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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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62 Responses

  1. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. April 4, 2012 at 8:29 pm |

    I love this because, well, there are really only two narratives that seem to be allowed for women writing about parenthood.

    Isn’t it ridiculous? I completely internalized the “Good Mother” narrative. Its been awesome to see my friends who have become parents really explode my perceptions of parenthood. They all have hilariously unique and wonderful relationships with their kids and their co-parents (mostly) that defy these norms. And its *interesting* and *real* which is far more fun to read about.

  2. Tamara
    Tamara April 4, 2012 at 8:49 pm |

    This was interesting, and similar to the way I feel about my children and motherhood. I love them to bits but don’t miss them when I am at work. And I feel pretty much as I always did except that I get more upset hearing about child abuse and neglect and so forth than I did before I had kids. I’m not all starry-eyed but I try very hard to be a good mother because once you have them it’s a huge responsibility. So, definitely no-one should have to have a child unless they really want to.

  3. robotile
    robotile April 4, 2012 at 11:10 pm |

    This piece struck home for me. My mom was always describing this transformational love she had for me the moment I was born, and I frankly found it creepy and needy and smothering, even as a little kid. Now I am 8 months pregnant and mainly I just hope that after having a kid I still feel like the same person and love the kid like I love my partner and my cat and my mom and dad. But of course everyone wants to tell you in this super condescending way that “everything will change” and “even if you think you want to work you will see, your feelings will change” and “you think it won’t happen to you but it will–unless you are HItler” yada yada yada. It’s amazing how much people feel okay telling pregnant people how they will/should feel.

  4. anon
    anon April 5, 2012 at 3:18 am |

    I love this post, and I totally agree with Tamara. The only real change I’ve experienced is that I feel more upset about sad stories involving children. I love my daughter *so so much*, but I feel like the same person as I was before she was born.

    I also don’t like the way that this ‘emotionally transformative’ idea creates a special club which anyone who hasn’t had children can’t be part of, because they’ve never felt love like that, and they can’t possibly understand, apparently. You make the point that there are so many different experiences of parenthood – the idea that the world can be divided into ‘parents’ and ‘non-parents’ is just silly.

  5. Jillian
    Jillian April 5, 2012 at 6:34 am |

    Kids totally equal roommates at time. Sometimes they’re fun, other times they’re annoying as hell but there’s this ‘lease’ you have to maintain so you can’t just kick them out.

  6. Falcon
    Falcon April 5, 2012 at 6:44 am |

    You make the point that there are so many different experiences of parenthood – the idea that the world can be divided into ‘parents’ and ‘non-parents’ is just silly.

    I don’t think it is silly at all. It it is a huge deal being a parent. The world divides lots of ways, people with similar experiences will have more in common.

    What I really liked is that she talks about how mommies have different experiences from each other. I had the immediate fierce bonding and think that babies are fun but I am not sure that is a good mommy thing. Good mommies take good care of their babies, you hardly need to be overwhelmed with feeling or transformed for that! You can also feel as loving as possible but if you don’t do the right things it doesn’t matter.

    I am so glad to see that someone understands that things are different if you have a difficult baby!! My first never, ever slept and my second was very content and went to sleep easily. It was like having two different lives.

    I totally understand what she means about it being love like other love. Romantic partners for me are just like sexy friends so, yeah why shouldn’t kids be, “Yes, this is love too”. I have no idea what people even mean by “transformative” in any event. Can anyone explain that to me?(seriously, not a rhetorical question) Certainly things will always be different once you have a kid but *I* am not different. I love them more than I will ever love anything else but I don’t think that is what people mean.

    I often feel like I am missing some basic cultural ideas of what human beings are supposed to be like since I grew up with human shaped objects. Between the lack of example and the PTSD, I think there is stuff I should know that I just don’t get.

  7. Athenia
    Athenia April 5, 2012 at 8:32 am |

    I kinda love how she turns the whole notion of motherhood on its head—like the whole act of motherhood isn’t supposed to be fun, that’s why you are a saint. So what happens when you love being a mother? What if you find motherhood “easy”? How are you going to be a saint then?

    I want to be a mom someday and I worry about whether or not I will hate it, but reading this story gives me hope that perhaps I won’t be doomed to hating poopy diapers.

  8. Azalea
    Azalea April 5, 2012 at 9:08 am |

    Falcon I totally agree. My tots are soooo much fun and being a mother changed me. I couldnt think the way I used to; coming and going as I pleased, no need to childproof shit, et. al. Considering another human being 24/7 365 is a big fucking deal.

    You can love your child and not be a good parent. You can feel indifferent towards your child and take care of all their needs.

  9. auditorydamage
    auditorydamage April 5, 2012 at 10:17 am |

    I have no idea what people even mean by “transformative” in any event.

    I have this unfortunate hunch that it means mom is supposed to become completely and unerringly devoted to her children, sacrificing every pleasure and outlet in her life for the sake of her offspring’s survival and success, and any thought of one’s own needs is Sinful and Wrong and makes the crimethinker a Bad Mother. I’m likely thinking this in reaction to the current backlash against feminism, but there’s this undercurrent of expectation I sense that a woman who gives birth will magically be overwhelmed with self-sacrificing love for her offspring, and thus willingly give up her autonomy and freedom in exchange for The Baybeez. It strikes me as a memetic relative of forced-birth ideology that places women’s needs and wants as individuals as subordinate to their potential offspring’s gestation and birth, and any deviation from this standard as wrong and worthy of ostracism.

