26 August, 2011

Women's Equality Day

It’s Women’s Equality Day, a fact I just found out about this morning, due to a friend on Facebook linking this link here.
Aside from my ignorance about this dedicated day, I’ve been a feminist for a long time, (which, by way of definition, I use the old “feminist is the radical notion that women are people, too,” version). Ever since I saw Jean Kilbourne’s “Killing Us Softly” in college, with my feminist roots having been growing long before that, I have voted, argued, written, and even marched for and about women’s inherent right to have all things equal (not the same, mind you, but equal) with men. And yet, today on a day I only just learned was dedicated to our equality, I’m feeling about as non-evolved, oppressed, and unequal as a woman could feel, like not much has changed for women (and when I say women, I mean me), since we got the vote in 1920. I am in a deep funk about this lack of equality between the sexes, (and when I say sexes, I mean my husband and me).
Allow me to elaborate. My husband has a job, one that he loves and is passionate about, which has him working long hours, every day including weekends, right now, from 6 a.m. until 11 at night on several nights of the week. This particular job is a seasonal one, one that also includes in that long time-frame, much adult camaraderie and, even in the case of last night, social dinners and drinks. When he’s off-season, my husband works other jobs of equal love and passion that also have long hours, plus which require travel, so that when he’s working, he’s often simply just gone. Me, I work from mostly from home, as a mother and writer, and, sometimes, a little away from home as a low-paid teacher – all jobs that I also love and am passionate about – but nonetheless am oppressing myself over this morning.
Before we had our daughter, my husband and I talked about being one of those couples who truly shared parenting responsibilities – who took turns putting our child to bed, or bathing her, feeding her, and disciplining and playing with her. We also talked about the unlikelihood of making total equality like that happen because he had jobs that took him away from the home, and as a family, we needed him to have those jobs so we could pay our mortgage and stuff. We talked about parenting time in relation to income earned, and dreamed about both being fifty-fifty. But, in our case, the real ratio is this: 90% to 10%; which means he earns ninety percent of our income and does about ten percent of the parenting, I earn ten percent of the income (in a good year) and do ninety percent of the parenting.
For a while, (note: during the time when I was teaching at least two classes and therefore making some money), I tried hard to make sure my husband, even though he still earned more income, did have a specific and consistent parenting job with our daughter, like giving her a bath and getting her into her pajamas, so that she could know not only mama does the nurturing and caretaking. I was trying to be a good feminist, see. But, with my husband’s unpredictable and inconsistent hours, even that one “job” was impossible to keep assigned to him, and since he wasn’t home, of course I did the bathing, and, now I do it almost all the time, even when he is home. (Note: this year, I didn’t teach or sell a word, therefore, no money).
I know there are families, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, who do a lot better at equal parenting than we do – they work hard at both, are conscious of their efforts and the hurdles to overcome like male privilege and internalized oppression. Still, I would hedge a bet that those parents make roughly the same amount of money at their work. I would also bet those families have more consistent, 9-5 type work, or at least work that can allow for routines and roles to get more firmly established. More power to them, but they are the exceptions to the rule of inequality.
In far more man-woman couples, work is not equally split (I can’t even get started about single parents). Even in couples who make the same amount of money at their jobs – or, even, in one case I’m thinking about, where the woman makes more – the bulk of the childcare when the kids are picked up from day care or the nanny, falls to the woman. That husband of the higher earning wife was out with my husband last night, drinking and eating dinner, while, I’m pretty sure, his wife picked up their two young boys from day care, came home, fed them dinner, played with them, gave them baths, and put them to bed. I also imagine she fell asleep soon after, knowing she’d be the one in the morning to get the children ready for their day while she also got herself ready to go to her lucrative and important job.
