Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: women

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We are teaching our young people that there is no value in motherhood and that homemaking is an outdated, misogynistic concept.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

When Pro-Life is Anti-Health

I’m an avid watcher of Samantha Bee.

I love her so much.

In a recent episode of Full Frontal, she dives into the murky intersection of women’s health, abortion, and miscarriage. While the media prefers the clear-cut terms of “pro-life” and “pro-choice,” Samantha Bee has brought together a collection of women’s interviews that demonstrate just how complicated these issues are.

Especially when those issues are governed by a specific set of religious views.

In these interviews, women describe how and why they were denied care by Catholic hospitals that were required to follow a Catholic health care directive that forbade doctors from providing birth control, performing tubal ligations, or performing abortions.

Even if the life of the mother was at risk.

I’ll let these women speak for themselves.

***

Mindy Swank: Forced by a Catholic hospital to continue an unviable pregnancy after her water broke.

“…he tried to breathe, he was turning blue… he wasn’t conscious. It wasn’t a magical time, like people think.”

Dr. Rupa Natarajan: Describes how the directives restricted her ability to care for her patients at the Catholic hospital where she worked.

“…to save her life, I needed to terminate the pregnancy. But because of this religious directive, I had to transfer her to another facility when she was medically unstable.”

Jennafer Norris: Denied a tubal ligation by a Catholic hospital during emergency c-section, even though her life would be at risk if she were to get pregnant again.

“I had to make a choice to survive and to give my child the best option.”

Melanie Jones: Spent two weeks bleeding and in unnecessary pain after a physician at a Catholic facility refused to remove her dislodged IUD.

“…Because my IUD was a non-hormonal type of birth control… (the doctor told me that) the sole purpose of your IUD is to prevent pregnancy, so we can’t help you.”

***

Take a good look at these women.

I hope that you remember them the next time you think that anyone–religion or government–should come between a woman and her health care.

I believe and will always believe that women deserve to be trusted to make the best decision. As Mindy Swank said,

“I was the only person in the world who loved my baby… and yet people who don’t know me and don’t care about us, who never have to live with the repercussions, were making decisions for us. And that just feels very wrong.”

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

 

Week 13: Welcome, Muffin Top

I saw this image on Pinterest and couldn’t help myself.

I believe I’m at the “Welcome, Muffin Top” stage.

stages of pregnancy

In my first pregnancy, I didn’t reach this stage until about 20 weeks. I was kind of proud about that. Hey, look everyone! I’ve only gained 10 pounds so far! And I’m not really showing much at all.

Occasionally, I’d find myself in a conversation with another mom.  A smirk would cross her face and she’d say something like, “It’s because it’s your first. You show a lot earlier with your second.”

Those words haunt me.

As I dressed for work at nine weeks pregnant, I thought, Oh… That’s a little tight.

At ten weeks, I thought, Hmmm… Think I’ll need to dress strategically.  I wore larger pants that I had stashed away from those months when I was losing baby weight last time. I wore well-placed cardigans at work.

At eleven weeks, I realized that my profile had actually changed. I tried to suck it in. Ha!

In my default state, I have some floppy abs above my belly button, but it’s normally no big deal. I don’t do mid-riffs and I exercise enough so that I can still wear fitted dress shirts comfortably. Exercise has helped, but it has never made the flobby abs go away.

At twelve weeks, my uterus has just compressed my floppy abs, much like a push-up bra. Only, this shape isn’t very appealing. To be clear, I’m not talking about a rounded, pregnant belly. That’s not what this looks like.

This is more like a two-hump muffin-top.

This past Sunday, I put on a boxy, long tunic and some black leggings. I looked in the mirror and thought, Come on. You still have a bit of a figure left. Enjoy it while you can. It’s not time to completely lose your waist.

So I put on a black, chunky belt over the tunic. Kind of like this one:

belt

I thought it looked okay. It brought my hips back into view and I thought, Yeah. We’ll go with this.

That was until I sat down.

I sat on the couch and felt self-conscious about the way my boobs and my two-hump pregnancy bump crowded around the cinch point.

