Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: Brené Brown

Yeah, I’m a Selfish Mother: A Response to a Reader

Reader Comment

I’ve recently been called “selfish” by one of my readers for having taken my child to daycare while he had diarrhea.

Selfish.

It’s a heavy, knife-twisting word for women.

There’s nothing worse than a selfish woman.

Except a selfish mother.

SELFISH red stamp text

How dare I take my child to daycare while he had diarrhea?

I dared because there were three viruses going around in his classroom and every child had at least one of them. (And as you’ll find out later in this post–we got all of them). That’s what daycare centers are. They are veritable petri dishes of illness. Everyone who uses a daycare knows it. And none of us point fingers at each other saying, Ohhh… I’m so mad at you because your kid got my kid sick! That never happens. Ever.

I dared because I had already called the doctor and she told me that we were doing everything we could. The virus would just have to run its course. And this bug lasts about 5-7 days…

I dared because he didn’t have measles or rubella. He had diarrhea.

I dared because he was only having diarrhea when he ate, not continuously throughout the day.

I dared because his teachers said they would call me if he got worse. And because they’re an Amazing Sort of Awesome, they said, “Don’t worry. We can handle poop.”

I dared because every morning, I was up at 5:30, giving him baths and scrubbing poop off laundry before it could actually be washed another two or three times (And then I had to get another child ready.)

I dared because I had been up several times each night that week, changing vile, vile diapers, rocking him when he couldn’t go back to sleep, and then listening to his screams when I couldn’t calm him down.

I dared because I had to work. I didn’t have sick leave and I had to administer and grade final exams before the university’s deadline. (Not a task you can really hand over to a substitute.)

I dared because I was headed for a breakdown in my mental sanity.

That’s how I dared.

Thanks for asking.

***

What is it about motherhood that makes mothers so quick to point out what they perceive are another mother’s failings?

Honestly, how can you know the whole context of a situation when you’re outside of it?

You can’t.

And why is the word “selfish” just about the worst thing that you can call a mother?

As I sit here now thinking about that word, a knot is forming in my stomach and my heart is thumping.

Selfish?

Selfish!

Are you serious!?!?

But then…

Isn’t this reader right?

Aren’t I selfish for wanting someone else to take over some of the burden that both my husband and I had been dealing with all night long for days on end?

Yes. In fact, I was selfish.

Selfish in my need for self-preservation.

But should I be ashamed that I couldn’t handle all of this at the same time?

Should I be ashamed that I desperately wanted out of my life, if only for just those worst, most miserable days in the last few weeks?

I should?

Why?

***

After Henry’s diarrhea tapered off, a bad cold hit him–and, subsequently, all of us–hard. We were all plagued with it to varying degrees. Mine lived mostly in my throat and chest. For everyone else, it set up house in their noses.

And then came the Infamous Daycare Puking Bug.

Over last weekend, Henry went through it.

Doug got it.

When it hit me at 10:00 p.m. on Monday night, I was in denial at the first twinges of nausea.

Nope… Nope… That’s not what this is.

All night, I twisted and turned as the first ripples of nausea swelled into cresting ocean waves. At 1:00 a.m., I allowed myself to believe that, yes indeed…

It was happening to me.

I dreamed that instead of puking into the toilet, I puked in the shower.

When 6:00 a.m. came and Henry started crying, I pulled myself out of bed and held the walls as I walked down the hallway. From my toes to my shoulders, everything ached. All the way down into my bones, I ached. When I opened the door and smelled the poop, I turned around and told Doug that I couldn’t do it.

Unsure about what had happened the night before, I checked the bathroom. No puke.

Just unbelievable nausea.

I lay back down until Doug needed me. As I sank into the bed, I was certain that nothing had ever felt so good as to be lying there in the cool sheets, my head against the pillow. When he called for my help, I only did what was absolutely necessary.

I couldn’t hold the baby.

I couldn’t even hold the bags.

I put food in containers for the kids. I sent along extra clothes and bibs.

When they were mercifully gone, I ate six saltines and went back to bed.

I woke up at 12:45 and ate six more saltines.

Then I slept until 2.

Then I ate a banana.

And slept until I heard Henry crying.

I rolled over, blinking. The clock read 5:55. Morning or night? I wasn’t too sure.

It turned out to be night, so I helped put one child to bed.

Then I ate a bowl of cereal.

And went back to bed.

***

Was it selfish of me to send the kids to daycare while I stayed home sicker than I’ve been in two years?

Yes.

