In the last few months, I’ve started getting the You guys thinking about having a third? comment more frequently. Maybe because several of our friends have just had their third–or fourth–baby.
This is it.
The baby has finally started sleeping a glorious, GLORIOUS, twelve hours at night straight, partially thanks to the four nights of Crying It Out that I stomached. Nothing worse than listening to your baby screaming at full volume for 40 minutes while you paw silently at the door, on the verge of tears yourself.
He’s okay. My God, he had seven, SEVEN!, bottles today. He’s not hungry.
He’s okay. He’s 6 1/2 months old.
He’s okay. He’s 22 pounds. 22 POUNDS! He’s a Monster Baby, for the love of God.
He’s not going to die.
He’s just really, really pissed.
He’s got the eat-sleep association.
You’re not a bad mother.
Oh God… Will he EVER stop crying? Is this damaging his vocal cords?
Repeat that several more times on the first night.
But he did. By the fourth night, Done.
(Can I just say, sure, you love your baby. But man, you REALLY, REALLY love your baby when he doesn’t bother you from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.)
Two is enough.
In the first two weeks postpartum, I went over the numbers in my head and made a list of reasons for or against having a third child. Yeah, yeah. We said we’d only have two, but LOOK AT THIS FACE!!!Oh my God. Babies are incredible. I could totally do this again.
But then, we’d be looking at a minivan.
And I’d be 37? 38? 39? And pregnant? I remember how I felt being 35 and pregnant. I don’t think it’s going to get any easier. This body has been through enough. (And you’re welcome, Offspring.)
And another three years of full time-daycare ($33,000 total at today’s rate)?
I think it was the cost of daycare that was really the deciding factor.
We were talking the other night about just how much “free time” we had before children.
I mean, duh, right? Of course we had more time. In some ways, it was great. Coming home from work and relaxing. Nice. It was “the life.”
Of course, we did other things. I wrote a novel. Doug volunteered extensively for our church, cooking meals for 100-200 people weekly. We hung out with friends. A lot. And it was fantastic. We went out to eat. We entertained.
We also worked more than our fair share at our jobs. I worked about 50-60 hours per week at four (yes, four) jobs. Doug often worked more than his required 40.
But from my perspective now, I look back and think, God, imagine what we could have accomplished for this YouTube channel if we had started doing this before we had kids.
But that was years before YouTube’s currently capabilities and reach.
So here we are.
Instead of having a third baby, we have a YouTube channel.
It’s got his hands and my eyes.
It really is a combination of all of our talents together in one creative outlet.
Because what I felt in labor had been deeply spiritual. In my first labor, I sensed God’s presence, but not in a physical way. What I experienced was beyond my physical senses.
But this time… I had seen things.
I had actually physically felt things that I couldn’t explain.
I knew that a blog post would become buried in this website over time. That’s not the way that I wanted to share this experience with an audience. I wanted something more permanent. Something more discover-able and more available to as many people as possible.
So I published a short Kindle book, called Why Your Middle Name is Jacob: A Birth Story.
From August 3-7, I will be giving away free copies, so I encourage you to download your copy today and share with anyone whom you think would be interested in it.
Important: You don’t need a Kindle device to read the book.
As long as you have an Amazon account, you can read this book. Just go to Amazon’s website, log in, find the book, put it in your cart, and checkout (for free). Then choose “Your Account,” and then select “Your Content and Devices.” You will see the book there and you can read it in your web browser.
Included in this e-book are six additional essays that I wrote in the early postpartum period, curated and compiled for a larger audience.
The World is Good Because it is Bad: A Letter to My Unborn Child
These Holy Hours
Week 6: A Great Time to Return to Work
Week 7: And Now My Watch Is Ended
Is There Room in Motherhood for Feminism?
Kindle Direct Publishing only allows me to give away free copies of a title every 90 days. Please take advantage of this free promotional period while you can. After August 7th, the book will be available for $2.99.
If you download a copy, please review it on Amazon.
As an independent author, I rely on you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on my work.
What if I told you that my first thought when I heard him crying in the night wasn’t, You poor thing, are you okay?
What if I told you it wasn’t my second thought? Or even my tenth thought?
It was probably more like my thirtieth thought.
After, Oh my God, what is your problem?
After, Look, we’re not doing this all night. We’re just not. I’m serious.
After, What the f**!?! Go to sleep!
After, I swear to God, if you wake up one more time after I put you down, I’m going to make you scream it out.
After, Why tonight? Really? You could have done this any other night. But now? Really.
After, I’m serious. I’m so f***ing serious.
And on and on.
