Motherhood is a hard thing. And that’s okay – we can do hard things. Hard things are absolutely part of the package deal that is this life. We get through them (and sometimes even enjoy them) with the support of our friends and family.
I think that parenting, and motherhood specifically, are so challenging because sometimes there is not a lot of support. Sometimes you just need to stuff your face full of cake so you don’t notice that overall there is not a ton of societal support for mothering.
Women are told that being a mom is the most important thing. That you aren’t complete until you have a child, or children.
We are also told that we can have it all. We can be successful partners, parents, and employees. (Also, you should take this survey about having it all if you have time. I know the doctoral candidate will appreciate it!)
It is then logical to assume that we’ll have the support to make these things true. Parenting is important, we deserve to have successful careers, successful marriages. It is not unreasonable to think that someone other than you will do the dishes periodically.
And yet when you do a Google search for what motherhood is you see:
With this introduction you might be asking, “Why did you say motherhood is a betrayal?” I am calling this post “The Betrayal of Motherhood” because of all the negative emotions that come along with being a mother (don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of positive too!) betrayal is the one that I have felt most keenly.
Betrayal by my body
Betrayal by my mind
Betrayal by society
For years before becoming a mom I naively assumed that my body would essentially be the same after giving birth. After all, what do you see in the grocery store check out? “Get your pre-baby body back!” But there is no getting that body back. Dr. Staci Tanouye, who is an OBGYN with the Mayo clinic, has said “One of the things many women don’t realize is that even if they get back their pre-pregnancy weight it’ll be shaped differently.”
Great, so although I was one of those lucky ducks that went back to my pre-pregnancy weight (and even a littler lower, thank you breastfeeding!) none of my clothes fit. This led to something of a meltdown before I interviewed for my current job. None of my professional clothes made me look like a professional!
Betrayal by my mind – this is probably why your attention is waning right now. I once read “Gone With the Wind” in one week. Now I think it would probably take me a year to finish the same book.
In all seriousness, “mommy brain” is no joke. It is a whole other level of exhaustion/forgetfulness that I hope to recover from some time in the next 15-20 years. Just in time for my mind to start declining due to old age. Hooray!!
Remembering even the most basic of things is a challenge at times. Is my wallet in my purse? Did I put any food in my lunch bag?
That said, it is a complete mystery to me why I can remember complex things. Do you want an insightful commentary on restrooms as gendered spaces? Do you need to know the process for transferring your credits internationally? Or maybe you just want an in depth look at a Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene program. In any of these examples, I am your gal.
If our public policy makers, as the standard setters for so many things that affect our way of life, believe that family is so important they would make these things happen. But as it is, we are betrayed by those we put in office because they view these things, essential to successful parenting, as unimportant.
It is this betrayal that is so challenging because we feel powerless against it. The other two, well. . . we have some power over those.
You can reaffirm your body image. Look what your body did! You are amazing!
Can’t remember anything? Start using a planner (seriously, my planner has saved my sanity.). Say things out loud, even if you think you’ve already said them.
Changing public policy? What can we do about that? Politicians seem to be basically the same. You could run for office yourself, but who will pack the lunches? I know that sounds sexist, and it is, but that particular statement is also the truth of my life. I am the one that packs the lunches.
I don’t have all the solutions. All I can do right now is encourage you to communicate to those movers & shakers what is important to you. Do you want on-site daycare? Talk to your supervisor, it makes economic sense. Do you think our representatives and senators should put their money where their mouths are? Write to them or call them and tell them that this is a priority for you and it can work!
So yes, betrayal is part of the package deal. Fortunately for us, hope, optimism, and perseverance are also part of the package deal. And with an amazing village of moms and dads to be a part of, we can do anything!
Breastfeeding can be great or it can be terrible. Formula feeding can be great or it can be terrible. However you choose to feed your child is not terrible. It is incredible that your child is being fed!
So yes, I breastfed my daughter. It was great and terrible, sometimes at the same time. This post is not to toot my own horn or make anybody feel bad about their decisions (you shouldn’t – your child is well cared for!). This post is to illustrate the challenges of breastfeeding, both at work and at home, and what I did to overcome some of those challenges.
