The Sorry State of Describing Motherhood

I'm reading What Mothers Do by Naomi Stadlen and reflecting on her point that motherhood and mothering is now described in language more so than ever before--in books and online rather than through nonverbal communication in multigenerational families, as it was in years past--and yet there is such a lack of both words and stories that communicate the activities of mothering. (There are tons of stories about romantic love in our culture, but when was the last time you saw a movie about maternal love?) In particular, there is a lack of positive and non-punitive words to describe motherhood. It's no wonder that new moms can feel so lonely and displaced. We literally don't even have the words to describe what we're doing. I went to a "Baby and Me" yoga class when my daughter was a couple months old, the yoga instructor, God bless her, made a practice of holding and soothing fussy babies so that their mothers could get a few more uninterrupted minutes of downward facing dog.  As Laura rocked and bounced with my baby in her arms, she said,  "If I can make it so you have to put your baby to sleep one less time today, it's a good thing."  It suddenly occurred to me that, in fact, that's what all that rocking and bouncing and shooshing was often about: putting my baby to sleep.  It just felt like a constant state of foggy, sleep-deprived being.  I had come to believe that this was just who I was now: a bouncing boob in a haze of white noise. "When you're bouncing on that yoga ball and shooshing your baby, you're doing work," Laura said. "You are putting your baby to sleep, and that is a job."  It was a revelation.

Stadlen cites a lullaby from a collection called Weavers of the Songs: the oral poetry of Arab women in Israel and the West Bank that is all about trying to rock her baby to sleep. But the baby won't sleep so she passes him off to her brother's wife. And the song is sung again, and passed off to the next person, and the next. How little information and communication of motherhood we have in contemporary American and European culture. The mere existence of a lullaby about how damn hard it is to get a baby to sleep would be such a comfort, let alone other people around to whom we could pass the fussing baby.  How did we get here?  How do we let so many women suffer in such physical and psychological isolation? Telling stories and writing songs about how hard motherhood is would go a long way toward helping new mothers feel less alone.