After eight times of rocking him to sleep and trying to transfer him to the crib over the course of an hour, I relented. I let go of the plan that I was going to get up at 5:00 a.m. to exercise. I let go of the plan that I would even get one hour of sleep before work started.
I just let it all go and embraced the exhaustion.
If I was going to be tired, I didn’t also have to be stressed and resentful the whole day about being tired.
So when I handed the baby over to my husband at 5:45 that morning, I didn’t yell or swear. I just told him what the night had been like and asked him to stay home with the baby while I took the three-year-old to daycare.
Grocery shopping? Okay. I’ll do it. And I’ll pick her up from daycare. I said.
And would you stay home with the baby while I go to work? I asked.
I showered. I made my coffee and drank it while I put on enough make-up to cover up the night. Then I dressed my daughter while she was still waking up and still like a wet noodle. Then, I coaxed her into eating her vitamins and drinking her milk. I put her lunch and my lunch together and made formula for the baby.
I loaded F’s lunch bag, her backpack, my work bag, my lunch bag (but not H’s bottle bag or H’s diaper bag since he was staying home). (If you’re keeping track, it’s usually six bags in and out of the car. Seven on Mondays and Fridays.)
I drove fifteen minutes south to her daycare.
Then I drove twenty-five minutes north to work.
I got off the Interstate with another car.
We both followed the same route until it was clear we were both going to the same university. We parked next to each other. I looked over and saw that the driver was a guy, probably my age. He sprang out of his car holding only a set of keys.
Just. A. Set. Of. Keys.
I saw very plainly in that split second what it takes for me to get to work now versus what it took for me to get to work before I had children.
Now, the morning is a whole orchestrated production. A delicate ballet of exercise, showers, wake-up calls, second wake-up calls, third wake-up calls, Oh-my-God-get-out-of-bed-already! wake-up calls, vitamins, lunch bags, baby bottles, Get-your-shoes-on, Go-potty, Get-your-shoes-on, diapers, Are-your-shoes-on, teeth/hair-brushing, For-the-love-of-God-get-your-shoes-on!, breakfasts, carseats, strollers, kisses, conversations with teachers, punctuated with a deep, satisfying sigh that yes, finally *I* can go to work now.
I wasn’t at peak performance on Friday, May 12th, but I pulled through. I recovered.
Thankfully, most nights have not been like that lately. Most nights, he sleeps through the night. Sometimes, he has a night feeding. And then he goes back to sleep.
And by the way, don’t ask if someone’s baby is sleeping through the night.
Unless you know them pretty well.
It’s just not good manners. I mean, really, it’s not a great topic for small talk. The only way that question is small talk is if the answer is clearly “yes.” And the likelihood of that is… meh…
A more likely situation is that you send the parent into a fury of jealousy as they imagine you sleeping on a billowy, undisturbed cloud of silence for eight, God, maybe even twelve! extravagant hours. Only to wake up to the luxury of you strolling to your bathroom and taking a hot, steamy, uninterrupted shower, and then magically emerging from the bathroom, just moments later, completely dressed to the nines and made completely over, from your hair down to your nails. And, lo, breakfast is already made. And it’s cinnamon rolls and waffles and bacon and sausage and the most delicious coffee you’ve ever had in your entire life–all 0 calories! And the only thing that you have to do is climb into your brand-new Mercedes and drive to work in completely, inexplicably empty roads and highways until you are work. Where everything is already done. And the only thing you need to do is drink more coffee and catch up on House of Cards, which you still haven’t gotten to see one blessed moment of and it’s driving you crazy (even though the reviews for Season 5 aren’t very good). But still. You binge. All. Day. Long.
Jealousy makes you crazy.
Do you really want to drive the person crazy?
Getting through the tough nights without completely losing your mind is an exercise in long-term thinking.
It’s easy to think, I really can’t do this again. I’m going insane. No. I’m not doing it. I refuse. He’ll just have to scream it out tonight.
It takes some effort to reshape your thoughts into,
It’s not always going to be like this.
There will be an end to this.
You’ll live. Oh, you’ll be tired. Way tired. But you’ll live.
For six weeks in the summer, we continue to send the kids to daycare and I finally have time to sink my teeth into a big, creative project.
In 2014, that project was writing my first book.
In 2015, it was publishing my first book.
2016 was a bit weird. It was mostly riding the roller-coaster of early pregnancy, dabbling in writing a short young adult novel, and (admittedly) watching a lot of Netflix.
This year, the big creative project is a new YouTube Channel, featuring instructional cooking videos.
Not recipes. Think techniques.
