Rewriting the Motherhood Manifesto
The formula of what motherhood is and is not is ingrained in our society and sedimented in our cultural practices from birth. Mothers are expected to form intense emotional bonds with their children while overseeing their physical, moral, and educational development; mothers are disciplinarians, our friends and confidants, our tutors, and personal chefs. Mothers are (or supposed to be) saints, goddesses, powerful multitaskers endlessly capable of balancing work and home—and look great doing it with a smile on their face.
And while we acknowledge that mothering is a contact sport (deemed the “world’s toughest job” sans pay or holiday), we expect mothers to selflessly suffer, sacrificing their bodies, their careers, and their social lives to raise children, only to continue the cycle in pursuit of a fulfilling life—whatever that means.
These confusing messages simultaneously build mothers up as heroes while essentially telling them that nothing they achieve compares to having and raising a baby. Their identities as humans—with bodies and careers and social lives—are devalued outside of the home, suggesting that a mother has little to contribute outside raising children.
Yet advertisements and social media perpetuate the idea that we will (and should want to) somehow be able to attain this unattainable ideal and identity surrounding matriarchal abundance and beauty. And whether it’s online or in person, we continue to hold mothers to impossible standards, judging them through a male-gaze tinted magnifying glass in critique of how mothers mother.
There are several variables that add up to what society deems and the media portrays as the “perfect mother,” and while these variables keep on changing, sexuality has never been part of the equation.
The prevailing ideas and expectations surrounding motherhood and sexuality seem to exist on different planes; while they may run parallel, very rarely do they intersect. A “socially acceptable” vision of motherhood is often depicted as that of a woman who does not exhibit visible sexual agency, while the stigma attached to a sexually open person often excludes any characteristics that would be considered maternal, going so far as to deem the person “unfit” to mother.
Sex-positive and kinky mother of two, Bre (she/her) of @baebaeleche is helping to retell these false narratives for future generations. At once a mother, partner, artist, and relationship coach, Bree helps us understand what it means to dissolve the divide between the domestic and erotic and find their points of intersection.
In one of your posts you talk about the word “Mother” being loaded. I agree, but seeing as I am not a parent—the word triggers a lot of questions around identity and the unknown for me. Should I, could I (be a mother)? I feel a lot of inner turmoil about this. Could you tell us a little bit more about the “musings, dreams & nightmares” you have coming into motherhood.
Trying to answer this question had me really struggling to organize my thoughts. I didn’t quite know where to begin and where to end and got really lost on tangents along the way. But this is what I landed on:
Like many other people, I was raised by a single mother. She worked so hard to make sure that we always had everything we needed, but she often made it very clear to us that mothering was something she rarely enjoyed, and that we were a burden for her. We were very well cared for—well fed, clean, and immaculately dressed—but in moments of stress, she made hurtful comments that left a visceral impact and stirred my own fears, years later, around motherhood.
I knew I wanted to parent alongside my partner, but being a mother? Could I actually be someone’s mother? I was dating other people. I liked going out. Nights enjoying giggles and munchies are really fun. With the added demands of parenthood, what was going to give? Was it really possible that I would enjoy nursing my child more than I enjoyed the freedom to get pie and make out with my coworker at Du-par’s after a bar shift? I feared that I was too selfish to be a good mother. And I feared that if I became a “good mother,” I would eventually resent my children for all the things I could never do or be, for what I had given up. And, even if I could keep that feeling down most of the time, I feared that in moments of frustration, I would make my children feel the same way I felt as a child. Like a burden.
That was one cycle I knew I would have to break. I had read and learned about generational cycles and the mother wound, and I knew that if I became a mother that I would also be entering into some hard work. Could I be the one to break those cycles, or were they going to be stronger than I was? We’re still answering that question, but I am dreaming of what it might look like to raise children who have minimal childhood trauma to undo, and who can live their lives without that weight.
It feels really affirming to see all the diverse aspects of a person expressed online so authentically. I think many people feel boxed in, or stereotyped by tropes they see reflected on the internet & in the media. You are “femme, Latinx, sex positive, kinky, a mother & a wife.” What are things you do to honor all those parts of yourself?
I love being Latinx, and I love being femme, but these are parts of my identity that I don’t think about as much as other parts because, at this point, they feel so familiar to me. So I guess I honor them by doing them both my way — authentically, without thinking about them. I struggled for a little while with my unique identity as Latinx, often feeling like I wasn’t Latinx enough. My parents grew up in Los Angeles in predominantly brown neighborhoods. I enjoy tamales at Christmas and sing sana sana to my baby when he gets hurt. But my grandpa still mumbles disappointedly every time I speak to him in English. I’ve stopped thinking so much about my Latinx identity and realized that I honor it best when I’m not trying to perform it.
