an advertisement for motherhood, it would borrow from the oxygen mask instructions you receive before take off on an airplane: When being a mom gets tough, keep calm, it's not the end of the world. You need to remember to help yourself first before you'll be able to properly care for your kid. After that, just try to sit back and enjoy your time together. Life passes way too fast. (Sniff, sniff)

Cover Photo