For years, I’ve watched my husband make simple, delicious, and healthy meals. And he can do it without covering everything in butter, cheese, and ranch dressing. He cooks a large meal on Sunday night. It’s usually a huge pot of rice, some vegetables, and grilled, baked, or roasted meat. Then, he portions it out into containers that we take to work.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heated up a meal that he makes and my co-workers have been like, “Mmm… What’s that?”
This guy is talented. The food is delicious. And he understands food chemistry and can give the best advice about how to prepare food. (And did I mention that another one of his hobbies is photography?)
But he’s not great at the storytelling aspect (although, I think he’ll learn easily).
Oh. And he detests social media.
So that’s where I come in. (And did I mention that I’ve got experience with video editing?)
I remember one night when we had a group of Doug’s friends over at our apartment for a dinner party, probably six or seven years ago, and someone said, “Doug should have his own YouTube channel!”
Our response was mostly, “Ha ha. Someday, maybe.”
“No seriously. He should have a channel.”
“Yeah, okay. Not right now.”
But have you seen YouTube lately? It’s integrated with Google now. It’s getting incredibly easy to get started.
I don’t think we can put it off anymore.
So that’s what I’m working on this summer. I have never done something like this before.
But hey. That’s never stopped me before.
Also on the summer dockett:
I’m hoping to release Henry’s birth story as a Kindle single, probably for $0.99 to help me recoup some of the time spent on writing it. It’s a powerful story, but nothing book-length. Stay tuned for more on this.
I also have three academic publications that are in the works right now. All of them are related to an intercultural communication program that I helped design and facilitate with our university’s Department of Teacher Education. One will be published on University of Dayton’s eCommons. One will be in the TESOL Intercultural Communication Interest Section Newsletter. And the last one will (hopefully!) be with the on-line, peer-reviewed journal, Dialogues: An Interdisciplinary Journal of English Language Teaching and Research.
I seriously need to go through some boxes of old photographs and letters that my mom gave me two years ago. I’ve been dubbed the designated family chronicler, so I’ve got to make some decisions about what stays and what goes. I know the boxes are sticking in my husband’s craw.
And hey, Henry is now officially in the sweet spot of babyhood: post-newborn and pre-mobile.
June 2017: Baptism (Doesn’t look too thrilled)
It was Splash Friday at daycare. Thus. the swimsuit.
American women are more likely to die from complications in pregnancy and childbirth compared to women in any other developed country.
At 1:27 p.m. on February 2, 2017, I gave birth to an 8 lb. 10 oz. boy.
Because there was meconium in my amniotic fluid, a NICU team was paged to be present at the birth to make sure that the baby’s lungs were clear.
Those first minutes after birth were very blurry. There was just too much going on to fully appreciate everything that was happening. From my perspective as the birthing mother, I remember my son turning his head upward and looking me in the eyes (that really happened). I remember seeing that he was a boy. (A boy!?! Really!?! What?!?!)
I remember dropping my head back against the bed and crying in relief that it was over. I remember thinking, “Well, that’s the last time I’m doing that.”
I was euphoric and so, so grateful. We had made it. We had survived that. Both of us. That was what I was thinking.
I did not know that I was hemorrhaging.
This is the thing about hemorrhaging: It happens so fast.
It happens while mothers are crying from happiness that their baby is alive and breathing. It happens while they’re trying to get a good look at their baby’s face. It happens silently as the room’s atmosphere turns from the intensity and suspense of the pushing phase into joy and excitement of the delivery phase.
No woman wants to believe that it’s going to happen to her. I had none of the risk factors associated with postpartum hemorrhage.
But it still happened to me.
While we were celebrating and crying and basking in the joy of the birth, my midwife was tracking my blood loss. I remember looking down and seeing her furrowed brow every time more blood poured out of me. But I didn’t think anything terrible was happening. I was flooded with joy and gratitude that labor was over.
But in the first ten minutes after birth, more and more nurses entered the room and the treatments started. My midwife told me each treatment that she was doing to stop the bleeding. By this time, I had lost about 1200 mL of blood, about 2.5 pints of blood. In other words, I had lost about 25% of the blood in my entire pregnant body.
Surviving postpartum hemorrhage requires a medical professional who quickly realizes what is happening and starts treatment immediately.
In my case, the midwife tried a shot of Pitocin. When that didn’t work, she gave me Cytotec. When that didn’t work, she gave me IV Pitocin. She kept massaging my uterus. She was on her last treatment before starting a blood transfusion: a shot of methergine.
That’s how close we were to a true emergency.
My heart rate during labor. You can see exactly when the hemorrhage begins and how my body responded.
Hemorrhage is one of the leading causes of death in childbirth.