    I’d like to think that the transformative love idea comes from people who felt a deep love for, and connection with, a lifeform that they brought into existence, an emotion stronger than any they’d felt before… but I’m forced to wonder how much of this meme evolved out of societal expectations of What Women Are Supposed To Do And, Therefore, Should Feel About Their Destined Role.

    I, as a male, do not recall being subjected to such messages. Why aren’t I expected to have some deep, intrinsic love for my potential offspring?

    Am I overthinking this?

  10. Rob in CT
    Rob in CT April 5, 2012 at 10:27 am |

    Good stuff! I recognize my wife’s reaction to being a mommy (and my own, fwiw) here. We both love our daughter. We did not, immediately upon her birth, fall magically in love with her little baby person, though certainly we had some attachment to her. Neither of us seem to have that personality type or whatever it is that leads to that reaction. We’re not gushy with each other, either.

    I really started enjoying fatherhood once our daughter started having a personality, and actually interacting with us. Now, at age 2, she’s a whole lot of fun. Work too, of course. But fun.

    My wife was happy to go back to work, and I was too after my turn at stay-home-with-the-baby. This is not some sort of failing, and anyone who tells you that is a jerk or a fool. Our daughter is well-loved, and well-cared for (and, thankfully, healthy).

    Regarding this bit in particular:

    I kinda love how she turns the whole notion of motherhood on its head—like the whole act of motherhood isn’t supposed to be fun, that’s why you are a saint. So what happens when you love being a mother? What if you find motherhood “easy”? How are you going to be a saint then?

    This is something I’ve been trying to articulate to people for a while: choosing to have a child is an inherently selfish act (this started as push-back at being accused of selfishness by my mother for not providing said grandchild). Further, this is a Good Thing. Consider the alternative: chosing to have a child because somebody else wants you to. Ick, seriously.

    Accepting the above, of course, removes the BS martyr stuff around parenthood (and yes, particularly motherhood).

    [obviously, the above is all about planned kids, and is inapplicable to surprises]

  11. Lolagirl
    Lolagirl April 5, 2012 at 10:52 am |

    I don’t think it is silly at all. It it is a huge deal being a parent. The world divides lots of ways, people with similar experiences will have more in common.

    I totally agree, becoming a parent is life-changing in some pretty fundamental ways. Discounting that change is what’s silly, especially during the infant stage when a child is so completely and utterly dependant on the parent(s) charged with caring for him or her.

    The thing that’s more important to keep in mind is what one does with that change from non-parent to parent. It doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning friends, interests, careers etc, and it’s wrong-headed to assume that one camp is inherently better or superior to the other. But the truth is that life can not go on as it did before becoming a parent (see above the utter dependancy of children,) and I think that is where both sides of parenthood can get tripped up.

    As far as whether or not becoming a parent, or a mother more specifically, can be transformative I think that can vary depending on one’s personality prior to becoming a parent. Personally, my husband and I were both fiercely independant people prior to having our kids, and we both had bought into the narrative that not much would have to change once the kids were born. But we were both surprised by the rush of emotions and attachment we immediately had to our twins when they were born. That doesn’t mean that every moment since then has been a perfect, shiny happy experience as the actual drudgery part of caring for the kids has kicked in, but I often when I look at my boys I still catch my breath with the overwhelmingness of the love I feel for them.

    So I guess my take on the transformational aspect of parenthood is a more moderate one ?

  12. Falcon
    Falcon April 5, 2012 at 10:57 am |

    @ 10 Ugh! That sounds seriously pathological. If your interests actually conflict with what is good for your kid then of course they take a back seat but nothing but the kid would just be a nightmare for you and the kid!

    Daddies totally fall for their kids like mommies do. Are you not expected to? I thought everyone knew that.

    @11 Yes! I wish people got that is a thing you should do for yourself because you want it, it would help get rid of some of this nonsense around not having kids being selfish. I wish *only* people who wanted kids would have them.
    Of course once you do then you really do have to make decisions around the kids so there is a bit of sacrifice there, but that hardly makes one a martyr or a saint or something.

  13. Donna L
    Donna L April 5, 2012 at 11:14 am |

    I’d like to think that the transformative love idea comes from people who felt a deep love for, and connection with, a lifeform that they brought into existence, an emotion stronger than any they’d felt before… but I’m forced to wonder how much of this meme evolved out of societal expectations of What Women Are Supposed To Do And, Therefore, Should Feel About Their Destined Role.

    I, as a male, do not recall being subjected to such messages. Why aren’t I expected to have some deep, intrinsic love for my potential offspring?

    The thing is, I was assigned male at birth and raised as male, and yet I felt exactly the kind of “deep, intrinsic, love” for my son that you describe, from the first moment I saw and held him a few seconds after he was born, and have been madly in love with him ever since, and have felt that being his parent, and trying to be the best parent I can be, is far and away the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life, each and every day of the last 21+ years — even if I don’t always “like” what he does or how he acts! (Far from it!) And I highly doubt those feelings came from any societal expectations of what Women — or Men — are supposed to feel, regardless of what my gender identity may have been.

