Is This All?

“Each suburban wife struggles with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night- she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question– ‘Is this all?” ― Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique

When pregnant with my first child I made a conscious decision to step back from my career. Please note I wrote step back and not away. I remain able to work part-time from the comfort of my home, often bed, which I’m especially grateful for.  But the career changes are not what humbled, surprised, or stalled me. It was the paralyzing reality of the role I had eagerly entered into with an air of arrogance and an abundance of ignorance. For me, motherhood has been the biggest and best teacher, motivator, and miracle.

In this age of extreme exposure, quick critical commentary, and often unsympathetic environment, it’s entirely too easy to be consumed by doubt or driven by fear. But holding onto hope is part of my maternal makeup. Hope can come from the most unexpected places and people. It often arrives unanticipated or in desperate deliverance. Regardless, hope for mothers has become a driving theme in discussions. And I’m not an expert, but I’ve found two women who would agree that expertise is part of the problem in modern-day motherhood depictions.

Bethany Johnson and Margaret Quinlan are the co-authors of You’re Doing It Wrong: Mothering, Media, and Medical Expertise.  Confession time: I interviewed these ladies six months ago. This post has been delayed multiple times. Why? I didn’t know where to begin. There are so many ideas and experiences within their book that resonated with me.

I’ve decided to make this a three part series, but before we begin I recommend reading their scholarly work that examines and emphasizes some of the most pivotal and problematic issues facing mothers both historically and currently.

Johnson and Quinlan teach at the University of North Caroline Charlotte. Their professional backgrounds in conjunction with their own maternal journeys make for a fascinating read and self-reflective reader experience.

I was impressed by the humility and grace they demonstrated given their knowledge and expertise. Quinlan and I delved into the accidental shaming that transpires amongst mothers. I was struck by our shared belief that the Internet has made us believe various versions of mothers are better because of their Pinterest creations or filtered images. Moreover, we spoke on the irony that people who share their successes don’t necessarily come forth with their failures.

Johnson and I discussed the shift in focus that happens between pregnancy and postpartum recovery. Attention on the mother and her physical, emotional, and mental well isn’t as well publicized or protected as the child.

In my next post I’ll feature our Q&A , but if there’s one thing I want to emphasize and elevate it’s the feeling or question of “is this all?” So many of us, despite professional or personal successes or societal strides, fail to address the question appropriately or with total transparency.

Friedan’s 1963 The Feminine Mystique explored the suburban housewife and the plight often faced but never discussed. She addressed a crippling fear that women who are programmed to give of themselves often struggle to identify their needs and desires. While we’ve significantly improved in many areas, women today continue to face challenges and conflict with identity and duty.

But I have hope. Inquiry like that of Friend, Johnson, and Quinlan represents a promise and pivot. We must delve deeper in order to answer questions comfortably and confidently.

As a suburban mom knee deep in raising two young children I know all too well the stigmas and stereotypes. Like many roles and titles, motherhood is complicated and deserves more careful examination and respect. Is this all? No, it’s so much more and then some.

Stay tuned for more from You’re Doing It Wrong: Mothering, Media, and Medical Expertise.