Let me be clear: postpartum hemorrhage isn’t caused by a lack of care. This would probably have happened to me if I had given birth anywhere else.
But women die from hemorrhage when doctors and nurses don’t quickly recognize the amount of blood loss and begin treatment. Some states, like California, have codified and implemented standardized procedures and training for nurses and doctors so that teams can quickly and efficiently follow protocol to prevent postpartum hemorrhages from killing mothers. Instead of “eye-balling” how much blood a mother loses during delivery, nurses were taught how to collect and measure postpartum blood loss to help them quickly identify hemorrhage.
“Hospitals that adopted the toolkit saw a 21 percent decrease in near deaths from maternal bleeding in the first year; hospitals that didn’t use the protocol had a 1.2 percent reduction.”
But not all states have such standardized protocol.
A joint investigation by NPR and ProPublica found that more women are dying of complications related to pregnancy and childbirth compared to any other developed country.
In every 100,000 births in the United States, 26 women die. In other developed countries, the numbers range between 5 and 9 births. And those numbers have climbed from 17 to 26 deaths from 2000-2015.
It seems unimaginable. Really? In the United States? But we have so much technology. We have some of the best hospitals in the world.
What the hell is going on?!?
There were several major findings from this investigation.
The U.S. is spending more money on research, equipment, and training for improving infant outcomes. Think of how much progress we have made in helping premature babies and treating newborns born with previously fatal deformities and diseases.
Decreased education and training about caring for birthing mothers, for both doctors and nurses. This leads to a lack of knowledge that is passed on to the mother when she is discharged from the hospital.
Lack of standardized best practices for caring for birthing mothers among the states. Unlike other developed countries, there is no nationwide effort for reducing the maternal death rate in the United States. Responsibility has been left to individual states to decide if and how they investigate maternal deaths.
America has not conquered maternal mortality. We like to think that because we have advanced technology and highly trained medical professionals that tragedies like a woman dying in childbirth just simply don’t happen anymore.
At least not nearly as much as it used to.
It’s a kind of hubris, really. To think that we have mastered childbirth. We have tamed it and told it who’s boss. In fact, we’re so good at childbirth that we should just focus most of our attention on the infants. They’re the ones that are the most vulnerable, right?
But the truth is…
“In recent decades, under the assumption that it had conquered maternal mortality, the American medical system has focused more on fetal and infant safety and survival than on the mother’s health and well-being.”
~Nina Martin & Renee Montagne, “The Last Person You’d Expect to Die in Childbirth”
If there was one major takeaway from this report that I want to share with everyone it’s this:
Women still die in childbirth.
Giving birth in the United States does not guarantee that both mother and baby make it out alive.
I completely agree with the report’s observations that labor and birth put women in the most vulnerable position in their entire lives. They don’t know what’s going on. They’re immersed in the pain and process of labor. Birthing women depend on everyone around them, doctors and nurses alike, to notice the signs that an emergency is unfolding.
If you or someone you know will be giving birth in the United States in the near future, I strongly encourage you to read ProPublica’s full investigative report on this topic.
American women are not immune to maternal mortality.
For the women who die every year from pregnancy and childbirth from preventable or treatable conditions, let’s raise our awareness of this problem and insist that we study this at the national level, not just the state level.
We can do better than this.
The death of a new mother is not like any other sudden death. It blasts a hole in the universe.
~Nina Martin and Renee Montagne, “The Last Person You’d Expect to Die in Childbirth“
Regardless of how you define “life,” at 3 months old, a baby has officially been a growing organism for a whole year.
In 365 days.
A. Ma. Zing.
This child was conceived four months after a miscarriage. We could have tried sooner, but, you know. Closure. Time. Space. All of these things are good and healing.
Because I was charting my basal temperatures every day for months before all of my pregnancies, I had a pretty good idea of when I would ovulate.
Day 14 is ovulation day for a “typical” 28-day cycle. Mine was usually Day 16, but sometimes, it was as late as Day 22. This meant that I had short luteal phases, which can make it difficult to get pregnant or to keep a pregnancy. (I often had a nine-day luteal phase, and sometimes as low as six days. Not good.)
When we conceived our first child, it was Day 18. So, based on past experience, we decided to aim for Days 14-18. You know. Cover all our bases.
I put vacation in quotation marks because we were traveling with a 2 1/2 year old.
So, yeah, it wasn’t really a vacation that was very conducive for baby-making. But that was the timeline.
So be it.
Three days before we left for that trip, our daughter went to bed early and this beautiful window of an hour with nothing to do opened up.
