Looking through women’s magazines and news articles about celebrity moms, you might conclude that new mothers are treated like royalty, or at least the mothers of royalty. By these accounts, new mothers glow, parents and in-laws dote, partners are awed, and girlfriends constantly stream in to help with the house, the kids, and the shopping. But does it really happen? Ask your mom or grandmother what things were like when she had her babies. Was she treated like a queen? How was it for your sister or your friend? Was she pampered, protected, and served hand and foot? Maybe, or maybe not. When I ask new moms if they have gotten the royal treatment, most say, “The what?” Of course, some respond, “My husband is the best ever!” or “I rely a lot on my sister; she comes by every day.” But… for the most part this new woman is a blend of a strong, blossoming madonna and an exhausted, slightly terrified new mom.
The image of the Holy Madonna, a woman tenderly cradling a newborn, has been immortalized in everything from sculpture to holiday postage stamps. From rockstars to supermodels pregnancy and childbirth becomes a passage to mainstream acceptance. For very rich, royal, or famous women, labor and childbirth are a public event. Sadly, people respond better to the image of motherhood than to mothers themselves. Few women can go through early motherhood with the assistance of two nannies, a night nurse, and a personal trainer, but we all deserve to be treated like a Madonna, honored and pampered for bringing forth life. The more practical assistance and moral support a woman receives, the happier and healthier both she and her infant will be.
I started noticing the fascination with the image of motherhood during my pregnancy with Alexander. As my belly grew, so did the smiles and gentle or nosy comments from strangers. When Alexander was a newborn, people peeked into his stroller and cooed. When he was 6 months old, they enjoyed the smiles and laughter he gave them in return. But when he was 18 months old and having a tantrum and running behind a store counter, I realized that my image as Madonna, and his as adored prince, had faded. It was clear to me then that the Madonna myth needed to be replaced by a deeper respect for the incredible challenges of motherhood and a greater appreciation for its rewards.