Sydney Morning Herald

The feminists kept mum on the real story of motherhood

Alex May did all the things a liberated woman should, but she was given a bum steer when it came to having kids.

Alex May
June 27 2002
Sydney Morning Herald

The feminists ripped me off.

All my life I believed they did me a good turn by burning their bras for my rights to education and equal pay. I became a damn good girly citizen, going to university and treading the well worn professional path - a feminist who wore lipstick and never spent a day out of high heels, but a feminist nevertheless.

Then I had a baby.

That's where the feminists lied. Like a sneaky doctor who doesn't tell you how much a needle is going to hurt, those well-meaning feminists never coughed up the truth about birth and motherhood stuff. Feminists forgot to tell us:

a) Don't forget to do it before your ovaries shrivel up;

b) And when you do it, try to put all those thoughts of equal pay and education out of your head otherwise you won't enjoy it.

I was too busy taking advantage of all the great things feminism brought me to really think about motherhood. Getting an education and establishing a career were far more important than thinking about babies.

Having babies before you were "ready" was evil: it made you a terrible mother and you would take out frustrated career ambitions on a defenceless baby. Think of those poor unliberated women dependent on a male breadwinner out in the suburbs. Those silly souls have to scoff Valium all day just to get by, and there is no chance of them buying their own $1000 pair of Manolo Blahniks.

"Work hard and have it all" was the unspoken feminist promise. Establish a career first. Delay motherhood until the time is right. Women can have babies in their 40s, you know.

I stupidly waited until my 30s to have a child. Naturally I consider myself lucky because 25 per cent of my friends who think they will have children "some day" probably won't be able to have them at all, or so says the Bureau of Statistics and our good friend, Family Services Minister Ross Cameron.

But I wish I'd done it earlier. I wish I'd spent my 20s knee deep in nappies and poverty. That way I wouldn't be in my 30s knee deep in nappies and poverty. And I'd have more energy.

No woman in her right mind would wait until her 30s or 40s to start having children if she thought about it properly. Having an extra decade or so to spend your hard-earned professional salary on such glamorous things as designer clothes, expensive haircuts, restaurants once or twice a week and yearly holidays only makes it worse when you have to give them all up.

The feminists forgot to tell me to save some of that money I earned. Maternity doesn't come cheap; you have to give up your income and your right to all the material wealth you enjoyed in your 20s, unless you're one of the unliberated ones relying on a high-earning husband. Feminists made us far too smart and rich for our own goods.

But here I am in my 30s, mortgaged to the hilt and unable to earn the income I used to because I have a child with whom I feel compelled to spend most of my time. I know, child care is supposed to be the answer. But no-one told me how horrid it would be to think of my child spending 48 hours a week with a child-care worker - as nice as they are - and only an hour or two a day with me. It's all mixed up. Women shouldn't be working for the privilege of allowing lower-paid women to raise their children.

And all those second-wave feminists make for super-crap grandparents. My own mother lives around the corner. People say, "You are so lucky. She must be around all the time helping you." If only. She's far too busy for that. She's going out to restaurants, working 50 hours a week in a high-pressure job and saving all the money she can so she can afford to retire before she's 70 (there's very little superannuation for single mums of that generation who raised good feminists).

I love being a mum. You don't need education and equal pay to find wonder in motherhood. Cliches aside, motherhood really is wonderful and fulfilling - but the feminists never told us that either.

Copyright © 2002. The Sydney Morning Herald