Adele and the shattering achievement of motherhood
February 17, 2016
It’s not shocking that the girl with the golden voice has all but dominated the news cycle the past week. From her Grammy nabs to her sound system snafu at the same ceremony to her stunning Vogue cover, the one-named wonder is everywhere.
Since there are no coincidences, I found myself last night blasting her latest album – track 4 is a particular favorite – at a level that was seriously testing the limits of ye olde Honda Odyssey’s sound system as I pulled into the garage last night. Dave joked after I walked in the door that he hoped I enjoyed my dance party.
I reddened only slightly, laughing, “you could hear me?”
He nodded and proceeded to mock me with a faux beat box.
I shrugged, laughing, “well it’s Adele. Listen loud or don’t bother.”
Then I asked him what he thought about using her name for a future (not imminent! <– disclaimer) daughter’s name.
The jury’s still out.
This morning I clicked open a thoughtful piece, despite the clickbait title, from the Federalist. The author wonders over the seeming incoherence of the modern feminist movement to find any common ground with women who experience profound and, to quote Adele, “ultimate purpose” in motherhood.
I think I know at least partially why that’s so hard for modern minds to swallow.
Because we’ve so effectively divorced sex and babies, both in a philosophical sense and in a biological reality, it’s now generally a matter of choice when – and if – a woman becomes a mother.
So for Adele to literally tattoo her son’s name on her skin, to bare her soul and her heart instead of her body on a magazine cover, announcing to the world that her little boy, not her record-smashing album, has given her an unprecedented sense of fulfillment? That’s pretty bold.
And yet it’s not surprising, I don’t think, to anyone who has ever herself become a mother.
There’s a critical difference that is too often lost, I feel, when discussing the roles of mother and father as possible identities in a line up of career choices.
Because to be a mother is to assume an entirely new identity. It’s a total reconfiguring of self, a radical overhaul of priorities and resources. And more than anything else? It’s a death.
Death to the autonomous self. Death to the person you were before you became a cooperating creative force in populating eternity. There are all kinds of careers – essential and good and necessary callings – that a woman can do.
But you don’t “do” motherhood.
It’s not something that you achieve, despite what our postmodern view of fertility and family strives to assert.
Motherhood is an entirely new state of being. And if that sounds too weird, consider that your very genetic makeup is permanently altered by becoming somebody’s mom. Your child’s DNA, discernibly different from your own, is now written into your very brain.
How’s that for mind blowing?
And yet for Adele, superstar that she is, to confess that she found her life before motherhood “lacked focus and meaning,” is controversial.
“How lovely it is, then,” writes Elissa Strauss for Slate, “to see someone like Adele appear so utterly unconflicted about the joys of becoming a parent, to be so high on motherhood without fearing that she might lose herself in it.”
But what if she does “lose herself” in it? What if 25 is, as she herself has predicted more than once, her final album? Does that discredit her incredible talent? Her haunting voice? Her lyrical genius?
What if Adele, packing up the trappings of fame and notoriety at the ripe old age of 27, decides to enter into the shadowy life of former celebrity and manages to find happiness – a happiness that she longs for, as is achingly evident on her brilliant record – with a man who wants to raise her son with her?
Or maybe she does keep writing and recording. But she manages to find the elusive balance between work and home life that, as a single parent, must be an even tighter and more excruciatingly fine line to walk.
If she continues to shatter records and sales numbers but maintains that her motherhood, as her son grows, is still more fulfilling?
Will that be okay with Salon and Vogue?
I propose that a different sort of double standard exists for women today.
If in ages past, women were shackled to their cookstoves and conscripted into domestic servitude by their compliant ovaries, today’s women are torn by opposing forces that seek to bind them both to home and office, tightening the chain on the one when the other loosens. A new baby allows for some slackening from the work side of things, but at 6 weeks postpartum the tension ratchets up again and she’s pulled into her “real” career.
Get too comfortable in either world and you’re liable to be labeled either a brainless homemaker or a cold hearted careerist.
So which is it for Adele? Why can’t she, of all women, “have it all,” so to speak?
I would venture to say it’s because motherhood really does belong to a fundamentally different category. And motherhood, fully embraced, will absolutely result in the loss of self. But what emerges from the trappings of that former self is nothing less than a beautiful redefinition of your very being.
If that sounds dramatic, it’s because it is dramatic
Motherhood is one of the most powerful forces for good in this world. And for a woman to take up that power and wield it justly and generously is an act of incredible cultural and historical significance. Making art is probably the only other thing I can even compare it to, on a human level, in terms of impact and longevity.
But even great art pales in comparison to what it means to bring a child into the world, to become mother.
There’s something striking about a culture that has forgotten, on such a fundamental level, the truth of this: that of course it isn’t possible not to “lose oneself” in one of the most profound relationships of love and self giving that can exist.
But how telling, too, that it would be turned into some kind of accolade rather than an observance that a profound truth has been forgotten on a fundamental level. For you cannot love anything, not even a pet, without being wrung out and shattered a bit in the process. Another brilliant Brit taught me that.
I wish Adele all the best as she forges new territory in the public eye and fights to strike the balance, as all moms do, between what she does and between who she is to that little boy.
And you know what sister? I think you’re onto something.