The circles of women around us weave invisible nets of love that carry us when we’re weak and sing with us when we are strong.
It is a time that many women dream of. A time when we imagine we will walk side-by-side with our mothers, sisters, and friends on cool fall and spring days; a time that we can imagine laughing and crying together over our ever-expanding figures and our newly-shaped bodies. Motherhood is imagined as a beautiful time – and with a new baby in arms, it is unlike any other. Unfortunately, modern society does not provide the support network that new mothers need. In an article written in 2015, Texas-based psychologist Ann Dunnewold stated that “Becoming a mother is a major transition.… New Mothers give up autonomy, sleep and relationships to tend to the relentless needs of a baby” (qtd. In Hsieh).
Our own mothers might be surprisingly unsympathetic to our self-curated sorrow. They were new mothers once, too, so their attitudes might be for us to just pull it all together. While all new mothers have their challenges (extremes, like motherhood in war, aside), modern society in America has created quite the imbalance for new mama mental health. Pew Research states “Over the past 20 years, highly educated women have experienced particularly dramatic increases in motherhood. In 2014, 80% of women ages 40 to 44 with a Ph.D. or professional degree had given birth, compared with 65% in 1994. The shares of women who were mothers also rose among those with bachelor’s or master’s degrees during this period, …”. When we consider that seventy percent of mothers with children were employed in 2015 compared to 47% in 1975 (Livingston), we find that a lot of women are currently trying to manage both a career and a family life. Those women, some of whom might feel lonely in their efforts, are challenged daily to meet the demands on both their time and their energy.
What about, however, the roughly thirty percent who are not working? Mothers who have, as research indicates, degrees and, presumably, careers that have been put on hold to stay at home and raise their families? I would argue that these women are among the loneliest women in motherhood. Speaking for myself, I went from working and socializing, and going out for dinner and drinks on the weekends to sitting at home staring at the most gorgeous-yet-helpless human that I had ever seen! But newborns take, and they never give. My son made demands of me during the day: he wanted to be fed, changed, and held; and at night: fed and changed some more. His only mode of communication was crying, and sometimes, his crying interrupted my own. This darling baby that filled me with a truly inexplicable and unexpected profound sense of love took continuously from me what should have been mine: first my body, then my sleep, and finally my loneliness, my sorrow, and my tears. I reached out to other mothers – this is so hard – only to have many of them smile at me condescendingly. Yes, other new mothers looked upon me with condescension.
How could this be? Where was the camaraderie? the support? the mano y mano companionship of digging in the trenches together? Where were the friends! That was another tidbit left out of the mommy manual. And left out of the marriage manual, too! In the 2000s, my new husband and I expected that we would take ourselves – and all of our hopes – and we would pack our bags and set off for new territory in search of happiness, fame, and glory. And it would be wonderful! Until pregnancy happens and every day you find yourself nibbling on horrible, dry crackers and sipping Ginger Ale by yourself. Or searching your closet, in vain, for clothes that fit – These fit me perfectly last week and now I have nothing?! – and no dear girlfriend to marvel with you at your expanding waistline. And you don’t have your old friends to tell your new neighbors how incredibly cool you are. You’re just another pregnant woman, and eventually another new mama, crying desperately in a dark closet somewhere on the block.
Through my ongoing experiences, I have come to appreciate the importance of female friendships. My husband is devoted, kind, loving, involved, attentive, and interested in me. But I have a hole that cannot be filled by him. Or any man, for that matter. The importance of a female tribe in a woman’s life cannot be overstated. Women are inherently different from men. Barring those who fare better with the opposite sex, the sheer level of intimacy that female friendships can possess is unlike anything a male/female friendship can offer. I have a best male friend that I have known for almost 30 years – our friendship is one hundred percent platonic, and we consider ourselves to be soulmates – but there is something that female friendships provide that his does not. It is simply the female experience.
During the youthful years, females can bond over daydreaming about boys and braiding each other’s hair. Laughter through tears will carry us through our teens, together. In our twenties, when we are out setting the world on fire, we can laugh and cry and exclaim and explode, and understand every single moment of joy and sorrow that comes our way. In our thirties, when marriage has come and children have spit up inside our cleavage, the compassion of another who has been there and done that cannot be overestimated. It will continue into our forties, as we laugh and cry over babies growing and marriages changing, and personal identities wavering in the near distance. Our fifties, with a tribe that resonates, will see us chatting over wine and newfound empty-nest syndrome – wondering who on earth we are going to be now that we are not just mothers anymore. Our sixties will be carefree, as we laugh at our bodies sagging where they should really be lifting; as we meet new little babies that we couldn’t imagine loving as much as our own, and yet we will, because they are so very much a part of us and what we have created in this world; but we will clap with glee as we send them back to their parents when they cry, and oh, how wonderful is that?!
The importance of our tribe is that they will be there in our seventies and eighties and nineties, as our hearts break in ways we never thought possible all those years ago, when we were daydreaming about boys and braiding each other’s hair. Or when we stumbled upon each other sitting alone at the park, hoping for a friend in just one of the many female faces we saw walking by with their kids. The importance of a female tribe is connection. We have the unique pleasure of being able to share all of the experiences of what being a woman is: vulnerability, strength, passion, compassion, intelligence, humor, will and fortitude. And hairy legs on a bad day. Let us not forget the hairy legs.
© Angel Jameson 2018
Hsieh, Esther. “Motherhood Can Be A Lonely Place.” Scientific American: Mind. 2015 September 1. scientificamerican.com/article/motherhood-can-be-a-lonely-place/
Livingston, Gretchen and Kristen Bialik. “7 facts about U.S. moms.” Pew Research Center: FactTank: News in the Numbers. 2018 May 10. pewresearch.org/fact-tank/ /05/10/facts-about-u-s-mothers/
“Sisterhood of Motherhood.” YouTube, uploaded by Harvest Films, 24 March 2015, youtu.be/Kz4BUwaxj5c