    That said, I loved the article. Different people fall madly in love with their children at different times. Or not. And none of it is as important as how you treat them and care for them, anyway. You don’t have to adore every poop, including when it gets sprayed in your face or on the wall, in order to change a diaper.

    Besides, sometimes I wonder if the people who talk most about the transformative love they feel, and everyone supposedly should feel, actually feel it or believe it themselves, as opposed to feeling insecure about their parenting and/or their feelings about their children, and thinking that maybe if they talk about it all the time they’ll convince themselves that they really do feel what they think they’re supposed to feel.

  14. auditorydamage
    auditorydamage April 5, 2012 at 11:28 am |

    @13

    Like I said, maybe I’m reading intentions that aren’t really there. It’s possible the very open, public assault on womens’ bodily autonomy has made me paranoid about the intent of any messaging related to childbirth and childrearing, particularly regarding expectations about how a mother (or any woman, for that matter) is “supposed” to feel, and the pressure that results when that unreasonable expectation isn’t met.

  15. Esti
    Esti April 5, 2012 at 11:48 am |

    I don’t think people critiquing the parent/non-parent dichotomy are saying that parenthood doesn’t change your life, just that it’s not a particularly good metric by which to go around dividing people into two camps. Many parents have more in common with non-parents that are similar to them in other ways, and vice-versa. Many wealthy older professionals with a child would probably have more in common with wealthy older professionals that don’t have children than they would with young low-income parents. Non-parents who provide care to or otherwise have otherwise taken on responsibility for providing for a parent/sibling/friend/significant other probably have more in common with many parents than they do with non-parents who don’t have those same responsibilities.

    That doesn’t mean that being a parent has no impact on your life, just that we as a society have a tendency to view some big divide between parents and non-parents when really, the differences within those groups are probably as great as the differences between them.

  16. Donna L
    Donna L April 5, 2012 at 11:58 am |

    Daddies totally fall for their kids like mommies do. Are you not expected to? I thought everyone knew that.

    Thank you! (I have a comment in moderation saying essentially the same thing in 10 million words, as someone who was certainly socialized to be the former.)

  17. lt
    lt April 5, 2012 at 12:22 pm |

    Thanks for posting this! I’m a new mom (my little one is ten weeks as of today!) and I do feel transformed, but not in a totally uniformly sunshine and roses, kind of way, just that I’m entering a new phase of life, with lots of gains and some losses. Sometimes I don’t know exactly how I feel, which is odd for a person used to over-processing things and never being at a loss for words. Obviously sleep deprivation has something to do with this! It’s so great to hear about the full range of people’s experiences beyond the cliches and oversimplified narratives.

  18. Avida Quesada
    Avida Quesada April 5, 2012 at 12:32 pm |

    I believe this is the eco-feminist quote of the century:

    “And it’s been … exactly the converse, for me. She’s LOTS of fun, but I … have not really been emotionally transformed? God, this sounds bad. I love her so much, but I love her like I love my parents, and my husband, and my best friends, and my 15-year-old mixed breed dog”

    Love,

    Avida

  19. Jennifer
    Jennifer April 5, 2012 at 1:18 pm |

    I liked this too–anything to take on the “parenting is X” beliefs. I was afraid to have kids because of that idea that you become a different person. Who would I be? What if I didn’t like the new me? I don’t feel like I’ve become a different person, though as others have mentioned I do feel more emotional about stories involving kids in distress. I’m also more likely to think of the parents’ perspective on things I hear about.

  20. auditorydamage
    auditorydamage April 5, 2012 at 1:29 pm |

    Donna L:

    I await publication of that response (maybe it will be out of moderation by the time I click “publish”). I certainly didn’t mean to imply that men aren’t taught to love their little ones (although the methods of expressing that love presented always struck me as at odds with what was actually effective), but that the messages I received from the media and society as a whole seemed to be less absolute about the emotional and lifestyle expectations. I certainly never felt pressure from society to give up my career or hobbies or friends should I have chosen to participate in reproduction, and I guess my concern is that the messages about how women are “supposed” to feel carry those unfair implications and expectations that feminists have struggled to squash for decades – they can’t be spoken as openly as they once were, but certain images and ideas can be constructed to imply those unfair, oppressive ideas. There’s also a taint of essentialism around childbirth as “transformative”, as if a similarly powerful sense of love and connection to another lifeform can only be achieved via this one process.

    My own parents were, and are, absolutely incredible. They always taught me to love and care for others, and have never placed any pressure whatsoever on me to produce kids. I don’t know if this is unusual.

    Odd thing, and I don’t know if this exposes my own lack of awareness of pop culture, but I seem to be more likely to see men actively participating in raising kids out on the street than in entertainment or advertising. It’s refreshing, to say the least, because I still find myself asking “where the hell are the men?” in anything promoting baby products or portraying raising little kids. I keep wanting to yell “get your arse in there and help, sperm donor!” at the TV.

