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A Mother’s Labor, Marx and Marx’s Product of Labor

From the Marxist perspective, my body, identified as the female sex, is a special kind of a producer that participates in the survival of the human species by way of supporting human progeny. As a producer, it becomes an organism that interacts with nature and produces a product in the form of offspring. In other words, my female body interacts with the raw materials present in nature in the form of oxygen, water, food, and other survival essentials to produce an incredible product as a human. But how is this Marxist understanding of the female body problematized by the authorship of motherhood? This is the question I will explore in this article. 


Motherhood is essentially a complicated word. I say this on a personal account. The expectations attached to motherhood are extraordinary. It raises a mother to the pedestal of a Goddess and epitomizes her for being virtuous. She is expected to be perfect in her role. This perfection is qualified through the standards of how she takes care of her baby, particularly if she can pacify him at moments when he is frustratingly colicky. If on one hand, motherhood is considered the epitomized version of altruistic love, it is in fact, counterintuitive to this emotion. As it happened to me and unquestionably many other mothers (who might choose to deny it), this is exclusively so at the time of a baby’s birth, when motherhood is itself born. In this regard, Marxism helps to understand the tension between womanhood and motherhood along with the stereotypes attached to it.


Ten months ago, when my son was born, all expected me to be a perfect mother. Even I had the same expectation of being someone who is experiencing the bliss of holding her baby in her arms and practically knowing everything about her child blues. But this is far from what happened. The joy of motherhood existed, but it somehow percolated deep down and got surfaced by anxiety, confusion, and helplessness. I felt so lost that I didn’t even know where his diapers were or if he had clean clothes to wear. As I remember, there were some days, I undressed and began giving him a bath only to realize that the water had not been turned on. I absolutely felt no sense of time. Days were nights and nights were days. My body, having undergone labor pain for almost 20 hours and finally leading to an emergency c-section, seemed to have escalated the helplessness I felt. My recovery period like anyone else’s, was not easy. It was marked by severe back pain, infinite nausea, and heavy breastfeeding challenges. Not only did my recovering body feel battered and sore but also my psyche. Neither could I understand nor control what was happening to my body or my mind. Inside, I was dying to be a loving mother who saw her child with warmth and compassion but I was hit by my incapacity to do so. I knew deep down I loved my baby more than anything in the world, but I wasn’t able to reach that part of me that could feel that emotion. I was happy but I felt sad. I wanted to enjoy my post- partum resting period to bond with my baby but instead, I was disoriented with an inexplicable paranoia.


My personhood experienced a significant sense of displacement marked by sudden and unchecked gushes of tears. In this perhaps psychosomatic or somatopsychic condition and the realization that I must take care of my little one only exacerbated my anxiety. If one moment, I felt disconnected from my bundle of joy, then the next moment I felt distressed by the thought of being too weak physically to be a good caregiver to my son. This feeling was followed by intense anxiety. I was unable to handle my own being, wherein the meaning of life felt distorted. Absolute alienation seized my personhood both- mental and physical. I couldn’t share my thoughts with anyone and fought the fear of being judged. It was doubtless that I was not an ounce ungrateful for having received the priceless bundle of joy sleeping in my arms, especially after having done everything in my capacity to have him in my life flushing with pink cheeks. Perhaps sharing my thoughts would be helpful but communicating the complexities of it in a harmless way would require a good listener who is unbiased, non-judgmental, and greatly understanding. This was also not easy. 


Nevertheless, I felt distanced from my newborn son, who my own body had produced after hard labor. In Marxist terminology, I felt like the proletariat who experiences psychological, emotional, and physical trauma despite undertaking laborious pain to produce the product of his labor. Like the worker who suffers an existential crisis and wonders what has become of his labor, I too, felt this mental anarchy. In other words, I was suffering ‘alienation’. I couldn’t recognize myself anymore. My thoughts sounded alien to my personhood. The idea of how I had lifelong imagined myself as a mother was divorced from my being. I had visualized myself to be a happy and excited mother reveling in the bliss of motherly love, but I post my son’s birth, I only turned out to be a mess inside out. I was taken over by some sort of an inability to look at my son with the caring eyes I otherwise anticipated myself to do so. I think I was the worst version of myself then for I was always irritable and annoyed. But this was the result of extreme vulnerability and insecurity that had seized me. I felt desperate to feel important and pampered. The domestic confinement, sleepless nights, and heavy exhaustion that marked my recovery period become the norm of my quotidian life. This only added to my state of being. As such, I was not in trauma, but I felt traumatized. I didn’t like myself or my thoughts. My female body, along with the ‘womanliness’ of it transformed into a chaotic version of itself. In other words, like the product of labor that magically turns into a commodity the moment it enters the marketplace, my body too seemed to become fetishized. Metaphorically, my material female body became a fetishized version of ideal motherhood. 


Today, this fetishized version of my female body that had transformed into motherhood after the birth of my son, is termed postpartum depression. Postpartum depression in medical terminology denotes the mental condition of a mother who is suffering post the birth of her baby. It is a very critical mental condition and can even lead to suicide. Many cases of mothers wrangling their newborns have also been reported. 


All in all, from the above analysis, it can be said that I was, in fact, experiencing the throes of postpartum depression. Indeed, Marxism helps to legitimize the possibility of postpartum anxiety and how its structure subverts the stereotypes attached to what is considered the ‘ideal mother’. Post the delivery of my son, I was surely not the selfless and loving ‘ideal mother’. Yet, a mother still, I was. It makes me wonder how the human society we live in, is indifferent or perhaps disbelieving of the possibility of a mother facing the challenges of postpartum depression.  It is too quick to be hypercritical of a newborn mother who is facing heavy challenges. 


Having outlined the unexpected nuances of Marxism in the terrain of motherhood, I can say that it has taken ten long months for the vampiric phase of postpartum depression to get over in all its shades. It was glaring at the beginning and began to wane away. Finally, I am inexplicably joyful to state I can experience the joys of being a mother who looks at his son with love-filled eyes and tell him wholeheartedly that she loves him. I am so happy now that I can embrace the joys of motherhood with open arms.






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Tags: KarlMarx#Motherhood#Mother#PostpartumDepresssion#Alienation


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