The shining beacons of women who can do it all
In a recent fashion show, model Slick Woods walked down the catwalk pregnant. 14 hours later she gave birth. The same week, model Valeria Garcia paraded at London fashion week as the first model to walk the runway while using breast pumps. There’s no question that these women are amazing. They’re embracing pregnancy, labour and post birth as it if were a walk in the park – or in this case the catwalk – and they’re the shining beacons of women who can do it all. Or are they?
In the final trimester with my first child, I was far from a shining beacon. I was more a dull and flickering light bulb. I was tired and over it. Walking to the fridge for more chocolate was exhausting enough, let alone even thinking about walking on a catwalk (because I had so many offers!)
But working in my rather dull, in comparison, office job, I opted to take early leave.
I wanted to take time out before my son arrived to do things that I feared (and had been told) I wouldn’t do for a long time. I went to the movies, met friends for long lunches, read books and I slept lots – because everyone insisted I should. Like you can bank sleep!
I appreciate that many people don’t have the luxury or option of doing this, and many women work right up until their delivery date.
But I also wonder if the societal pressure that we, as women, feel to do it all plays a part too. The idea that relaxation before baby’s arrival is unnecessary or, even lazy.
Yet, the reality is that parenthood is like stepping into a NASA spacecraft. There’s a small countdown before we’re launched into another space. And most of us spend a long time floating out there, trying to get our head around what the hell we have done.
Sure, seeing women bounce back to work not long after labour could be viewed as empowering. But for most of us, it’s a little intimidating. The idea that we should be able to cope, have it all and return to normal life ASAP is unrealistic.
Living an “insta-worthy” life
Registered psychologist, Rachel Hard, agrees. “As social media increases, so can the associated pressures of living an “insta-worthy” life with such images and stories impacting on impending and new mothers,” she says.
“For some women, seeing other mothers work right up until birth or quickly bounce back after the birth can be distressing and unrealistic, but for others, it can motivate and encourage.”
Hard notes that perception determines whether viewing such images is a positive or negative experience.
Our perception is influenced by individual characteristics, past experiences, preferences, personality traits, self-esteem and values.
“Essentially no two women are the same and will have very different needs, ideas and expectations of themselves,” she says.
“In saying this, the representation of some people in the media and on social media (including celebrities) can set unrealistic expectations for most women who don’t have access to the same resources, such as time, funds and professional support.”
Hard says that this can negatively impact a woman’s sense of self as well as their experiences of being a new mother.
“Figure out what’s important to you”
So what advice does Hard offer? “Think about your priorities and values,” she says. “Do you need to be working up to and after the birth to keep your own sense of self? What are the values you want to uphold as a mother? How do you want to parent?”
“All these questions will help you to figure out what’s important to you as a mother and as a person and can help guide your choices.” Hard also says to consider the filtering aspect of media and recognise the “staged reality” of many images and stories being shared.
While I’m past the pre and post-birth days, and life has now settled into a balanced rhythm, parenthood still remains a challenge.
There are days when I feel empowered (like actually getting out the house on time) and others when intimidation rears its head.
But, I think it’s important to keep things in perspective and remember we’re only human and doing the best we can. Slips and trips are expected on the catwalk of life, and our ability to pick ourselves up and carry on is what really shows we ‘have it all’.
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