Monday, October 8, 2012

Review: The Mask of Motherhood by Susan Maushart

Thought I'd add a little personal touch -- this is me at 26 weeks pregnant
The Mask of Motherhood: How Becoming a Mother Changes our Lives and Why We Never Talk About It

Reviewed by Connie

Published: 1999

It's about: The Mask of Motherhood is a series of critical essays examining the physical, emotional, and psychological effects that motherhood has on women. Its premise is that we have a cultural taboo against discussing any of these radical changes, so new mothers are entering this transformational period completely unprepared for what lies ahead. Different essays specifically examine pregnancy, child birth, breast feeding, new motherhood, the juggling act, and marital relationships.

I thought: I cannot believe I only found this book because I stumbled across it in a thrift store and thought it looked interesting. Why has no one ever told me about this book before? Why has no one ever shoved a copy in my hands and forced me to read it?

As an expecting new mother, I have found myself feeling rather ambivalent about the drastic changes that are about to take place in my life and marriage. At times, I am unbelievably excited and can't wait to hold my baby boy in my arms for the first time. Yet there are plenty of other times I am so overwhelmed and overcome by anxiety that I can't sleep for nights on end, and just the sight of a onesie or a pacifier makes me sick to my stomach with worry.

Up until this point, I have found most resources for new mothers unhelpful, to say the least. Most of them are split into two camps -- 1. the motherhood is so beautiful, babies are such miracles, and when the baby comes, all is wondrous and glorious, and there are lots of rainbows; or 2. motherhood is the most difficult and least rewarding thing a woman can ever do; it's really hard, and it mega sucks. The former seems ridiculous and unrealistic; the latter, hyperbolic and unnecessarily negative.

Somehow, this book strikes a cord somewhere between the two. Maushart manages to communicate the extreme and unexpected difficulties of pregnancy, childbirth, and mothering while not stripping motherhood of its due credit or praise. In other words, somehow Maushart is simultaneously brutally honest and empowering and comforting.

Plus, though it's a series of critical essays, Maushart mixes in plenty of personal anecdotes and humor to make this very readable. I don't necessarily agree with all of her assertions, but it is a thought-provoking, well-researched book well worth a read. As it was published in '99, many of the statistics are over 10 years old, but I think the issues discussed are still very much relevant to the struggles of mothers today.

All in all, this book has better emotionally prepared me for motherhood than all other resources I've encountered -- combined.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf. Just as I believe We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love is a must-read for any person who enters marriage or a serious relationship, I think this book is a must-read for any woman considering motherhood. I suspect it would be a useful read for those who are already mothers as well.

Reading Recommendations: Just read it. Just do it. And then give it to all your expecting friends.

Warnings: none

Favorite excerpts:
"Professionally, financially, socially, and spiritually we are primed for achievement. The more we can do, the more we should do. But the more we do, the worse we feel. And the sillier we look. It is surely worthy of note that the word contemporary women use more than any other to describe the management of their lives is the verb 'to juggle.' The women Friedan described felt as if their lives had been tranquilized... For women in the 1990s, by contrast, life is hyper-caffeinated; it's going so fast we can't assimilate it, let alone enjoy it. Yet when things slow down, we go into withdrawal, panicking that we must be somehow missing out. We are indeed the generation of 'women who do too much.'"

"Childbirth is one day, more or less, in a woman's life; motherhood is forever. Yet like gawkers at the empress's new maternity outfit, we steadfastly resolve not to notice. Other observers have noted that we devote more care to the licensing of automobile drivers than we do to preparing adults for parenthood. It's a point worth pondering. Limiting our education for parenthood to prenatal classes is a bit like limiting driver education to defensive strategies for getting out of the driveway. No one would dispute their usefulness, but they can only take you so far."

"To see motherhood properly, I am convinced, is to see it heroically, which means making full acknowledgment of the pain, the dangers, and the risks and taking the full measure of glory for its exquisite rewards. When we consider the inaugural maternal experience -- the journey we call childbirth -- the epic nature of the undertaking emerges with startling clarity. The drama of childbirth foreshadows both the pain and the power implicit in the journey ahead. Thus, it can function as a kind of prism through which the wider experience of motherhood is refracted."

What I'm reading next: The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy