With the pending arrival of a small human into your life, you are also the recipient of a lot of advice. Some solicited; most of it not. I've found the question of which bits to listen to one of the most challenging parts of becoming a mother. (That, and the childbirth thing. That was also, um, challenging.)
What's odd is that a lot of people are eager to communicate how hard parenting is. "Get your sleep in now, because you won't get any for the next 18 years," was a constant refrain, usually accompanied by a schadenfreude-y smile. I get it – sleep is a more valuable commodity than it once was, and lazy Saturday mornings a relic of a bygone age. But rarely was this warning followed by any acknowledgment that child-rearing could also be a happy thing, on occasion! Did every one of these well-meaning strangers become parents entirely by accident? Perhaps this is naive of me, but if it's really all drudgery and dirty nappies, why do people keep choosing to do it?
Lately there's been a spate of books attempting to answer that very question. Sheila Heti's Motherhood is unique among them because, after grappling with whether to have children, Heti decides she won't. Most of the others – Meaghan O'Connell's superbly witty And Now We Have Everything, Maggie Nelson's transcendent The Argonauts, the brilliantly researched and argued Like a Mother by Angela Garbes – have been written after the writer has made that irreversible decision to become a mother and is dealing with the reality of it.
I've devoured these books and others because they explore the sheer complexity of motherhood. Not just the inevitable exhaustion, but also the more interesting emotional states, harder to talk about because they are governed by primal waves of fear, pride, sadness and – yes – joy. (My parents were also an important source of reassurance that children could be fun, but I guess they have to say that.)
To admit as much is almost taboo these days, now that the pendulum has swung from the '50s myth of idyllic housewifery to the radical honesty of the internet confessional. I'm certainly grateful that I went into the delivery ward with a greater awareness than women of generations past about the hurdles and hassles to come. Still, I would have loved to have heard a little more about the moments of bliss, however fleeting, from those strangers who instead wanted me to know exactly how awful and boring the whole caper is – how physically ruinous, professionally disastrous, and personally unfulfilling.
So why don't we like to engage with the full truth of motherhood, even and especially the good stuff? Perhaps raising children is sometimes seen as a trivial topic, and dwelling on it is frowned on in serious society. It's also undoubtedly because to do so is to show vulnerability, and that can be embarrassing. (Hence why, perhaps, there are reductive terms like "mummy blogger".)
And look – a lot of it is messy. Literally. Some things are better left unsaid, or at least not shared. But we all come from mothers. Walking down the street a few days after giving birth, I thought about how incredible it was that so many billions of women had gone through what I had. And isn't that, in itself, worthy of a bit of a celebration?