Then, my daughter turned to look at me. Her eyes zeroed in on the belt. She couldn’t look away.

“You, you, you…” she started pointing.

Oh, God, she’s even stuttering. Here it comes. The moment my daughter says something that makes me feel humiliated.

“You, you…. You got your seat belt on, Mommy?”

Oh, sweet child of mine.

First Trimester

I knew it was true before the test.

I knew the feeling of that tiny, dense star settling in.

Laying its roots.

Sensing its first lines of communication.

Even though the tests had been coming back negative.

10 days past ovulation.

11 days.

12 days.

13 days–I’ve missed my period.

14 days.

Then, at 15 days, the faintest of lines.

Tiny. Wondrous.

Terrifying.

So terrifying.

You’re four weeks pregnant, the app announces. A tiny cluster of cells, burrowing, hopefully in a good location. I feel twinges and fullness, a familiar Oh, right. That’s what it was like. I begin teaching my fifth (and final) seven-week term of teaching for the academic year. I make plans to accomplish everything that I can do ahead of time before the hard weeks set in.

You’re five weeks pregnant, it tells me. A tiny tadpole, the neural tube forming. I wonder how many days I have left before the cloud of nausea overwhelms me. I look back at my previous pregnancies and chart out my symptoms to help me make an estimate. I worry about not feeling much yet. Then I tell myself to be grateful.

You’re six weeks pregnant, it tells me. The heart starts beating. The symptoms begin. I leave work early to sleep and sleep. I read about a gorilla dragging a three-year-old boy at the Cincinnati Zoo. I watch parents mirror the same aggression, ripping the mother to shreds with their judgment plastered across social media.

You’re seven weeks pregnant, it tells me. The organs move into place. The symptoms build. I stop exercising at 5:00 a.m. I spend mornings trying to establish equilibrium with my nausea while teaching 8:00 a.m. classes four days a week. I tell myself that I’m grateful that I’ve made it this far. I read about the Brock Turner rape case. It makes me more nauseous.

You’re eight weeks pregnant, it tells me. The organs develop. The symptoms peak. Mundane teaching tasks take all my concentration. I battle hunger and nausea hour after hour after hour. Trial and error. Carb or protein? Water? No water? Constantly queasy, wave after wave after wave. I wake up at 2:00 a.m., hungry, nauseous. I eat crackers in the night.

I read about another mass shooting, this time in Orlando. I watch the familiar script, that we’ve all been trained to follow, play out in detail after agonizing detail on social media. I’ve just about had enough of the argument that more weapons = more safety.

Then, a diversion: more parent-shaming as a toddler is attacked by an alligator at a Disney resort.

 

And then, the ultrasound.

 

The beauty of a tiny flicker in the center of its chest.

The unmistakable wahn-wahn-wahn-wahn.

166 beats per minute. Good rate. Chances of miscarrying now are much, much lower.

I relax.

You’re nine weeks pregnant, it tells me. The tail disappears and the hands forms. The symptoms continue, with just the slightest hint of weakening. I put away my size 6s. And my size 8s. It’s size 10 for right now. I think about how much longer I can hide this.

I watch Democrats start a sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives. I read about Brexit, shocked and dismayed.

You’re ten weeks pregnant, it tells me. The baby inside me looks like a baby. It is tiny and translucent, but complete. I look in the mirror and I know I need to start telling people soon. I’ve put away my fitted dress shirts. I’ve taken out my stash of maternity clothes, now three years in hibernation, but every summer shirt was bought for my third trimester. They are huge. So I buy some larger clothes to get by.

I think about telling my co-workers, but then I decide against it. What if I lose this one, too, just like the last one? Am I ready to have those conversations with everyone?

I’m not. I’m really not.

So as the last day of my teaching contract passes for this academic year, I turn in my final exams and final grades, pack up my snacks at my desk, and unceremoniously bow out of my teaching responsibilities until mid-August. Without sharing the news.