  21. Falcon
    Falcon April 5, 2012 at 2:00 pm |

    I still find myself asking “where the hell are the men?” in anything promoting baby products or portraying raising little kids. I keep wanting to yell “get your arse in there and help, sperm donor!” at the TV.

    ROFL Now I want to check out some media. I might have exactly the same reaction.

    You are probably right that there is a lot tied up in the war on women’s health and the way the enemy wants women to view parenting. It just never occurred to me to consider their batshit views.

  22. Lolagirl
    Lolagirl April 5, 2012 at 2:12 pm |

    There’s also a taint of essentialism around childbirth as “transformative”, as if a similarly powerful sense of love and connection to another lifeform can only be achieved via this one process.

    On the one hand I understand the wariness some have where this is concerned. It can be used in a one-upping sort of manner, a sort of more feminine than thou sort of thing.

    On the other hand, it pisses me off because it can also be used to dismiss or undercut the experiences of women during pregnancy and childbirth. Childbirth especially can be such a loaded issue that leads to lots of hurt feelings and misunderstanding. But for so many of us it is a personally transformative experience. The marathon analogy is pretty apt, and for myself and other women I know it does feel like a hugely important thing I achieved in my life.

    That doesn’t mean that I’m judging other women, or whether or not they have birthed a child, or how they went about it, or anything like that, as the saying goes, it’s not about you. I wish it weren’t so terribly difficult to discuss issues surrounding pregnancy and mothering without everyone internalizing and taking personally others opinions or experiences that don’t match up with one’s own.

  23. Falcon
    Falcon April 5, 2012 at 2:30 pm |

    @23 The quote doesn’t make much sense to me. Because childbirth is x other things can’t also be x? That doesn’t follow at all. Why can’t birth and being a daddy and adoption all be x?

    I found giving birth a huge deal. I was all, “Wow, I made a new person, cool!” The whole thing was amazing. Holding the babies after was the best thing ever!

  24. Donna L
    Donna L April 5, 2012 at 3:09 pm |

    There’s also a taint of essentialism around childbirth as “transformative”, as if a similarly powerful sense of love and connection to another lifeform can only be achieved via this one process.

    I agree with comments 23 and 24. Nonetheless, I don’t think it can be denied that there is, in fact, rhetoric out there, beyond even the general rhetoric about the transformativeness of parenting, to the effect that the bond with one’s child created specifically by childbirth is somehow uniquely close and intense, and uniquely transformative. Kind of like the “A+” of the transformativeness world, complete with a prize of a lifetime supply of oxytocin. It’s hard to interpret rhetoric like that as not being inherently exclusivist or triumphalist.

    Naturally, I’m a little sensitive about that kind of thing, as a female parent who did not go through pregnancy or childbirth or breastfeeding (not that I wouldn’t have wished to), and wouldn’t be thought by most people to know anything about how mothers feel at all, but still finds it hard to believe that there isn’t more than one way to get an A+ in love and bonding! And I know that non-parents often feel the same way with respect to parents.

  25. Jamie
    Jamie April 5, 2012 at 3:35 pm |

    I love this!!! And I’ve totally had that roommate.

  26. Lolagirl
    Lolagirl April 5, 2012 at 5:48 pm |

    Nonetheless, I don’t think it can be denied that there is, in fact, rhetoric out there, beyond even the general rhetoric about the transformativeness of parenting, to the effect that the bond with one’s child created specifically by childbirth is somehow uniquely close and intense, and uniquely transformative.

    I think this is by and large a fabricated tension brought about by the greater phemonenon of NYT-type articles that hold up the relatively unique experiences of UMC women as being typical to all combined with a de-contextualization of some women’s opinions and experiences so as to universalize to all. You know, some women actually feel like childbirth and parenting are major, life-changing events! So everyone else must feel that way, or else there must be a huge controversy when everyone doesn’t absolutely agree on this pov!!!

    Like I said, pregnancy and birthing was a huge, big deal to me. Personally. Some of that may have been colored by the fact that I struggled with infertility for years and only became pregnant the first two times after several bouts of IVF. Even getting pregnant in the first place was like an effing marathon, and a huge triumph over crappy circumstances. So I suppose it sort of followed that the next two things were also epic to me.

    I don’t have expectations or care or judge how other women may feel about their own experiences, we all have our own path and our own priorities. And it doesn’t mean that there aren’t other accomplishments in my life that I don’t also consider to be of huge importance.

  27. DonnaL
    DonnaL April 5, 2012 at 7:14 pm |

    Like I said, pregnancy and birthing was a huge, big deal to me.

    Did I suggest that it shouldn’t have been? That was hardly my point. I obviously wasn’t speaking about anything anyone has said on this thread.

    I didn’t think I needed to be *that* explicit about why I’m sensitive to rhetoric that sounds essentialist about the alleged correspondence between childbearing and parental love or bonding. You can dismiss it all as “fabricated tension” as you like, but please don’t try to tell me it doesn’t exist or imply that I’m somehow imagining things.

  28. Lindsay Beyerstein
    Lindsay Beyerstein April 5, 2012 at 7:38 pm |

    The manufactured tension is between the media-fostered perception that all normal mothers fall head-over-heels in love with their babies and the reality that some women do and some don’t.