It was Day 11. In the 22 months of data that I had collected, I had never ovulated before Day 14. But whatever. Let’s just have a good time, we thought.
As it turned out, that was my ovulation day.
We officially started “trying” on Day 14, but of course, nothing we did at that point would have gotten us pregnant.
The best laid plans sometimes, right?
It would be easy to write this story as destiny. That because our baby is so beautiful and perfect, we were just meant to have sex days before we had planned. God just knew that we needed to get together then in order to make this beautiful baby. Or something like that.
Believing in destiny is all well and good when it’s going your way.
But for all the healing that believing in destiny can do, it can just as easily bleed you dry.
When we miscarried, were we just meant to have sex at the wrong time?
Was that destiny?
Or is destiny just a comforting idea that we hold on to when it helps us?
If there is no destiny, is it all just chaos and luck?
Or do we call it chaos so we don’t need to acknowledge the real consequences of our actions?
Although I’ve been thankful for this child that made his way from cell to zygote to blastocyst to embryo to fetus to baby…
I sometimes wonder about the two pregnancies that didn’t get this far. What would they have been like? Were they boys? Girls? One of each? Did they have chromosomal problems? Would they have been perfect if my body could have held onto them? Would they look like my two living children, who both look more like their cousins than they do their parents?
What alternate course of events may have played out if those pregnancies lasted?
When it comes to conceiving a child, it feels like a bit of both.
I don’t usually do this feeding, but Doug is too tired tonight. So I do it.
Now, that Henry is waking up at 6 or 6:30, I’ve been getting up at 4:00 or 4:30, just to ensure that I have a whole hour of alone time to exercise. His naps are still too unpredictable to put much hope in fitting it in later.
Laundry Load # 1
Today’s supply of formula
This is when I realize that we’re just about out of Similac Soy, which is what he can eat that won’t give him diarrhea or constipation. I would buy six containers on Amazon like last time, but Amazon just increased its Prime listing to $31.50 (as opposed to $27.99, like before) and now only offers the $27.99 price through Prime Pantry. That’s a big deal for me because I can’t get that price unless I’m able to fill a “box” to make the shipping worth it. And six containers of Similac only fills 12% of the box.
So now I have to go to the store.
Horror of horrors.
It will be Henry’s first trip to Target. Yeah, it’s true. I’ve managed to avoid it this long by leaving him home with someone else or sending someone else to the store for me.
But it’s probably time.
So we’ll need a stocked diaper bag. And I’ll cross my fingers that he’s able to sleep through the entire trip.
Steel cut oatmeal, raspberries, and dark chocolate chips. Always have a little chocolate in the morning. It’s good advice.
Pack Child # 1’s lunch
She doesn’t realize how good she has it.
Dish Load # 1
(I refuse to hand-dry all that plastic.)
Bottle # 2
Sometimes, This Is How You Have to Shower
Halfway through brushing my teeth, the baby is giving an ear-piercing scream. Why? Who knows. I abandon brushing my teeth and spend the next 35 minutes going through the list of things to calm him down. He finally sucks down the last ounce in his bottle and passes out. I swaddle him and put him back in his crib.
Coffee # 1
For ten glorious minutes, I sit down with coffee and listen to NPR’s Morning Edition.
Child # 1’s Daycare Drop-off
With some stern words after ten minutes of asking nicely, Felicity has dressed and vitamin-ed herself. When we’re in the car, she says, “Please can I have Shake My Body“? (Technotronic’s “Move This.” I know. This is completely my fault.)
(a.k.a. Why I Hate Shopping with a Newborn)
The car seat occupies basically the entire cart and you have to cram your stuff in the space around it. (Nope, you can’t put the car seat on the top of the cart, near the handlebars. This is a big no-no.)
I’m sure someone is thinking, “Put him in a baby carrier!” That doesn’t work for me because every time we go out in the car, he falls asleep and ain’t no way I want to wake a baby from sleeping. Not gonna do it. If I can avoid having a cranky baby at the end of the day, I will do anything.
Coffee # 2 + eggs
Bottle # 3
Yes, I’m cloth diapering again. For now. We’ve both agreed that we’re going to quit earlier this time, probably once he completely transitions to solids and fighting the solid-poop smell takes too much effort.
Getting out of the house is pretty important to my mental sanity. Even if it is just for a short walk. This was a good week since he was able to fall asleep in the stroller. Sometimes, it’s just screams.
His Nap # 3
My Nap # 1 (a whole 30 minutes)
When he first starts stirring, I ignore it. No, I think. He’ll go back to sleep. Then, he starts crying. I run to try to salvage the nap. I sneak into the room, slip a hand into the crib without him seeing my face, and give him “the disembodied pat-down” to try to calm him.
