Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sisters Are Doing It For...Themselves

It’s no surprise that when a woman becomes a mother she changes. Your body changes, your attitude changes, your pee schedule certainly changes but perhaps most interesting of all is how you suddenly develop super powers. You become adept at identifying the smell of your own child's poop in a crowded room, you wake in the night anticipating your imminent baby's cry and in defecting to large knickers over the floss string thongs, well, then super hero status is of no question. Yet perhaps her most honed talent, the one that sets her apart, is her newfound skill of stabbing other women in the back.

I had a hunch when I entered the minefield of motherhood that suddenly the idea of sisterhood was lost, trampled somewhere between conception and the announcement of impending baby. It became stomped on and replaced with women feeling forced to defend their lifestyles and actions. It typically starts with comments on your bump. Wow - you are huge!! How pregnant are you? They must have your date wrong! Or, you are tiny - Are you not eating? Why can't we just tell a pregnant lady - she looks perfect - just beautiful? A flood of what I thought was well meant advice would infiltrate the forty weeks - on best vitamins, best classes, natural childbirth, Lamaze or Bradley, midwife or doula, induce with pitocin or wait and do it 'naturally' with sex and bouncing balls and curry can be overwhelming. The advice comes flooding in - emails, voicemails, text messages and Facebook posts from people you haven't spoken to since you were 5 offering "Try having sex. It worked for me." Thank you, oh perfect stranger.

Then after you give birth comes the real fun - the piece de resistance - they just come out of nowhere - literally clawing out of the woodwork. Before they are five feet into the door and handing you a casserole dish comes the question - "So...are you breast or bottle feeding?" The disappointment shown with a head tilt and scrunched face when you say formula is paralyzing. You'd think they had just started with a urinary tract infection or something and before you can even explain why, (which you never need to do) they have moved on to telling you that it will be better 'next time.' Next time? What? My stitches are still healing and my hemorrhoids are still hanging out. Two words that I wished had used (and please excuse my vehemence) - Screw You! (And my anger is directed at one woman who made a snide comment in a park that will forever hurt). Shame on any woman to put pressure on another - particularly a new mum. I spent months hiding away from these breastfeeding nazis for fear of being confronted or shunned in public about my nursing failure. I had tried, dear God I had tried, and had more milk in me than a cow at market but it didn't work out and I will not now, not ever bother to defend myself again as I spent doing months after. It is no surprise that this perceived failure led me to fall down the rabbit hole into post partum depression.

And then for me the most recent line that I have noticed drawn in the sand by women 'Stay at home mums' vs. 'working mums'. Instead of supporting one another’s choices - because that is what feminism gave us - the choice - we instead make slight comments, questioning remarks. So, which bee hid in my bonnet today? Sadly, it's my own fault - my guilty pleasure is an online tabloid that spouts celebrity gossip. However, today my quick fix was not nearly juicy enough to avert my eyes from the juvenile journalism that makes up this crappy newspaper. Lesson learnt! There lay an article celebrating the 'Return to Housewifery' and after torturing myself through the whole thing I was left feeling inadequate and attacked. I shook myself out of the stupor realizing I had been subjected to something on the reading level of an 8 year old. Nevertheless, in an effort to perhaps make you laugh or cry or both... I thought I would share some with you some of this stellar commentary... Brace yourself.

Kate, who is due to give birth to her second child in six weeks, adds: 'The idea of leaving him with someone far less qualified than me while I go out to work doesn't make any sense. 'My education wasn't for nothing. I use what I learnt to make learning fun for him. We do so much together - swimming, football , tennis, playgroups, music groups and pre-school clubs. 'I love it at night, when we snuggle up and read books together. Paul agrees that I've made the right choice for all of us. 'We don't have many meals out or designer clothes, but none of that is important to me. We live in a two-bedroom cottage, and we would love a bigger house, but we'll have to wait." How wonderful! How delightful. Gosh, what a selfless woman you are. And to survive in a two bedroom cottage wearing non designer clothes?- Goodness me, what a sacrifice!

Another interviewee, Poppy Pickles, simply became a Saint in my eyes with this glorious assumption... 'Children have really lost out by being parceled up into day care. Surveys show that young children thrive through getting one-to-one care from a loving adult. Mums are best placed to do that.' English graduate Poppy Pickles is another highly- educated young mother who is adamant that she doesn't want anyone else looking after her children Daniel, five, and Rosanna, three. She says: 'I worked hard at school and I enjoyed university but I never saw myself as having a high-flying-career, leaving my children to be looked after by someone else. 'The best person to look after my children is me. They are both very secure, very loved children, and they take me entirely for granted - which is what I want. 'They know Mummy is always here, and always at home for them.'

