No woman is able to return to life as she knew it pre-baby.
So I had an interview scheduled with London author Louise Perry, whose new book, The Case Against the Sexual Revolution, was just released this week (although it’s been available in the UK for several months).
Perry, who’s thirty years old, married, and a new mother, has been working overtime doing publicity for her book. But she told me in an email that she’s officially tapped out and had to cancel our interview due to “full-time work and motherhood taking a toll” on her health.
As much as I wanted to talk with Perry about her book, I thought I’d use this opportunity to address a different subject: what life after baby really looks like, something few are willing to discuss.
In her book, Perry explains in great detail how the sexual revolution “shackled” her generation. Much of the book centers on the Pill, hookup culture, and porn—and on the undeniable sex differences that make sexual equality a pipe dream.
But Perry also decries the ridiculous concept of ‘having it all,’ something that becomes blindingly obvious to any new mother.
No woman is able to return to life as she knew it pre-baby. She may eventually incorporate some version of her former life into her current one—depends how many babies she has and what her former life consisted of. But she will not be the same person. She will not be the same woman.
When I was around Perry’s age and in the throes of new motherhood, I wrote a book very similar to hers. I had left my teaching career and subsequently become a writer, in part bc writing is more compatible with motherhood. During the book publicity stage—the stage Perry is in—I turned down any interviews that required travel since I would not leave my son, who was just a few months old at the time. And I’m 99% sure the Today Show reached out.
It may sound crazy to you to write a book and to not want to jump at the chance to promote it on national television, but it wasn’t crazy to me. I was needed at home, and nothing mattered more than being with my babies. Fame is fleeting, but family is forever. I had years to write, but I had only one window in which to be with my babies.
I suspect Louise Perry is experiencing the same thing as we speak, and she isn’t alone. Many women don’t realize not only how taxing motherhood can be but how much less they care about things they used to care so much about before. Many have asked me (rhetorically) over the years, “Why didn’t anyone tell me this stuff?”
So, here I am telling women this stuff. Here are 4 things you need to know before having a baby:
- Raising babies is a full-time job. To say ‘babies are work’ isn’t enough. They are entirely dependent on you, and caring for them is extremely physical, to the point where if the best you can do is ensure that the both of you sleep enough, stay clean, and eat well (breastfeeding alone is very time-consuming and requires a calm presence, not a frenetic one), you will have accomplished all you need to accomplish in a given day. This can be hard to grasp for a generation of women who’ve been told their self-worth rests on what they can prove, either with a paycheck or an award or with a pat on the back. You will get none of these things caring for a baby. It is work that only you can see and that only your baby (and hopefully, your husband) can appreciate. It is silent work, done in the privacy of one’s own home, and you’ll have to be good with that. You have to know, really know, that for now it is Enough. Because it is.
- Babies need the consistent and engaged presence of a single caregiver, preferably the mother. Rather than lay it all out here, I’ll introduce you to Erica Komisar—here and here—who I highly recommend become your go-to expert on the needs of very young children. Suffice it to say, the idea that babies should be expected to conform to adult lives, which typically aren’t the least bit conducive to baby’s needs, is not how childrearing is designed to work. On the contrary, childrearing demands that mothers stop what they’re doing, full throttle, and drastically modify the life they once knew.
- For most married couples, a second income is not worth the trade-offs. Unless the second income is significantly high, the majority of that money usually gets eaten up by child care, taxes, work attire and dry cleaning, gas and other commuting costs, convenience foods, etc. Many couples also forget to factor in the cost of living, which differs depending on where you live—and sometimes moving is an option. But when you put pen to paper, the take-home amount is often not worth the stressful and often conflict-ridden life of working full-time with a baby.
- YOU will want to be with your baby as much as he/she will want to be with you. As Megyn Kelly told Dr. Laura earlier this year on The Megyn Kelly Show, no one ever tells women that THEY are going to want to be with their babies. The average mother who drops off her baby at day care is in pure agony. The culture tells her this is normal and fine and that she will get over it. But her guilt and depression isn’t something to suppress; it’s a signal. And what it’s signaling isn’t just that your baby needs you but that YOU need your baby. You’re not supposed to ignore it or “get over it.” You’re supposed to listen—and respond accordingly.