You’re eleven weeks pregnant, the app announces. My baby begins to open and close its fists. Its bones begin to harden. I’m officially living in someone else’s body. On some days, my lunch sits in my stomach until 7:00 p.m., my digestion moving at an absolute crawl. Everything causes heartburn. Everything. I’ve given up on coffee. It’s just too painful. I want to eat protein and more protein. I want nectarines, grapes, peaches, watermelon, tomatoes, anything high in vitamin C.

Screw it, I think. I put away the size 10s and embrace maternity jeans.

I stop reading the news. It’s too depressing.

I hear my baby’s heartbeat again at my next appointment.

I relax more.

We visit some friends who have just had their second baby. They are hosting a Fourth of July cookout. A gaggle of kids take turns diving into the inflatable kiddie pool, despite the overcast skies and cool temperatures. My friend’s tiny newborn sleeps curled up on her chest, tucked into a baby carrier. It makes me smile.

I wish this whole pregnancy were already over and I were in her same position. I’m already exhausted with this whole process and I’m not even out of the first trimester. I want to be able to eat a normal meal without wondering how long it will sit in my stomach. I want to run like I used to, early in the morning, three miles. I want to sleep through the night without getting up to pee at least three times. I want to take medicine when I get a cold. I want to have a cold Guinness from the tap on a summer night.

I want a spicy tuna roll. Badly.

Of course, I know that the postpartum period is even rockier for me than pregnancy is, but in this moment, I just want to be beyond where I am.

I feel like I’m getting too old for this.

But dwelling on all of this doesn’t make it go faster. It just robs me of my gratitude.

So instead, I fix my attention on what I will do during these next six weeks, while my daughter is in daycare, while I continue to grow a human being, and while my body finishes the exhausting job of creating a placenta. (And, God… it is.)

I will read. I will write. I will exercise on my own schedule. I will take care of myself and hopefully dive into some creative project that heals my soul enough to swallow another year of new rules and policies and mandates that don’t lead to better education.

You’re twelve weeks pregnant, the app tells me. The baby now has reflexes and will squirm away if something prods it. I think I’ve learned the new rules about how to eat and feel okay in this new body of mine. It’s humbling to bow to the truth that someone else is steering this ship again.

I’ve forgotten how hard all of this is.

I turn on NPR again to catch up on news.

More shootings. More death.

I rest my hand where life is growing.

I think about what I might write about all of this.

 

If you liked this post, check out my book Becoming Mother, a great gift for first-time moms.

A Response to “Meternity” author, Meghann Foye

Few things incite my anger as quickly as the characterization of maternity leave as “vacation.”

In a recent interview with the New York Post about her new novel, Meternity, author Meghann Foye suggests that maternity leave allows mothers to take a step back from their lives and find their focus. She reports that she felt “envious” that mothers would leave the office to pick their kids up while she stayed behind to “pick up the slack.” Her sentiments led her to believe…

… in the value of a “meternity” leave — which is, to me, a sabbatical-like break that allows women and, to a lesser degree, men to shift their focus to the part of their lives that doesn’t revolve around their jobs.

After reading this interview, I was infused with rage and resentment. I ranted about this interview to some colleagues (because I read it at work–where I actually have a few moments to read something on the Internet).

I am far from the only one. Here’s what Jenn Mann, author of People I Want to Punch in the Throat, posted about MeternityAnd if that’s not enough, take a look at the Amazon reviews for the novel that started this whole mess.

meternity

Understandably, hoards of American mothers have rushed to the social media crime scene of Meternity to put in their own two cents about Foye’s misguided attempt at humor. Many of their comments focus on their frustration about the fact that Foye has completely misrepresented maternity leave. This is true. Foye presents “meternity leave” as a parallel path for women without children to take in order to focus on self-discovery.

But she misses the mark completely.

Her concept of “meternity” isn’t parallel to maternity leave–it’s the exact opposite.

Which is why mothers are so freakin’ pissed.

***

Contrary to what Foye assumes, when I was on maternity leave, I had never before thought so little about what wanted in life. What I wanted–nay, needed!–in life was at the very, very bottom of the priority list.

Time for reflection? When?

