For her part, Adele exposed the vulnerability and struggle to reclaim the self that many mothers endure but are ashamed to admit. “And in my pregnancy and through becoming a mother I lost a lot of myself,” she said. “And I’ve struggled, and I still do struggle being a mum. It’s really hard. But tonight winning this kind of feels full-circle, and like a bit of me has come back to myself.”
It was a bald admission of emotions that remain, by and large, taboo. To admit that you can drown in motherhood, that you can mourn a loss of freedom and worry you do not love your child enough, is still a brave act in a society that often airbrushes this reality.
Adele was strikingly candid about her struggles with postpartum depression in an interview this fall in Vanity Fair with Lisa Robinson: “I had really bad postpartum depression after I had my son and it frightened me,” she said. “My knowledge of postpartum — or postnatal, as we call it in England — is that you don’t want to be with your children; you’re worried you might hurt your child; you’re worried you weren’t doing a good job. But I was obsessed with my child. I felt very inadequate. I felt like I’d made the worst decision of my life.”
Adele said the depression lifted only after she openly admitted it, discovering that many of her friends shared her despair. She still worries, she said, about the nights she is not there to put her son to bed, or her desire to have time just for herself, but has learned she cannot be a good mother without some time away.
In her performance, Beyoncé also talked about the perils facing mothers and children, of the suffering that links them as well as the joy: “You look nothing like your mother, everything like your mother. You desperately want to look like her. How to wear your mother’s lipstick. You must wear it like she wears disappointment on her face. Your mother is a woman, and women like her cannot be contained.” These words came from “Lemonade,” the film version, and are adapted from the work of the poet Warsan Shire.
She elaborated on that theme in her acceptance speech for best urban contemporary album: “It is important to me to show images to my children that reflect their beauty,” she said, “so they can grow up in a world where they look in the mirror, first through their own families — as well as the news, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the White House and the Grammys — and see themselves, and have no doubt that they are beautiful, intelligent and capable.”
Here, her exuberance was tempered by a mother’s vigilance, by her resolve that her children will grow up proud and fortified in an often-hostile world. She explicitly extended that protection to children of every race, even as her music and videos have directly confronted the pernicious ways black women are undermined.
Each performer projected strength in her own way — Beyoncé extolling motherhood’s power, Adele candidly confronting its undercurrents. And along the way, they exploded another stereotype — they denied the audience the catfight that some had tried to anticipate.
For too long, mothers have been set against one another: working mothers versus those who stayed home, women who reveled in motherhood versus those who battled ambivalence, while loving their children no less. Onstage, Adele, 28, said she wanted Beyoncé, 35, to be her mother — a tribute to an artist she has always admired and a salute to Beyoncé’s grand staged vision of maternity. She said that “Lemonade” should have won best album, while Beyoncé mouthed “I love you” to her from offstage.
By transcending rivalry, Beyoncé and Adele offered a rebuke to an institution that still has a long way to go in confronting racial discrepancies. And they offered another gift — a fully rounded portrait of women as artists and as mothers, trying their best to do both at the same time.
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