Because he chomps on his hands with his formula-coated mouth, “Cheesy Hands” needs a bath. But first, I need to pry open his Death Grip to get the soap between his fingers.
It takes time.
Laundry Load # 2
It’s all ready to fold and then…
Bottle # 4
Today is a hard day to get him to nap by himself. After several attempts to get him to sleep in the bouncer, I settle in for an hour and hold him. I watch Frontline’s “Divided States of America.” It’s excellent, of course. I love PBS. I’m glad we donate to them. After an hour or so, I manage to slip him onto the sofa on his back without completely waking him up.
Dish Load # 2
I leave the bottles for a thorough scrubbing later, with the rest of the day’s bottles.
This is the pretty part of the dinner. The rest is scrambled eggs and some oranges.
Bottle # 5
Today was a great day for her. She even washes her hands when she comes in the door without the All-Out Meltdown. She impresses me with the sentence, “Be careful. It’s delicate.”
Who is this kid? Can we keep her?
Dish Load # 3
Nap # 5
Today is an interesting day. He decides to go to bed for the night at 7:30. He doesn’t wake up for his next bottle until 2:00 a.m. Nice stretch, but can’t we have it from 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.? Maybe next week.
A few stories, a trip to the bathroom, (“No, you don’t need any more water.”), and some snuggling. Don’t let her fool you. She’ll leave her room at least three more times before she falls asleep, just to make sure that no one is doing anything fun. In her mind, I know she thinks we’re downstairs enjoying episode after episode of Paw Patrol while she’s doing nothing but boring sleeping.
(Not pictured: Nine diaper changes. Do you really want to see that anyway?)
Obviously, maternity leave isn’t a vacation. It’s not all baby smiles and cute clothes (although those are nice…) It’s also not like other medical leave. You don’t have weeks and weeks to take it easy and recover. If anything, it’s like a marathon that you run for months.
When I go back to work full-time when he’s about three months old, it will be the first time since January when I’ve had eight straight hours completely to myself. (Kind of.)
Eight hours to think by myself.
Eight hours to not be a mother.
Time with your children is valuable. Time with your baby is priceless.
A few weeks ago, a friend emailed me a link to a blog post by Samantha Johnson, called “When I Became a Mother, Feminism Let Me Down.” She argues that while feminism prepared her to break barriers and pursue any dream she desired, it did not prepare her for motherhood.
Motherhood was not considered to be one of those many dreams of feminists. Feminism has railed so hard against the culture of homemaker/breadwinner that now, there doesn’t seem to be much of a space to stand inside of feminism while you are a SAHM (stay-at-home-mom, for those unfamiliar with the lingo).
We are teaching our young people that there is no value in motherhood and that homemaking is an outdated, misogynistic concept. We do this through the promotion of professional progression as a marker of success, while completely devaluing the contribution of parents in the home.
But I have to agree.
Before having a child, I saw myself as a successful product of feminism. I had a Bachelors and a Masters degree. I had a full-time job at a university. I had presented at state and national conferences in my field. I had married a man who was also a feminist. He was the cook in our marriage, for God’s sake.
Check, check, check. And kicked-ass-while-doing-it, check.
By societal standards of success, I was doing very well.
Our culture is very good at instilling the idea that for anything important, you should engage in some kind of education or training. But the subtext underneath all of this required preparation for a career (and the pride from all of my accomplishments while engaging in that career) is that no preparation is really needed for motherhood.
Either because it’s so easy that anyone can do it? Or perhaps there’s nothing much that you can learn before actually becoming a mother?
Both of which any mother can tell you is far, far from the truth.
In my twenties, I had privately viewed the work of mothering as not as difficult as the job for which I had worked so hard to be prepared. On an arrogant day, I might have even been so bold as to believe that mothering also wasn’t as important or valued.
My logic went like this: Millions of women are mothers, but how many women can say they teach English as a second language? And if I was doing something “less” than my what I could with all of my capabilities, wasn’t that a step backward in life? How much time would I have to take off from work before I could jump back in? Would I still be able to travel and present at conferences?
Would I be as proud of myself for being a mother as I was being a teacher? Would “mother” be a title that I would use to introduce myself to others at parties? And if not, why not?
And then I turned 30.
Having a child changed our lives for sure, but our changes haven’t mirrored some of the national trends.
Unlike many American women, I didn’t have to quit my job to stay at home with the baby. We live in Ohio, where the cost of living is still very reasonable and the commutes are not bad. We make enough money jointly to be able to afford daycare (even though it’s still extremely expensive).