Here’s 24 hours with a newborn. Midnight-1:00: nurse, change, soothe. 2:00-3:00: nurse, change, soothe. 4:00-5:00: nurse, change, soothe. Etc. And that’s when everything is going well. Throw in some bouts of baby gas, constipation, colic, the fact that you haven’t showered in three days or that you’ve got four visitors in your home… I think I may be preaching to the choir on this point.

The first time I was able to finally step back and reflect was when I returned to work and my daughter was in daycare. While Foye sees “meternity leave” as a way to reflect on her life, the reality is the privileged American mothers who actually have maternity leave need to end it in order to have the time and space to reflect.

And let’s not forget all the American mothers who don’t get maternity leave, be it paid or unpaid. Then, there’s the mothers who must return to work ASAP because they’ve run out of vacation days and sick leave (two unfortunate misnomers that feed the ignorance about maternity leave). And what about the mothers who stay home and are immersed in care-taking day in and day out? Are their lives full of reflection?

It’s no wonder that so many mothers are absolutely incensed that (once again) care-taking has been written off as a kind of leisure activity.

***

Meghann, let’s level with each other. It is especially hurtful to hear maternity leave compared to a vacation when it comes from another woman. I’m assuming you’ve experienced times when you’ve been the target of presumptive, uninformed judgments from men who don’t have a clue.

But let me be fair, Meghann. You have indeed made a spot-on observation about maternity leave:

From the outside, it seemed like those few weeks of (new mothers) shifting their focus to something other than their jobs gave them a whole new lens through which to see their lives.

You are right, Meghann–but it’s not because new mothers simply have time off from work, which is how you envision “meternity leave.”

The reason that mothers emerge with a new focus is because they have been plunged into a nonstop, grueling training program that schooled them in quickly distinguishing what was important and what was simply window dressing. Through pain, blood, and tears, they learned how to put aside hunger, frustration, exhaustion, and self-doubt in order to find the strength to keep mothering.

They learned how to get rid off all the noise and distractions in order to find a place to drop the anchor so they could hold on while the storm waged on.

That’s how mothers redirected their focus. That’s how they “found” themselves. Not by traveling and thinking and reading and ruminating. They did it through boots-on-the-ground training, every hour of every day for weeks. And then for months. They did it through self-denial, arguments with their spouses, and constant reassessments of how and when they could have social lives and personal time.

Becoming a mother is an ongoing lesson in humility, beginning from that obvious (yet still surprising!) realization that your baby cannot thank you for getting up four times at night. Your baby doesn’t thank you for suffering with a torn vagina just so he could emerge into this world. In fact, your baby can’t even really have a conversation with you for another two years.

So those early weeks of new motherhood are training for a lifetime of not being thanked or even acknowledged. And while we continue to feel annoyance and frustration about this, new motherhood does a remarkable job of tempering our emotional reactions.

But everyone has their limits.

So maybe you can understand why we get pissed when one of our own gender joins in the obliviousness of calling maternity leave a vacation. We get frustrated because what we do during our leave is often done in the dark, with no thanks or acknowledgement.

In fact, that is one of the reasons that I wrote my book, Becoming Mother. When I was pregnant, I noticed that there was a true dearth of books that actually took a pregnant woman into what it’s like to become a mother. There were plenty of books about the physical side, but nothing really that dealt with the emotional and mental upheaval, which is truly what makes maternity leave so necessary for coping with new motherhood.

When I was experiencing those first weeks of motherhood, I kept thinking, “Why doesn’t anyone talk about this? This is insane! This is so unbelievably hard that I can’t believe no one talks about this.” And while there were plenty of books on first-time motherhood that took the shape of humorous confessions, no one was really being real with me.

So I wrote a book that would be real with new mothers.

Book-Cover-Becoming-Mother-Kindle

I wrote it to cast light on the hidden side of maternity leave.

I did this so that others could sympathize and perhaps even advocate for new mothers. After all, the United States is one of only two countries in the world that doesn’t have paid maternity leave–and that won’t change as long as this country holds onto the myth–even jokingly–that maternity leave is a vacation.

***

While everyone seems to be having their pound of flesh over the absurdity of Meternity, I’m looking for my compassion for Meghann.

