Last week we gave you part one of Marriage and Early Motherhood, a two-part interview series where I get to pepper Meg with questions about her thoughts on choosing to have kids, being pregnant, and her perspective on the past few months of being a new mom. While the idea for this feature might have been ours (well, mine. I possibly harassed Meg into talking more about motherhood in one post than she probably plans to for the rest of time), the content is decidedly yours. The questions we’re asking were sourced from the almost five hundred comments you left in our open thread on the same subject back in March. And man are they good ones. If I’m being honest, part two is my favorite half of the interview, because today we get at some of the more taboo topics in motherhood—the stuff we aren’t talking about in a lot of other places: bodies, support systems, and the pressure for motherhood to be an all-consuming force. So if you missed part one, go check it out and come back. If you’re here for round two, let’s dig in.
Cage Match: My Thighs vs. Awesome Baby
Maddie: Ok, I just want to throw a few words out there and have you respond to them. I want to hear you talk about vanity. Because I feel like there is a lot that goes into, just, body stuff.
Meg: I think people are kind of ashamed to say that they have issues around vanity. And I mean, I think humans do. I don’t even think that’s something just women do. I gained more than forty percent of my body weight during pregnancy, and I was not made to feel awesome about that by the medical establishment. I did not do anything funny; that’s just what my body wanted to put on. I then turned around and it is almost all gone, I have a four-month-old, and I have not spent an inordinate amount of time at the gym. In fact, I could not go to the gym until week twelve because of medical stuff. So, my point there is not that you should be required to lose all of your pregnancy weight. If you can’t breastfeed, for example, it’s just going to take a long time. My point is the human body is way more resilient than we’re led to believe.
That said, there are parts of your body that will never be the same. There are things that’ll never be the same, but I hear people talking about it like that’s a reason to stop themselves from having kids if they otherwise want to. My problem with that is not the vanity, because you’re allowed the vanity. My problem with that is that shit’s going to happen anyway because you’re going to get older. So if you want to have kids, the idea that you would, like, worry that your boobs aren’t gonna look as awesome? Newsflash, your boobs are not going to look as awesome. That train has already left the station. So, there are parts of your body that will never look the same, though for me it hasn’t been terrifically extreme. I don’t want to say this in a minimizing your fears kind of way, but it literally is like, I look at my thighs and think, “I have a lot of stretch marks,” and then I look at my baby and think, “There is a new human being who lives here who is awesome.” I’m not saying I don’t have huge amounts of vanity like everybody else, but you can’t even compare. I’m like, “My thighs vs. awesome baby? Whatever, I’m going to buy a different swimsuit this year. Moving on.”
Everything Will Change…Right?
Maddie: Okay, so the other word. Motherhood and identity and all that goes with it. Motherhood and identity. I feel like you have a lot to say about motherhood, so I’m not even going to ask you a question.
Meg: Not everyone shares my opinion on this, but I do not feel like I have a new identity. At all. Period. The interesting thing about this is there are a lot of very smart women in my life who I’m very close to and respect a ton who have really felt like motherhood sort of internally rebuilt them. And I do not feel like that. I feel like I am exactly the person I was before I had the baby. I just now have a baby and in a lot of ways—and I don’t mean this in an everyone should have a baby sort of way at all—but the change for me is that I feel like I have a richer and deeper interior life than I did. I would say that I’m happier than I was, but you know, my interests are not any different. And my identity is not any different. And if I can say that now, when I am still deeply in the thrall of hormones, then that is a pretty radical thing to say. Because I think often your identity really shifts when you’re in the thrall of the hormones, and then by the time you’re the parent of a twelve-year-old, you’re not—I have friends who are parents of twelve-year-olds because, again, people we know got pregnant right after high school—by the time you kid is thirteen, you’re not like, “My identity revolves around my teenager.” But I didn’t even really experience that in the short term. Your mileage may vary, however.
Maddie: What about the flipside? Maybe it’s because, I dunno, I’m a couple years behind, or because of where I lived, or whatever, but on the flip side, I feel this extreme pressure to, if we do have a kid one day, to make it sort of no big deal. I did the same thing with my marriage where I was like, “Just married, no big deal. I think I like this guy, he’s okay,” kind of thing. And I’m afraid that I will be…
Meg: Why is that?
Maddie: I think it’s a rejection of the cultural narrative that it’s this huge, life altering…
Meg: …everything will change.