Is it selfish of me to send my kids to daycare in this last week before Christmas even though I don’t have to teach, simply because we’re paying for it? Is it selfish that I crave this time to work on creative projects that have nothing to do with my kids or my work?

Yep. It sure is. I’m selfish.

You caught me.

But here’s the harder question: Should I be ashamed of being selfish?

I think this is where I disagree with my reader.

I don’t think I should be ashamed of taking time to care for myself–and it shouldn’t matter whether my needs are physical, emotional, or mental. It’s all important. This whole culture of “real parents are the ones who always put their kids first” is setting us up for rampant depression and divorce.

I love my kids, but, nope. They don’t always come first. Especially when I’m on the brink.

I care about having enough wherewithal to get through not only the days, but the weeks, the months, and the years.

So yeah, I’m selfish.

So selfish.

But I’m not going to feel badly about it this time.

One Thing That Google Memo Got Right: Ladies, This One May Hurt

I’ll skip all the stuff that you can guess I’m going to say about James Damore’s memo on “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.”

Like, no, women aren’t naturally prone to gregarious extraversion, which leads to them to avoid negotiating their salaries.

They don’t usually try to negotiate salary because they fear how asking for more money will be perceived by their future employer. And, it turns out, they should be worried about that. Because future employers very often rate women who ask for more money as “unlikeable” and “pushy.” For more on this read Linda Babcock’s Women Don’t Ask or Iris Bohnet’s, What Works: Gender Equality by Design.

Better yet, here’s a decent video summary of What Works:

And don’t get me started about the point about women being naturally neurotic.

***

But like I said, I’m skipping Damore’s points that I disagree with.

One thing Damore gets right is the assertion that he makes that is actually informed by his own personal experience (not what he imagines is the reality of women). He says,

The male gender role is currently inflexible…Feminism has made great progress in freeing women from the female gender role, but men are still very much tied to the male gender role. If we, as a society, allow men to be more “feminine,” then the gender gap will shrink, although probably because men will leave tech and leadership for traditionally “feminine” roles. (emphasis added)

First, my criticism: I have a hard time believing that just rethinking gender roles will lead to more men pursuing “feminine” roles. Money talks. And as long as the jobs that are traditionally done by women (TEACHERS) continue to offer piddly salaries and boatloads of responsibility, ain’t no guys gonna stand for that shit.

But as to Damore’s first point, YES. YES. YES.

The male gender role is inflexible.

What makes it so inflexible?

Shame.

Shame from all sides.

Sociologist Brene Brown writes about this very issue in her book, Daring Greatly. Women and men experience different shame triggers. For women, body image and motherhood are key triggers for shame.

But for men, the key shame trigger is weakness.

She tells this vivid story of a man who came up to talk to her after one of her lectures. He had been brought to the lecture by his wife and daughters and had just listened through a lengthy talk that Brene had given about women’s shame triggers. After watching all the head-nodding between his daughters and wife, he took time to talk to Brene about the lecture, out of earshot of his wife and daughters. And this is what he said:

We (men) have deep shame. Deep shame. But when we reach out and share our stories, we get the emotional shit beat out of us. Before you say anything about those mean coaches, bosses, brothers, and fathers being the only ones (who experience that shame)… My wife and daughters–the ones you signed all of those books for–they’d rather see me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall off. You say you want us to be vulnerable and real, but come on. You can’t stand it. It makes you sick to see us like that. (p. 84-85).

She then connects this story with another story of a twenty-year-old man who participated in a focus group on the topic of men and shame. Here’s how that young man described the confines of the male gender role.

‘Let me show you the box.’ I knew he was a tall guy, but when he stood up, it was clear that he was at least six foot four. He said, ‘Imagine living like this,” as he crouched down and pretended that he was stuffed inside a small box. Still hunched over, he said, ‘You really only have three choices. You spend your life fighting to get out, throwing punches at the side of the box and hoping it will break. You always feel angry and you’re always swinging. Or you just give up. You don’t give a shit about anything.” At that point, he slumped over on the ground. You could have heard a pin drop in the room… ‘Or you stay high so you don’t really notice how unbearable it is. That’s the easiest way.’

Before reading Daring Greatly, it was very easy for me to laugh at any comments from men that fell into the sentiment of “men have it tough.” I have been steeped in not only feminist literature and the psychology of prejudice, but I have also spent years and years addressing misconceptions and bias towards immigrants and international students. (Why are they here? Are they planning on staying?)

I’ve had a world-class education in identifying systems of oppression that work against the marginalized.