  29. Lolagirl
    Lolagirl April 5, 2012 at 7:54 pm |

    . You can dismiss it all as “fabricated tension” as you like, but please don’t try to tell me it doesn’t exist or imply that I’m somehow imagining things.

    Sorry, I honestly didn’t intend to dismiss or minimize your opinions. I was simply pointing out how a segment of the popular press likes to play up issues like this. The end result is that this sort of sensationalism pits women against one another in an unfortunate and entirely avoidable manner.

    I agree with you completely that the act of giving birth is not the one and only true way to achieve a loving and bonded parental relationship with one’s child. And it certainly sounds as though you have a very deeply bonded, loving relationship with your own child. The very fact that you (and you millions of other parents, for that matter) have that sort of parent/child relationship is proof that any sort of essentialist rhetoric out there is utter bunk.

    It seems like we are talking across each other, I don’t think I’m articulating my thoughts very well here.

  30. ks
    ks April 5, 2012 at 7:58 pm |

    I always hate those “transformative” narratives around parenting and it is nice to see some push back against it.

    I have two kids, both planned, and both given birth to by me. I love my kids, but I don’t love being the mom. It can be fun, but I still haven’t decided yet if the fun bits outweigh the really, really sucky bits. I don’t, and never did, feel that encompassing, transformative, “mommy love” that we are apparently supposed to feel. And in fact, I feel a deeper love for and connection with my husband than I do with my kids.

    I don’t think any of those feelings make me a bad parent, although I’m sure many, many people would disagree. But I have fun with my kids, I take care of their needs, and I treat them respectfully. They also know that their mom is a person separate from them with a life and needs and wants and all of that and that, much as they *are* loved, they are not the center of my or anyone else’s universe.

  31. DonnaL
    DonnaL April 5, 2012 at 8:39 pm |

    No problem, Lolagirl. I’m sure we don’t really disagree.

  32. Tamara
    Tamara April 5, 2012 at 8:55 pm |

    I definitely feel there is a difference between transformative of one’s life and transformative of one’s personality. Having a child definitely transformed my life, no question, but I don’t think it transformed me s a person much.

  33. Falcon
    Falcon April 5, 2012 at 10:43 pm |

    A+ in love and bonding! And I know that non-parents often feel the same way with respect to parents.

    Why do people decide that if there are different experiences that one must be better than others? As far as parenting goes it is one kind of love. It works for me. I am having an experience I want. Non-parents are not having an experience that they don’t want.

  34. Falcon
    Falcon April 5, 2012 at 11:01 pm |

    I love my kids, but I don’t love being the mom. It can be fun, but I still haven’t decided yet if the fun bits outweigh the really, really sucky bits. I don’t, and never did, feel that encompassing, transformative, “mommy love” that we are apparently supposed to feel. And in fact, I feel a deeper love for and connection with my husband than I do with my kids.

    Wow, that must be really hard. If you don’t love it and the sucky bits turn out to outweigh the good bits you still can’t change like careers or marriages(or almost anything else!). I can’t see any reason why that makes you a bad mommy, treating them well is the important thing. The overwhelming love doesn’t make you a good mommy, it makes it easier to deal with the hard stuff and more pleasant for you. Grrr, now I am mad at anyone who tells you you are a bad mommy.

  35. bleh
    bleh April 6, 2012 at 1:44 am |

    “Non-parents are not having an experience that they don’t want”

    Child-free people are experiencing the types of love that they want. Fixed all that non, no, not negative language for you.

  36. Past my expiration date
    Past my expiration date April 6, 2012 at 4:39 am |

    Having a child definitely transformed my life, no question, but I don’t think it transformed me s a person much.

    I think that being a parent has certainly transformed me as a person. That is, I am a different person from ten years ago, before I was a parent. But I think that I would also be a different person from ten years ago if I had done something else instead — just a different different person. (Um.)

    1. Tamara
      Tamara April 6, 2012 at 5:17 am |

      I see your point! Our experiences affect us on an ongoing basis. However, I think what people mean is that parenthood transforms you in some special way, and I don’t think that happened to me.

  37. Laura C
    Laura C April 6, 2012 at 9:21 am |

    I remember talking to someone who was in the process of deciding not to have kids in a social world (the rural south) in which that was NOT a typical or even really ok decision, and the main reason she cited was that everyone tells you you’ve never loved anyone like you’ll love your kid, it’ll take over everything — and she was like “but I love my husband so much, I don’t want to love someone else more.” Which was simultaneously a really brave thing for a southern woman to say or maybe even admit to herself, and also another way of saying that ideas about what it is to be a parent in our culture are really restrictive.

  38. peregrin8
    peregrin8 April 6, 2012 at 9:41 am |

    I don’t think it can be denied that there is, in fact, rhetoric out there, beyond even the general rhetoric about the transformativeness of parenting, to the effect that the bond with one’s child created specifically by childbirth is somehow uniquely close and intense, and uniquely transformative. Kind of like the “A+” of the transformativeness world, complete with a prize of a lifetime supply of oxytocin. It’s hard to interpret rhetoric like that as not being inherently exclusivist or triumphalist.

