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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The glass ceiling above or the ankle deep muck below?

My husband said to me this morning that this election might be the most egregious example in the history of this country of people voting against someone more than they are voting for someone. His comment got me thinking of whether or not I fit in that bucket. I thought about it all through CNN's coverage of this historic moment when a woman became a major party's nominee for president. I thought of it while they recapped speakers gleefully offering sound bytes about big cracks in glass ceilings.

I've decided that I both do and don't fit in the category of "more against than for."

I am proudly and exuberantly voting against Donald Trump. I am against closet racism thinly disguised as "promoting safety." I am against rampant misogyny that somehow so many women just seem OK with. I am against fear mongering and hate speech. I am against an awful business man with a very pro-business platform lying to his supporters by saying he will fight for them.

Until this morning, however, I didn't realize that I was also a little excited to vote for Clinton. Don't get me wrong, my vote will lack the passion and dedication I felt when voting for Obama. Like so many others, I don't entirely trust her. In fact, I am not really sure that I like her at all. But I agree with her on most issues and think she is competent and capable.

And I am excited to vote for a woman.

However, while I do share some hope at the thoughts of finally shattering that glass ceiling above us, I find myself much more excited at the prospect of draining the ankle-deep shit the women in this country must walk through every day.

The glass ceiling is coming down... sort of, but we're also in a very dangerous age for women in this country. Because of all of the Herculean efforts of women in the generation before me, including Hillary Clinton, women nowadays are told they can have it all. We can have the career AND the family, be Mom and CEO. But as the "it takes a village" mentality of child rearing slowly dies, we increasingly HAVE to have it all, and do it without much support. Yep, we can be a Mom, and we can be a CEO, but being both generally means adding a ton to your plate without taking anything away.

I firmly feel that our culture punishes women who try to have it all while expecting them to do it. This is not some vast conspiracy of mustache-stroking evil masterminds sitting around a conference table and plotting how they can keep us down. This is a systemic issue of policies that make being a woman just a bit harder, and a long tradition of a male-dominated political machine that can't change what they will never understand.

In 2016, 96 years after the ERA declared that women are legally the equals of men, there is still a giant wage gap, one which worsens for minority women. You can have it all... but your going to get paid about 80% of what men do.

In 2016, the United States is seeing an increase in maternal mortality, putting us in league with Afghanistan and South Sudan, since they are also on a very short list of places where this is happening. Women are dying in child birth in this country at an increased rate for a late of reasons, but poverty and poor access to health care are on that list. This should be a very real part of the discussion when our politicians try to shut down access to women's healthcare because a minuscule amount of that care comes in the form of abortions. Are you really pro life anymore when you are willing to let poor women die from lack of access to prenatal care? Yes, women, you can have it all... but you could also die trying.

In 2016, we have some of the poorest post partum care in the world. We get ONE post partum visit to our doctors after an incredibly traumatic (yes, natural but also traumatic) event, and then aren't seen for a year. So yes, you can have it all... but your body better bounce back on its own because your insurance company says it should.

In 2016, we are the only developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave. Women in this country are often forced to go back to work before they are physically healed, and definitely before their babies are old enough. So yes, you can have it all... but not for very long, because we are more concerned about the rights of businesses than we are about you and your baby.

In 2016, half of women return to work, either out of want or need, and turn their children over the child care workers who are paid less on average than janitors. Let that sink in. We pay the people who clean our offices and take out the trash more than we pay for the people who care for our children. So yes, you can have it all... but the person caring for your child may be living in poverty while you do.

In 2016, child care costs in this nation are so staggeringly high (despite the fact that we pay our workers less than janitors), that they interfere with families' abilities to afford food and health care. Couple that with the aforementioned pay gap, and single mothers especially have to make choices about paying for quality child care, or health care, or food. So yes, you can have it all... but you may not be able to feed your family while you do.

In 2016, if you have the ability to stay home and care for your new child, you will return and face a well-documented motherhood penalty. If you decide that the lack of paid leave and no access to affordable child care means that it makes more sense for you to stay home, you are then penalized when you return to work. So yes, you can have it all... because we'll punish you if you don't.

In 2016, if you decide that dealing with all of this sounds just awful, you are not off the hook. Whether or not you have children, Brock Turner has taught us all that our bodies are still valued less than a man's future. The Fox News scandal has showed us that our future success may still be dependent on our sex appeal. And if you do fight your ass off to become successful, you'll get paid less for it.

And a candidate for the presidency of this country has shown us that lots of our fellow citizens are simply OK with demeaning women.

In short, yes you can have it all, but it is hard as hell. It is wading through bullshit that is ankle deep on a daily basis.

