Not Another Guilty Mother

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Despite the claims made by Claire Howorth in her TIME cover article on mothers’ widespread guilt, it is not the judgy mother-in-law or nosy barista who are to blame for mothers’ ongoing frustration over, and shame about, the gap between their mothering desires and their mothering realities.

Howorth reports that women have been duped by what she terms the Goddess Myth into wanting to both deliver their babies without medical intervention and to breastfeed their babies – and then are made to feel guilt and shame over not succeeding at those pursuits. The reality is, we afford mothers limited options in this country, and we need to acknowledge the very real frustration mothers encounter when their desire for, say, an unmedicated delivery is steamrolled by a medical industrial complex plagued by over-intervention, or when their own body confidence during delivery is undermined by a women-phobic culture, or when their breastfeeding plans are derailed by a mother-unfriendly workplace. We error in believing that 1 out of 3 women are choosing cesarean delivery, or that fewer than 1 in 5 mothers are choosing to breastfeed for their baby’s first year. In a society like ours, where mothers’ options for unmedicated delivery and successful breastfeeding are limited, the language of individual choice (and personal guilt) obscures the very reality that mothers’ needs and desires are not being met. Mothers’ need to stop feeling guilty, and begin feeling angry.

Motherhood is not, as Howorth claims, a uniquely individual experience. It is instead a collective one, and one that 4 out of 5 women have or will experience in their lifetime; one where women’s voices should be heard and their needs met. Reducing motherhood to merely a personal experience means we stop listening to mothers, and we miss seeing our culture’s widespread lack of support for them: everything from insurance refusal to cover birth attendants, to paltry family leave policies, to costly day care, to mother-unfriendly workplaces. We also risk overlooking how limited options constrain the choices mothers can make and shape the experiences they have. Most importantly, we hamper our ability to see mothers’ frustration as a social issue, and as a result, mothers feel guilty instead of outraged.

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