    Oh hell yes — thank you so much for this! It is definitely not just a media fabrication. I’m over 40 and childless by choice, and boy howdy have I had a few moms over the years tell me that there’s nothing else remotely like maternal love and rapture & that it can’t even be explained to someone who is just sadly missing out on this unique, superior life experience. I’ve started to jokingly equate childbirth with prison and ‘Nam (“How many Vietnam War vets does it take to change a lightbulb? / You weren’t there, man! You don’t know!”)

    (Disclaimer: I also know many lovely moms who have never even implied anything remotely like that.)

  39. Donna L
    Donna L April 6, 2012 at 11:50 am |

    Oh hell yes — thank you so much for this! It is definitely not just a media fabrication. I’m over 40 and childless by choice, and boy howdy have I had a few moms over the years tell me that there’s nothing else remotely like maternal love and rapture & that it can’t even be explained to someone who is just sadly missing out on this unique, superior life experience.

    I’m sorry you ever have to deal with that. And it happens even among those who do have children: I’ve heard more than one woman say that it’s impossible for fathers to love their children as deeply as mothers do, and have heard others say that it’s impossible for mothers who didn’t go through childbirth to love their children as deeply as those who did. There are women who’ve said directly to me that I can’t possibly understand how any mother feels because I didn’t give birth to my son; of course, in my case, that usually goes along with “and because you’re a man anyway and always will be no matter what, so how could you possibly feel what we feel, and besides that you murdered your son’s father and you’re deluding yourself if you think he really accepts you,” and so on. (The fact that those sentiments are somewhat contradictory never stopped anyone, of course.)

    Why do people create hierarchies like that, and feel the need to justify themselves by asserting the primacy of their own experience? I wish I had a good answer.

  40. peregrin8
    peregrin8 April 6, 2012 at 11:59 am |

    Donna L, how awful! I’m really sorry you have had to deal with THAT.

    Why do people create hierarchies like that, and feel the need to justify themselves by asserting the primacy of their own experience? I wish I had a good answer.

    Likewise! I try to have compassion for them and think of it as coming from their own insecurity/unhappiness, but still, they needn’t try to spread the wealth.

  41. Athenia
    Athenia April 6, 2012 at 2:03 pm |

    This also reminds me of a story my mom told me where a friend of the family adopted a baby. The wife confided to my mom that she didn’t feel particularly “in love” with her new baby. My mom responded that giving birth doesn’t automatically mean that you have automatic love either, that the kid still needs to grow on you too. Well, at least, that was her experience.

  42. EG
    EG April 6, 2012 at 5:19 pm |

    My mother has told me that becoming a mother changed the essence of who she was/is as a person, but she never indicated that childbirth was the key factor there, rather than actually, well, going from being a person who was not a parent to a person who was a parent. And in her circumstances, given how unhappy she’d been as a daughter, I think it was a very welcome change.

    Personally, the love I feel for the children I’ve cared for is qualitatively different than other love in that it fits popular notions of enduring romantic love (without the eroticism, I hope I need not add) far more closely than any other love I’ve felt, and that I am as certain as I can be that I would give my life to protect them. I don’t think I feel that way about anybody else. But obviously, that’s a personal variation, not some kind of overarching Truth For Everybody.

  43. EG
    EG April 6, 2012 at 5:23 pm |

    And since I’ve never given birth, but I do feel kind of love, obviously I cannot sign on to the “childbirth is the essence of overwhelming love” canard.

    I cannot help but feel that it is in some ways a reaction to the traditional disgust for and devaluation of women’s bodies, in much the same way the “breastfeeding for every baby all the time or you are BAD” rhetoric is. That doesn’t make it less hurtful or essentialist, obviously. I just hear the same kind of defensiveness in the judgment.

  44. Donna L
    Donna L April 6, 2012 at 6:00 pm |

    Personally, the love I feel for the children I’ve cared for is qualitatively different than other love in that it fits popular notions of enduring romantic love (without the eroticism, I hope I need not add) far more closely than any other love I’ve felt, and that I am as certain as I can be that I would give my life to protect them. I don’t think I feel that way about anybody else. But obviously, that’s a personal variation, not some kind of overarching Truth For Everybody.

    Agreed in every respect, although the only child I’ve cared for happens to be my own. Whether my feeling that way about him is an entirely good thing, and whether the fact that I haven’t felt quite that way at any point in the two long-term romantic relationships I’ve had is a sad commentary on those relationships, I couldn’t say.

  45. maggiemay
    maggiemay April 6, 2012 at 6:23 pm |

    i have 2 admit i did experience that whole melty love thing when my daughter was a newborn—but it didnt change who i was as a person

  46. Bridget
    Bridget April 6, 2012 at 9:47 pm |

    Interesting discussion. I’m weird, and I tried to prepare myself for the possibility of *not* feeling the transformative love thing, because I didn’t want to feel guilty if I didn’t feel it. But I totally felt it. My son was taken to the NICU right after birth. I waited twelve hours to hold him, and when I finally did, it was an intense moment that I have a hard time describing. I don’t know, though, if my anxiety and concern for his health was a big factor in that.