Okay, she doesn’t have children yet. Okay, maybe the closest she has come to someone who has taken maternity leave is her view of the empty desk that she sees at work. But the gravest error that Meghann has made is choosing a subject that she doesn’t know much about. And then going so far as to write a novel about it. And then approaching that subject from an angle that provokes the ire of millions of mothers.

Put simply, her gravest error is a lack of humility.

But I’m venturing to guess that she might be learning that lesson now.

I could have written off this whole concept of “meternity” as very poor taste and a lack of social awareness. I could have just rolled my eyes, stewed at my desk while eating my lunch in fifteen minutes (so I could finish grading final exams–because I don’t have time to grade at home), but this is too important of a moment to let it go.

This is the moment when we need to say something. This is the moment when we say, “Knock it off with the vacation comparisons, already.”

It’s not funny.

It’s not even cute.

At best, it’s feeding a culture of misunderstanding.

At worst, it mocks what mothers of newborns actually experience.

Still Running

I didn’t intend to continue to run this long.

I thought I’d just run a few times to help me climb out of the rut of miscarriage. Maybe I would keep it up for two weeks. Maximum.

But, oh my God, I’m still running.

running

 

I don’t do it every day. I’ve found that running every day aggravates my left knee. So I run once per week. On the other days, I do my usual weightlifting, cardio kickboxing, or yoga.

I’ve noticed that now I’m looking on the sides of the road as I drive, scoping out decent, long stretches of sidewalk where it might be fun to run in the future.

I’m running longer stretches.

I’m not getting tired as easily.

And when I’m done… Oh… The feeling.

And a close second? Reviewing my heart rate charts.

February_28_run

I love seeing the peaks and valleys. Up and down. Over and over again.

I love seeing how far this heart and this body are carrying me. It’s one more reminder that, yes, I’m moving forward.

Yes, I can do this again.

Beautiful, The Bitch

When I was a teenage girl, I had very little in common with Beautiful.

I was sure of it.

Here is what Beautiful and I shared:

  • I was white.
  • I had long hair.
  • I had pretty good skin.

That was it.

I met Beautiful for the first time in the public library, where I spent Saturdays paging through crinkled copies of Teen. And if I was being really adventurous, it was Seventeen.

Beautiful was white, tall, and thin. She had straight, white teeth. Thin legs, small hips, flat stomach. A flat, flat stomach. I cannot overemphasize flat. She had boobs, although I had no idea what size they were. I just knew they were bigger than mine. She usually had long, straight hair, and it was usually light brown or blond. She could spin in place, her hair perfectly fanning against the wind. She wore short dresses and high heels. Her skin was flawless and her eyes were dark and drew you into her stare.

Seventeen_magazine_1994

It only took me 2 minutes to find a picture of Beautiful.

Real women were like Beautiful. Other women existed, yes, but you didn’t want to look like them because their lives were sad. They never really got what they wanted.

But not Beautiful.

Beautiful always got what she wanted. Simply because she was Beautiful. Beautiful could make a man forget everything that he valued. She could change his mind. She could consume him.

This unspoken narrative was parroted everywhere I looked.

Teen_magazine_1993

This is how I first learned that women achieve their goals through manipulating men. By using their bodies.

And let’s be clear about what the chief goal was: to be loved by a man. Being the recipient of a man’s love was the pinnacle of female existence.

My male readers (I know I have a few) might be thinking at this point, Who cares! Why are women so hell-bent on being like Beautiful? Can’t they recognize that these are advertisements? Don’t they realize that guys don’t really care about all of that?

Well, no, girls don’t really know that. Especially young girls.

Young girls gaze out at the world and see that the women who are happy in every known form of media look at least a little like Beautiful. And the ones that don’t look like Beautiful are constantly cut down to size, derided, and Internet-shamed (see Amy Schumer, Melissa McCarthy, etc.) to remind them that they are breaking the rules.

***

I was 10 years old when I first started gazing out at the world and noticing what made women happy and how. It was all so clear to me–the women who were happy and had great lives were Beautiful. They were married and had great jobs.

This was also when I first realized how different I was from Beautiful.