So I guess that led to my implicit conclusion that simply being male was probably a much more pleasant experience than being female.

Naive? Definitely.

But then again, I was drawing conclusions based on my outside observations about men. Even though I had been married more than ten years at the time that I read Daring Greatly, I don’t ever remember having a conversation with my husband about men and shame. And even if I knew what to ask (or even that we should talk about this), was I really ready to hear what my husband had to say?

Just as the man pointed out to Brene, was I really ready to see the man I loved completely fail? Completely fall apart? Be completely wrong? Be the loser?

Tough questions.

Striving for gender equality isn’t just a matter of lifting up women or leveling the playing field or sensitizing men to the struggles of women (although, yes, all of those things are important.)

If women are really ready for gender equality, we need to embrace the breaking of the male gender role.

We need to be comfortable with letting the men that we love cry and doubt and fail and lose. Instead of recoiling in their moments of pain, that is when we need to reach out and embrace them and say, “This messed up version of you? I love this. I love you.”

This also means that we have to re-imagine new love stories, ones that don’t hinge on a strong, capable man swooping in to save us from whatever problems we face (bonus points if the problem you need to be saved from is yourself!).

And perhaps more important, we have to reassure men that we don’t want that fantasy anyway.

We have to be open to relationships that don’t fit all the movies or all the songs. And hey, the best guy for us probably isn’t the one who only shows his soft side in the privacy of the bedroom.

The best ones are the ones who do the tough, emotional work that doesn’t come easy for guys. And doing that emotional work in full view of others. Like asking for forgiveness. And moving through rejection. And learning to love again. And expressing grief.

We’ve got to stop loving the image of the silent, stoic, lonely cowboy. Or the unbreakable superhero. Or the cold-as-ice mafia man.

We’ve got to teach our young girls to look for arousal beyond stories of men who dominate and control women (Fifty Shades of Grey), even if the premise is that they’re “protecting” them from danger and doing so for our own good (Twilight).

And, ladies, we have to stop putting all of our hopes and dreams into their hands. And then blaming them when they’re not able to live up to our lofty standards.

I mean, really, who can?

***

Of course, I wouldn’t be writing about any of this had James Damore not written his memo. I’d just be sitting on these little nuggets of information that I had previously gleaned from my own personal reading… And not sharing them at all. Because I didn’t have any current context to draw my readers into this piece.

So there’s another thing that he got right: We should talk about these issues.

It’s hard, yes. For women, we often immediately go on the defensive, anticipating yet another frustrating conversation in which we’re called upon–once again–to solve men’s problems of blindness toward gender inequality. I get it. Really. I want to write off Damore as another guy who just doesn’t get it. That’s so much easier than trying to contribute to any discourse on this topic.

But that doesn’t get us anywhere.

And we’ve got a long way to go.

The inflexibility of gender roles drives a lot of the thinking that leads to guys like Damore concluding that, It’s probably women’s biology that’s holding them back, which is a hop, skip, and a jump away from, This is just the natural order of things.

We know this inflexibility hurts women.

But, let’s be honest: it’s just as damaging to men.

***

Since Damore’s memo went viral, he has doubled down on his stance that Google is promoting an ideological echo chamber. It’s not surprising. He’s being attacked from all sides.

What does our society say men should do when they’re attacked? It tells them to fight back. To dig in their heels. To be a man and stand up to confrontation. And he’s doing just that.

So the question remains…

Women of the world, are we ready to embrace those moments when men experience vulnerable moments of weakness?

Or will we shut them down?

Week 22: Practicing Gratitude

When I was going through our miscarriage last Christmas, I remember thinking things like, “I hope all those women who are pregnant right now realize how much they have to be thankful for.”

Or

“I hope they know how easily things could have gone wrong for them.”

These thoughts came from a place of deep sadness and emptiness. I was mired in what had just happened. Unable to recognize anything good about my present. Unable to see the future or even a way forward.

But, let’s be honest, they also came from a place of envy. As Brene Brown writes in her wise book, Daring Greatly, envy is rooted in a fear of scarcity. It drove me to think,

Maybe I’ll never get pregnant again.

Maybe I’m destined now for a life of miscarriages.

Or just the ugly sentiment that,

I can’t stand the thought that happiness exists anywhere right now.

Because I have none of it.

I envied women whose pregnancies seemed to march on without any complications. Their lives seemed so full of good news and overflowing blessings.

I envied them even though I had once been one of them.