    I love him in a way I’ve never loved anyone, it is similar to what DonnaL describes. I’ve had a cat for years, and before my son was born I thought I really, really loved my cat. But after he was born I realized the love for my cat was, like, a hundredth of the amount of love I feel for my kid.

    It was difficult to have this immense love for someone so tiny and fragile. That was the toughest part of the transformative love thing for me. Now that he’s a bit bigger and sturdier I can breathe somewhat easier.

  47. librarygoose
    librarygoose April 6, 2012 at 11:11 pm |

    And since I’ve never given birth, but I do feel kind of love, obviously I cannot sign on to the “childbirth is the essence of overwhelming love” canard.

    I get this. I spend an ungodly amount of time caring for my sister’s kids. Not to brag, my niece once told me she loved me more than her daddy, (lies, he’s a useless asshole, I am bragging). I also love my cat, but if it ever came down to it, I think I could kill the cat with out blinking* if I needed to for her or her brother. But I have never given birth, so my actual experience is not the same.

    *(I’d sob later though.)

  48. DonnaL
    DonnaL April 6, 2012 at 11:30 pm |

    I think I could kill the cat with out blinking

    Good God, can you please not think up horrible false dichotomies about having to kill a pet in order to save your niece?

    I’m sure there are more pleasant ways to talk about how much you love her!

  49. DonnaL
    DonnaL April 6, 2012 at 11:31 pm |

    I’m sure false dichotomy is not the correct term. But I think you understand my point.

  50. librarygoose
    librarygoose April 7, 2012 at 12:29 am |

    My point was that I don’t really find the loves comparable. Weirdly enough, it came to me because I have had to think that thought, a huge dog got into my yard and it was shut the gate quickly and keep my niece safe while my dog was mauled or just run forward and grab my dog but leave my niece alone. I chose to close the fence. Luckily my dog hid, but I still made the choice. So I never meant it to be gruesome, more of a thing that could happen.

  51. Falcon
    Falcon April 7, 2012 at 2:34 am |

    Good God, can you please not think up horrible false dichotomies about having to kill a pet in order to save your niece?

    I think it makes the point nicely. “I love this person so much I would even do X!” is a pretty common way to express extremes of feeling. I say “I’d walk away from a chance to send Bush/Cheney to the Hague to keep my kids safe”.

    Sadly people do have to give up beloved pets for allergic/asthmatic kids and when they can’t be placed they have to be put down. It really sucks. Odds are no one will ever have to kill a cat or dog to use it as a weapon against storm troopers to protect a kid but sometimes you have to to keep the kid from suffocating. It is like being willing to kill a person to protect a kid you are close to (not that the pets are at fault) very rarely a parent(or someone else close to the kid) has to deal with an assailant and actually does need to kill someone.

  52. Falcon
    Falcon April 7, 2012 at 4:11 am |

    @36 Actually I think that avoiding experiences you want to not have is as important as having the ones that you do want to have. Yes I assume people are having all sorts of experiences they want but that wasn’t the point I was making. I am having an experience I want is a different statement from I am not having an experience that I do not want. I don’t have cats, I enjoy not having cats. Saying that I enjoy other pets or people does not get to the point that I enjoy not having cats, or having no cats, whatever. Negative language is *useful*.

    What I want people to understand(and agree with) is that it is ok to like not having any children in addition to everything else that you like about your life. People seem to think that there is something wrong with that.

    I’ve started to jokingly equate childbirth with prison and ‘Nam (“How many Vietnam War vets does it take to change a lightbulb? / You weren’t there, man! You don’t know!”)

    Oh God! That is hilarious.
    “Unique and superior.” Of course they are defining superior as the thing they like best, you may not turn out to have a taste for this superior experience. The thing that I keep seeing is this logic fail:

    My kid being born was the best thing in my life therefore having a baby is the best thing that could happen to anyone.

    That just doesn’t follow. Maybe people should just get better at talking about their own experiences without trying to make these universals.

    Seriously, wtf is with the way people talk to you and Donna L and I am sure tons of other people? I just want to make people be transgender for a while just for starters and then maybe infertile and gay and disabled and… so that they think about what comes out of their mouths.

    DonnaL so you started out as your kids daddy and now he has 2 mommas? I am sorry people are assholes about it, you didn’t kill anyone, you aren’t a man and they are mean. Your son will grow up with a better idea of how complicated gender is and how to treat people. How are things going with his other mom? How old was your son when you realized that you were actually a woman and started becoming visibly one?(feel free to correct me if I am phrasing things wrong). How old is he now and is he accepting? If so I don’t think there is any reason to think you are deluding yourself. It sounds confusing and hard but like something a good family can manage.

    I hope the way I talk about trans stuff around my kids is helpful. I sometimes use XX and XY To make distinctions when talking because man and woman isn’t binary and I tell my kids things like, “Some people aren’t the same sex they were born with on the outside”, they are getting older so I can give them better explanations now. I love that people are finally getting the idea that penis=man vulva=woman and not some set of stupid gender roles but even that isn’t true argh!

    My big daughter is 19 so I explained trying to plan event rules with “all women are all allowed at everything with clothes, shut up if you are a bigot” with some nude space for all women and some nude space for only women with vulvae.

