PICTURE

A Woman’s Strength Pt1– the Misguided Representation of a Mother’s Strength as it Relates to Self-care.

Just because a woman can endure a lot of things it does not mean that she is not also vulnerable. And just because a mother has within her the strength to do many things… it does not mean that she can or should do it all all of the time.

I recently saw a viral video depicting an American(ized) mother in labor in an American hospital doing her school aged daughter’s hair “for picture day”, and the caption read something along those lines – even while in labor I am still doing my daughter’s hair for picture day. As the video continued, it appeared that the woman was in extreme pain, but still she continued to groom her daughter’s hair.  There were a lot of comments from men and women praising the woman for her strength, while another woman questioned why the woman’s husband (or partner) didn’t do the little girl’s hair instead of filming that part of the process. There were enough negative comments that a viewer found it necessary to rebut that the purpose of the video was to show the “strength of a mother”.

 

Strength was not my first thought when I saw this video, but love for her daughter? Yes. My next thought was whether this video was posted for clout because I don’t recall reading anything about the life that was about to brought into the world, the joy associated with that miraculous event, nor do I remember mention of the strength of women in general – just succinctly the strength of this woman during this critical moment. Then I thought this is a misleading depiction of what a mother’s strength is. From the video, I could clearly see ‘mother’ and ‘strength’because labor puts a woman in a very painful and life-threatening situation every time. What I did not understand was the purpose of the addition of hair grooming into the picture. Obviously, a lot of people interpreted her ability to withstand pressure, opposition, force – the basic definition of strength, during her weakest moment while taking on an additional task as strength. I think that we have so trivialized childbirth that we glorify this type of elevation, this type of upping the ante, that we are seeking out who is the strongest, who can do and take the most, who can be burdened and endure the most quietly and graciously, then crowning that person. (This mindset is problematically far reaching in modern culture and is perhaps better left for another topic discussion.) But just because a woman can endure a lot of things it does not mean that she is not also vulnerable. And just because a mother has within her the strength to do many things, and sometimes simultaneously, it does not mean that she can or should do it all all of the time.

 

What I saw was a woman struggling and that is totally understandable AND OK given the circumstance. And there lies the narrative that motherhood necessarily comes with constant struggle and oftentimes that is what many women have been taught. The struggle mom is praised like it is a rite of passage or a badge of honor – I get it from my mother too in the “I had to go through it too”, and the “I didn’t get help from anyone”, as a repeated response like an old record skipping. To this notion that if I had to go through it and other women have gone through it, then you HAVE to, too; it’s part of being a mother – I say, meh. This idea is cultural, while some Latin cultures take advantage of community support during the post-partum period. Women in some Latin communities will rally around a woman who has just given birth to cook, clean, and offer other supports so that the mother can convalesce properly. Perhaps they understand more the dangers that many mothers face from conception to post-delivery. Black and brown pregnant women are more likely to have complications, have more complications, or even die during this period than non-melanated woman, for several reasons, even in technologically advanced countries such as the United States. It is also true that less care and attention is given to black and brown pregnant women because historically the medical community has thought that melanated woman genetically had a higher threshold of pain due to our ancestors’ endurance of slavery (look it up!) – as if this type of resistance is simply genetic, although many would argue. But what has been brought down through countless generations of people of color, in particular, is the belief that motherhood and struggle are synonymous, and a mother and invincibility have the same face. (And they did, but perhaps out of necessity and not desire.) Or maybe Latin cultures look after new moms because they value self-care regardless of the health and viability of the mother. Whether out of love or obligation, it seems they truly took up the call of “it takes a village”, because there is a difference between doing what you have to do and doing what you want to or feel obligated to do.

 

I feel like we should create a new culture of self-love over self-sacrificing, of women adding their needs to their list of daily obligations, and of prioritizing themselves over others’ desires sometimes, but especially when it counts. Out of pure intentions, I replied, “Self-care should have trumped hair in this moment, I think. I’d hoped that you’d have been given enough grace to focus on you and the baby in that moment. But I can’t assume that mom didn’t do that because she wanted to and not because she had to… Love looks different to each of us. But moms, let’s not forget to love ourselves too; to love ourselves enough to say “mommy needs to take care of herself right now.” Self-love is about priorities.”

 

I am a firm believer in taking regular assessments of your emotional, mental, and physical health. But when women become mothers, we often put ourselves last and feel guilty when we don’t. After becoming a new mother, I was congratulated by the mother of one of my best school age friends. She immediately and without solicitation told me “Don’t worry if the house is a mess; the laundry can wait. Don’t worry if you haven’t even showered. You are going to be tired; rest when you need to. When the baby is asleep, you need to sleep.” That was the best, on time advice anyone has ever given me… and SHE WAS RIGHT. Those first three months were a messy, EXHAUSTNG blur. And if I hadn’t taken the time to make sure I got what I needed, I probably would’ve had an emotional meltdown because sleep and rest is extremely important to my well-being. Even heeding her advice (except for the showering part), I still felt depleted, but I made it through because I was strong, I guess. But that did not mean that I didn’t need the rest. Another bit of good advice that I received from a professional – pediatric, developmental, or psychological, I don’t remember – was that once your minor children’s needs are taken care of, it is ok to take care of yourself. It is not selfish, but it is necessary and wise. This wisdom was a life saver and I put it into practice. As a single working mother to a young daughter with special needs, once her homework is done, she is fed, and bathed, once I have read her a bedtime story and prayed with her, once she is comfortable, and I have given her time and attention, the rest of the night is for me to decompress from the day and take inventory of myself. An occasional cry from the bedroom will have me scurrying to make sure she is safe, and once she is, I set boundaries with my daughter because children can be selfish. I found that they are generally unconcerned with whether you have bathed, slept, eaten, or whether you have enough finances for whatever; every one of their desires is critical to them and they will demand what they need – and so should you.

 

We as mothers must remember that we are people first and that we have our own needs to tend too as well. We have a responsibility to care for ourselves and in those acts of self-love we are also loving our children;  a mother cannot give anything worth giving if she is empty. It seems that we have been taught about mommy struggle but not mommy self-care when the truth is our strength is predicated upon how we care for and, frankly, value ourselves. Struggling, and self-sacrificing does not equate to strength, it does not make you a woman, and it does not make you a mother, or even a STRONG mother. Strength, I believe, lies more in the vulnerability and self-awareness of knowing when to work and when to rest, and the confidence to insist that that level of self-care be respected. When you are caring for yourself adequately, struggles are diminished to tasks. Recognize that kind of strength in you. You are strong just for being a woman, especially in this day and age. Women were created in strength, with strength, and for strength. We only must learn to utilize our strength properly.

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