I recognize, in our case, the inconsistent and erratic “dad home time” caused by my husband’s work gratefully allows me to do my chosen life’s work as a writer – I started writing this piece in my pajamas while my daughter slept. At home, I have worked hard to create predictable routines for our daughter, and consistency in the things I can somewhat control, like the layout of our daily activities or meal and bedtime rituals. I believe, for us, me staying home most of the time with our daughter is best for our family, financially and otherwise, and that me getting a paying job I hated in the name of equality isn’t worth my heartache of leaving her in full-time day care or my husband’s headaches from me complaining about how much I hate my job (I’ve done that complaining plenty, by the way, before our daughter was born). Generally speaking, I love being a stay at home mom, especially as I see the payoff in our daughter’s thriving little self.
But, I have to admit in a very self-oppressed, victim-y, whiny voice, I sometimes hate the inequality between the sexes (again, my husband and me). While, my husband will be the first to say, “my wife does the lion’s share of the parenting and her job is harder,” and most of the time I feel sorry for him that he misses out on the day to day cuteness of our daughter and the joys of getting to parent her, none of those words or thoughts appease my funk today.
See, last night my daughter, yet again fought going to sleep with the tenacity of a wolverine. Her behaviors around bedtime are not new, they are the usual needing of a drink of water, another book, and don’t turn off the light varieties of many a toddler, which has been immortalized lately thanks to Adam Mansbach’s book for those of us whose kids don’t like to sleep. But last night, for whatever reasons, her begging, screaming, and crying got to me, and I was telling myself, as I started crying, too, that I hate how I’m the one to put her to bed and I just want her father to be the one to do it, at least fifty percent of the time!
I lamented about all this to my husband early this morning before he left for work. And I have complained plenty to him and others about how hard it is stay home rearing our child, or about how much he’s gone working, or about how underpaid teaching and writing is (not to mention motherhood), or that I haven’t sold my novel for a hundred thousand dollars and retained the movie rights for millions more. I’ve even, in weak moment, said to my husband’s face I didn’t believe he’d stay home with our daughter even if I did make that kind of money, (to which he replied, “test me”). I have mourned and cried and meditated and accepted a hundred times over the lifestyle we as a couple lead, which is to say, an unequal one, one that is 90-10.
In college, see, I had hope. Hope enough to fight, like women (and yes, some men) around the globe are doing today, and every other day. When I started writing this piece this morning, my funk about inequality stemmed directly from my lack of hope.
But later, when my daughter woke up, I heard her cute footsteps upstairs and then heard her yell, “Mama come upstairs and have breakfast with me.” I went up to have some food she’d “made” in her toy kitchen. As we sat and “ate,” I asked her calmly and with genuine curiosity why she gave me such a hard time last night about going to bed, a question I’ve asked before because I believe in getting my child to think critically about her actions, even if she’s only a toddler. You know what she said? “Because I wanted to see my Daddy.”
My daughter reminds me that fighting for women’s equality is not simply for the benefit of women. Equality is so we all, men and women and parents of all kinds, can have the human right to fulfilling, paid work and the joy of seeing our children grow in a fair and just world. I thank my lucky stars for my daughter: she gives me back my hope.

18 August, 2011

Telling Stories

A few months ago, one morning while avoiding writing, I was surfing the Internet and read a post written by a midwife about the link between hospital interventions and ensuing complications.
The title of the post was “’If I were at home, I would have died’ – The trouble with Extrapolating Hospital Birth Events to Homebirth,” and the author/midwife went on to argue that interventions in a hospital are actually often the cause of emergencies like hemorrhages. She discussed her double bind as a midwife – to be both empathetic to women and listen and say “hmm mmm,” when they discuss their hospitalized, intervention-ized births that then went awry.
