Are Motherhood & Minimalism Incompatible?

Photographed by Winnie Au.
Welcome to Mothership: Parenting stories you actually want to read, whether you're thinking about or passing on kids, from egg-freezing to taking home baby and beyond. Because motherhood is a big if — not when — and it's time we talked about it that way.
I used to own just four bras, and each one fit perfectly. My favorite was a Chantelle in lime green lace with a tiny rhinestone horseshoe in the center. It seemed to make me unlucky in the breast department.
When I got pregnant, my cup size ballooned rapidly, and it worried me enough that I wrote “boobs” on the list of concerns I took to my first prenatal appointment with my ObGyn. Bigger breasts meant new bras, then something called “bra extenders” when I refused to shell out for a third and perhaps not final set of supportive undergarments. I know nursing bras are next, and I dread them.
Having too much stuff makes me feel out of control, like entropy is winning, and chaos is imminent. As a kid, I’d declutter my friends’ bedrooms for fun. In the midst of re-organizing my own, I’d get such a stomachache at the midpoint, when everything was not in its right place, that I’d have to take prescription anti-nausea pills.
Now six months pregnant, I know babies are the ultimate opponents in the ruthless war on stuff. First came the maternity clothes. My wardrobe has always been tightly edited. It bothers me that I own three flannel shirts and two pairs of high-top wedge sneakers. Everything faces the same way on identical hangers, and I turn things around once I wear them so I know what to get rid of the next time I purge my closet.
I’ve had the same favorite outfit for close to a decade, which I like to think means it’s timeless: a black deep-V from American Apparel (RIP), burgundy Dansko clogs, and a pair of dark-wash skinny jeans that look, more or less, like every other pair I’ve owned since high school.
Everything maternity, meanwhile, seems to be ruched, polka-dotted, or otherwise already dated and frumpy. And it’s not made to last because, though a lifelong commitment, pregnancy is temporary. Unless you want to pay $200 for a pair of Paige jeans upgraded with a monster elastic panel upfront that you’ll need for only a few months, you’re stuck with $20 denim from Old Navy that billows in strange places after a couple of wears. Which is what I’ve been wearing — those or stretched-out black leggings — with the handful of tees and tanks I already owned that are long enough to cover my belly, plus a wireless “comfort” bra I really shouldn’t leave the house in.
Baby stuff, on the other hand, seems made to withstand nuclear war, or at least that’s what the $800 price tag for a stroller would suggest. But a) it’s also temporary, and b) there’s so goddamn much of it.

When you’re waiting for the shit to hit the fan, it’s hard not to go crazy trying to shit-proof the house.

Imagine you woke up tomorrow in a totally empty apartment and had to rebuild your wardrobe from scratch: clothes, jewelry, shoes, bags — everything. You not only had no pajamas, you also had no bed, sheets, or blankets. That’s what preparing for a baby feels like, except with back pain. And the fact that everything you buy for the baby is in addition to everything you already own, so you're not just replacing your belongings with a chic capsule. Plus, it's all aggressively colorful.
My dream was to get the baby a cardboard box for sleeping, a onesie for each day of the week, and a package of diapers. After polling nearly a dozen mom friends, though, I ended up with a list of 82 or so “must-haves.” A lot of them come with accessories — cup holders and pee-resistant covers and detachable toy bars — and every one is a minefield of pros and cons that could mean the difference between raising a posturally sound Einstein and a scarred neanderthal. This weekend I learned that there’s such a thing as a bath-water thermometer disguised as a rubber ducky, in case motherhood robs you of your ability to feel temperatures.
Part of me is convinced I can do motherhood differently, that I can buck the excess and get by with a single handmade wooden toy that my unborn daughter takes to college with her, and the solitary pair of black leggings I just keep pulling lower and lower. And yet: Could the right swaddle mean a full night’s sleep? Could a $300 Hatch jumper help me feel less like an Oompa-Loompa? When my husband and I adopted our dog, we bought a pheromone diffuser, toys fit for a celebrity’s child, an indestructible bed, and a citronella collar in a panicked attempt to stop him from barking and chewing the second we left him alone. Desperation is a powerful driver of consumption.
Getting pregnant can be profoundly joyful, if it’s what you’re after. I’m aware of the luck involved, especially at 36, and grateful for it. But pregnancy is also profoundly terrifying: a whole 10 months to contemplate a head coming out of your vagina; responsibility for a human life; and an indefinite loss of control over your schedule, body, budget, and space. When you’re waiting for the shit to hit the fan, it’s hard not to go crazy trying to shit-proof the house.
My hope is that I get to a point where I realize it’s not about building a streamlined maternity capsule collection or buying the minimal number of uniform baby hangers, it’s about letting go, at least a little bit, of control and perfection. But I also hope I get to slip back into that lime-green bra some day.

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