Mothers & Martyrs

My husband was away last week. He went to a professional conference.

In Vienna.

Over Mother’s Day weekend.

I like to save that part for last because it makes the whole situation sound all the worse for me.

When he pitched the conference to me (which was not required, btw, although he did go on company time), he said he would be gone for four days. And we thought the four-year-old would be in school. Neither of us realized it was Mother’s Day weekend.

His actual itinerary had him gone 6 days, and the four-year-old is taking a break from preschool, and did I mention the trip took place over a weekend? My fellow SAHMs will know that the standard “spend the morning out of the house” activities don’t occur on weekends.

But it was happening, and there really wasn’t much I could do about it, except strategize for my solo-parenting stint.

We’d spend Mother’s Day with my parents, and my mother-in-law said she’d come up for a morning. I blocked out our usual time at Stroller Strides/ the park, and then the times that the nanny was scheduled to come.

As I was dithering about whether or not to see if the nanny was also available to come for a few hours on Saturday, my husband said,

“Now is not the time to be a hero, Julia.”

A few years ago, I had an acquaintance I often ran into whose first topic of conversation was usually how little she’d slept the night before. I found this extra annoying because when your audience is parents who also have small children, who cares? It’s the most boring topic in the world when we’re all  in varying stages of sleep deprivation. (Plus, by her own accounts she wasn’t doing much to give her children a consistent bedtime routine, so if they were extra crappy sleepers, well, maybe she brought it upon herself.)

The whole “mama martyr” schtick has always been a bit annoying to me, as if running yourself into the ground proves the depths of your love and devotion to your children and partner. The truth is that there’s little glory in parenting small children, no matter how you do it.

I’ve heard the quip “there’s no gold medal for childbirth” tossed out as some sort of reason for choosing an epidural during labor (and hey, for the record, no need to justify your labor and delivery choices to me). This vastly over-simplifies why some women (myself included) choose exactly the opposite and plan to give birth at home or at a birth center, without the option for such pain relief. It’s not the popular choice, and in a crowd of other moms, I often feel less sanctimommy and more like I need to explain what I could have possibly been thinking.

So why go down the (possibly painful) road of unmedicated childbirth? The short answer is that I live with anxiety and hospitals send my heart racing; it’s not the best condition to attempt to give birth in. I’d done enough research (which, yes, was kicked-off by my viewing of Ricki Lake’s documentary The Business of Being Born but also included reading Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth) prior to getting pregnant to feel confident that delivering in a birth center was the best choice for me and my offspring. We live just a few miles from a lovely freestanding birth center with cozy, B&B-style rooms and highly-trained midwives; it seemed like a no-brainer. Both of my boys were born there (in the same room, no less), and I can promise you I wasn’t trying to be a hero, or prove anything to anyone other than myself. I was simply doing the hardest thing I’ve ever done in the place I felt most comfortable doing it.

I don’t know who to blame for the martyrdom that seems to go hand-in-hand with modern motherhood (I’d say “Millennial motherhood” but that makes me want to throw-up a little bit). And really, it seems pretty reasonable that I should be able to keep my home clean and tidy; feed my children healthy, organic, home cooked meals even just 75% of the time; play and cuddle and read to them; make sure they play in the dirt and the sunshine and don’t get too much screen time; and on and on and on. This is what we know to be best, based on common sense, current research, and the myriad ways our parents did and did not fail us.

Possibly because of these (likely unachievable) demands, we are constantly preached the benefits of self-care (it’s even the main topic of conversation on my favorite podcast). You can’t pour from an empty cup, and all that. Except I don’t really need someone else to tell me it’s a good idea for me prioritize sleep, or exercise, or a night out with girlfriends, or even just washing my damn hair. It all sounds pretty good to me after a day of engaging in WWE-style diaper changes and fielding repeated requests for the red light song. What I do need is help in making any of that happen while I’m doing my best to give my children a predictable routine and three servings of vegetables a day. Preferably before I lose my mind.

“There are no gold medals in motherhood” might be a better turn of phrase. Because in the end, after all the waffling, I text the nanny to see if she’s available, and she is, and when she arrives I hightail it to the nearest Starbucks and sit in silence with a gigantic coffee.

Maybe I’ll martyr myself another day.