I tried a lot of horrifyingly awkward ways of shaping and changing my hair and my body so that I resembled Beautiful. I put my faith in Cover Girl and Pantene and Gillette.

Being like Beautiful required that I stop being free and start learning the rules.

It’s when I started caring about leg hair and body odor and matching my clothes. It’s when I learned where I should buy my clothes. And because I was too poor to buy my clothes from those stores, I quickly learned where I could buy cheap imitations, hoping that no one would notice.

I learned how to pee in a public bathroom without farting and if–God forbid–I had to actually poop, I learned how to do it as quietly and discreetly as possible, for fear that another girl would know that I was currently pooping.

I learned how to hide.

How to suck it in.

How to button it up.

Which clothes would cover my rolls.

Which ones would give me the appearance of boobs.

I learned which masks to put on. The aw-so-sweet-I’m-gonna-cry one. The I’m-so-surprised one. The I’m-so-angry-with-you-until-you-apologize one.

I learned all of these rules through shame–either directed at me or at another girl. I quickly learned the reasons that you could be worthy of teasing. And I made it my ultimate goal to never, ever be singled out.

It was the reason that I preferred to be silent much of the time at school. Most people never make fun of the girl who never talks. She’s not an obvious target. I tried to blend in as much as possible. I opened up only to my close friends, many of whom also shared the same fears.

Although I wanted desperately to look like Beautiful, I didn’t.

I was Overweight. Shy. Weak. Spineless. Powerless. Voiceless.

But I was also Pure. Good. Obedient. Trustworthy. Godly.

Over the course of my teenage years the pounds kept coming and coming until I was 50 pounds overweight in my junior year of high school.

I clung to the promise of the Ugly-Duckling narrative that was played out in countless teen movies like She’s All That. I told myself that someone, somewhere out there would someday see how beautiful I was on the inside. Because, ultimately, the world is a place of justice and fairness.

***

But when I was 17 years old, I starved my way from 195 pounds to 155 pounds in four months.

Yeah.

Why?

A boy, of course.

Even though we clicked on all other levels, he told me that he couldn’t be with someone that he didn’t find attractive.

Well, that’s it. I thought. I’m done believing that it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

Fuck. That.

I’m not terribly proud of this. It shows how much I hated myself. It shows that I derived my own self-worth through the eyes of someone else. That I thought that I was so ugly and fat that I didn’t deserve food. That I thought that the only way I would ever be happy would be if a man loved me. And I couldn’t be loved unless I stopped looking like myself and started looking like Beautiful.

So I starved myself.

And what happened?

He started to like me.

And it wasn’t just him. One of the security guards during my night shift at Target started to blush whenever I talked to him. One of the stock guys said, “You losing weight? It looks nice.” (It. Not you.) I got hit on by male customers while cashiering. One guy even had the balls to ask for my phone number, his wingman digging his elbow into his ribs to urge him on.

Holy shit, I thought, completely flushed as I clumsily declined his offer and turned away. I have to learn how to turn guys down now.

It was the power that I dreamed of.

But it made me feel like everything that I had reassured myself–that true beauty was on the inside–was nothing but bullshit.

It made me feel like Beautiful had been right.

What a smug Bitch.

***

But being like Beautiful left me feeling empty.

Now that I was like Beautiful, now that I could turn heads, is that really wanted I wanted for myself? Did I really enjoy being objectified and positively judged simply because of how I looked? Is that really the way that I wanted to spend my life? Achieving what I wanted by using men?

And if my answer to these question was yes, what kind of a person was I? I would lead a self-centered, egotistical existence, caring nothing for the hearts that I would trample on along the way. And weren’t women supposed to be nurturing? Caring? Loving?

Can you see the conundrum that I faced?

Now that I had this power, I didn’t want it. I wanted the universe to take it back.

***

But perhaps the biggest problem of all was this: Beautiful was a Bitch.

I didn’t like the idea of becoming Beautiful the Bitch.

I wanted to be better than her. I wanted to be Beautiful + 1. I wanted to have the waist, the hips, and the boobs of Beautiful because it would give me power.

But I wouldn’t use that power.

