Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: success

Week 8: Is There Room for Motherhood in Feminism?

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).

Johnson writes,

We are teaching our young people that there is no value in motherhood and that homemaking is an outdated, misogynistic concept.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.

Ouch.

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.

Tick. Tock.

***

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 The Family 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?

rosie

Self-Publishing Costs and Benefits

scales

I don’t know how many copies of Becoming Mother I truly expected to sell on its release date.

Maybe 20? That could as least cover some of the costs that I’ve shelled out of the last few months. Yeah, 20 seems reasonable. Okay, maybe 15.

When I checked that evening around 10:00 p.m., I braced myself.

One.

One copy.

Really?

***

Success in publishing can be measured in a lot of ways.

Before I published this book, I braced myself for how the whole publication process might affect my own feelings of accomplishment and self-worth. Anyone who knows me knows that it’s easy for me to take criticism too close to heart. I have to mentally prepare myself for any heartless comments that may come my way.

I knew that by taking on the challenge of self-publishing, I was putting the responsibility for book promotion and sales entirely into my own hands.

I’m inviting you behind the curtain today, to show what self-publishing has been like in this first year post-publication. The nuts and bolts. The costs and benefits. The frustrations and joys.

Here we go.

Summary of Expenses

  • Cover design: $200
  • ISBNs: $300
  • NetGalley listing: $400
  • Booth fees for selling events: $400
  • Wholesale copies of book: $516
  • Facebook ads: $130
  • Book award contests: $240
  • IBPY Catalogue listing: $230
  • Misc: $285

Books sold, August 2015-August 2016:

  • Printed (through Amazon): 70
  • Printed (in-person sales): 37
  • Kindle: 39
  • KENFP earnings (by Kindle pages read): 3,107 pages
  • Total copies sold: 146

Earnings: approximately $900

Book reviews published:

  • Burrito Buzz, MothersAlwaysWrite, Project: Women
  • Amazon reviews in August 2016: 15 different buyers

Countries where my book has been sold:

  • United States, Great Britain, Japan, Australia

Blog Stats

  • Blog followers in August 2015: 45 followers
  • Blog followers in August 2016: 421 followers
  • Total blog views: 11,407
  • Total blog visitors: 6,814

Most visited posts/pages:

Other publications that have helped to promote my writing:

  • Kiwi Magazine
  • MotherAlwaysWrite
  • Project: Women
  • Imperfect Life
  • Fearless Formula Feeder

 

A lot of people could scoff at me for choosing the “easy way” to publication. I would scoff right back at them and say, “Easy? Are you kidding me?”

The only “easy” quality about it is that I didn’t have to spend the time flirting around to find an agent who might be interested enough in my work to get it in the hands of an editor at a publishing house, who might actually want to take the risk of publishing my work, who might not completely change my vision. In that sense, I was able to spend more time in honing the quality of my work and deciding exactly how I wanted to market the book.

Self-publishing wasn’t the easiest way to publish. But it did help me accomplish a few goals:

  • I was able to publish this work while I am still a mother of a young child. This helps me identify with my readers.
  • I had total control over my content, organization, and book layout.
  • I had immediate access to my sales records–so I could know when certain promotions were working or not working.
  • I retained my rights over my creative work.
  • Interested readers could easily access and purchase my book through Amazon.
  • I was able to market this book however I saw fit.

Some of the things that I did to market this book flopped. Some things worked well. Here’s what I’ve learned. Take it or leave it.

  • Do not do a Goodreads giveaway with the expectation that the winners will actually review your book. They just don’t. If you want to do a Goodreads giveaway, just do it out of the goodness of your heart and be thankful that someone who is not part of your regular social circles may read your book.
  • Facebook ads didn’t really produce many sales. Maybe they get your book cover in front of eyes and lead to a few clicks, but it never made a huge difference in sales for me. This was mostly wasted money, I thought.
  • Don’t be afraid to charge a fair price for your book.
  • Sometimes your buyer isn’t your reader…
  • Selling events are great… for figuring out how to market your book. They might not be great for actually selling that many books.

 

Instead, do these things:

1.) Above all: KEEP WRITING.

If you’re really a writer, this will not be hard at all. You love to do it anyway. You love it even though it doesn’t pay the bills. You love it even though you are rejected over and over and over again. You. Just. Love it.

2. ) Promote your most trafficked blog posts through Facebook promotions. (Hint: Being vulnerable often leads to highly trafficked blog posts. This means that you write about the tough stuff.)

3.) Blog. Regularly. But…

… save some stellar work to submit to other literary magazines or websites who are looking for original, unpublished work.

Find other places to submit your writing and submit often. Take the rejection. Take all of it because there will be a lot. Swallow your pride and keep going. You’re in this for the long haul.

  • Follow other people’s blogs.
  • Identify tags for posts that appeal to your target audience.

(For me, this meant following tags like pregnancy, motherhood, writing, baby, and parenting.)

  • Like and comment on other people’s posts.
  • Respond to every comment on your blog.

4.) Embrace the Power of Social Media

Disclaimer**: I was born in 1981, the very beginning of the Millenial Generation, and God, it shows. I graduated college before the advent of Facebook and smartphones, so I have a weird mix of social media literacy and social media repulsion. And yet… I cannot deny that it has helped me reach readers that I otherwise would never have reached.

Blogging has helped me connect with readers in Australia. Facebook has helped me promote my book to Facebook friends and friends of those friends.

I have not walked through the dark, dark threshold of Twitter yet. I fear I might never return. I have too doggone much to keep track of, so I limit myself to Facebook and blogging.

