Every day I edge closer to true understanding of what an ungodly, unwinnable, inescapable fucking setup motherhood is. Sunk deep in the bowels of the sexist brick and mortar, elevated on the Barbie-hued, airbrushed pedestal we run ourselves ragged trying to get onto or off of.
You can not win this; your job, by design, is to fail. In the first instance, there is the concept Alison Bechdel expounds on, from the psychologist Winnicott - the child must destroy the mother in order to separate from her. For the separation to succeed, the mother must survive the destruction (*). Did you know you signed up to be destroyed? Haven't you felt it right away and every day since? Your child(ren) is only one detonator.
Did you, first, survive your girlhood with some innocence intact? Then how did you navigate the gauntlet of your teenage years? To fight, fight fight, for any amount of gravitas as a young adult, a professional, a fully realised human. And maybe you achieved it - maybe you could even tell you'd achieved it - and then you blinked three times, crossed thirty, and slowly or quickly felt your relevance and social cache begin to wane. Or, you had a baby or two and you ACTUALLY JUST COMPLETELY DISAPPEARED.
There is a photograph of baby me standing on my mother's lap, radiating healthy joy at the camera, and my mother is a) delighted with me, and b) absolutely hiding behind me. Who will be big and who will be small? Who will be loud and who will be soft? Who will lead and who will follow? The secret is, no matter what you do, you were still set up to fail, or at least to hate yourself for trying, or at least to hate yourself for something, anything will do. You pick your poison or it picks you, unceremoniously, at any point in your journey, like a burr hitching a ride on your sock. It can be anything at all that makes you understand that you are wrong and you are doing it wrongly. Tell your daughter. Tell your friends. They may protest, even as they ingest the knowledge of your sin, and use it to measure their own catalogues of failures and inadequacies.
Being a mother isn't the only setup for women, not by half, but it is the bullseye at the centre of the target. You signify nothing, have no autonomous substance, while being simultaneously accountable for ev.ry.thing. Everything. The list of 'why didn't anybody tell me it would BE like THIS' grows longer every day from the time you get pregnant to the day you die. But ultimately, it plays out like a well-crafted psychological thriller; in the end, you suddenly realise you did know. You knew all along it was a setup and here you still are, falling through darkness for all eternity. How can you account for this?
Some people swear they did not know, never saw the sheer drop-off as they rushed the cliff's edge. The rest of us just needed to know; or recognised our limited choices, like Thelma and Louise. We always knew they wanted us dead, and yet we decided to choose boldly and own the consequence. Did we commit an act of idiocy, rendering ourselves smaller and more vulnerable, slower and more cautious? Did we insert our she-wolf legs knowingly into the jaws of a steel trap? Or did we believe we could draw the darkness to us, cloak ourselves in fire, forge hope from fear, hammer our anxieties into weapons of resistance and change?
We have already survived our own destruction. Repeatedly. We have turned ourselves inside out. We've replaced ourselves, and so might be open to taking greater risks. We are targets, but we are moving targets, and damnit, we are legion. Fuck your erasure. If you will not see us, you had better learn to listen for the sound of wolves moving en masse, all four paws connecting firmly with the ground.
*Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama, Alison Bechdel