It is common in modern society to make an idol out of motherhood and choice addiction, holding up specific behaviors as proof of being a “good mother”. Breastfeeding, attachment parenting, working outside the home, staying home, unmedicated labor, planned c-sections, conception via artificial means such as IVF and IUI— the list is unending and covers just about everything a woman could do or undertake in the role of motherhood. Yet as the short list I did make shows, each of those discrete choices comes with tradeoffs, and none of them are made in a vacuum.
But the modern notion that one never really has to choose or accept tradeoffs leads to women desperately trying to mash opposing choices together. So it’s pumping milk to keep the career, or unmedicated labor for an IVF conception, or breastfeeding and using formula. Many women flail around doing a little of this and a little of that, trying to choose every choice when that just isn’t possible. Some choices are more optimal than others. Some choices are easier in this current society than others. The concept of “good mother” is a moving target because society itself doesn’t have the space for the full maternal role for any woman.
A mother must sacrifice part of her self just to be a mother and this tradeoff, as the obvious and clear one, is most papered over amidst modern notions of individuality. For women seem increasingly to identify the “good mother” as one who does x, where x is a single, atomized, context-free thing. This is an individualist view of the matter and nonsensical, as mothers exist in community. A mother’s children are simultaneously part of her and separate from her, in a clear sense a little model of the way the Christian is filled with the indwelling Holy Spirit, but remains physically separate from God on Earth. At our peril we forget these subtle ways God has provided to reveal the Divine Order, opting instead to get caught up in chasing a false, solipsistic ideal of “good mother”. A good mother understands tradeoffs and that she is never truly alone, and that no matter how lowly her efforts may seem and feel to her, they are an echo of the Divine.