Shhh…we can’t mention that. The Taboos of Motherhood

Not to confuse the usual judgement (damned if you do, damned if you don’t on all mothering styles), taboo things usually seem to be announcing pregnancy too soon, infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth and serious childhood illness or death of a child, Post Natal Depression, birth trauma, relationship breakdown – the kind of things people find very confronting and hard to know what to say or do.

It also seems to increasingly (and concerningly) be including the positive experiences.

‘don’t tell people you’re pregnant until after 12 weeks’

Why? In case of a miscarriage? Why can’t a pregnancy loss before 12 weeks be acknowledged. It is heartbreaking.

If it is a long awaited pregnancy, the Joy is too hard to hold back, you want to share the news.

If it is an unexpected pregnancy – emotions could go in many directions, and the support of loved ones is vital.

If it is an unwanted pregnancy, likewise the support of loved ones, even if it is a chosen few, is important.

Infertility (and childlessness)

If you are in your 30s, or in a long term relationship, the question of “when are you going to have a baby?” could be like a knife in the heart for a couple desperate to have a child, but unable.  Difficulty conceiving is an emotional roller-coaster, and often lonely,  increasingly desperate and devastating.  Month after month of disappointment. And no one wants to hear about it.

Likewise, if a choice has been made to not have children, the woman can be vilified. No one wants to hear about how awesome you feel.

The infertile are to be pitied and the childless by choice are considered selfish and hard.

Of important note: The commodification of this aspect of reproduction means you can have a baby by any means.   If you reach the end of your IVF journey, a new carrot dangles: wrapped in altruism, and “greatest gift”, you must stop at nothing to achieve a child.  Those who can pay, are encouraged to exploit women though surrogacy and/or egg donation. The purchase of a ‘take away’ baby is encouraged and applauded, and any who speak out against are outraised and considered ‘old fashioned’.  Here only positive stories are allowed – as opposed to in natural childbirth, see below.

Miscarriage and Stillbirth

Birth before 20 weeks of gestation is considered a ‘miscarriage’. Unacknowledged, un-named, un-registered*. No ceremony. No talking. Even after 20 weeks, with a stillbirth that is acknowledged, registered, grieved for openly at a funeral…at some point soon after, you are expected to ‘move on’…and not remind people of your grief.

*miscarriage is now recognised in NSW, at parent request, by way of a certificate

Birth Disappointment and Birth Trauma

There is a general acceptance that birth experience doesn’t matter – as long as babies are ‘healthy’.  This invalidates a mother’s feelings towards the birth (which could be disappointed through to traumatised). Whilst horror birth stories are the most common, they are spoken of in an accepting way – that birth should be like this. They are not spoken of with regret, anger or hurt. A mother is not free to express her true feelings, which can lead to/contribute to postnatal depression.

As i mentioned in the intro…it is also apparently taboo to talk of your positive experience, as this is bragging.

It seems it is only acceptable to talk of medical births or births before arrival where the mother is not the focus.

PostNatal Depression

Postnatal depression (PND) is another area where mothers suffer in silence, even if they seek treatment and support. Sure we can complain about motherhood, we can tell everyone motherhood is hard…but lonely? overwhelming? or (and this is a big one) feelings of disconnect? Asking for help can be viewed as an admission of failure or incompetence…we modern women need to do it all – on our own.

Don’t fit in in your mother’s group? parenting differently? This can make it hard to talk about difficulties and find suitable solutions. Not all mothers groups are the same – but not all women have the luxury of choice or even sometimes the ability to get to a mothers group that suits them. This leads to further feelings of isolation, and greater risk of PND.

Maternal Regret

Here is it important to mention the difference between Motherhood and Mothering.  Mothering is the act of caring, Motherhood is the societal construct that determines the ‘good’ mother, and the defines the parameters she must exist in.  Many women who experience feelings of regret will tell you that they love their children very much.  Their regret seems to be connected to Motherhood.  Motherhood did not met their expectation.  Many women hold these feelings silently, which is tragic not just because they are silenced, but that it prevents the society shift we need.  Motherhood should not be as it is.  It can be so much more, but for the shift to happen society must relinquish it’s love of the patriarchy, neoliberialism and the reverence of independence.

The loss of the ‘village’ and ritual, the devaluation of women and mothering, the segregation of society has created these taboos. In other cultures, the taboos may be different, the approach to mothering different. The taboos in this post seem to be those of western society. Modern mothering. 

I hope if you find yourself in a ‘taboo’ situation, that you have supportive people you can turn too. I hope you can find your village, and in turn support others. You are not alone.


3 thoughts on “Shhh…we can’t mention that. The Taboos of Motherhood”

  1. Reblogged this on Sprout and About and commented:
    We seem to be approaching a time where we can’t talk about pregnancy, birth or parenting at all unless it fits within the confines of “normal”. Great article from Bellabirth about the various taboos of motherhood.

  2. Pingback: Do you have what it takes? – Beautiful Heart

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