Mother’s work is easier shared

Motherhood is a wonderful blessing, writes Shelina Janmohamed, but it can be lonely work

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Let me introduce you to a new word: pooplosion. New mothers have been suffering them in silence for too long. But no longer. The advent of the internet, blogging and Facebook has validated the complaints of all those who have endured the industrial-scale cleaning required in their aftermath.

I discovered the name of this phenomenon at 2am on a mummy Facebook group. My newborn had pooploded, a pooplosion that ran up her back and down her leg, through two layers of her own clothing and two further layers of my own. There’s nothing quite so lonely as cleaning poo in the semi darkness while others around you sleep blissfully. I felt relief when my tragedy was validated by other mothers also awake at that time with their babies, and together we could see the hilarity. Comedy is tragedy plus time, and pooplosions are only funny when seen with others and in retrospect.

Our cultural constructs around motherhood are a paradox. On the one hand it is placed on a pedestal: mothers do the most important role in the world, paradise lies beneath the feet of the mother. But the specific acts of motherhood are demeaned as dull, unskilled and unworthy of discussion. Being stuck between these two is lonely. The internet has offered mothers a place where their struggles are shared and legitimised.

There’s a reason mummy blogs are so popular: for those writing them they are an outlet for frustration, a chance to yell to the world. For those reading, the most powerful thing is to know that you are not alone: that you are enjoying (yes, enjoying!) a shared experience; that there is significance to what you do beyond the next nappy. Motherhood is hard, and one of the hardest parts is its debilitating loneliness and isolation. The experience of feeling segregated from society is exacerbated by the feeling that the acts of motherhood are unworthy of discussion.

Going out to work is considered hard. Staying home to look after the children is apparently easy. I’ve done both, give me an office any day. There’s one huge difference that makes being a stay-at-home mum disproportionately hard: who do you talk to? At work there is water-cooler banter. You can stand up and talk through a problem with a colleague. Your clients, bosses and suppliers respond to logic and discussion. With children, you’re on your own inside four walls. How on Earth do you identify those red itchy spots, or work out why your child wakes every hour? Babies have no logic, and no number of carefully worded emails will make them go to bed.

I spoke to one mum in the UK who set up a Facebook group precisely to dissipate the loneliness. “Muslim Mamas” now has 6,000 mums around the world who discuss everything from breastfeeding and weaning, to politics and family relationships.

Motherhood is important. Mothers know that. But it’s also hard work and, at times, very lonely. Our society needs to acknowledge this side-by-side with praise for motherhood, and mothers just need somewhere to say it. And, yes, that includes me and my discussions about pooplosions.

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.