I am willing to bet Clinton has waded through her fair share of ankle deep muck. Perhaps letting her burst through that glass ceiling will be followed by the slurpy sound of the suction breaking and some of the rest of us getting to pull our feet out as well.

So no, I don't love her. Yes, I am with her. It is time that this country gets more leadership that knows just how fucking hard it is to be a woman in the United States.

Monday, July 25, 2016

My child doesn't know his own name...

... and that is because we never call him by it. And I am OK with that (though yes, we will have to teach it to him at some point soon).

When we were trying to get pregnant, I read an article on the most annoying things people do when it comes to naming their children. Number three on the list was naming them something you have no intention of calling them, i.e. "her name is Sarah Louisa, but we call her Coco." When I read it, I rolled my eyes and groaned. Who would do such a thing?

As it turns out, this become another example of my "never say never" philosophy of parenting, because I did that thing.

Getting pregnant was not easy for us. Months of nothing happening was an affront to my Type A personality. It took me a while to admit that something was wrong and get my butt to the doctor. I will always remember her mischievous smile when she wrote the ultrasound and blood work orders. "Who knows," she said. "Maybe you're already pregnant..."  When I combined that with the urgent instructions from the ultrasound tech to call tomorrow to get my results, I was just sure I was.

When I called, breathy and excited to get news of my pregnancy, I instead got news of an undetermined mass and the need for more blood work. I wasn't listening to my baby's heartbeat a few weeks later, I was having surgery. I was very fortunate that it was benign, but did not escape unscathed. In place of a baby, I brought a raging intestinal infection home from the hospital.

While I was curled into a ball on my couch in gastrointestinal misery, the phone rang. This was the call that made the world a bit shakier under my feet. "Extremely unlikely," she said, throwing in words like "fertility clinic," and advising that continuing to try was likely a "waste of time."

If you've never been a woman who desperately wants a child and was just told their body won't cooperate, then you will never understand just how awful getting that news feels. This was one of the few times in my life that I didn't immediately go into "fix it" mode. I didn't start researching fertility clinics right away, or throw together a timeline for how we could save money for adoption. I just cried.

My husband when he suggested we take a weekend trip to get our minds off of everything and recover from such an intense few months. He is a smart man, and I am glad I listened. We went to my favorite city- New Orleans. On our second night there, I started feeling strangely. I woke up early the next morning, just knowing something was off. I woke my husband and started musing that perhaps I was pregnant.

I watched the panic settle in on his face as he recognized the no win situation he was in, as there was no course of action that would prevent the coming meltdown from the wife he had just gotten out of her sweat pants. Luckily, he just hugged me and waited silently with me after I took the test.

The faintest glimmer of a line appeared. We both looked at it from every angle, and watched as the line got darker.

The realization that you're pregnant is really one of those experiences that defies explanation. Panic, joy, terror, disbelief, elation, anxiety, and excitement all processed through us in the course of ten minutes. I cried, we laughed, we paced our room, and then realized that it was 7 a.m. on a Friday in New Orleans and very little was open.

That was how we found ourselves at a 3 card poker table in the casino before most people have their morning coffee. Thirty minutes into our parenthood and I was glaring at the smoker next to me while we waited on my decaf and bought chips. On the second hand, my husband hit a straight flush. I giggled as they counted out his winnings, and said "looks like we have a lucky little blastocyst," and he smiled and said "thanks, Lucky."

In that moment, the kid became 'Lucky.' At first, I thought it would just be our pregnancy nickname, like Sprout, or Peanut. However, when we got back, my doctor helped the name settle.

"Congratulations," he said, in a voice that sounded more like "I'm sorry." And then there was the "but...." The issues they thought would prevent my pregnancy apparently made its success unlikely. "You have a higher than usual chance of losing this baby," he said. In response, I wrapped my arms around my stomach and said "Nope, my baby is Lucky."

It was eight weeks before we were told everything looked normal. During those weeks, we had four ultrasounds, dozens of blood tests, a scare in which the baby was measuring too small and not showing a heart beat. During those weeks, I fell asleep every night praying that I got to keep my Lucky. Finally, finally, we heard a normal, healthy heartbeat and were told everything was fine.

When we found out Lucky was a boy, we went into full name debate. We picked several options, and I envisioned how they would look on a resume, a college application, in his birth announcement. We considered just naming him Lucky, but it just didn't look right on anything "official." Instead, we gave him a name I love, a name befitting a doctor or lawyer or ballet dancer (or whatever the hell he wants to be). When he grows up and life becomes official, it will be waiting.