Maddie: Yes, exactly. So I feel like I need to say, “Nope, all the same here. Fine and dandy.” And I don’t know if that’s something that will change, or if I’m shooting myself in the foot with that.
Meg: I think you have to allow for the fact that things change. My identity has not shifted, but that doesn’t mean that all kinds of things haven’t changed. You know, there’s a whole new person in our lives. So, I think it’s a little bit of a balance. I also think that I’m in a weird situation in terms of identity, because super weirdly to me—because friends of ours had kids twelve and thirteen years ago—but super weirdly to me we are young within our friends circle to have kids, young within the greater Bay Area professional scene to have kids. In David’s office, the people who have kids the same age as ours are partners in their early forties. So, I’ve been in this weird situation where I roll up to daycare and I’m wearing some—David always mocks me that I’m wearing some trendy crap. I’m wearing like, Hunter wellies and patterned tights and a jean skirt and a striped shirt. And everyone else is noticeably older and wearing office clothes. There really can be this sort of mismatch, I feel like I look like the babysitter. Which is ridiculous because I’m thirty-two. So it can be sort of interesting the ways your identity maybe doesn’t shift, and then how you relate to other parents. I haven’t figured that part out yet. At all.
How We Stay Sane
Maddie: One thing I want to talk about is this idea of support. Because I feel like there is this myth of you and your partner, and that’s it, and you just do this. And I’ve noticed just by spending time with you—you have a pretty big support system.
Meg: Maddie knows that because she had my baby at her farm all day on Saturday. And she couldn’t do it alone at her farm.
Maddie: I couldn’t!
Meg: She had a husband and a roommate and a box of Chicken in a Bisket. And a dog.
Maddie: So true.
Meg: I think support is the most key thing to talk about. I’m going to go out on a limb and say you can’t do this and stay sane if you don’t have a lot of support. And I don’t mean that that support has to come in a particular form. We have not paid for babysitting—I wrote my first babysitting check yesterday. And I have a four-month-old. And we don’t have family in the area. We just have a lot of friends that really stepped up. There’s this idea with weddings that maybe you think that people want to support you, but they don’t. And I’ve found that with having a baby, people genuinely do want to support you. Babies are cute, so that helps.
Your support may look like paying someone. It may look like having family in the area. It may look like just having friends you can call. But we needed so much support. People brought us meals for a month. We had someone that lived nearby that we could call at two in the morning to bring us stuff from the house when we ended up in the hospital. We had people that were willing to help us throw the Bris. We have people that come over and get us out of the house. And I think that the modern idea that you can do this on your own—I sort of wonder if that isn’t where a lot of the real crazy-making comes in. Because I think you can totally be a parent and be sane, but if you are trying to be a parent and be sane without drawing on support—whether that’s your church or our family or your friends or someone you pay—then it’s going to be really hard. And I would not still be sane.
Maddie: And I’m curious, just because I know, but I don’t think the readers will know, how much of that support has come from people with kids themselves?
Meg: Oh! Almost none of our local friends have kids. People always talk about—and this was a question I saw pop up a lot in the comments, was like, “How will this affect your relationship with your friends without kids?”—most of our friends don’t have kids. This has been amazing. Yes, we get invited out less, but we get supported more, so I think we’ve actually gotten closer to people, even if we’re out less. But because a lot of our friends don’t have kids, they’re super willing and often super eager to babysit, to hang out with him, to make meals. They’re not completely absorbed by their own life with kids. I think it will shape up differently when our friends have kids—we’ll know the kind of support they need—but I would say almost all our support has come from friends without kids.
Role Models Of A Different Sort
Maddie: What’s the biggest lie you think you were fed? From deciding through now?
Meg: I just thought, on some level, that my entire life would change and I would have to give up all of the stuff that mattered. That was not my conscious philosophy, but I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to avoid it. And that has just one hundred percent not been true. I mean, I don’t want to say that it’s easy or you get the same amount of sleep or whatever. But we’ve already taken him to Salt Lake City. We’ve booked international tickets for his first birthday (we’ll see how that goes). We still read every night. We didn’t for a while, but now we read every night in bed. We still watch the same shows that we’ve always watched. And again, it’s that you’re going to sacrifice some things, but whatever the core things that you decide are really important to you, you have an opportunity to not sacrifice. Certainly if you are able to work out a balance, where you have some sort of support. If you don’t have any support and you’re doing it one hundred percent by yourself, I don’t know. I can’t speak to that. I think it’s going to be a lot harder.
