The other day, that tigress of centre court, Serena Williams, spoke out passionately about the real struggle of motherhood, the struggle that not many women talk about and those who do, get hushed down rather quick. What they say is uncomfortable, it shakes the well-established narrative of motherhood being roses and soft diffused lighting, baby powder smell, and gurgling, happy babies sending oxytocin shots direct to the brain. Motherhood and post partum is far from that, very far indeed. Pregnancy, childbirth and post partum can be hell, but it is a hell we rarely speak of, we gloss it over, we propagate the myth of the roses and the light.
Pregnancy, childbirth and post partum can be hell, but it is a hell we rarely speak of, we gloss it over, we propagate the myth of the roses and the light.
The former narrative is what is propagated. Should the second one come out into the public domain in all its rawness, it might just put every woman off motherhood.
For all that we do as women, the one that gets least acknowledged and lauded is the physical, mental and emotional struggle of motherhood. I think the greatest disservice we do as women is to downplay how truly traumatising it can be to give birth and surviving the first few months of post partum. For one, carrying a baby to term is no easy task. I am not even going to begin with how you swell out like a balloon, how your ankles become pillars, how you need to pee every few minutes, how heartburn, indigestion, constipation, and worse become your every day in the last trimester. Delivery after that is a nightmare all its own. Speak to any woman who has had a child and you will find a horror story in some parts of it. Epistiomies play a starring role in this.
This is why I am glad women who have an audience, like Serena Williams and Cardi B, are speaking out and speaking out loud without mincing their words. They get listened to. They get heard without being shouted down. Their experience is not discounted or trivialised. Young women and girls hear them and know what they will be getting into if and when they choose to have children. There will be no rude shocks, one hopes, there will be an awareness that it needs more reserves of strength than one could have ever imagined to have children.
Her unabashed acceptance of her vulnerability holds a beacon of light to all working moms out there, there is conflict, there is guilt, it is incredibly difficult and the hormonal cocktail in one’s system doesn’t make it any easier.
Serena Williams spoke about how she almost died while giving birth to her daughter Alexis Olympia. She began playing professionally six months later. The battles she fights now though, aren’t limited to battles on court. She has, through her Instagram, taken us through the days of mommy guilt of not being around for her daughter’s milestones. She also recently, spoke about how her “postpartum emotions” have made it difficult for her to play the way she used to. The intense training schedule that keeps her away from her daughter makes her wonder if she’s being a good mom. Her unabashed acceptance of her vulnerability holds a beacon of light to all working moms out there, there is conflict, there is guilt, it is incredibly difficult and the hormonal cocktail in one’s system doesn’t make it any easier. But we will get through it. If someone who is such a tigress on court can admit to her vulnerability as a new mother, she gives all new mothers hope.
In her vulnerability, and her admission of it in a sport where an admission of any such vulnerability is a seen as a weakness, is where her bravery lies. In confronting the postpartum hormonal issues, in dealing with the mommy guilt, in working hard to get back to court barely six months after having her baby. She wrote, “It’s totally normal to feel like I’m not doing enough for my baby. I’m here to say that if you’re having a rough day or week – it’s OK – I am, too!” For a woman who is the role model to millions of other women, moms or not, as well as young black girls, this admission of not being supermom, not being able to juggle all the balls without being terrified she was dropping a few is revolutionary.
Women are getting permission to take it easy from women who don’t take it easy. The message going out is that women must be allowed the time and the space to regroup themselves after having a baby.
That motherhood has redefined Williams is a fact. That she has embraced it so wholeheartedly is delightful. That she does not shy away from putting herself out there, with all her insecurities and vulnerabilities is encouraging to other new moms to speak out, to ask for help if they can, to not be deterred by the myth of the supermom, and assume they’re falling back because they are incapable of doing it all like all the women before them have. With Cardi B talking about the pains of pregnancy and celebrating it, with Beyonce talking about how she set unreasonable pressure on herself to go on tour barely three months after her first child, the silos surrounding pregnancy and motherhood are slowly being broken down. Women are getting permission to take it easy from women who don’t take it easy. The message going out is that women must be allowed the time and the space to regroup themselves after having a baby, that they are in as much need of care as the baby, emotionally, mentally, physically. Hurrying a woman to get back to work, performing, playing is unfair on both the woman and the child. And by speaking out, all these women we look up to have just told us, that it is okay, no one is a supermom, and we need to stop being so hard on ourselves.
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Kiran Manral is Ideas Editor at SheThePeople.TV