I thought 'Lucky' might slip away once he was here and real, but it didn't. Instead, after an incredibly difficulty pregnancy and long, terrifying delivery, all I could think once he was in my arms was "he is my Luck."

I get eye rolls all the time when I introduce him as Lucky. His day care once strongly advised that we stop calling him that so he can learn his real name. People close to us have told me how stupid a nickname it is, or simply refused to use it. There is probably some validity in all of these reactions, though there is also a heaping helping of "none of your damn business," too. I also once rolled my eyes at the thought of naming a child something that you never plan on calling him, until I came to realize that sometimes nicknames can have a hell of a lot of meaning, too.

I expect that it will fall away one day. I imagine him bringing a friend home from college and groaning when he has to explain why his mom just called him by his childhood nickname. But for now, we refer to him in a way that describes how he makes me feel every day... Lucky. It flows better than "Exhausted-but-exuberant."

Thursday, July 21, 2016

6 Reasons I am Jealous of Formula Moms


Before becoming a mom, I never realized that the personal decision on how to feed your child could devolve into a public fight reminiscent of some kind of Hunger Games arena.  You hear horror stories of poor, sleep-deprived moms who can’t escape the formula aisle at Target without some bitchy onlooker muttering “breast is best” as though Mom hadn't heard that before. Seriously, the tributes from District Breast can be such dicks.

And what does that even accomplish? Is one obnoxious stranger muttering a painful cliché going to make a woman who has chosen formula (for one of any number of very legitimate, compelling reasons that are all none of your damn business) suddenly going to realize the error of her ways, throw that Similac back on the shelf, and shove a boob in baby’s face at checkout?

Personally, unless you are filling your child’s bottle with Diet Coke, I pretty much don’t care how Junior gets a full belly. My son was breastfed, and there were things about it that I loved, and things I did not love. I was very fortunate that breastfeeding was (mostly) pretty easy for us. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but feeling moments of jealousy towards the formula moms I know, because…

1.       They got more sleep. Hey, you, breast feeding enthusiasts, yeah, I noticed that you forgot to put this in the f*ing manual. Not only does formula put your partner on the hook for night feedings, but babies apparently take longer to digest formula. While I was still up every 3 hours when my kid was eight weeks old, my friends that fed their kids formula were blissfully sleeping 6 or 8 hour stretches (though I am sure there are exceptions). Thus, as a reward for breastfeeding, I got another month or two of looking like Pigpen and feeling like I was losing my damn mind from lack of sleep.

2.       They traveled easier. I thought breastfeeding would be the simpler choice- my son would always have food as long as I was with him, right? Well… yes… but particularly in the beginning, I pretty much couldn’t feed without a boppy and a chair with arms. This made going anywhere an ordeal. Meanwhile, formula moms just dumped formula in a bottle and voila. There were no strangers ogling them, and no screaming baby who couldn’t quite latch on while propped up against the counter at a sushi place.

3.       No one stared at their chest. And I am not talking a “I was sitting in a public park with my boobs out and people looked” situation. I mean people would ask if I was breastfeeding, and then stare directly at my chest for the rest of the conversation. 

4.       They didn’t have to sit at work… topless… There aren’t enough door locks in the world to make this feel OK. Pumping at work is just strange. I get bonus points for forgetting to mute my phone on a call with 80 people. Nothing says “embarrassed” like listening to your bosses’ bosses’ boss say “what is that noise? Does anyone else hear that whirring?” and knowing it is you and your milking machine vibrating on speaker phones throughout the country.

5.       They never wondered if their kid only loved them for their boobs. To be fair, babies are blobs of goo and I am sure formula moms also sometimes wonder if and when that blob of goo loves them. However, as a woman, it undermines your self-esteem when your kid gives you the cold stare until face to face with your nipple and then grins. We’re raised to think we’re worth more than just our racks… until we spend 3 months watching the thing we love the most only care about said rack.

6.       Most importantly, the caffeine! If ever I needed 10 cups of coffee to survive, it was when my son was up all night screaming. However, if I drank more than one cup at 7 a.m., he would be up the entire next night dancing. I don’t know how we have pills for everything but keeping caffeine from entering breastmilk. Someone needs to get on that.  

Despite all of this, the decision to stop breastfeeding was one of the hardest of my life. I am also very sure that my formula mom friends have a list similar to this one about why they sometimes wish they could or would have breastfed (like the "eat everything and not gain weight," thing). All in all, those first months are so wonderfully difficult (or difficulty wonderful) no matter how you feed. 

As long as we all have happy, healthy babies, we’re cool… right?