I wanted to be Beautiful because it was an implicit, persuasive argument–even if it was irrational and unfair. I knew that Beautiful was powerful. And I had seen enough to know that everyone listened to Beautiful when she talked.

But I would be different. I would be like the right-handed knight that fights with his left hand for a challenge. Even though I could use my looks, I would use my wit instead. I would surprise people. They might not say it, but they would think, Damn, she’s smart. Not what I expected. Or maybe they would think, She could be so full of herself, but she’s really down-to-earth. Wow.

I would turn Beautiful on her head. I would make people rethink Beautiful to the point that it would kill her.

***

Of course, none of that happened.

Beautiful is still alive and well.

And while I am starting to see the last ten years creep into the corners of my face, Beautiful is still that ageless, flawless wonder.

My desire to be like Beautiful has become more lukewarm these days. I have thankfully moved past those days of extreme self-denial when I believed I was undeserving. It took a relationship built on discovering and celebrating what made each of us Amazing. We redefined Beautiful to include intelligence, drive, compassion, openness, and even forgiveness.

It has changed how I feel about Beautiful.

I realized that I wanted more than what Beautiful could get by herself. Beautiful got lust, but not love. Envy, but not friendship. Pride, but not acceptance.

When I see Beautiful now, I see that she is that smug, bitchy friend who was terrified of someone realizing that she was nothing special. She never bothered to explore who she could really be because being what everyone else wanted was enough. It made her one-dimensional. If you turned her to the side, she would completely disappear, leaving not even a trace.

And that is not how I want to live my life. I want to be remembered. I want to leave not just trace, but a trail.

***

When I look in the mirror today, I see a version of Beautiful.

Sharon_2015

But I also see that 17-year-old girl, who was desperate for someone to love her because she thought it was the only way she could ever be happy. I still feel her broken heart. I still hear her vicious thoughts, full of self-loathing and shame.

Ugly. Fat. Uncool. Poor. 

Sharon_1998

1998: Tenth grade

Ugly thoughts. Truly, ugly thoughts.

I wish I could go back in time and give her a hug. I wish I could tell her to open her eyes and her heart so that she can see that Beautiful is just another way to control women and mold them into being lifelong consumers of products that will never solve all of their “problems.” I wish I could tell her that Beautiful is a Bitch and that if a guy only wants Beautiful, let him go. Because Beautiful is a myth.

And you can never become a myth when you’re Real.

I wish I could undo all the damaging messages that Beautiful has whispered into her ears. I wish I could help her be as carefree and wholehearted as this little girl.

Sharon_1991

1991: Fourth grade

This girl cared more about learning about the planets and stars and her multiplication tables than matching her clothes. She loved a good book, especially Goosebumps and The Babysitter’s Club. She looked forward to reading all Saturday afternoon at the library. When she had a question, she asked and didn’t feel stupid.

She played on the playground like it was no one’s business. She ran and sweated and got dirty. She sang out loud with abandon. She never thought twice about saying exactly what she thought because she believed wholeheartedly that people would always be kind and accepting. Because God made people. And God is love.

This girl didn’t realize that she lived in a working class family–or even that this was something that people found shameful.

This girl made decisions based on what she thought was interesting and fun, not based on what she thought other people might not tease her about.

Like all mothers, I want a better world for my own daughter. A world of diversity and openness rather than selectivity and judgment. Where the goal is to seek to understand ourselves and each other better, rather than trying to reshape ourselves so that they fit into acceptable boxes that make it easier for us to determine whose voice should be valued and respected.

I wish that there were some magical way of doing this.

I wish the hands of a Just God would reach down into our nations and instill in our cultures an equal respect for both genders. Perhaps then, women would be more equally represented in the upper echelons of our government and corporations and institutions.

There’s a saying that I hear a lot in my church. I’m not sure if it’s a Lutheran thing or not, but I like it.

They say, God’s work. Our hands.

I know that this is how real social change happens. By each of us putting our hands into the messy work of change. And every day, I am doing that. Every day, I’m showing my daughter what it means to be a woman who loves herself.

Valentine_picure

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