Wow Poppy Pickles, (now there's a good working class name) who we later discover used to work at Sothebys - thanks for making us other mothers whose children have to go to day care feel really good about our 'choice'. Incidentally, those surveys that showed that "children thrive getting one-to-one care from a loving adult" - are they the same surveys that suggested that only children delivered naturally, exclusively breastfed and fed entirely organic produce would emerge as scholars and global leaders? Thought so.

Poppy who obviously feels she has a voice for the unheard generation adds: 'I don't feel as if feminism has passed me by - surely it is every woman's right to choose. I choose to be at home. (Absolutely right, Poppy, we do have a choice- now leave it at that) - "I want to see my children's first steps, hear their first words, and be there to take them to school and pick them up. Those tiny moments in the day are so valuable to children, and you can never get them back."

Oops, nope, instead of balancing your argument or throwing in a "but that's just my choice" you just had to throw a knife in the heart or back of every mother who doesn't follow your example or hasn't a choice in this. The article continued to voice the opinions of several other women - although none with such a perfect name. For me - it served only to reaffirm the thinking that when women become mothers they feel so under scrutiny and fearful of making a 'wrong' decision that they go on the attack to defend whatever 'choices' they make. Sadly, it ends up being something like - It's your choice - we all have a choice - except you are making the wrong choice. Even more frustrating is that it is just the women doing this to each other! We wonder why men don't struggle with the worry that their children will transfer the love that they have for them onto someone else during daycare. No - we claim that 'society puts such pressure on us' - but who in society? This is solely put on mothers shoulders...by other mothers.

If we choose to go work, the argument is that we are 'failing' our family. We might be championing ourselves or affording our family a better life but we can never quite escape the mud that is thrown our way by the homemakers, the domestic goddesses, the SAHM's that we are somehow denying our children and ourselves the most primal instinct. If we stay at home we are so fearful of appearing dumb or without drive by the 'career women' that we fight back claiming that our children will know their mother and as a mother we will never miss a thing. Why on earth are we so intent to pull each other down?

And then there are the mums that don't have a choice? That have to work for their families to survive. Whose belts are already tightened with both of them working and yes, they have crunched the numbers to know that 'one of us not working isn't a better financial choice than having a child in child care'.

One woman in the article actually addressed this - "it all comes down to having the right priorities. It is entirely possible to survive on one income - but you have to be prepared to live a far simpler life. 'We have very little money,' she says. We live on my husband's salary in a two-up, two-down, terraced house and there is nothing left over for any extras. None of us has had new clothes for ages. We drive one car, a Ford Focus, and we allow ourselves one meal out a month.'

adly, giving up new clothes or a trip to The Cheesecake Factory is often not enough and please don't suggest that our priorities are not in order. Food on the table and a roof over heads will always trump staying home, and that's not choice but necessity talking. However, the funny thing is - for the women that have no choice - they are perhaps least attacked. They are not a threat to their 'mother' friends and make no comment on their peers' choices. In fact, perhaps given that they have fewer friends to bemoan or compare themselves to at the end of the day they probably have more time spent focused on their children. Ah, it's a cruel irony.

We women fought so hard to have a choice and now we have to question each other by suggesting what exactly the right choice is. Of course I have no answer and even if i thought I did i wouldn't offer it to anyone else. That's because in all honestly I don't believe there is any one right choice. Not for the children. Not for the parents. Not for any of us. There is only what works for each of us.

So women, (and if I was Oprah I'd have you sign a petition) how about we try and do the following:

1) When a pregnant friend tells you that she plans to give birth naturally no matter what your thoughts - you respond positively, ignoring every urge to tell a horror story, or even worse throw a flippant remark like, "That's what we all say." Wacka wacka...

2) When you visit your friend that has just given birth, you do not need to ask her if she is nursing. If you stay more than an hour you will know and if you can't stay that long you probably don't need to know. If she is bottle feeding - NEVER tell her that it might be better next time. It might be but it might not and either way her nipples are never your concern.

3) When a new mother tells you that she is either going back to work or staying at home, you just say "good for you". That's it. If it's her choice it will make her make her feel good and if it is not her choice it will make her feel less anxious.

I've come to the conclusion that when offering unsolicited advice to a woman on motherhood, less truly is more. It's funny but the word sisterhood sounds so inclusive, yet motherhood can often feel terribly lonely. It shouldn't.

To view the article in full: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1294231/How-latest-generation-graduates-choosing-time-motherhood-high-flying-careers.html

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

When Love and Hate Collide

This weekend was another example of how far a mother's love will take her. On Saturday I went for a hike. To be fair it was just a walk in nature - but I gather that that is described as a hike. I was excited to view the waterfall I had been promised and it did not disappoint but then we were to continue on a trail. Just typing it makes me weak. I can't stand walking somewhere if I don't know the route. I dislike not knowing the 'turn around' spot. It evokes a sort of fear in me. Before I go on, it is perhaps important to know that I grew up on a farm and spent weekends gathering eggs from the hen house, mucking out the goose hut and throwing corn at ducks. I truly tried to embrace it and would grab my grandfather's walking stick and pretend to be a member of the royal family viewing the gardens of Balmoral Castle. I would walk into the woods, taking newspapers to sit on and would read a chapter of my book before heading home. I gave it a fair trial. Yet sadly, after drama club ended on a Saturday morning I would dread the rest of the weekend without the promise of a sleepover or a birthday party to escape to.

