One night, not long after I gave birth, a friend came over to offer a few hours of human adult interaction. She was a mom too, so she knew the ground rules: Don’t expect the apartment to be clean, don’t expect me to put on real clothes, leave by 10.
And bring wine.
This guest was respectful of all the rules. She dutifully brought two bottles of pinot noir. We praised our own drinking as we poured glass after glass, gossiping about our husbands and kids.
“Yes! Wine! Girl! I so need this right now! Get it, girl!” (Maybe we were less basic than that, but only slightly.)
While my wonderful baby slept in the next room, we polished off both bottles. From what I remember, that part was fun. At some point, I blacked out and vomited red wine all over the bathroom, which was not fun.
My sober husband came home and found me more shitfaced than I’d been in a year. I’d recently been pregnant, so I hadn’t been drinking. As I lifted my head out of the toilet, my first thought was: “Gotta get my tolerance back up!”
My husband’s first thought was probably: “Oh no. She’s back.”
In its ever so brief heyday, “wine mom” culture was a blast for problem drinkers like me. I was a brand new mom when the Internet started chanting, “Rosé all day!” I was there on the front lines slurring, “Yes, way!” The memes, hashtags, mimosa brunches, and Insta pics of moms drinking cocktails to deal with their kids — they were enabling me and I loved it.
Then, in fine Internet form, the news cycle shifted and wine moms became media pariahs. Moms who loved summer stoop margs or foamy plastic cups in the park were coming out as recovering alcoholics, and just like that, the fun was over. Wine moms became a shameful joke. The thin veil had dropped.
Another thing that was over, because it never existed: Any support or compassion for moms with substance use issue whatsoever, so that they no longer feel compelled to post cute hashtags about getting blotto.
Wine mom culture is destructive and dangerous, that’s obvious. But, it cropped up for a reason. Frankly, it was there all along. Only now, there’s branded content around it.
Here’s a secret: While I can’t speak for all moms, I can say with confidence that many new moms are walking around traumatized. That’s not a word used often to describe the miracle of motherhood but it was certainly true for me and the moms I know.
We’re traumatized by the birth, the birth aftermath, the newness of it all, the lack of sleep, the cabin fever, the isolation, the hormone storms, the life-or-death decisions, and the realization that 99 percent of the burden really does fall on the mom no matter how much the partner said they’d buck the norm. We’re traumatized by the total consumption of our bodies and our being. If we’re lucky enough to have a healthy child and not to suffer from postpartum depression, we are traumatized by our immeasurable, incomprehensible love and gratitude for this incredible little creature.
While I can’t speak for all moms, I can say with confidence that many new moms are walking around traumatized.
It’s like being on a really scary but thrilling new theme park ride that has no off switch, ever.
To exacerbate the situation, new moms don’t have time, or often money, for therapy. Sometimes they can’t take important mental health medications because they’re breastfeeding, and they certainly couldn’t take them while pregnant. New moms are chemically off-the-rails; postpartum women endure massive hormonal cascades the likes of which they’ve never experienced. The U.S. has no guaranteed maternity leave policy (it’s literally just us and Papua New Guinea now). Childcare is astronomically expensive. There are more rules and judgments on moms than ever before.
It’s the perfect storm for self-medication and supposed “self-care” in the form of wine.
Wine mom culture isn’t glorifying drinking so much as it’s a cynical cry for help. We know we won’t get it, so we might as well party, amirite?
Wine mom culture isn’t glorifying drinking so much as it’s a cynical cry for help.
Eventually, the kid sort of gets easier and the trauma subsides into daily existence, but the damage has been done and parenthood remains a very high-stress affair — especially should you choose to have another. If you’re like me, you’ve sworn off ever having another child, but a great deal of the damage resides in your liver.
I’m sober now but I wasn’t for decades. I have high anxiety and, for a while, booze was the thing that turned my brain off. I drank whiskey at every social occasion. If I was going to a party or even a brunch, I looked forward, more than anything, to the prospect of booze and maybe some bonus drugs. I could be a fun drunk but I could also devolve into a mean, bitchy drunk. I blacked out often, so I’d have the fun experience of hearing about what happened the night before in bits and pieces. I’d listen while crumpled in a shameful hangover ball.
Then, I’d go along my merry way, steeped in denial. By day, I channeled my anxiety into tidy functional workaholism. People don’t mind that as much.
Motherhood hit me like a ton of bricks. I loved my kid completely amidst my panic attacks. It was harder and more beautiful than I’d ever thought possible. I wasn’t going to parties anymore but that only meant I was drinking at home more often. Visitors gave me an excuse to drink without making me feel super irresponsible (which I was, absolutely). I probably would have been drinking whether or not wine mom culture existed; the new trend was just a way to have fun without dealing with the shameful truth. We could be open about our booze instead of guzzling a bottle in a broom closet.
I probably would have been drinking whether or not wine mom culture existed; the new trend was just a way to have fun without dealing with the shameful truth.
Can we admit that mom wine culture is dumb and misguided? Yes, absolutely. But should we just toss it onto the huge Moms-Should-Be-Ashamed pile and let it fester? Absolutely not. If a mom has a drinking problem, she will drink whether we applaud her or not. She might be suffering in part because our regular culture has failed her, while wine culture has offered her an olive branch — crappy as it is.
Maybe none of these words speak to you. Perhaps you’re one of those people who comments on articles with: “You shouldn’t have had kids then!” before trolling off into the sunset. Cool talk, bro. Or perhaps you think moms are just blaming everyone else for their alcoholism.
Trust me, they’re blaming themselves plenty. Clearly, that approach is not working.
If these words do speak to you, please remember: You’re not a piece of shit. This is hard. It’s the hardest thing in the universe and nobody is going to Superwoman you out of it. But it does get better. You get stronger. Your brain settles. Your kid gets older. The olive branches get thicker and more varied. I was the definition of a wine mom and even I eventually buckled down and found an affordable therapist and got medication that keeps my anxiety under control. I had a dry January that hasn’t ended save for a couple of slip-ups. I do yoga now.
If I can do it, anyone can.
I still work too much, but baby steps.
I’m content knowing that I can look at my little girl and say: I am sober and I am yours. She hugs my legs and buries her face in my shins. No shot of whiskey on earth can live up to that feeling.