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


  1. I really like this post. Bravo for honesty and tackling a very difficult subject. So much has changed in the last few generations for women, in terms of reproductive choices, and as well, how society reacts to them.

    My son is almost 2.5 and I know deep down that he will be my only child-by choice. Yet, there is a persistent guilt or feeling of selfishness that sneaks up on me, telling me that he needs a sibling and that I shouldn't put my needs ahead of building a family. I feel this is a similar voice to that which tells women then need to have babies, otherwise they're being selfish.

    I strongly believe in the need to know oneself and to trust oneself. I think you've got it absolutely right. Because right now, there is no need to reproduce to ensure the survival of the species. We are so over-populated, we're taking down the world with us. In fact, I will go as far to say that having too many children is selfish.

    OK, I am stopping before I end up writing a comment-blog.

    Just wanted to thank you for the post :)

  2. This was a great post Julia, thanks for sharing! I totally hear you on the blaming mothers (and women) for all the ills of the ridiculous. I wonder sometimes if the constant guilt mothers are faced with (or put on themselves) is a particularly American motherhood thing...I finished reading this book recently about "French parenting" where they seemed to have such a better balance between being "into" their kids and taking pride and joy in their own lives/desires/interests. It's so funny cause on one hand, you hear kids are supposed to be the center of your world and the best thing ever, but then you hear the opposite saying once you have kids your life is I think it's got to be somewhere in the middle in reality (just like relationships, etc.) and people just don't get that sometimes and go full-force one direction or the other. reading your thoughts on life as always!

  3. This is a really good post, Julia. You wrote about things that I've thought a lot about in the past couple of years. I think you're really wise to be trusting yourself and not what others might have you think about motherhood. When I found out I was pregnant I was NOT ready for it, I knew that I was not cut out to be a mother the way I felt I 'should' be. There were times during pregnancy and the early days of Levi's life that I felt like I was in a nightmare of my own making! I don't think that makes me a bad person, that was just how I honestly felt.
    Thankfully Jamie takes on a lot more responsibility in parenting than (I think) many dads do...but the reality is that there are many differences between moms and dads. One big one that seems so obvious, but I think is more complicated is breastfeeding. From day one (well, before day one) we are naturally/genetically/somehow designed to be hyper-aware of the physical needs of the baby. Trying to stop that hyper-awareness as the baby gets older is harder than I ever expected, maybe its impossible. I think that its not only society/culture that makes moms the one who is ultimately responsible, its innate in myself as well. I'm determined to not let my own life/dreams drop, but it is much easier said than done at this point.

  4. I appreciate this perspective a lot. When I was single and wondering if I'd ever get married, I didn't think I wanted kids. So I watched marriages around me and tried to figure out how people went from the altar with all the flowers and kissing to the griping at each other while talking nicely to their dogs. Then, after I watched that, I watched what happened when they had kids. After thinking about it for a really long time, I decided for my very own reasons that I DID want kids, though I'd be okay if I never had them. I am glad I came to this, as I married a guy who comes from a family of 7. So it was lovely to make this decision apart from him rather than getting into marriage or a relationship where I felt pressured by what someone else wanted.

    Now we are having kids (number yet to be determined) and figuring out how it works for us, and doing it our way, not necessarily doing it the way I thought it should look. I never felt that "mommy" gene, and so when I decided I wanted kids, it was knowing that it would look maybe (definitely) different than the sort of norm expectations. It has been full of joy and also full of hardship. I wouldn't go back, and the hardship has helped me grow but has been hard. The joy has been different than what I thought, and made my life different. But I was still complete without kids. I'm still me...just maybe me expanded in ways I couldn't have predicted without the shaping of motherhood.

    This is a long comment. In short: thanks for the honesty on this. I think it's important for women to think about whether they want to have kids or not, know it will be a joy AND also the hardest thing ever, and then think about how motherhood could look for them personally. It doesn't all have to look the same.

    The end of long comment.

  5. I just saw this post. I do not remember the baby doll party! I can't believe I did that! I guess I did always know I wanted to be a mom, and I love it, but it's definitely not all roses, sometimes it's hard. And it's also definitely not for everyone, whatever you decide should be your choice. And it's ok either way! And motherhood is an important job but being women with choices and independence makes us all better as mothers or not.:)