The Motherhood Manifesto

1. Look, full-term pregnancy is ten months. Either give yourself the credit you deserve or find someone who will.

2. When you’ve endured a 24-hour labor but find breastfeeding too painful to bear, and the hospital pediatrician’s response is to show you a video of a dog nursing puppies as “inspiration,” it is absolutely reasonable to look him dead in the eye and scream.


3. Sometimes the best choice sucks, like letting your tongue-tied eight-day-old bleed so he won’t starve. Like pumping every two hours while he’s bottle-fed in the other room. Like leaving your dying mom’s bedside to sleep beside your new baby. Let the best choice suck when it sucks.

4. You will waver between thoughtless full-body giving and processing motherhood in the abstract. It will make you dizzy.

5. Let your love be sloppy. Let your wit take a vacation. Does it matter? The words that come, whenever they come, are miracles.

6. Let your body be a body that testifies to having grown and birthed a human being. Let go of anyone in your life who wants to edit that story.

7. Face it: you will eat regurgitated chicken nuggets that fell on the floor. You will examine the consistency of poop with a flashlight. You will suck snot out of a nose with a straw. Also, when you finally get out of the house, you will fall asleep at the movies. You will sleep two hours one night because the baby kept you up and then zero the next because you are anticipating her cry.


8. Have faith that you will poop alone again, someday, and might even miss the company.

9. You will miss deadlines. Friend’s birthdays. Mess up at jobs. Leave jobs. Say dumb shit. Fail to hold space well. Spill breastmilk. Lose dolls. Search for your phone while holding it. Walk miles with the baby in the carrier, thirsty, noticing nothing.

10. You will contort your body to breastfeed him in the car when he is purple-faced and wailing, your temple banging against the window. In fact, you will trade his pain for your own more times than you can count.

11. Yes, yes, it’s a cliche but it’s a good one: the days are long and the years are short. She will start walking, then climbing then conversing. She will say, “I wanna try it,” about every picture on every page in every book. She wants to hold a bluebird in her palm and ride rhinoceri. She wants to make tacos for dragons and float among stars. Be emboldened by her demand for everything on earth and beyond.

12. Listen to your acquaintance whose children are grown when she says, “Hold onto yourself too, girl.”

13. Recall that first walk without her, days after her birth. How you felt you held a hot secret: that you were you, yet somebody’s mother too.


14. Your job, from the moment you pushed her out, has been to release her into the wild.

15. Do not listen to strangers on the street who tell you how to dress or carry or discipline your child.

16. Allow him to simply be a brand new person. Let him peer into every sewer grate and rip leaves into smaller and smaller bits and follow squirrels and hide under blankets demanding to be found. Let him PLAY.

17. Let her test her limits. Watch her fall while you press two flattened palms to your chest.

18. Evaluate the level of her pain from the quality of her cry.

19. Teach him all adults are neighbors and all children are friends.


20. When you’re both too sick to leave, find a way to make lying down into a game. Forts work. Then make her a mountain to climb from weeks of dirty laundry.

21. When you need it, and you will need it, ask for help. Sorry, but, I think you need this one again: Ask for help. Ask for help. Ask for help.

22. Ask for help.

23. Look at his bulging toddler belly and consider doing it all over again.

24. When you have no idea what you are doing, trust the love.

25. Turn it inward. That’s your real work right there, but you already knew that. Clearly, you can love her ferociously. Can you love her mother like that too?★


IMG_1460.JPGCoriel O’Shea Gaffney received her MFA in Creative Writing from The City College of New York (CUNY), where she was the recipient of the CCNY Teacher-Writer Award and the Jerome Lowell Dejur Award in Poetry. Publications include: Literary Mama, Elephant Journal, Manifest-Station, City Limits, Lyre, Lyre and Vision through Words. A certified yoga teacher, she is currently pursuing her dual degree in Early Childhood General Education and Special Education. Coriel lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two-year-old daughter.


  1. Anon

    This is a great article, beautifully written!

    I’m curious where you got 10 months of pregnancy though? It should be less than 9 because pregnancy is measured from the date of the last menstrual period, when you are not pregnant yet, so the first ~2 weeks of “pregnancy” are actually pre-conception.

    But even if you count those first 2 weeks before ovulation, if it’s 40 weeks, that’s 40 x 7 = 280 days. If every month has 30 days, 9 months is 9 x 30 = 270. Most months have 31 days though so 9 months would usually be closer to 277 days or so, depending on which 9 months it is, whether it’s a Leap Year, etc. So 40 weeks = 280 days and 9 months = 277 days. Minus 2 weeks of that being pre-ovulation, so that even if you deliver 2 weeks late, it would be almost exactly 9 months from conception to delivery.

    Not trying to nitpick, and it doesn’t take away from any of your other great points, I just found it a little distracting at the beginning there.

    1. corgaff

      Thanks for your kind words and careful calculation and response. I’m sure you’re right, though I’m not alone in thinking this.

      In the end, though, I’m a poet with limited math skills repeating something I’ve heard many say of late, including a midwife. I was also two weeks late so it really resonated. Is poetic license a fair argument? If this were a reported piece, it wouldn’t be. What about in a manifesto? I don’t know…

      Or maybe my argument should be that the third trimester bends time and every day is really two. Or three. Mamas decide.

      Thanks again for reading and responding.

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