I felt an urge to respond, in agreement, to her post even though I rarely post on other people’s blogs. I first wrote about my birth and hemorrhage experience with stoic, police-description (or, I guess I should say, doctor’s notes) details, i.e.: “After 36 hours of labor in the birth center with midwives attending the natural birth I so hoped for, after being 9 + cm dilated and pushing for 10 hours, I was transferred to a hospital, where I was given an epidural, antibiotics, pitocin, a vacuum extractor and finally a c-section to birth my beautiful 10# daughter. A few hours later, I hemorrhaged 4000 cc’s of blood and had 6 transfusions and 4 frozen platelet transfusions in ICU.” My point of telling all these details was to explain that I believe I wouldn’t have hemorrhaged so drastically if I hadn’t experienced all those interventions; if I could have, indeed, birthed my child naturally. When people say to me I would have died in the birth center, I’m the one who says “hmm mmm,” since I don’t feel I would have bled so badly had I not had all the interventions at the hospital. Of course, I’ll never know if my belief is founded and no one has bothered to argue with me and the foundedness of my belief is actually tangential to the subject of this post.
The subject of this post is this: the very next person on the midwife’s blog who commented after I had posted wrote in saying, “It is hard to say if all the stories are true or imbelished [sic].” Though her comment probably wasn’t directed toward me at all, I took it completely personally since mine was the post directly before hers. I felt angry. Pissed actually. As in pissy. I read her comment and almost posted back something to the effect of, “How dare you doubt if these stories are true or embellished – of course mine is true, each one of those details happened and then a whole bunch more stuff that I didn’t even write about happened – like the fight between the doctor and the nurse who held the pressure valve on the vacuum extractor, or the fact that my midwife’s assistant, and consequently my midwife, were in complete personal crisis while I was trying to get a giant person out of my vagina!”
At the time, I wanted to get that woman who commented (who apparently had a very difficult birth story of her own) to read all my sections on this blog about The Complications I had in giving birth. I wanted her to know I wasn’t embellishing my story at all. But I didn’t say nor do any of that. I didn’t because my higher self knew the woman’s comment wasn’t directed at me and I was just pissy because sometimes, lo all those 30 + months later, I was still pissy about the details of my daughter’s birth.
The reason why some women are “birth junkies,” who tell their birth story over and over is because they have to tell it. Birth can be both a highly traumatic and highly spiritual experience – traumatic in the sense of intense pain and difficulty, and spiritual in the sense of bringing something lovely into this world who is so much bigger than the individual self. And based on all sorts people who’ve had both traumatic and spiritual experiences, telling our stories is often the best way to get through to the other side. Whether we tell that story over and over to a therapist, a friend, or on the Internet, by telling, we can get through to a side where the story is ours, fully ours, not just something that’s happened to us.
I like to think I’m almost on the other side now; that I got through that last little bit of pissy-ness; that I’ve told my birth story enough times to have the story be fully something I own. I’ve talked about my birth to all of the above mentioned and I’ve had the bonus opportunity to write creatively about my daughter’s birth – in poetry and some in fictional form, and even have done some visual art around the whole thing. All of the telling has been helpful to me in terms of healing, and I’m glad for that (and so are my husband and daughter). The telling of my stories on the Internet has been particularly helpful because, through public discourse, I’ve found a community of people who share similar experiences, some of whom then mention that my writing has helped them heal, too. Helping others through my writing is all I’ve ever really wanted to do for work, as in, my life’s work with the capital W.
But this blog has slowed down considerably and any meager Internet presence I once had has only decreased. I cannot even call myself a blogger, really, for a real blogger, it seems, would post more often than once every two weeks. What I’ve found after writing about all this stuff over the course of 9 months is that my interest, nay my need, to tell my story about my “one particular birth, and about being a mother and a writer,” has waned. I try to get inspired to post new stuff, at least a little something about the daily struggle of being a mom at home with toddler who also works as a writer (a WAHM, I’ve learned I should call myself). But more often than not, like I was doing that day I posted on the midwife’s blog, I spend my time reading other blogs to find a way to enter into a conversation about birth and/or motherhood. The former example notwithstanding, I hardly ever do post replies – a lurker, I believe I should be called – and while I read and don’t write back, I think about how I don’t even have a clean, well-lighted place in the blogosphere, especially within the mom blog networks.
