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How Motherhood Liberated Me


Geee

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Free Press

In the early weeks of motherhood, I spent countless hours struggling to nurse my daughter. When I wasn’t nursing, I was calling my lactation consultant for latching advice or compulsively scrolling through Reddit for tips on increasing my supply. I was pumping and pouring bottles and somehow spilling my hard-earned milk everywhere in the process.

I felt like a useless cow.

Millions of women have this experience. And that was part of the problem: I didn’t feel special in the way I’d always wanted to. I wasn’t making use of my unique skill set. 

It was disorienting for a twenty-five-year-old who’d spent more than a decade trying to prove I was exceptional. I had defined myself by what I believed would make me valuable in the markets where I competed: college admissions, job opportunities, the dating pool. I’d distinguished myself in social settings with a series of tricks—smoking, listening to obscure music, talking about my time in Tajikistan. And now, here I was, doing something that literally defines the female mammal. Nursing didn’t require any knowledge of Tajiki or the local punk scene. 

“We envision ourselves as marketable objects,” writes sociologist Joseph E. Davis in his 2003 article, “The Commodification of Self.” He describes the way we sell ourselves: “To be successful at Me. Inc, my traits, values, beliefs, and so on. . . must be self-consciously adopted or discarded, emphasized or de-emphasized.” The market has its own ideas of value, and it demands we pitch ourselves as unique, and irreplaceable. You’ll be the best student; you’re the best woman for the job; the person sitting across the table should fall in love with you—and no one else. 

While you’re doing this, it’s easy to develop a prejudice against what we have in common. The skills that everyone is capable of aren’t as important as those that are rare. I knew that providing my baby with milk was the most useful, necessary thing I’d ever done in my life—but it made me feel the opposite of extraordinary.

That is, until my daughter turned six weeks old—and she did something that changed my world forever: she smiled at me. 

That smile blew all those traditional status markers out of the water—better than a million Instagram likes, an Ivy League acceptance letter, a competitive job offer—even though making my baby smile was one of the easiest things I’d ever done. I booped her nose with my finger and made a silly sound. Really, anyone could have done it. But that didn’t diminish my daughter’s amazement, because she doesn’t care if I’m exceptional. She just cares that I’m hers:snip:

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