Life

“Why do we believe that motherhood will fundamentally change us?”

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Lucy Mangan
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Don’t buy into the myth that becoming a mother will transform your personality, says Lucy Mangan. 

It hurts my head and my heart (and my vagina, which has an unnecessarily good memory) that the pregnancy of Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand who has announced that she’s expecting her first child in June, has been the occasion of so much panic. How will she govern, commentators scream, when there are peas to puree? Will she still be the leader the people voted for or will she gain a new personality and policies once she is a mother?

I tire of this. Not only of the immediate absurdities that abound – the absence in their considerations of her partner (who plans to become a stay-at-home dad), her solvency, which means she can afford to pay someone to puree peas, or her standing as an intelligent 37-year-old woman who probably had contingency plans in place before she even thought about throwing the condoms away.

But it’s the larger myth that really gets me: the myth that motherhood changes you. That you shift overnight from composed career woman to erratic, neurotic mess, or from party girl whose closest bond is with Deliveroo into a nurturing earth mother who bakes bread unstoppably.

New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern has rebuffed suggestions that her pregnancy will stop her from doing her job 

There may be many of you having nightmares about rather than dreaming of getting pregnant because of these fears, but that’s all to the good – it gives me a chance to immunise you via the injection of a deep truth against the plague of utter [inserts strongest word for ‘nonsense’ the editor will allow] that surrounds this subject, so that if and when you make your decision it will be on rational grounds.

The truth is this: motherhood doesn’t fundamentally change you. I wish I had known this. It would have made me a lot more ready to take the plunge and a lot better prepared when I did.

I had ingested the idea – from society, older relatives, books, films and the thousand intangible influences in our culture – that motherhood was a Profound-Beyond-Words experience that would blunt my edge, turn me to jelly and generally render me unrecognisable to myself. It was one of those assumptions on which my thinking rested until it was thoroughly upset by real events.

It’s rubbish. If you become a mother, you stay the same. Yes, you have hormones and you react to a huge upheaval, but you react to it as you.

If you’ve always been a party girl, motherhood is unlikely to rid you of that.

As a disorganised introvert who loves to read and to work and struggles to ask for help, I avoided mums’ coffee mornings, found new depths of domestic chaos, read while breastfeeding, and left it to my closest friends to decode my guarded texts and catch me when I fell. And I scurried back to work as soon as I could, and was happy, so happy, about it.

Tories don’t become liberals, the vicious don’t become virtuous, the lazy don’t become energetic, and Love Island fans probably won’t suddenly start watching geology documentaries. Your world has changed but you are a constant.

As Ardern said, “I know, because of who I am, that I will do the job I’ve been asked to do. Nothing will change that,” and she’s right.

This myth promises: a new start! A new you! You think a juice fast was cleansing? A baby will detoxify your very soul! It’s as dangerous as any other pernicious lie. It frightens some off, and draws in others, and for all the wrong reasons.

Have a baby because you want a baby, not because you want things to change. Don’t have a baby because you don’t want a baby, not because you’re afraid of losing you. Either way, you’ll be you and absolutely good enough.

Images: Dakota Corbin / Getty Images / iStock