***

I had forgotten that I had been one of those women because I lost sight of all the things that I had in my life for which I should have been grateful.

But with time and space and a partner who helped me gain perspective, I was able to find my gratitude again.

My healthy daughter.

My marriage.

A job with a salary and benefits.

Enough money for our bills and even a bit beyond that.

My mother, still living 10 years after her last cancer diagnosis.

But now that this pregnancy is here, full of its own discomforts and changes in my daily life, I’ve felt that gratitude sinking into the background again.

It’s easy to forget the incredible truth of my present–that I am carrying another human being. That this life grows every day without my guidance or intervention.

Instead, I get frustrated with my weight gain, although it is completely within the normal range for pregnancy.

I get tired of waking up with sore hips and a popping spine, now that I’m sleeping on my side at night.

I get tired of answering the same questions about my pregnancy. Multiple times a day. (Because now that I have a bump, clearly, that must be the only thing that I want to talk about–fodder for another blog post, I’m sure.)

Stupid stuff. All so stupid.

***

Last Friday, I was scrolling through my WordPress Reader, following the pregnancy tag, which is one of my favorite ways of reaching out to potential new readers.

I came across a blog post that ripped my heart out.

It was written by a woman who has been struggling with infertility for quite some time. With much help, she conceived and gave birth to a healthy girl, who is now a toddler. She and her husband wanted to try again for another, using IVF again. She had been posting for several weeks about being excited that blood tests had revealed that her second child would be a girl. She wrote about North Dakota law’s strange decision that for legal matters, embryos were also fetuses, which made it difficult for her to donate her embryos to others.

She had been using a fetal doppler at home to check her baby’s heartbeat and give herself reassurance that everything was going well.

Then, at her 20-week ultrasound, came the diagnosis.

Her daughter had the worst neural tube defect. A terminal diagnosis.

Anencephaly.

Her baby had no brain.

No head above her chin.

No eyes. No nose.

Yes, this mother could hear a strong heartbeat because her daughter had a brain stem. Her daughter even had a strong, developing body.

But her daughter was “incompatible with life.”

anencephaly

Baby with anencephaly who has eyes and nose: http://www.cdc.gov

Three paths now lay before this mother:

1) travel to another state to stop her baby’s heartbeat and have a D&E (because North Dakota has decided that she cannot end her pregnancy in North Dakota. Thanks, state government.)

2) wait for her baby to die in utero, a 7% chance, or

3) give birth to her baby and watch her baby die within days of being born, a 100% chance.

She has decided to travel to another state to end the pregnancy, leaving her toddler at home with family for several days. She freely acknowledged that some parents would find healing and closure in choosing to go ahead with the birth.

But she also bravely admitted that giving birth was not the best decision for her and her family.

***

As I consider what this mother faces in the next few weeks, my gratitude comes forward.

Not a gratitude rooted in pity. As if I’m thinking, There, but for the grace of God, go I. But a gratitude that her story pushes me to remember just how easily things can go terribly wrong in a pregnancy.

One week, you’re carrying life. The next week, you’re carrying death.

One week, you’re comforted by your baby’s beating heart. The next week, you find out your baby is terminally deformed.

One week, your baby is alive, kicking in your womb. The next week, the placenta mysteriously detaches and your baby suffocates inside you.

One hour, you are in labor, ready to deliver your child. The next hour, your child is lifeless, asphyxiated by a compressed umbilical cord.

These are the risks and the dangers and the horrors that mothers experience around the world.

They are the potential costs of being the bearers of life.

This stuff happens.

It happens.

It can be easy to forget all of this. It’s easy to assume that all will go as planned. That the OB has it under control. That your body is wise and will know what to do. That as long as you follow all of the recommended guidelines, your child will be born alive and healthy.

But let’s be honest: That doesn’t always happen.

And this truth is important to know and acknowledge. I argue that it is even necessary for us to acknowledge. Because it helps those who face devastating news to feel less abnormal and persecuted. It helps those who are suffering see that they do not suffer alone. Many, many other parents have walked that lonely, grieving road before them.

A healthy, whole, live baby, resting in your arms is not a given. It is a kind of miracle.

So I’m grateful that until this moment, I have been spared devastating news. But that also doesn’t mean devastating news won’t come.

And this is where the hard work of gratitude comes into play.

I could choose to be paralyzed by all that could go wrong in this pregnancy. I could choose to let horrible after horrible scenario play out in my daydreams.

But I choose to be grateful in this moment. 

That right now, as I sit here typing, this baby is moving and kicking.