The first couple weeks of Elizabeth’s life were challenging, to say the least. I was more tired than I had ever been in my life, Nathan & I were learning how to be parents, I was learning how to breastfeed, and quiet moments were few and far between with sleepless nights and well meaning (and appreciated) visitors.
Indeed, for some time Elizabeth and I slept much like you see above you. It was the only way I could get any rest.
In Elizabeth’s second week I was 100% home alone. The visitors were gone, Nathan was back to work, and we were out of toilet paper. I tested out my Moby wrap (I still love it!), put on my coat, buckled Elizabeth into her car seat, and made my way to the local Target.
A couple hours later I developed a slight fever. 24 hours later it was still hanging around so I called urgent care and they told me there would be a wait of about an hour. So I fed Elizabeth and went to urgent care by myself. 3 hours later I was finally home, trying (and failing) to not cry in front of my mother-in-law who had to rescue Nathan with some formula because I wasn’t around and Elizabeth was hungry.
Three weeks later (counting out, I am 5 weeks postpartum) I am interviewing for my current job. It is still something of a mystery to me how I managed to land the job at all. Nathan had been sick the night before and Elizabeth had a rough night. I was even more tired than usual and I was feeling pretty self-conscious because my interview clothes did not fit well at all. I was told my interview would be about an hour so I fed Elizabeth, dropped her off with my in-laws, and made the trek to St. Paul for the interview. Roughly 2 hours later I was leaving the interview. Luckily I didn’t start “leaking” until I was in the car. That would have been embarrassing. Luckily Elizabeth was fine.
The Tuesday after my interview I went back to work. Day 1 of pumping at work went relatively well. I worked for a small non-profit and my boss gallantly installed a lock on the door of our wellness room so I could pump in a private place (not too easy when you’re a receptionist).
My second week of work (I only worked one day my first week) I forgot to pack all the various accessories critical to connecting me to the pump. Luckily my old job was only 10 minutes away from home so I just dashed home and was saved!
I started my new job when Elizabeth was 8 weeks old. I remembered everything the first day, but the second day I was not so lucky. Nathan had dropped me off at work so I had to wait until he could come get me. It was one uncomfortable morning, that’s for sure!
The second time I forgot my stuff I decided that was it! I bought an extra set of things and kept them at work along with a little drying rack. It was definitely a game changer, especially when you have so much to think about in the morning!
The biggest challenge I had after my own forgetfulness was making my work as mobile as possible. I work in a cubicle and so every two hours I would have to get up and pump. Because I value my break time, I would work while I pumped. I know the experts say that looking at pictures of your baby helps your supply, but it didn’t help mine. I felt that the distraction of working actually helped my supply because, let’s face it, pumping is pretty miserable. You just feel like an industrial milk machine, not a mom.
Luckily, moms are born creative problem solvers! Good golly, was the work I do ever portable! I did such a good job that I’ve had trouble adjusting to not being a nomadic worker in the 2 months since I stopped pumping at work.
The final challenge I would like to address here is dealing with your coworkers who may be less-than-supportive. Your employer is required by law to allow you adequate break time to express your milk and provide a private space (not a bathroom) with an electrical outlet. The law doesn’t say anything about your coworkers. I had some challenged with one of my coworkers who would regularly ask me to help her with things just as I was going to pump, despite my pumping times being clearly marked on my public calendar. At first I said to myself “Oh, it’s just a couple minutes. So what?” But it morphed into a problem and I started saying I didn’t have time to help her at that moment, but I would be glad to when I was done.
So just a few bullet points to wrap things up:
Don’t panic, you are an amazing mom no matter what!
Save yourself some grief and get extra pumping accessories before you go back to work
Stick to your guns with your coworkers from the beginning (even if you’re new, it’s okay!)
Find what works for you, even if it’s not what other people are doing
I have to admit, right after I wrote the title to this blog post I realized that it may come off as copying Tina Fey. While I love Tina Fey and think she is fabulous (honestly, I watched the Golden Globes for the first time ever this year because of her and Amy Poehler) this is completely unintentional.
Over the last several weeks as I come to the end of my pregnancy and to the beginning of actual parenthood I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what it means to raise a daughter in the new millennium. I know what this culture looks like for me, as a 20-something who is trying to make her own way in the world. But what about my daughter? I wonder this, even now as she seems to be actively trying to break my ribs (chill out in there!).