  53. DonnaL
    DonnaL April 7, 2012 at 4:54 pm |

    DonnaL so you started out as your kids daddy and now he has 2 mommas? . . .

    As briefly as I can to avoid de-railing, the awful comments I got like that were mostly back when I first came out to my son and then transitioned, when he was 14 and 15. He always accepted me as who I am (not that I’ll pretend it was always so easy for him to get used to and cope with) — although I’m sure the fact that I completely and immediately accepted him when he came out to me as gay at the age of 12 didn’t hurt — and I couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome; we’ve remained as close as we ever were, throughout. Now he’ll be 22 in a few days, and will graduate from college in a couple of months. All is well between us!

    And I never really believed all those horrible comments. After all, he’s my child. I knew him; they didn’t. I never actually thought for one moment that it was even conceivable that he would reject me. (As much as I’m aware that that happens, all too often.)

    Had I transitioned when he was considerably younger I imagine that I simply would have been his second mom, but the very first thing he asked me after I told him when he was 14 that I was planning to transition (he had already guessed I was trans, much earlier) was “is it OK if I still call you Dad?” How could I have deprived him of that? That kind of continuity was the least I could give him, and the least he deserved. So although when we’re out together people assume I’m his mom and we don’t correct them, he continues to call me Dad in private (except when he’s chastising me and calls me Donna), and I’m fine with that. As I’ve probably said before, it’s an entirely non-gendered word for us, just a three-letter word that simply means “you’re still mine, still the same person you’ve always been.”

    My former spouse and I are civil, but we communicate only about him, and the older he gets the less necessary it becomes. Although he wants us to sit together at his graduation.

    All of that said, I probably identify as both father and mother if that’s understandable; I’m certainly always comfortable and at home in talking with mothers, and don’t believe for a moment that my parental feelings — in degree or in nature — are any different from theirs.

  54. Falcon
    Falcon April 8, 2012 at 4:18 am |

    Oops sorry, I did get off topic.

    Glad things are going well with your son!

  55. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie April 9, 2012 at 3:57 am |

    Childbirth IS an amazing experience. Amazing, frightening, infuriating, miraculous, aand not like any other physical experience there is.

  56. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig April 9, 2012 at 10:52 am |

    Jennifer: I’m scared to have kids, because I’ve already destroyed my personality once, and having to create a new personality out of scratch is difficult. I’m not doing that again, especially if the new personality has to be a Stepford wife. Plus I *hated* myself as a kid.

  57. Andie
    Andie April 9, 2012 at 11:48 am |

    I’ll say childbirth was transformative.. my abdominals ain’t been the same since..

    But seriously, folks. I fall into the ‘I love my kids, would probably throw myself in front of a train for them’ category but becoming a parent was a fairly underwhelming experience. Love my kids, don’t always love being a parent. And I don’t necessarily think that child-birth and parenting are the be-all end-all of life-changing experiences. Hell, my separation and divorce did more to change me for the better than becoming a parent did.

    As far as the whole ‘You can’t know, you haven’t given birth’ b.s., people even say that about people who have had c-sections as opposed to vaginal births. Really? I love my kid less because I was asleep when she was born? I don’t think so.

  58. Falcon
    Falcon April 10, 2012 at 4:28 am |

    @58 Could you explain that? How did you end up making a personality?

    I ended up making myself one as a young adult because I was such a mess after my childhood that I decided to pick traits of what I wanted to be like. I was afraid otherwise I’d end up being abusive or abused and besides there wasn’t anything to me but PTSD, I had to read and watch other people to find out how to be a human being. It worked though, I am a mess but I have a personality.

    Mind sharing how you made yours and why you think a baby would kill it?

  59. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig April 10, 2012 at 7:31 pm |

    Falcon: Well, from eight on, I was pretty much cycling from one medication to another. The person I was on ritalin was very different from the original person, so it was easy to start from that stage and continue on with a personality tear-down. Then I started getting a lot more fit- I talked myself out of hating gym, started bicycling, and eventually took up karate. Then I got off the heavier anti-depressants.
    I observed the people around me, but kept from forming many real life attachments; during high school, most of my friends were online. Online friendships were harmless, real friendships were impossible. The odds were that the people around me were just pretending and would betray me at a later date, so I didn’t feel any need to waste my time. Everyone around me was addled by hormones, so it was easy to stay aloof.
    By college, I was more or less the fearless bad ass loner chick who hated almost everything the child version had loved. Most of my friends believe I am very together, despite my difficulty in mastering most adult tasks. I feel no need to enlighten them.
    I continue with the personality of a bad-ass loner now, including haunting various rock clubs to get my fix (good music is better then any SSRI.)
    I’ve finally gotten to some point of stability, and I feel that having a kid would destroy that and send me back to square one. Plus, they’d probably be prone to all sorts of disorders, due to my genetics*, and I’d rather not create any bully magnets.
    * I also will be likely to produce kids with red hair. I think red hair is cute, but to kids in primary school it’s a bully beacon.

  60. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig April 11, 2012 at 10:09 pm |

    And.. ask a simple question, get a simple novel. Sorry about that.

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