That I can still run 2 miles in the morning and feel better for it.

That I have access to enough nutrition, safety, and medical care to sustain this pregnancy.

That today, I am still pregnant, still sustaining this life.

Today, this moment, is what this child and I have together. And I’m grateful for it.

gratitude

 

Walk the Line: Writing for an Unseen Audience

Your book is available for pre-order in the Kindle Store!

I’ve been waiting to see those words for a year and a half. So I’m feeling…happy? Sure. Excited? Yes.

But also…

…extremely vulnerable.

Just a few of the many, many printed drafts that I gave readers. I can't even tell you how many electronic drafts I have.

Just a few of the many, many printed drafts that I gave readers. I can’t even tell you how many electronic drafts I have.

Oh, I’m out there now. If I wasn’t before, I am now. I’m propped up on the shelf of the Amazon marketplace, ripe for the picking. Anyone can download a sample of my book and dismiss me as “not engaging enough” or “self-righteous.” Anyone can buy my book and then bash it anonymously if they so choose. Anyone can mention my book anywhere on the Internet and say all kinds of unkind things about me.

What a whiner. Her baby was so easy compared to mine. Or how about, Here we go! Another natural birther. Out to fulfill her unmet needs by turning birth into a competition. Kudos to you, Ms. Crazy! Pass me the epidural, please.

Yeah, I have an active imagination.

And I really have to keep it in check.

Thanks to the recommendation from a friend (Thanks, Chanel!), I’ve been reading a book by Brené Brown, called “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.” The timing for reading this book couldn’t have been more perfect.

In one particular section, Brown states that, “Sharing something you’ve created is a vulnerable but essential part of engaged and Wholehearted living. It’s the epitome of daring greatly” (p. 63).

All right! I’m wholehearted! Woo-hoo!

Then, she goes on to say, “But because of how you were raised or how you approach the world, you’ve knowingly or unknowingly attached your self-worth to how your product or art is received. In simple terms, if they love it, you’re worthy; if they don’t, you’re worthless” (emphasis added, p. 63).

…How did she know?

I truly struggle with this—not letting my self-worth get tied up in how my writing is received by others. It is so easy for me to fall into the toxic loop of, Oh God, this book is only going to be read by my friends and family. It will never take off because it’s not good enough. I should have listened to all of those rejection letters from agents. They were right.

So I’m trying to look at this experience in publishing as an opportunity for growth rather than an exercise in defining my self-worth. I’m going to have haters and lukewarm readers. But I’m also going to have readers who fall in love with the book. I’m going to have people who buy it…and then never get around to reading it. And let’s not forget all the people who will click on it and not buy it. Or those that think (like I do!), pshhh… $6.99? I’ll wait until it’s $2.99.

And all of that has to be okay with me.

But it’s going to be tough.

I have to silence that inner voice that screams, “I worked so hard! I sacrificed beautiful summer days and naptimes and evenings and weekends! I had to divulge parts of my life that I wouldn’t normally talk about, but that I thought were essential for reaching new mothers!”

I have to ignore all of that. And I have to start this new inner script:

“I have done what I wanted to do and I have done it to the best of my ability. And that is enough. No matter how many books I sell. No matter how many reviews (or lack of reviews!) I get. I needed to do this and it is done.”

But it’s going to be tough.

I’m navigating a very new space–communicating with an audience that I don’t know, that I can’t see, but that will see me–ALL of me.

God, it makes me nauseous just thinking about it.

All my life, my best communication (written or oral) has always been done for an audience with which I could be somewhat familiar: my students, my colleagues, other professionals in my field. My friends. My husband. My family. I could tailor my message just right. I could personalize. I could connect.

But this feels like shouting out my inner thoughts in the middle of a crowded room and hoping that someone will notice and care enough to pay attention. And then not getting too upset if what I have to say isn’t important enough for others to lean in to hear.

Brené Brown beautifully describes the delicate balance of considering audience and how it leads artists into a space full of uncertainty.

When we stop caring about what people think, we lose our capacity for connection. When we become defined by what people think, we lose our willingness to be vulnerable. If we dismiss all the criticism, we lose out on important feedback, but if we subject ourselves to the hatefulness, our spirits get crushed.

It’s a tightrope, shame resilience is the balance bar, and the safety net below is the one or two people in our lives who can help us reality-check the criticism and cynicism” (emphasis added, p. 169).

Time to walk the line.

 

Want a copy of this thing that makes me nauseous? See it here on Amazon or Goodreads.

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