Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: work

My New Book: A Birth Story Guaranteed To Make You Cry

After I gave birth this past February, I thought,

Well. How am I going to write about that?

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
  • Postpartum Hemorrhage
  • 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.

I greatly appreciate your support!

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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?

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On Using the Snotsucker: A Letter to My Colleague

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Last weekend, one of my colleagues became a father for the first time. Thinking we had plenty of time, our work planned to have a baby shower for them today. Well, life happens, and his wife gave birth a full three weeks before her due date.

A healthy (8 pound!) baby girl.

Our work is still hosting a shower for them today. And frankly, my hat is off to these new parents if they actually show up to this shower when their baby is not even one week old yet.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend.

Still, I wanted to do something nice for them, beyond the typical baby registry items. So I emailed my colleague and asked him what they still needed. He requested some diapers, size 3, for the future. I got those.

But what else?

What else could I get them that would actually be something they would really need as first-time parents?

Then it came to me.

The Nosefrida.

A.K.A. “The Snotsucker”

nosefrida

But such a gift would require some explanation.

So here is the letter that I wrote to go along with my colleague’s gift.

***

Colleague,

Okay, so listen.

Your baby is going to get sick.

Maybe (hopefully) not right away. But she will get sick. And it’s going to suck. Big time. Not just because it hurts to see your kid in pain, but also because you don’t get any sleep if your kid doesn’t get any sleep.

And your kid can’t sleep if she’s so congested with thick mucus that she keeps coughing. And bonus, she can’t blow her nose either.

So with that in mind, I’m presenting you with several items that can help you get through a bad cold. Not all colds will require this level of care. But—God forbid—if she gets RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus), getting out that thick mucus could save you from a trip to Children’s Medical Center (and the hefty bill that goes along with that.)

Looking at the Nosefrida (A.K.A. “The Snotsucker”), I know what you might be thinking.

Ain’t no way I’m doing that to my kid! Sick! That’s sooo gross! Forget it!

I thought that, too. And hey, I completely understand the repulsion that drives you to arrive at that decision. In fact, go ahead and continue to think that. You are totally justified in thinking that. It seems rational. It makes sense now.

You’re thinking, I hate snot! You don’t understand. I really have a gag reflex. I’ll puke all over my kid at the very thought of sucking snot out of my kid’s nose!

Yes, I know how you’re feeling. Go ahead and continue to feel that way.

As long as your child is healthy.

But when it’s 2:00 a.m. and your kid has been coughing and coughing and coughing… And you know she’s not going to get better unless she sleeps… And you are out of your mind without sleep… You’ll try anything.

So when you’re ready to “try anything,” here’s what you do.

  • Get your wife. You will need two people to do this.
  • One of you holds your daughter’s head in place. She’s not going to like this at first.
  • The other person sprays the saline mist into each nostril. Be prepared. Your daughter is going to cough. And if she’s a hefty cougher, she might take it too far and actually puke. It probably won’t happen. But better to be prepared.
  • Get the Nosefrida. Make sure the blue spongy filter is in place.
  • Put the light blue end of the Nosefrida up to your baby’s nostrils. Pin the other nostril closed with your finger.
  • Put the red part of the Nosefrida into your mouth.
  • Suck in air. As hard as you can. If you need to empty the gunk in the blue tube into the sink before doing the other side, do that.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Wipe your baby’s nose with a Boogie Wipe. They will keep her nose from getting too raw.

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  • Evaluate if you need to repeat. Listen to her to determine if her breathing is less rattling.
  • Comfort her back to sleep in whatever way works for her.
  • If you have a humidifier (and I recommend you get one), turn it on close enough to where she sleeps so her breathing passages don’t get too dry. This is especially useful in the winter.

So there are my tips for getting through that first awful cold. Like I said, not every cold is going to require this level of care. But some do. And having things on hand to help you get through it will make life a lot easier.

One last little truth. Even though taking care of a baby can be tough, the love that you have for your child numbs you to how hard it really is. You’ll get through it.

Wishing you both all the very best,

Sharon

(P.S. Here is my cell phone number in case you need clarification on what to do.)

Sway

It was one of those unusual days that turned into an unusual night.

Work was hectic. I was getting geared up to travel in a few days. I was attending an in-town conference that included networking dinners.

And the grocery shopping still needed to happen.

So there I am at Kroger at 9:30 on a Friday night, nodding my head to “Name” by the Goo Goo Dolls, which I find oddly comforting. It takes me back to a world where my chief concerns were learning how to write a thesis statement and whether or not that boy in geometry would ever want to talk to me about more than just my homework answers.

Then, I groan as I put it all together. I’ve entered the phase of my life when I’m part of the most heavily marketed demographic for advertisers: young mothers.

Wonderful.

