Motherhood and the Case of the Disappearing Woman

I got an email from my buddy Mia Freedman this morning (co-founder of Mamamia media for those in the dark about this “inspirer” of women) as she was moving house – ok it was a group email and I am on her mailing list, but hey we could be friends IRL. She wrote about women, famous actresses in particular, who have become mothers and claim in interviews that it might be time to walk away from their million dollar careers and fame and great success and talent and stay at home with their families. While there is doubt as to whether the women meant it, there is certainty that it is a line that women often pull out to appease the world that yes, they know their place, don’t worry. Mia believes that there is some kind of conspiracy about being able to comfortably say “I love my work” without guilt if you are a woman who has given birth to mini creatures. Even the super rich ones. God help us ones over here and to the left.

If you are a mother, the children are supposed to come first, and the world tells you that you should sacrifice everything to make sure that your children have EVERYTHING. The sacrifice includes your body, your mental health, your time, your ego, your capacity to think and function, your will to put on makeup, care for yourself other than as an afterthought. The message is basically, look, just give it all up until the children are grown. Actually, just until forever.

The amazing Glenon Doyle says that women get the message that if you are not a martyr you are not a real mother, and that a mother’s love means to die slowly for the good of your children. Women are often honoured for being “selfless” as though disappearing is the highest thing that you can do for your family. Women are supposed to celebrate that they can never again jump on a trampoline without peeing themselves, to have scars and stretchmarks and any other broken bits which all represent the sacrifices they made for their children. Then they are supposed to take pure joy in the relentlessness of the free labour that they provide to the system; of the washing that piles up daily or preparing food three times a day for children who just want to eat fluff or french fries (or a combination of them both). 

In the western world, childcare is so expensive that women have to sacrifice their careers, take pay cuts, and/or put their whole salary towards childcare and then feel guilty that they want to go back to work to regain their identity. I know for sure that going to work each day is way easier than staying at home with the kids and the routines and screaming and endless making of foods. Sometimes I felt great relief to leave my house (pre-Covid of course) in the morning as the kids screamed for me to stay. Sometimes of course the guilt is there and it sits with me all day – I should not be enjoying this – I wanted to be a mother and to be a mother is to focus on your children ALL OF THE TIME.

And still, no matter how much of ourselves we give up, it is never enough. The world is profiting big time from making women the “bad guy” and this begins with holding the standards up so high that it is impossible to consider yourself a great, or even a good mother. All a man has to do is walk in public holding the hand of his child and he is a god akin to Thor. If a woman does the same she will be judged for holding the hand incorrectly or letting her daughter go out in a) too much pink and glitter or b) dark clothing which makes her look ugly.

Not only are women held up to impossible standards of perfection and told to sacrifice their identity as an individual living person in the world, they are also told to become, literally, invisible. 

And please. Do it without complaint. Women shrink themselves emotionally, spiritually and then of course we literally make ourselves invisible by not appearing in any of the photos when our kids are small, because we look so, you know (gulp), fat. And we already covered the ways that fat is bad. 

(Oh and by the way, if you haven’t had children? SELFISH MONSTER SHE-BEAST NOT DOING HER PART TO SHRINK HERSELF DOWN. YOU ARE MAD! )

The first time I fully realised the ways in which the world was going to try and erase myself as an individual person (separate from children) from its surface was after I had just given birth to my first daughter. After becoming pregnant from the miracle of IVF and rubbing my belly for 9 months so excited to meet her I was in hospital and the doctor was on a mission to get the creature out and get back to his life. So he threatened me with the vacuum and forceps, then cut my (will it make you uncomfortable if I say “vulva”? Or is it more uncomfortable that it was actually sliced) “nether regions” open with a blade, took the baby away to be weighed before I had a chance to see her and left me alone. 

There I was lying there bleeding and said to my suami, “Get my baby back here NOW”, so then I was alone in the room. At that point, the effect of the drugs that had been injected into my spine which I had been cajoled into whilst in pain, had started to wear off and all of a sudden my body started shaking. It was cold in that room too. And I had no clothes on. I knew that everyone would be around my baby, so I tried to feel grateful that she was being taken care of. So I lay there shaking, alone in the room, bleeding, tears streaming down my face, feeling like I had been cast adrift and lost forever. 

