Six years ago, holding a positive pregnancy test with one hand and hugging the toilet bowl with the other, I quickly realised that life was about to change. Gripped by waves of nausea and a bloated sense of reality, my journey into motherhood was one of fear balanced against expectation.
The stakes were high. My career was about to go on hold and our household thrown into chaos. As my waistline expanded and I lost sight of my toes, I craved a sense of control. So with a chorus of parenting experts in my head, I shopped. My fears of no sleep overcome by purchasing baby sleeping bags. Anxiety over losing my independence tackled by buying a bouncer, swing and Bumbo that would give baby their independence. The more I bought the more confidence I gained. The moment I opted for a hand crocheted baby blanket over a new pair of shoes for myself, I knew I was ready to tackle the quintessential moment of motherhood prep: buying a pram.
The congratulations following my pregnancy announcement were quickly superseded by the questions. “Have you bought a pram?” “Three or four-wheeler?” “What colour?” I spent hours on Google searching my options. In the end I was swayed by Hollywood celebrities. The Bugaboo Chameleon was being pushed by all the Mummy Stars. So a small fortune later, flat packed and in daring yellow, I had purchased my chance of feeling like a Mummy Star.
Almost everything associated with raising children is synonymous with a small fortune. A recent study shows that the cost of bringing up two children from birth to 21 years of age, in a typical middle-income family is over $800,000. That is more than the average mortgage in Australia. When this figure is broken down, transport is listed as the number one expense in raising children, with housing coming in a mere fourth. If prams are considered transport, then I did more than my fair share of inflating those figures.
I survived the rollercoaster of my first pregnancy, only to be back at the starting line when my son was sixteen months old. Second time round, my fears were less of the unknown and more of the overwhelming responsibility I felt that two very little people would need me, every single moment of the day. In an effort to alleviate this new brand of anxiety, I shopped for a new pram - a double pram. It was the manifesto of my parenting style and it was working.
Sabina Read, psychologist and social commentator, says that “visualising pushing [your] unborn bub in a new pram, or even driving kids around in a shiny four wheel drive, can temporarily help give us a sense of control and reduce some of the anxiety that is typical during potentially stressful life transitions.”
Returning to work after maternity leave and leaving my son in the care of his grandparents, was a stressful life transition, so I bought each grandmother a pram. Perhaps so they could be as prepared as I was, or just so I could feel less guilty? Returning to work the second time and leaving both a toddler and a newborn in their care meant my guilt had doubled, so why shouldn’t the prams? Even a trip overseas was shrouded in a fear that I compensated with by buying yet another pram.
My new parent consumerism was easily navigated by eBay. There are almost 6,000 listings under prams and strollers, each a flagpole to another parent finding their confidence and moving on. Four of my prams have been sold on eBay, yet the first pram was the hardest to let go. As I closed the door, after the buyer picked up my now scuffed and worn yellow wonder, I realised that perhaps my boys were not the only ones growing up, I was too.
In the latest stroller and pram review, Choice magazine warns “a stroller is one of the most important baby-related purchases you’ll make – get it wrong and you’re stuck with an expensive tank that doesn’t fit into your boot or a lightweight trolley that tips over at the slightest road wobble.”
Feelings of inadequacy have long been used by advertisers to sell almost anything but fear of failing before you even start, or more pointedly, fear of being a bad mother is the most successful advertising campaign for motherhood. Baby wipe warmers, nappy bins, baby food processors and designer baby shoes all with expensive price tags, sound ridiculously superfluous but in the white hot moment of new mum anxiety, they look like answers. Although according to Dr Read “while retail therapy can be fun and bring short-term relief, in reality, no purchase can provide the knowledge and skills required for confident parenting.”
Which we knew all along, right? It’s just so hard to keep in perspective in this new race to be the Best Mother on Earth.
One pram, seven prams or no prams at all, the real challenge is finding the confidence to keep pushing forward.
Josefa Pete is a freelance writer, scientist and mother to two boisterous boys. You can follow her musings at www.alwaysjosefa.com.