Maddie: When I hear you talk, I feel like you represent a new narrative that I’ve never heard before. And I’ve said this before, but watching you interact, watching you while we were at Alt, interacting with other mothers and still looking like people, it was life altering for me. And I’m curious if—one of the questions that was asked in the open thread was whether or not you feel pressured to do things a certain way, like family pressure to not hold the baby a certain way. But I’m curious if you feel pressure to be a role model against the popular cultural narrative, and to do things like write for a certain group of people.
Meg: I have felt a tremendous amount of pressure to write about motherhood publicly. I think if you are a public woman who writes, and you become a mother, there is a tremendous amount of pressure to change your professional identity so that it revolves around being a mother. And I have really no interest in doing that. Some of that is because I just want to keep private things private, and some of it is because it’s very political for me that being a mother isn’t the thing that defines my professional life. It doesn’t define David’s professional life, why should it define mine? So in that sense I do feel a lot of pressure—that people want to know what’s going on with me, either because they want me to be a role model or because they want to judge me. And I’m just sort of not interested. This interview is probably the most anyone’s ever going to get from me on the subject.
Maddie: Do you think that is more or less dangerous or on equal footing with this myth of the mom with spitup in her hair who can’t keep her shit together?
Meg: I don’t find it dangerous. I felt like I was only able to move forward with being a mother because I watched people that I am five years younger than, like Maggie Mason, I’ve watched how she navigated motherhood for the past five years. And I now know her personally, but I was watching very closely from the time that she got pregnant on, when I certainly did not know her personally. So for me it was super important to have role models for being able to do it differently, and being able to still be happy and be professionally fulfilled. There are so few of those, or there were so few of those for me, that I think that is really important.
And while I’m not interested in being a role model, I don’t think that being professionally fulfilled and being happy as a mother is necessarily far-fetched at all. It’s just that there is not a lot of messaging that it’s possible. There isn’t a lot of messaging around key things, like you need to have support, you need to work really hard to have an egalitarian relationship before you go into it, you don’t have to give everything up. So I think just those sort of basic broad strokes messaging, if there were more of it, I think a lot of us would feel like it was easier to make decisions that made us happy.
What If We Said, “I’m A Good Mom Because…” Instead?
Maddie: Do you have anything else you want to say?
Meg: There is this idea that you can’t be happy as a mother unless motherhood consumes you, so you’re either going to be really unhappy or you’re going to lose yourself. And I just found that not to be true. Again, everyone’s going to react differently. So I don’t know what will happen for someone else, but I feel like I am happier now than I was before and that feels fairly radical to me, because I didn’t give up my career or I didn’t give up the rest of my life. There’s this message that you’re not going to be able to have it all: if you’re happy with your kid, you’re not going to be happy with your professional life. If you’re happy with your professional life, you’re not going to be happy with your kid. That messaging isn’t out there for men, and I feel like it’s really just fear-mongering for women, and that I’ve been able to be really happy with both in this very early part of motherhood, at least. And nothing is perfect. Like, I miss my kid when he’s at daycare and sometimes I miss my work when I’m with my kid, and that’s because I’m lucky enough to have a kid that I love and work that I love, so some part of me wants to be doing both things constantly because I like them both. And I can’t. So there’s always trade offs. And I’m tired and whatever. So it’s not perfect. But I just think that it’s a total myth that you can’t be happy with both.
Then the other thing that I would throw out there is that I’ve made a really conscious effort to not ever say, “I’m a bad mom.” That phrase is so much the part of the cult of motherhood, that when you’re out with mothers, if you took a drink every time someone said, “I’m a bad mother,” you would be plastered within an hour. And “I’m a bad mom” is sort of this meme for: you’re a bad mom if you’re interested in something besides your kid. You’re a bad mom if you’re bored by an infant sometimes. You’re a bad mom if you wish you were back at work. You’re a bad mom if you want to take a shower. And I think all of that is ridiculous. Wanting to be a fully-fledged human being and a mother does not make you a bad mother. I think arguably it has the potential to make you a better mother because you’re a happy person. And then you’re raising your child as a person and not as a mother. So I really make an effort never to say that. Also because, I’m the only mom he’s got! So I better just be imperfect, right? I just am what I am.
Top photo taken by Elizabeth Clayton of Lowe House Events, second photo by me while traveling with Meg to Alt