  • Establish an on-line presence through social media.
  • Create a Facebook page for your book and regularly update it with new blog posts, book reviews, book progress, and other related readings that you find noteworthy.
  • Like other Facebook pages for websites and books that are related to your topic.
  • Start interacting with other bloggers whose work you admire. Comment on their posts. Follow their blogs. Like their Facebook page. Then, see if they are open to receiving a free copy of your book and reviewing it. Graciously accept whatever review they create, be it positive or negative.
  • Attend writer’s conferences and workshops. Network. Learn about their writing, their blogs, and their books. Help them out and they’ll help you out. Oh, and while you’re there, learn about writing.

Be honest. Be authentic. Be you. No one wants a martyr. No one wants a superhero. People want authenticity. They want to see you down in the mud where they are–but they also want to see you climb out of it and shine.

Shine on, fellow writers.

Shine on.

Running

I started running this week.

Normally, I stay in the warm back room of our house and work up a sweat doing cardio kickboxing, yoga, or high-intensity intervals.

But nothing has been normal for the past three weeks.

running

Image from Shutterstock

***

Shortly after finding out that our baby had no heartbeat, it was time for all the Christmas festivities. My daughter’s daycare went on a break. No rest for the weary or the brokenhearted. Mercifully, my husband took vacation so that we could share the household chores while we waited for me to miscarry.

Christmas Eve.

Cookie baking. Church. Stockings. Christmas Vacation.

Christmas.

Cinnamon rolls, sausage, eggs, coffee. Gifts. Home Alone. Cookies. Salad. Pierogies. More sausage. Wine. More coffee. More cookies.

And then the long stretch between Christmas and New Year’s. Unstructured hours with a two-year-old. Read: attention span of two minutes. Snacks. Haphazard attempts at potty-training, (No peeing in your panties!). Obvious (yet interesting?) observations. (Mama have eyes? Mi-mouse have eyes? Daddy have eyes?) Repetitive songs (Daddy shark, de-de-de-de-de-de-de, Mama shark, de-de-de-de-de-de). Tantrums (No!!! Go away, Mama!).

The weather was miserable. Warm, torrential rains. Flooding. A deep gray settled over the sky for days. I looked out the window of our kitchen and shrugged. Figures, I remember thinking.

But there was also periodic laughing at our daughter’s new stretches of speech that didn’t quite coincide with the present situation. In Target, looking at the DVD, Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown, she said, Oh no! What happened to us?–perhaps asking why the Peanuts characters were screaming as they crowded together in a raft.

After the D & C, I rested. I cramped. I bled. I took the Motrin (I never could tolerate Vicodin). I stopped eating cookies and chocolate. I dumped the leftover bottles of wine. Then, I ate sweet potatoes, kale smoothies, salads, and chicken. I started going back to bed at 10:00 and started getting up at 6:00.

Daycare resumed on the Monday after New Year’s. After I dropped my daughter off at daycare, I breathed a sigh of relief. I got in my car, turned the music up, and drove home. I had one more week off before I needed to return to work.

Now, I can really take care of myself, I thought. I went home did some cardio kickboxing for 40 minutes. I felt better. I vegged out with The Office. I finished Brene Brown’s new book, Rising Strong. I ate broccoli and salmon and rice for lunch.

And then…

I decided I wasn’t done exercising. I decided to run.

And it. Was. Cold.

But I also didn’t care.

I borrowed my husband’s headphones. I put on a long-sleeved shirt and fleece-lined jacket. I turned on Pandora on my phone. I stretched.

Then, I went for it.

I knew better than to break into a sprint. So I jogged. I made it two minutes. I took a break. I jogged again. Two minutes. Break. Repeat. I watched the house numbers on the mailboxes grow higher and higher.

We live next to a huge, beautiful park and as I rounded a corner, its trees came into view. I picked up the pace. Then, I took a break.

Then, the hill.

I was going to do this thing. I was going to go as far as I could. I was tired of playing the Why me? script over and over again in my head. It was pointless and sucked up all my energy. It was time to start playing a new script.

I can come back from this. 

I won’t let this swallow the best of me.

I have been through worse. I have felt worst.

I can be a real badass when I decide to be.

Even if this happens again, I’m going to be okay.

***

In The Gifts of ImperfectionBrene Brown gives ten guideposts for wholehearted living. As I read through them, two of them struck me as the lessons that I’m learning right now.

  • Cultivating a resilient spirit: Letting go of numbing and powerlessness. (i.e., dumping the cookies, the wine, and the Why me? script)
  • Cultivating intuition and trusting faith: Letting go of the need for certainty. (i.e., having the willingness to try something new, even if I don’t know if I’ll be any good at it)

***

I pushed into the hill, taking deep breaths, pulling in the oxygen, pushing out the burning in my legs. I kept my eyes on the ground and told myself, one more step, one more, now to the next mailbox, one more step.

When I reached my limit, I was halfway up the hill. I knew today would not be the day that I got to the top.

And that was okay.

I walked the rest of the way up the hill, turned around, and made my way down.

I’m normally a cold person. I’m always seeking warmth.

But as I started descending that hill, I could feel the blood warming my fingers. I could feel the warmth everywhere. It was 20 degrees, but I felt warm.

And I had done that.

In a dark, cold season of my life, I had made myself warm.

Running is not my usual routine, and I probably won’t stick with it in the long run (pun intended). Maybe I’ll go back to kickboxing. Maybe I’ll start swimming (although I’ll need to find a pool to do that.)

I’m open.

But sometimes, to get out of a rut, to change the script, to start over, you need to do something different.

 

 

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