But I can’t deny that I’m not reaching for the stars anymore. I’m doing my job but I have to admit, I bristle at the thought of working evenings and weekends. And gone are the days when I would fuss and fret over a task until it was “just so.”
Unh-uh. Ain’t nobody got time for that anymore.
Sometimes, I think about the trajectory of my career now that I’m in the middle of “small-child-dom.” It would be nice to do something a little different than what I’ve been doing for the last twelve years… but good health insurance.
Ah, to rise so “high”, only to be stymied by family responsibilities and health insurance.
“High” is in quotation marks, of course.
That’s exactly the problem. The modern vision of what it means to “succeed” never, ever depends on having children–although plenty of “successful” people have kids. Children are definitely part of the vision that we have for a modern American family (and if you don’t have kids, people definitely notice and make comments, regardless of the reason).
But when was the last time that you watched a movie where a character was being portrayed as “successful” and that character’s success depended on their role as a parent? (See the bachelor version of Nicholas Cage in TheFamily Man.)
Usually, the plot of the movie is that the character needs to discover that, hey, being a parent is actually a hell of a lot more important than the job that makes you money (See Adam Sandler in Click!).
All of this reminds me of a recent episode of the podcast, On Point with Tim Ashbrook. In the episode called “A Scathing Critique of Contemporary Feminism,” author and writer, Jessa Crispin explains that feminism has gotten away from one of its main goals–to change systems of oppression. Instead, it has become a movement that seeks to elevate women further and further into the upper echelons of systems that have benefited mostly men. Instead of changing the system, feminism has inspired some women to not only join the system, but rise higher and higher inside of it. While it works out fantastically for those women (what company doesn’t love to brag about how many women it has in upper management?), it leaves the rest of us in the dust.
Or perhaps more fittingly, either unemployed or underemployed.
Her commentary gave me a lot to think about.
In the feminist view, what is “success?”
How do we talk to our children about what it means to be “successful?” And what changes do we need to make in our own minds about what success is so that we may instill a different understanding of success for the next generation?
In Game of Thrones, the Night’s Watch is a group of monk-like men who devote themselves to defending the icy wall that separates the Realm from demonic Whitewalkers. In their oaths, they make this pledge:
Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.
Being a mother of a newborn is a bit like being a Brother of the Night’s Watch.
Not completely. But a bit.
It’s sold to you as important, noble, and life-changing work. And it feels like this for a time, while it’s still fresh and new.
But after a time, you feel like you actually have a lot in common with the Brothers of the Night’s Watch, sent to the end of the world, isolated, doing the work that must be done, the work that safeguards and ensures that humanity goes on, but that no one else will do.
At one time, you looked forward to the night hours that other mothers had once told you were so dear and precious. They talked about those hours as if they had been part adventure, part battle, and part romance.
But then, you find yourself standing in the midst of this long-awaited dream, bleary-eyed, weary, frustrated, resentful, and just downright sad.
And in that moment, it feels like you have been duped. It feels like you have fallen for a grand prank, as if you’ve been traveling toward some oasis, only to find that once you got there, there was nothing but sand to drink and no one to share your frustration with but the stars.
I imagine that it’s a lot like how Jon Snow felt when he realized that the other men who were travelling to the Wall with him were criminals who were being sent there as punishment.
So fueled by your euphoric and powerful love for your child, this feeling that you’ve been doing incredibly important, albeit invisible work, transforms into something quite different.
Loneliness. Singularity. A feeling of forgottenness.
While everyone else has moved on with their lives, there you are. Ever rocking. Ever feeding. Ever diapering and holding. Traveling in a repetitive loop of time. Frozen.
It weighs so heavy on you.
It feels like it will never end.
It feels like this will forever be the rhythm of your life.
When we came home with the baby just six weeks ago, I called those hours between midnight and 6:00 a.m. “The Night Watch.” They were the hours when it was only me and him. My husband and daughter were sound asleep. So was my mother, who had come to help us in those first few weeks.
And then there was me and Henry.
And six hours.
And three feedings.
For about a week, the Night Watch had three feedings, around 1:00, 3:00, and 5:00 a.m. And then it shortened to two feedings, around midnight and 3:00 a.m.
Last week, as Henry turned six weeks old, it shortened even more. We noticed that he would sleep for five and a half hours in one stretch, usually between 11:30 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.
This was exciting. Because it opened the possibility of me being able to seriously regain some sleep. My husband and I agreed to share the responsibility for the two feedings. Since I’m much better in the morning and he’s better at night, I took the early morning feeding and he took the late night feeding.
A few days passed like this.