I load the cart with the fruit collection (apples, pears, oranges, bananas, and berries of all kinds), the veggie collection (broccoli, carrots, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes), a bunch of food from the “hippie section” because my husband is allergic to X, Y, and Z, then I swing by the health and beauty section to pick up travel size contact solution.

I’m tired. I’ve been getting up at 5:00 a.m. so I can work out before the day begins rather than coming home luxuriously at 3:00 p.m. to exercise before I pick up my daughter from daycare. My FitBit reads 11, 534, 11,355, 11, 536.

As I draw near the checkout lanes, a lady turns her register’s light on and beckons me. Her short hair tapers and ends against her neck, just barely brushing her collar. She adjusts her dark-rimmed glasses and starts sorting my groceries. Even though it’s late, she still rapidly types in the codes of all my produce–from memory of course.

“And are you having a fantastic night?” she chirps.

I roll my eyes. “I mean, where else would I rather be?” I joke.

She laughs. “Well, at least it will be over soon.”

“I can’t wait. This day just keeps going and going…”

We laugh together, but then I instantly feel the need to dial back my complaining. I wonder how many hours she has been on her feet today. I remember how hard all those hours of cashiering at Target were on me–and I had a teenage body during those years.

“What about you?” I ask. “When do you get off?”

“I’m off at 11:00,” she smiles, “And then I’ll get a good six hours before I get up and go to the nursing home.”

She tells me that she has been volunteering at a nursing home in downtown Dayton for the last twenty years, mostly as a companion. She even brings her daughter, who is now in high school.

“It’s hard sometimes, you know…” she says, “When you get to know the residents, all about their lives and their families. Nothing really prepares you for when they transition.”

I nod along as she talks, until she gets to that word, transition.

I know what she means, of course, but I’m struck by the word. I’ve never heard of someone refer to death in this way. But she keeps on going as if what she has just said is completely mainstream. She talks a little more, but I’m still stuck on how she has framed the concept of death.

We say good-bye to each other and I look down at her name tag.

It says Sway.

***

After four days at the TESOL 2016 Convention in Baltimore, Maryland, I’m sitting in the airport with three of my colleagues, all of us eager to get back to our normal lives.

As I’m sitting at the gate waiting for my plane, I flip through four days of notes and start to make lists of things to do, things to read, and things to consider. A complete distillation of what I’ve learned in the past four days–at least as much as I can manage before my memories fade too much.

But then I hear applause.

And then more applause.

And then more applause.

I stand up to see if I can figure out what’s going on. I see a few American flags and I think, Oh, some soldiers are coming home. That’s sweet.

I go back to my notes. But then there’s more applause. And more. And more.

A crowd gathers.

“What is going on over there?” I ask my colleague, Olena.

“Just go and see, if you want.”

As I draw near the gathering crowd, I see that a few hundred people have gathered around a gate and a line of formally attired soldiers are each shaking hands with an old man who is being pushed in a wheelchair.

I think I understand, but I want to make sure. I ask a stranger next to me.

“It’s an honor flight,” she says. “For World War II veterans.”

One by one, about forty veterans travel down this corridor of applause, as these young soldiers reach out to shake their hands. People cheer and applaud. They take video and pictures. One of the veterans buries his head in his hands and the audience responds with even more cheers.

It takes time and a lot of corralling, but the lead organizer of the honor flight manages to take a group picture.

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Photo taken by Nathan Erhardt

***

Sunday afternoon. Back at the grocery store. Since we only need to get a few small items, I let my daughter push the just-right-for-her-size kid’s cart through the maze of Sunday afternoon shoppers. I leave a hand on the edge of the cart to make sure she doesn’t plow over someone else’s foot by accident.

When we finally approach the registers, I fall into a line that is three customers deep, which seems to be typical for this time of day.

The line advances. And that’s when I see Sway.

She smiles when she sees me. I tell her that I just got back from my trip and she asks how it went. I tell her about the honor flight and the World War II veterans and her face lights up.

“It’s funny,” I say. “I was hoping that I could tell you about it and here you are.”

“Well, it makes sense,” she says. “It’s all connected.”

I turn this idea over and over again on the way home.

Traveling

flying-traveling-travelling-airplane.jpg

Take your life and put it away

Take what you need and pack a bag

Two for free, one for pay

Park your car and take a plane

You’ve carved out some time, that’s great

I know it’s hard to get away

One day, a mother, now you’ve changed

You’re teacher, colleague, just some new face

Your mind is in this room, this place

But your heart is still three states away

Yes, feel guilty. No, it’s okay.

Can you call at least three times a day?

She needs your voice. She needs your face.

She asks for you when there’s too much space.

Miss you, too, but I’m okay.

I’ll be back soon. I’m being safe.

Night-night, honey. Be good. Love you.

I’ll see you soon.

I promise.

You too.

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