When you become pregnant in Indonesia, then you become “Ibu Hamil” (pregnant woman), shortened to “BuMil”. When you have a baby you take on the name of your child so I will forever be “Mama Anais” and when she has children I will become “Nenek Anais”. My name has been erased. For women in Indonesia, it is expected that you will have children; your parents will hassle you and hassle you from the moment it is appropriate to hurry up and find a man and get married and have children and then have another one and then have another one and then have another one. If you do not have one, you are a sorrowful creature. This is very clear. Oh and while you are having children and still going to work, make sure you also cook and clean for your husband. Hey, I said without complaining.

So anyway, there I was, no longer “BuMil” and now “Mama Anais” lying in that room alone shaking and feeling guilty for feeling that I needed at least some clothes. And so the message got stronger. “Feel guilty woman, you are not a good enough mother to want to have your own needs met”.

I had my second baby in Bali, seeking the ultimate place to keep it natural (by the way, it doesn’t matter how you get the baby out, just get it out), and after she was out, then I had to confront the “big disappearing” again. I spent a lot of time re-learning to feed her; blisters, pain, stress, anxiety. Any time I dared to leave the dark room to, you know, get some sunshine, the crowd outside would pounce on me “What are you doing out here?” and “Where is your baby?”. I would look over at my suami sitting happily smoking cigarettes by the pool. And if I dared to bring the baby outside “yikes, namuk (mosquitoes)” or “aduh, panas (hot)”. If any stranger on the street found out that the baby was less than 6 weeks old and she was outside, then it was a big, great feeling of shame that they would send my way. To my suami (husband)? To his friend literally blowing smoke in his children’s face and using their plate as an ashtray? No, it was not his problem. It was up to me, the mother. He continued to smoke happily oblivious to the messages being sent my way.

What the fuck is going on?

Of course motherhood is a gift, of course I love my children more than anything in the world, but this expectation that women sacrifice all and do it in silence, is another facet of this patriarchy that has got us by the vulva (is that word comfortable yet, or should I say “short and curlies”?). 

It is time to give up this belief. Kick it to the curb. Step one; don’t buy into the myth. It’s just another trick of patriarchy to make you hate yourself that little bit more so you keep quiet while working 24/7 for free raising your kids. Step 2: slap your partner in the face and tell him to wake up. He needs to be reading parenting books. And if your partner is a woman, damn, where did you meet her and does she have a sister?

So, in the last post, we considered how women need to shrink their bodies down in order to be seen, and now we see how mothers have to shrink their identities and dreams and beliefs down in order to make sure their children are happy. To celebrate the destruction of their bodies for the greater good of the world. For never having time to heal the body, to consider the body, to find out what it needs to get better. The baby is the focus and shall be forevermore.

Maybe we have all experienced that feeling of being alone in a room shivering while the world looks away.

Well you know what? Fuck it all. Read Untamed. It’s time to grow. 


Oh and go and take a selfie with your kids from the worst angle you can. Liberation, one double chin at a time.


[The next we will ask ourselves in this little old blog is: do men actually hate women? And is it possible for a man to be an equal partner or has patriarchy fucked him up too?]

Here’s a throw-back to get us in the mood. Dance around. Curse the patriarchy. That’s what the song is really about, isn’t it?

The “you” is the patriarchy – set yourself free by loving it less every day. And if it helps with your visualisations, when he sings “girlfriend”, picture your very own Abby. If you don’t know what I am talking, read Untamed NOW.

Published by lostinthealleywayscom

I am a feminist, mother of two, Australian, married to an Indonesian, lover of all things Jakarta (well apart from the pollution and rubbish and corruption and...well you get the picture). I want to share my stories of exploring Jakarta and raising my two daughters in the big city.

3 thoughts on “Motherhood and the Case of the Disappearing Woman

  1. So well written and indeed so true, I was there for feeling never god enough for all what I have done, to be perfect more than super women can do, to be shrink for feeling I’m nothing, because I still got critisized and finally left for other women. I’m single with two beautiful children and I feel happy to feel fri which is not completly free because the hight requirement still out there..


    1. It’s impossible to be a perfect woman. All women can do is to seek deep inside themselves for what gives us strength. Not what we are told but what we feel. To trust our intuition. That is where the freedom comes from. Thanks so much for your comment.


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