As far as the mom blogs goes, I categorize two kinds: the “I’ll need a big tumbler of red wine and a chaser martini when I’m done with my day” funny kind, and the “let me guide you in the ways of how to conscientiously and perfectly rear your child while also growing your own garden, knitting your child’s hemp diapers, and having time to write and post angelic pictures on a super-cool blog” make-me-want-to-barf kind. I’m neither of those kinds. In terms of the polarized, hotly-debated birth front of Home Birth vs. Hospital Birth, well I did both of those in one fell swoop and I don’t seem to have much opinion on the subject anymore other than being somewhat adamant to allow women to make up their own minds about where they feel most comfortable getting a whole person out of their bodies. So, again, to use an ill-advised cliché, I’m like a square peg in a round hole.
As far as the writer aspect of my blog goes, well, I don’t fit into that blogosphere either, but I have, at least, been writing and thinking more about my creative work. I’m even slated to teach a creative writing course again this school year, which has raised my hackles on several levels, straight down to my creaky creative teaching bones. The anxiety about finding appropriate childcare in going back to teach, and the guilt of leaving my kid for even a few hours every week has me quite preoccupied, far more so than the vague sense of guilt I feel about not posting on this blog.
I guess if I’ve learned anything in the last two and a half plus years of motherhood, especially this year as a mom to a toddler, it’s this: things don’t always go the way we hope they would and, at some point, that fact will be acceptable to us. The birth of my child, the trajectory of my writing and motherhood careers, even this whole effort of being a blogger – none of these things have gone down the way I had hoped. Why I have to deal with hope unfulfilled is a mystery, but, a million gazillion other people do, too. I’ve learned that when I’m done sorting through the aftermath of my dashed hopes, when I’m done telling my story as truly and non-embellished-ly as I’m constitutionally able, I’ll come out stronger on the other side.

05 August, 2011

My Two Cents for World Breastfeeding Week

It’s World Breastfeeding Week and I am weirdly ashamed to admit in public that I still breastfeed my toddler of two years and nine months. I’m ashamed only in the United States, mind you. If I lived in verdant hills of South America or the wilds of Africa, I would not be ashamed because no one would expect me to not be nursing a child this young. I wouldn't worry that someone would say, “you’re still nursing your toddler?” And no one would look at me like I was a circus freak whipping out my past-prime sagging breast. I wouldn’t feel shame, and I probably wouldn’t think for a moment about whether or not I should have weaned by now.
I only admit we are still nursing on this mildly blog to bolster my self-concept and be proud that I have gone this long helping my daughter build her immune system and give her the nutrients of life that can’t be found in any synthetic form, (I’m sorry to say to all those formula feeders whose decision I nonetheless respect).
But, this giant public confession aside, I rarely, in my regular life, let people know I still nurse my child. In fact, I’ve gone out of my way to avoid the topic with other parents of toddlers, or, when my daughter has asked for “boob” when we’re out and about (which is pretty much never the last few months), I’ve said “no, not until we’re home,” or distracted her away from the thought, and then I’ve felt terrible about denying her the one thing in her life that gives her the most comfort. She’s only asked for boob in public in the recent past if she’s feeling uncomfortable or extremely tired (like when we’re singing the lullaby at the end of music class), and the fact that I’ve been ashamed to give my body to her is my own shortcoming of self-consciousness and self-judgement brought on by our Western culture’s norms.
The truth is, we hardly nurse at all – usually about two minutes in bed, at night, before she sleeps. She’s never been an easy go-to-sleep child, and still, though she sleep better than ever now, every night is a challenging practice in patience and empathy for me as she suddenly can’t walk when it’s time to get on the pajamas, or her arm mysteriously won’t bend to brush her teeth, or she decides she needs another book, or a drink of water, or, or, or. By the time I’ve wrangled her to a prostate position, I’m right there next to her because being upright is far too difficult for this old body. And then, after the light is finally turned off, I don’t have an ounce of energy to wean or deny her when she says, all sleepy and smiling and adorable, “I want some boob, Mama.” I lift my shirt and pray the milk, what’s left of it, (if indeed there’s anything in there at all), will do the magic sleep dance and lull her to sleep. And usually, the boob does do magic. She nurses for a couple minutes, pops off with a sucking smack, and then rolls over, not quite asleep, but almost. We rest for a while and in a few minutes she’s snoozing.
