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3 writers confront the myths of motherhood

From flawed expectations to surprise realities, the authors behind 2020’s motherhood books share the lessons their own maternal experiences have taught them

Lifestyle

CANDICE BRATHWAITE, author of I Am Not Your Baby Mother

When I became a mother, I wish I’d known that there are no days off. Ever. Even if you’re lucky enough to have someone to look after your child while you work, or have a well-deserved break, thoughts of that child will make up 90 percent of your headspace.

My journey to motherhood was needed but never dreamt about. When other girls were drawing pictures of their wedding day and their kids, I was drawing pictures of me winning the Nobel Peace Prize. My mother was a single mom to three of us and, being the eldest, it felt as if I had already done enough mothering. But the birth of my daughter, Esme, now six, changed my life for the better – and RJ, my son, who is almost two, is the cherry on top.

The thing that has surprised me the most about motherhood is how much you have to pretend! Pretend to know it all, pretend to be responsible, pretend that everything is OK. Thank God for our virtual assistant, ‘Alexa’. My partner and I pretend to know and then just whisper to Alexa once our daughter has gone to bed.

My inspiration for writing about my experience was that I struggled to find books or articles written by black British mothers. I often had to cling to the words of African-American mothers to feel as though there was a connection. Toni Morrison said it best: “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.”

The biggest myth I’ve heard about motherhood is that it’s fulfilling and somewhat completes you. No, no, no. I complete me. My children are a beautiful addition to the fabric of my life, but I am the entire tapestry.

Society’s expectations of motherhood are forever changing, but the thing that remains the same is that it’s rooted in the patriarchy. Once a woman becomes a mother, it’s expected that she will change and always lead with an attitude of being in service to others.

I Am Not Your Baby Mother is out in May

SOPHIE HEAWOOD, author of The Hungover Games

When I became a mother, I wish I’d known the baby’s crying is more traumatic for you than it is for them. Of course they need a cuddle, but crying is just how they talk – all day long.

My journey to motherhood was unexpected and unplanned. Pretty tough and lonely at the start but, overall, I wonder if it was somewhat easier for me than for those who really planned it. The inevitable chaos and disappointments along the way seemed to be harder for people who had the whole thing mapped out.

The thing that has surprised me the most about motherhood is how funny life with an eight-year-old daughter is. I can barely trust myself to do bedtimes anymore because the pair of us end up wheezing with laughter for hours. I want to trap her in amber at this age forever.

My inspiration for writing about my experience was that, when I was pregnant and not in a remotely solid relationship, I desperately scoured bookshops for a book about my situation and couldn’t’t find one. Everything was aimed at married couples and I despaired.

The biggest myth I’ve heard about motherhood is that you cease to be the most important person in the room. It’s the opposite – you become a celebrity in your own home. Nobody else will ever make the same impact as you.

Society’s expectations of motherhood are still very gendered. I’ve always identified as a woman and have no experience of changing gender, yet I tend to describe myself as a parent rather than a mom. Possibly because I don’t conform very well to the endless domestic, modest expectations of a mother.

The Hungover Games is out in July

CLOVER STROUD, author of My Wild And Sleepless Nights: A Mother’s Story

When I became a mother, I wish I’d known that I was opening myself up to a new kind of love, bigger than anything I could really comprehend. Mother love is consuming, but it also brings with it losses: from the moment your baby is born, that person is moving away from you, and it’s your job to help them do that. And if we are not conscious, we can lose ourselves. Having a creative life outside motherhood has saved me when I’ve felt completely lost to my maternal role.

My journey to motherhood was something I’d wanted since I was a teenager. I was 24 when I had my son, Jimmy, now 19, and three years later his sister, Dolly, was born. By my late twenties, my career as a journalist was starting to excel. Being a young mother hadn’t curbed my ambition; in fact, it had ignited it.

The thing that has surprised me the most about motherhood is that it doesn’t stop you doing anything. You know that phrase, “She had a baby and settled down”? I have found motherhood to be an extraordinary and deeply unsettling experience. I met my second husband in my thirties and had three more children. The ride through the years of motherhood has been a wild one.

My inspiration for writing about my experience came from the fact I wanted to answer the question “What does motherhood really feel like?” I wanted to write a book that covered all the feelings of motherhood, since most books stop at babyhood. We forget that there’s another decade and a half in which we’re helping that baby grow into a child and an adult.

The biggest myth I’ve heard about motherhood is that it’s a benign, pastel-colored experience that brings a deep and gentle kind of fulfilment. My love for my children is a force that roars inside me, but that power can be frightening, too, since it opens up the possibility of a loss even bigger.

Society’s expectations of motherhood are intense. I know that there are fathers who do a lot, but statistical and anecdotal evidence points squarely at the fact that caring for and bringing up children is still very much women’s responsibility. I have huge respect for women who do full-time mothering, and also those women who run a career alongside their roles as parents, and those who manage a bit of both.

My Wild And Sleepless Nights: A Mother’s Story is out now

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