As soon as I opened the magazine a few weeks ago, I knew it would end in tears. The headline was “The Big Easy” and it was a story about one woman’s breezy experience of motherhood. During the few minutes it took to read, I nodded, I winced and I could hear the sound of incoming artillery so loud I almost had to duck.
The premise of journalist Jacinta Tynan’s explosive piece was her exasperation that so many women downplay the good bits about motherhood. I understand this idea and sometimes I’m guilty of it myself. For example, I had terrific, straightforward births with two of my kids but I always feel the need to speak louder about the birth that was difficult.
I also had two problem-free breastfeeding experiences but I always rush to detail the nightmare of getting mastitis seven times in eight months with my third. The subtext being: See! I’ve suffered! I’m not smug!
I know Jacinta a little bit and so the next day, I organised to interview her for Mamamia. With my video camera in my bag, I high-tailed it to Foxtel studios where she was on day shift as a presenter for Sky News.
Approaching her in the tentative way one might approach an unexploded bomb, I quickly understood she had no idea what she’d unleashed. The vitriol of a thousand angry women had not yet reached her. Soon it would.
We talked. I gave her the chance to correct some misconceptions. Like the fact she was rich (no), had a full-time nanny (no) or a perfect baby (no). I re-published her original article, along with the interview and then I stood back. The comments began within seconds and in a few days there were more than 1100.
The debate was passionate and it’s still going on.
The next time I saw Jacinta, a week later, she looked shell-shocked. Shaken. Bravely, she’d come on to Mamamia and responded to many of the comments, trying to clarify her position, fluctuating between mortification and defiance: “I wrote what I thought was a positive opinion piece – my opinion – on my experience of motherhood with all the caveats of my baby being only nine months old and in good health, and me not having post-natal depression. That is in no way a judgement on mothers who are doing it tough, and I am sorry if some of you felt that was the implication. I have absolute empathy for those mothers and apologise if my joy has in any way highlighted your difficulties. That was never my intention.”
The politics of motherhood are complex and passionate because I think we’re all secretly terrified of stuffing up our kids. And the way we deal with this fear is to be defensive about our parenting decisions. Whether it’s how we gave birth, what we fed our baby, how we handled routine and discipline….it goes on until they’ve left home at which point I can only assume we take a small break before resuming the debate over how best to be a grandparent.
Men do not appear to do this. Internet forums are not rife with heated clashes about any aspect of parenting from a male point of view. Not that I’ve seen anyway.