I believe this is why Summer has always been my least favorite season. It undoubtedly places the expectation that one should be outdoors. Rubbish. I have red hair and fair skin for one reason and one reason only. To be excused from direct sunlight and fresh air.

I digress.

Before we started our nature trail, I needed the toilet. In an effort to pep up my spirits, I had drunk the face off an iced coffee and now because I couldn't gauge the length of this 'hike' I had to do a security pee. I swung open the door to a vile stench. I'm always terrified that a snake will just pop up me when I pee, so I habitually check every toilet I use. Every toilet. This is an irrational fear that has no origin.

However, instead of a beast, I found an abyss of poop. I gagged and held on to the rail whilst hovering above death. My security pee turned out to be the longest pee I had ever done in my entire life. Legs shaking, I ripped a couple of pieces of the roll holder that would not roll. Did a quick wipe and threw it. Whipped up my shorts and scarpered. As I pulled the door I noticed that the toilet paper had missed the gateway to hell but I couldn't go back. I feel bad about that. I do.

So, as we continued past the waterfall and my daughter joyfully walked toward bushes and leaves and other green things, my eyes were peeled for dirty, rotten snakes. I knew I shouldn't look but I did. No sooner had the sight of twigs made me twitchy I felt the most irritating touch known to man. That of a mosquito. I am subsequently aware that I should have doused in "Off" or something but I hadn't expected a tropical pest to be in the high desert of Central Oregon. I thought they lived in swamps and poo and Africa. I was mistaken.

It was over for me. I was bitten. Now, it would be of interest for you to understand that all this was internal conflict. I was trying desperately hard to be a 'good sport'. It was sunny and there was a waterfall. My sister and brother in law seemed enthused. Tom loves that stuff and dear Lord, Olive was properly giddy and waving at trees and dogs and every child that crossed our path...all of whom were headed in the other direction.

So, I am just smiling and trying to pretend that this is wonderful, but when the second mosquito bit my neck I just blew. Just as my panic escalated so did the intensity of the attack. They were literally everywhere and not even hiding. Blatant feasting on human flesh. I think that this is what you might call 'beyond a joke'.

In my defence I offer a visit to Spain when I was about 8 years old. It was a hot sticky night on the Iberian coast and I awoke to my face itching like I'd had an allergic reaction to an epidural. I had been bitten about seven times on my face and had mumps like lumps all over. I tried to rub them with my wrist rather than scratch them but fearing a further attack I pulled the covers up over my head. I was sharing a bed with my sister at the time and somehow the West Nile virus had failed to pierce her olive skin and infiltrate her blood. In true sibling irritant fashion, she pulled the covers down, I pulled them up, she pulled them down. For the record, this wasn't nearly as much fun as when we threw our knickers at the ceiling fan and watched them whizz round before flying off around the wall. No - this was serious. This was literally a matter of life and death. Sadly, being four years younger and afflicted with the pain of a face blowing up like the Elephant Man, I never stood a chance. In my delirium at being bitten alive I climbed into a suitcase and pulled the flimsy lid on top of me in the hopes of shelter. I lasted about a minute before my father came in and told me to get back into bed. At that point in my life, had he told me to drink the Spanish tap water I would have obeyed.

Seeing my daughter on that nature trail brought it all back. She was too young to run for shelter and there was no haven in this mess of dirt and shrubbery. When I saw one land on the back of her neck, I exploded. I grabbed her and ran. I must have looked like a loon but I didn't care. I wrapped her tight into me and covered any bare skin with my hands. This was survival of the fittest. I was wearing short denim shorts and a pair of white converse and knew this slippery trail laden with tree roots was designed to make me stumble. Yet it was no match for me. Until Olive started to cry that is. Now, this is not the point where I tell you that I relented and went back for more for the love of my child. I merely embraced my sprint as a game and started whooping and woohing my way downhill. Before long she was loving the escape and oohing and giggling her way to safety.

Now I'll admit, I did feel a bit like an idiot. As my other family members sauntered back prematurely, I did wish to have been more 'baby in a sling' relaxed. I just don't like surprises and nature is just bursting to show you new things unexpectedly.

There is no moral to this nor change in store for me. No feel good ending to this tale. In fact, to further fuel my fire, my initial bug bite became so swollen that I have decided that a spider bit me when I was in poop grotto. I believe he saw his opportunity while I was holding onto the railing in avoidance of the rim of danger.

To conclude, I stand by protecting my daughter from such misery. As the great Meatloaf once sang, I would do anything for love...but I won't do that.