Perhaps the one thing we can all agree on is to not be the asshole at Target muttering “breast is best” in the formula aisle. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Do’s and Don’ts for My Friends Without Kids

Do’s and Don’ts for My Friends Without Kids

I was late to the game on this whole mom thing. More than fifteen years elapsed between my first friend having a baby and the birth of my own, so I very much understand what life is like on both sides of motherhood. As a single lady, I witnessed all of the glowing new parents and blissfully sleeping babies and thought life just looked like a Pampers commercial. As a friend to many new moms, I did many things wrong simply because I didn’t realize that becoming a mother is both wonderful and really hard.  

So for those of you without kids, those wondering if you should visit, or bemoaning the end of a friendship since this Mom person replaced your Friday night drinking buddy, here are some helpful hints that will help you navigate the strange world that comes when babies start popping up all over.

Do… show up. You are not required to drop everything and rush to the side of every casual acquaintance but, if your close friend has spawned and it is feasible (i.e. driving distance), you ask when they are ready for visitors and then you go. Remember every time you’ve been excited about someone new you were dating and wanted to show him/her off to your friends? Well, what new moms feel for those little balls of goo they have just birthed reaches a hormone-fueled frenzy roughly 1000X the level of “new boyfriend” excitement. Add on the fact that the transition to motherhood is REALLY HARD and very unlike idyllic commercials, and your mom friend not only wants to show off her kid, but she probably really needs some company.

And I know this isn’t always easy. In my late twenties I had baby fever badly and had just gone through a very messy break up. Going to hold my friends’ babies usually resulted in a ride home that involved a lot of tears and a bucket of chicken. But they were my friends, and when your good friends have babies, you just fucking show up. It is that simple. 

Don’t… let her become that person who will only hang out with you if you put in all the effort. Babies are portable, especially after the first 3-6 months, and we can bring them to you sometimes, too. Or, leave them with dad or try to find a sitter. The bottom line is that if I am making our friendship into one devoid of fun where you sit on my couch and watch me fold laundry once a month, find a nice way to drag my ass out of the house. If I refuse, find a not nice way.

Do… Understand that poop will be interesting for a while. And really, unless you’ve had a baby, you can’t have any concept of how much the entire household’s sanity can hinge upon on your kid’s successful digestion. Some of us new moms live and die by poop. Seriously, don’t mock this. Poop might be the reason your friend is so exhausted that your gentle teasing makes her cry.

Don’t… Let her get away with talking about poop at meals, in bars, or for more than 5 minutes straight. And once that kid is walking around, we should probably stop talking about his bowel movements as part of normal discourse anyway. Be my friend and very nicely remind me that poop is not something normal people want to hear/talk about.

Do… Respond with the appropriate fawning over the first few pictures a new mom sends/shares those first few months. We are so in love, and we want you to love our little one, too. So even if his head is all pointy and he looks kind of green, you tell us how gorgeous he is.

Don’t… Feel like you must like, comment, or respond to that 30th picture posted yesterday. In fact, if a few weeks have passed and you start to wonder how someone is managing to care for a baby when they spend so much time posting pictures on Facebook, you should likely stop responding to them all together for a while. We will get the point.

Do... Understand that your friend has a new normal, and might struggle to find interest in things that she used to love. For the first few months at least, grabbing a drink might pale in comparison to the possibility of a nap. Be patient, it will get better. 

Don't... Let me or anyone else insinuate that moms have a corner on certain states of being, like tired or stressed. I hated that shit before I had a kid and it is no less annoying now. Yes, you can be tired if you don't have kids. Yes, you get to talk to your friends about it. If you ever get "ha, wait until you have kids. THEN you will know tired," you best call me on that. Immediately. And, dude, moms, can we all just agree to stop saying this to people? 

Do… Ask how her kid is and know that, with a baby, things that sound totally stupid and unimportant are critical. So little Johnny slept for four hours, or rolled over, or blew spit bubbles? Yeah, it sounds like nothing, but to a new mom, it can be incredible.

Don’t… Let me get away with not asking about and taking interest in your life. It’s easy to let the rest of the world become background noise when you’ve just had a baby. I relied on my good friends to help remind me of the fact that, not only was the world still turning, but the people I cared about had really important shit going on, too.

I hear people talk a lot about friends they used to have before the kid came along. I’ve had a few of those myself over the years. Some of them fell away because they weren’t really that good a friend to start with and the baby called that out. Some of them fell away because I didn’t understand what life was like with a baby and was, thus, a shitty friend.

But babies don’t mean you have to give up life with your friend, just adapt it a bit. Use these simple dos and don’ts, and your friend’s tiny new ball of goo will add something to your life without swallowing your relationship.