As the US media hypes modern mothers’ obsession with perfection, mum of two, Clara Hugh ponders the pressure we’re under as mums-to-be
My about-to-drop friend Sara thinks she’s losing it. “I keep forgetting where I’ve put things,” she complained the other day. “And when I was out shopping in Soho I threw my purse in the bin and went home with an empty sandwich packet in my bag.”
The excitement of waiting for the ‘big day’ sent me into a similarly bizarre twilight zone. My Filofax would end up in the fridge. An Eastenders scene featuring Phil Mitchell bonding with his son Ben would send me into floods of tears. And then there was that time that, perplexed by the rancid aroma lurking in the kitchen one day, my hubby and I searched only to find some rotting salmon I’d stashed in the cupboard a couple of days earlier.
“It only gets worse after their born,” said my sister-in-law, a seasoned mother of three, “when you’re not getting enough sleep.”
Add sleep deprivation to the hormonal turmoil brought on by pregnancy and childbirth and what you get, according to media pundits in the US, is ‘Mommy Madness’. Rather than any kind of general ditziness, though this new phenomenon is more to do with crazy behaviour resulting from harbouring the impossible desire to be a perfect mummy. And it is US author Judith Warner’s new book Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, which has inspired this newly coined condition.
According to Warner, modern mums are driving themselves loopy in their quest to be perfect. A mum’s descent to dribbledom, she maintains, starts the day she finds out she’s pregnant and deepens as she tried, post-birth, to juggle career and relationships with being an immaculate, cookie-baking alpha mum.
When I found out I was pregnant with my first son I was half-way through a bottle of wine. My husband and I were tipsy and chatting about the possibility that we might one day be parents. All of a sudden we were en route to the nearby all-night supermarket to buy a test. When it showed positive we just stared at each other in shock and went quiet. It took 4 more tests for us to actually believe it was true.
From that moment I was overwhelmed with the desire to ‘do the right thing’ in pregnancy. But with advice from medics, relatives, friends and even strangers about what I should and shouldn’t do, what ‘the right thing’ was, ended up being a bit blurred. For example, the ‘don’t drink any alcohol’ warnings are as rife as ‘two units a week is ok’. And while pregnancy manuals say to avoid unpasteurised goats’ cheese for fear of getting listeria, preggers ladies in France wolf it down regardless.
The mixed messages continued after the birth. Pictures of the likes of Victoria Beckham, flat-stomached just weeks after giving birth, sat on the same newsstand as mags containing articles touting the ‘nine months on, nine months off” weight rule.
The truth is, what’s right and wrong about how to conduct ourselves during pregnancy, parenthood and beyond is entirely subjective and luckily, us Brits (neurotic celebrities aside) aren’t too obsessed with perfection. So here’s hoping ‘Mommy Madness’ won’t take off in the UK.
As for me, I might be back into my skinny jeans 10 weeks after the birth of my second son but there’s a long way to go before I can reduce the ‘muffin top’ effect caused by the slightly-too-tight, low-slung waistband. The good news is that the latest from the catwalk says high waistbands are back this winter: what nature can’t flatten, fashion can hide.
“My tummy snapped back flat-as-a-pancake after my babies were born,” said my mother-in-law the other day, frowning at my doughy midriff as I relayed this news while reaching for another Green & Black’s organic chocolate-covered almond.
“So who was that curvy woman who looked like you in my baby photos then?” asked my husband in my defence.
Now if delusional mother-in-laws come under the ‘Mommy Madness’ remit, maybe there’s a UK market for it after all.
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