Naomi Schaefer Riley
Saturday, February 18, 2017
Having a Baby Doesn’t Make You a GODDESS
Naomi Schaefer Riley
“Oh God, there was nothing more unsexy than disrobing on set when I had a seven-month belly protruding out.”
That was Katherine Heigl describing her experience shooting a scene from her new television show “Doubt” while she was very pregnant. “At one point,” she recalls, “I’m coming out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel, and we had a teasing moment, and then I dropped it. And I just couldn’t help myself — I burst out laughing.”
Which is probably how most people would have reacted to Beyoncé’s routine at Sunday night’s Grammy Awards — if she weren’t Beyoncé. As Heigl notes, “I know that pregnancy is beautiful in so many ways, but it’s sort of more beautiful between you and your husband, who has to think you’re beautiful.” Well, Beyoncé has never known when to draw the line between what she should share with her husband and what she should share with an audience — see her chair-straddling, tush-wiggling routine from 2014, for instance. But there was another message from her endless Virgin Mary/Sun Goddess routine: Pregnancy is sexy. Motherhood is divine.
Beyoncé’s performance was introduced by her own mother, who seemed appropriately proud. But what happened after that was some kind of pagan fertility worship ceremony. Why is it that in an era where women are constantly insisting that they should not be defined by their traditional, biological roles we have fetishized motherhood to such an extent?
Adele’s words at the Grammys about motherhood weren’t as glamorous as Beyoncé’s but they were similarly self-indulgent. “In my pregnancy and through becoming a mother I lost a lot of myself. And I’ve struggled, and I still do struggle being a mom. It’s really hard. But tonight winning this kind of feels full-circle and like a bit of me has come back to myself.”
There are reports that Adele struggled with postpartum depression after giving birth, but the idea that a woman who is known to millions by only her first name has “lost” herself by becoming a mother seems a little far-fetched. When most mothers say this, they mean that they have had to scale back their professional life or that they spend their days at home changing diapers. But Adele is presumably waxing philosophical here and wants to tell us motherhood is sooooo hard. Oh, please.
Don’t get me wrong. There are people for whom motherhood is hard. There are mothers out there whose children suffer from chronic health problems. There are mothers whose children have died.
There are mothers who are struggling to get by — and I don’t mean struggling to juggle the demands of marriage and family and careers. I mean there are mothers who have trouble making ends meet and have no husbands or extended families on whom they can depend. There are mothers who foster or adopt children who have previously been mistreated or neglected.
But these are not the mothers who give speeches about how they are lost. They don’t write blog posts about the juggle. They may complain, but it’s not about how hard it is to be a mother in some abstract way. It’s about how hard yesterday was.
Our cultural imperative to elevate motherhood to both the most important thing in the world and the hardest thing in the world is getting out of control. A pregnant woman recently wrote into Slate’s Dear Prudence column explaining that her sister, who is also pregnant, didn’t want to be “upstaged” by her sibling at a baby shower. Oh, come on. Whether or not you’re a celebrity, motherhood is not a theatrical event.
After giving birth in 2015, Kerry Washington said, “My body is the site of a miracle now.” Far be it from me to tell the actress exactly what qualifies as a miracle, but even the most religious women I know do not walk around with the attitude that they are supposed to be worshipped (by anyone besides their husbands) because they have given birth.
In fact, what these women seem to know is that having children is natural and a blessing, and that these beings that come out of us are sometimes the source of great joy and sometimes deep sadness. And they also know that in an earlier time, good mothers were admired and praised without wearing golden costumes or whining to millions about their hardships.
In an interview about motherhood last year, Zooey Deschanel told Redbook: “I think it’s a huge accomplishment to have a child.” It’s not. Millions of women have been giving birth for millions of years. It’s an accomplishment to raise a child well. So maybe Adele and Beyoncé can check back in with us in, say, 20 years.