As I’ve reflected on what girlhood looks like in 2014 I’ve expanded my historical basis by reading books like The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girlsby Joan Jacobs Brumberg. Through readings like this I’ve established that my daughter needs someone who will talk to her about what others in the sisterhood have gone through and will create a supportive community of women she can turn to as she faces difficulties, and successes, in childhood and into adolescence.
I’ve also tried to gain a more global perspective on what girlhood looks like through books like I am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the Worldby Eve Ensler (author of The Vagina Monologues). In a world where emotional responses are often coded as weak or stupid how can I teach my daughter that it is okay to make decisions based on her “gut feeling”? How can I teach her to trust her feelings even if everything around her is screaming that it’s the wrong thing?
How can I teach my daughter to be more like Hermione Granger and less like Bella Swan? Can she appreciate the beauty in the world around her? Can I spare her from the harshness of the world, even (perhaps especially) if that harshness is coming from me?
What kind of woman will my daughter turn out to be? This is my prayer for her:
Please, let her appreciate the beauty in the world around her
Let her be aware that while there is beauty there is also harshness.
Let her see herself for the magnificent creation that she is; not what society tells her she is
Show her that love exists in many forms – not solely from a romantic interest
Let her be aware that she is capable of falling in love every single day of her life
Can her light shine through all the dark places? Please let her, and those around her, know that she is special
Several days ago I read an article on Time.com entitled “Do Women Really Want Equality?” by Kay Hymowitz. In this article Ms. Hymowitz delves into the question of whether or not women want professional equality. She calls it “equality by the numbers.”
After thinking about it for some time I can definitely see where Hymowitz is coming from, although I can’t say that I entirely agree with her. She ends the article by saying “Equality-by-numbers advocates should be thinking about women’s progress in terms of what women show that they want, not what the spreadsheets say they should want.”
Much of her argument is based on a true statistic. Pew Research recently conducted a survey of working parents and there was an increase of mothers (from 44% to 50%) with children under the age of 18 who stated that they would prefer to work part time. You can see the entire report here.
Hymowitz also states that women overwhelmingly choose specialties in their field that have historically had lower wages (being a pediatrician rather than a surgeon, for example) citing that family time and flexible hours are more important to them.
Now, I am absolutely not disputing any of these facts. However, as a well-educated professional women who is also rapidly approaching motherhood (according to my profile on TheBump.com I have 175 days to go) I cannot fully agree with her analysis. The reason for my disagreement is because she does not delve into the social aspects that go along with choosing a profession.
A Google search helps me to prove my point.
Searching for “working mothers” brings up 166 million results. A glance at the first page gives a working mother resources for balancing her home/work life, eradicating guilt for having a career, and generally how to deal with the struggles of being a parent first and a professional second.
A search for “working fathers” brings up 120 million results. Skimming over the first page here we see articles at dads who are questioning the norm of women being “working mothers” but men not being “working fathers” (so the landscape is changing. I think that is great!), what women need from their partners, and a book (not regularly updated website) on balancing work and family life.
This tells me that our culture values women as mothers and men as workers. Certainly there are other things that tell me this as well, but I feel like this is a really good example.
I also think that admitting that women want flexible hours while men are more focused on income potential (apparently at any cost) ignores the ultimate reasons why women state that flexible hours is a top priority. Women, being viewed as the dominant parent in our society would cite flexible hours as a higher priority when they are the ones who are more likely to be judged for not being at the school play or sporting event. Flexible hours are a higher priority when you are the one in your relationship who is going to be the one to leave work when your child gets sick at school.
Finally, I believe that Hymotiz’s argument is flawed because she ignores the fact that women with equal education and experience to their male counterparts are still (statistically) making 25% less than their XY peers. Yes, maybe women do flock to professions that are more flexible, like nursing for example. But male nurses still make more than their female nurse counterparts.
So, do women really want equality? I emphatically say yes! Women and men alike want the support from their partners, families, and society to have “by the numbers” equality. We all want this to be a possibility so that we can make the best choices for ourselves & our families without being encumbered by the judgement of our friends, peers, and society at large.