However, I do have to be more conscious when I honor these other parts of my identity because our culture puts them at odds with one another. Sure, we have plenty of examples of mothers in pop culture owning their sexualities. We have Cardi B. We have JLo. But Cardi B and JLo aren’t our friends. Seeing women we know in real life openly exist as sexual beings is still more rare to come by. We can watch celebs do it, and it’s okay, but try being a mom out for a drink without someone you know asking who is with the kids.
For my partner and I, it is important that we nurture our sexualities both together and separately—whether it’s giving one another ten-minute breaks to masturbate or entire nights out to go on a date. The world of kink is relatively new to me, but I am enjoying actively expanding my knowledge and experiences by buying new toys, going to play parties and working with a Daddy Dom/pelvic floor expert to make my orgasms stronger.
You talk about prioritizing your truth & your pleasure. These are radical ideas for some people. Tell us a little about your journey getting there and/or what are small steps people can take to help them find a path to authentic happiness especially in regards to motherhood or parenting?
I grew up around a lot of unhappy adults and while in college watched most of my peers seeming to be on the same trajectory. Go to college. Meet your partner. Get married. Have children. Work too much. It was something that I knew I did not want but have had to push really hard to have something different. My husband and I met when we were only twenty-one but knew right away we wanted to do life as partners. So how could we have a happy marriage but still leave room for all of the growth we still had to do? And later, how could I be a mother but not have to neuter myself in the process of becoming one?
So throughout my twenties I did a lot of journaling. I asked myself many hard questions. I tried things out. I took risks and made mistakes. I persisted with my desire to have an open marriage, even though it was putting a lot of strain on my partner and I. But I had to listen to myself and trust that I was the best authority on what would make me happy. Sometimes it felt selfish. Sometimes I was selfish. But as women and wives and mothers, we are taught to be selfless at the expense of our own happiness. Long ago, I read that the number one indicator of a child’s happiness is how happy their mothers are. That fact has been another big motivator in prioritizing my own joy and reconciling with my own fears about motherhood.
"As women and wives and mothers, we are taught to be selfless at the expense of our own happiness."
Lastly, starting from youth we are so dissuaded from being imaginative about what our adult lives could look like. We might want something outside the norm, but we don’t think it’s possible because we haven’t seen it done before. I knew I wanted to be a sex therapist when I was in high school. I usually had more than one boyfriend at a time. In ways, the life I have now isn’t far from what I always knew I wanted. I spent a lot of years trying to shut down parts of myself—my interest in sexuality, my desire to be more fluid and open with the way I did relationships. Eventually I realized I could have the life I really wanted, if only I stopped telling myself what I wanted wasn’t possible and returned to what I already knew. I think we all know what it is we need to be happy. It just takes a little imagination and some dedicated digging to get there.
Could you tell us a little bit more about your goal in creating images & content around the intersection of motherhood & sexuality?
This is tricky for a few reasons. I have ideas but, ultimately, I have to be brave enough to create art that will make some people label me a “bad mother.” People are really uncomfortable with women not packing up their sexualities when they become mothers, especially when they are with their children. We can sexualize mothers, but god forbid they take ownership of it themselves and take reins of the gaze.
After having my first baby, I knew I wasn’t going to get an entirely new wardrobe or start wearing a bra. I enjoy wearing lingerie around my house, and one morning I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror while carrying my baby and wearing some new Savage x Fenty. I realized that I hadn’t seen many images like this. I realized I hadn’t seen any images of mothers who were nurturing beings while also flaunting their sexualities. It felt clear that I needed to capture myself and share that mothers can be—and are—both.
I shot these images and shared them, and they were immediately taken down by Instagram. I didn’t censor my nipples and, per Instagram’s guidelines, didn’t have to if I was in the act of nursing. But they were all reported and deleted and eventually, so was my entire account. That sucked, but it made me even more certain of the importance of the work.
So as I care for my newborn daughter, I am just sitting on a few ideas. For example, sometimes I self-pleasure while feeding and napping my baby. I am certain I am not the only person to do this. I would love to create art that captures this, but are people ready for these kinds of images?
Also, before having children, I didn’t plan on posting photos of them online at all — I didn’t like that they didn’t have any say in the matter. So how do I tell my story of motherhood without feeling like I am using them as props? Is it okay to create images involving my children when they have no agency? These are questions I am still working through. My goal is to create more challenging art in the arena of sexuality and parenthood, but figuring out how to do it thoughtfully and without exploiting my babies is the challenge.