Sympathy for the revel

After the past couple of weeks of mockery and scorn over her endless bender, I was actually relieved to see some traces of compassion for Britney Spears in the media this week. Being a sometimes music critic, my views of her popness have not always been flattering ones. But something about having your own toddler makes you extra sensitive to the cathode crows pecking away at a new, young mother, particularly one who seems to be coming undone in front of the world.

Most moms know that the very act of living with a newborn can make you feel ferociously inadequate, even if your strongest postpartum symptom is that diet diagnosis parenting magazines and books call the “baby blues.” Whether you are a pert little jezebel or comfortably frumptastic, your relationship to your own body and the outside world fundamentally changes with a pregnancy.

Every pregnant woman and new mom, famous or no, automatically becomes a little bit of public property. People touch you, bless you, look at you in disgust and pray for you in the cracker aisle of the grocery store. If you nurse in public, some people congratulate you and others openly gag. When your child cries, you can be eyed with suspicion, scorn or sympathy, depending on your karma. And when you look to those who can be your greatest salvation – other mommies – you sometimes find exactly what you need, but other times, they can sting you more deeply than you imagined possible.

I can’t imagine living through this period of life as a sexual icon surrounded by cameras, sycophants and gossip feeders. And I really can’t imagine what the hormonal effect of consecutive births, combined with the babyweight shedding at the frenzied pace of an image-conscious celebrity could be. Blogger Heather Armstrong of Dooce may be the first person that I’ve seen publicly suggest the taboo possibility of postpartum depression, even though it’s hard for many moms I know to imagine that it doesn’t have something to do with this. Rebecca Traister of Salon has the measure of what Spears culturally represents.

And then there is this heartfelt, little soliloquy from Craig Ferguson. I’m never up late enough to watch him, but after seeing this and last week’s appearance on Bill Maher’s show, he has impressed me as a truly decent man:

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