It was sooo great.
In bed at 9:00 p.m. Up at 5:00 a.m.
And I got so much stuff done.
Between 5:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m., depending on when Henry would wake up to eat, I could (usually) accomplish the following, always in a different order.
Exercise (low-impact kickboxing or walking)
Packing Felicity’s lunch
Feeding/changing Henry, putting him back to sleep
Getting Felicity dressed/ fed/ dropped off at daycare
Wake up Doug
And then it occurred to me.
And now my watch is ended.
There will still be those awful nights of teething and illness when he can’t sleep more than a few minutes at a time. And sometimes, his sleep will be messed up and he’ll want to eat at 2:00 or 3:00 a.m.
But for the most part, it’s over.
There is no more Night Watch for me.
Just like that.
And now, I can hardly remember how long those hours were. My memory tells me that I felt so tired and heavy. I remember pulling myself out of sleep and moving through the night, bare feet on the cold tiles of the kitchen floor, digging my hands into the pockets of my robe. Pouring the formula into a bottle, microwaving it (which you should never do… right?), and then trudging back up the stairs (had I actually walked down them? I can’t even remember…).
But the sensations are gone. I cannot recreate them.
And so, those tired moments have become uncoupled from the exact cause of what made them so difficult: the actual feelings of utter exhaustion.
What was once so horrible in the moment has already become a fond memory.
One, I’m sure, I’ll recall next year with longing and misty eyes.
It’s no secret that parental leave in the United States blows big time. Until now, the most our government has been able to approve is the Family Medical Leave Act (1993), which guarantees that employees won’t lose their jobs while they take up to 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave related to family responsibilities, which can include giving birth.
Hard-line Republicans would say that government has no business in providing paid leave to its citizens, regardless of the reason. That’s simply not the role of government. We don’t want to become a “nanny-state,” do we?
And why should workers be paid when they’re not working? Says the hard-nosed capitalist who views human beings solely as workers, completely divorced of any human attachment that might decrease their productivity.
In her book, “O
(Sorry, just needed to spend 40 minutes feeding and soothing a baby. Ahem.)
“…freed from all home duties, [he] devotes himself completely to the workplace. He is a face-time warrior, the first one in in the morning and the last to leave at night. He is rarely sick. Never takes a vacation, or brings work along if he does. The ideal worker can jump on a plane whenever the boss asks because someone else is responsible for getting the kids off to school or attending the preschool play… So tied to the job is the ideal worker that he works endless hours, even if it costs him his health and his family” (p. 77).
Obviously, there is no room in this ideal worker for care-taking. Also, this ideal worker is decidedly male.
Maybe we should neither be surprised or dismayed by this. After all, we have a capitalist economy. But pure capitalism won’t survive, my friend. Pure capitalism is calculating, cold, and ultimately cruel. If we all adhere purely to capitalism, there would be no more room for care-taking of any kind.
As long as we don’t see our country longitudinally, we’re fine. As long as only the present matters, we’re fine.
After all, pure capitalism can make a generation great.
But the generation that came before and the generation that comes after will suffer for it.
As long as our country doesn’t need to a future, capitalism is splendid.
But back to parental
(Sorry, had to rock a screaming baby to sleep once again. Also, I had a bowl of Grapenuts with one hand while holding the pacifier in the baby’s mouth with the other hand. Also, Terminator Genisys is playing in the background. I’m missing a lot of the plot points, but it doesn’t seem to matter. And for as much as I like Emilia Clarke as Daenerys, I’m not crazy about her in this movie.)
Let me summarize my rambling, because this was supposed to be a post about the lack of parental leave in this country.
What I’m saying is that our country’s capitalistic view of screw-your-need-for-parental-leave-there’s-nothing-in-it-for-the-company is dangerously short-sighted.
But, in fact, there is something in it for the company.
A future, healthy, educated workforce to do their future, highly-skilled jobs.
People like this don’t just grow out of the ground.
They start as babies. Cared for by tired, invisible, and underappreciated hands. Mostly by mothers who have either dropped out of the workplace or are pausing their careers as they take time off to give birth and provide care.
They start as children. Educated by underpaid, overworked teachers.
They end as old people. Cared for, once again, by tired, invisible, and underappreciated hands. Sometimes by their children. Sometimes, by nursing homes, where the care-takers make a few dollars more than minimum wage.
This care-taking is work, even if it is done with love.
It’s work that is done behind the scenes.
It’s work that creates the pedestal on which the Ideal Worker stands.
Now, excuse me, the baby is crying again.
Sometimes, this is how you have to nap. (Moving your hand is *not* optional.)