Do I wish my child would go to sleep without my boob? Hell yes. Indeed, she can go to sleep without my boob because sometimes she forgets to nurse, and sometimes her father puts her to bed, though very rarely because he’s not home at night a lot, and never if we’re both home, because she’s known for a long time his boobs don’t work that way. She just likes the boob. She likes the comfort and warmth and nutrition and sustenance. And, to be honest, from our first very difficult days in the hospital, I loved giving her my body, nay sacrificing my body, to feed her and comfort her. Nursing her from the get go, I have no doubt, was the main source for creating the close and sweet bond we now have when we were in peril due to our birth circumstances of not bonding.
Do I worry that she’s over-attached? Hell yes. Sometimes when she gets super-riled about me leaving to go somewhere, like work or a meeting or, lord forbid, out with friends or for a massage or some other form of self-care, and she’s crying and pleading with big old tears rolling down her cheeks, “don’t leave, Mama!” I think, man I have screwed her up. I think she’s too bonded and that she sees my leaving as some form of boobs leaving and I am sure I’ve been the worst mother in all of history that my toddler cannot simply say “bye, Mama.” I have nightmare visions about her having oral fixation problems, fanatically chewing her nails or pen caps, or, worse yet, having relationship problems where she’s screaming at her bolting, suffocated lover to “never leave her!” and then beating at her own breast.
But sometimes, she does simply say, “bye, Mama.” And, like I said, sometimes her dad puts her to bed. She is quite able to go to sleep without me and my boob. And, while I’m sure I should go out at night more often (as if I have enough energy to do that), if I’m home at night, when I put her to bed, I never offer anymore, but if she asks, I still give her the boob.
I don’t want to infantalize my growing daughter or screw her up more than I’m bound to as a human being/parent, of course. But at the same time, if I’m really such a proponent of societal change, in particular for women’s rights to make their own bodily decisions, I must release my shame aobut nursing my toddler. I must stand up and be proud that I still nurse her. I like being able to comfort her, and, even though she probably only gets maybe an ounce a day of my milk, I like knowing she’s getting some antibodies and fat proteins she must still need on some level.
Recently, I met up with a couple of old friends at a park who helped me get over myself. One is studying to be a midwife and she’s interested in other cultures and countries’ habits surrounding birth. She has a five-month old and a toddler a little younger than mine. She’s still nursing both kids and told the amazing tale of how she nurses the baby on one side to give him the nutrients he needs, and the toddler on the other to give him what his body needs. (An aside: my daughter is mostly nursing on just one boob these days, too, which makes me wonder about what’s going on with the other still-larger breast and its milk. Maybe I should become a wet nurse...). Anyhow, my friend’s boobs are also are lopsided but she doesn’t care because she knows the fact that her body can self-regulate is downright amazing. And she has no shame. Indeed, the other old friend who was with us at the park admitted she also nursed her now five-year old daughter until that kid was three. She also said that fact outright with no shame.
Toward the end of this discussion, with the dappled sunlight on her as we stood under the great big tree, the midwife-to-be said this great thing about her still-nursing toddler in this great way. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “Even though he only nurses a little, he’s still committed, so what the heck.”
Committed. My daughter is committed to nursing. So: What. The. Heck? As a parent, shouldn’t I be at least as committed to her?
Breastfeeding is a wondrous feat of the human body. I’m privileged to have had the experience of keeping a whole other person alive for many months just by the excretions of my boobs. I’m grateful I have built-in comfort providers and that I’ve been able to utilize them to their fullest extent. I suspect my nursing days are limited, probably countable on a few fingers and toes. Therefore, in honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I’m not buying any longer into my Western society-laden shame. I’m proud I’ve been able to breastfeed my daughter this long. And though I’m looking forward to having my boobs and hormones back in the near future, I’m sure I’ll miss nursing her when we’re done.