I was pregnant with my first child when a very wise friend said this: “Women used to pick cotton, squat down to have their babies, and then stand back up to pick more cotton.”
She had already had five children. She knew what she was talking about.
Six and a half years later, I’m still grateful to her, probably even more so now than I was then. What she was saying, essentially, was, “Suck it up. Stop whining.” And she was right.
The truth is that there are some women who believe we are supposed to be coddled and pampered while we’re pregnant, and even during the birthing process. But why? We are not doing anything extraordinary; and by that, I mean we are truly not doing anything out of the ordinary for women. Women have done this for as long as women have existed. We are designed for this.
I have even heard that some women now schedule their babies’ births prior to their doctors’ vacation weeks, or specifically when their own doctors are on-call. They have labor induced so that their doctors deliver the baby. I’m not trying to be a jerk, but other doctors from the practice know what they’re doing. And so do those delivery-room nurses. Even when there’s no doctor there. I promise.
I’m not saying that pregnant women shouldn’t have access to all of the Cheetos and Carribbean beef jerky they desire, but here’s my question: when did giving birth become a novelty? A generation ago, women didn’t stop each other on the street to compare birth stories. The only thing I’ve ever been told about my own birth was that it almost happened in an elevator. And, probably, in my mom’s mind, that’s the only thing that separates my birth from my sisters’. I mean, after you’ve had a few, all the stories start to collide.
Two generations ago, (and long before that, even) many women worked while they were pregnant, and even shortly after giving birth. And, a lot of the time, it was physical work. (Family lore has it that my grandfather, while my grandmother was at work, accidentally used Bengay instead of Desitin on my newborn aunt’s diaper rash. Poor poor Aunt Winnie. I feel like I should mention that she was the first of seven. I never heard a single birth story from my tiny, powerful grandmother.)
And then there’s this whole pregnant-Yahoo!-CEO thing. Apparently, we’re now allowed to question Marissa Mayer’s choice to take a “working” maternity leave. She’s an adult woman (clearly one who does not require coddling). A grown-up. She knows what she can handle. Let’s stop patronizing her. Let’s stop treating her as though she were some sort of Faberge egg. On Morning Joe, recently, Brian Sullivan said:
Mayer’s only 37, she is pregnant. So, and fortunately she said she’s going to work during the maternity leave, that — that’s gonna be tough. Y’know. Take some time off. Yahoo’s been in trouble for years. My advice: take some time off. Get your baby. Raise the kid for a little bit, and then, work on the company when you can.
First of all, I feel the need to say that this guy sort of sounds like an idiot (I mean, yes, Marissa should certainly take his advice, because he’s had LOTS of babies. And where, exactly, does one “get” a baby?). Second of all, if this is the way men view pregnant women and/or new mothers in today’s society, then our desire to be spoiled only perpetuates the idea that we are the “weaker” sex. And, this entire movement (if that’s what we’re calling it) seems slightly anti-feminist (to say the least). When I spoke to my mother about it, she said, “You might want to temper it if you’re going to write about it,” but she knew that I wouldn’t. The truth is that our strength lies in being able to do what we do without whining, without much complaint. I’m not saying it’s easy (and, truly, I hate hearing “You’ve had easy pregnancies,” or “You’ve had easy births.” Uncomplicated? Yes, thankfully. Easy? No.). But no one ever said it would be easy.
Because here’s the thing (yep, the thing, again): once that darling baby is here for a while and the “newness” wears off, no one is going to coddle us. Then, we’re just moms, like all of the other moms who have gone before us. And whether we’re working or staying home with the kids, the dishwasher needs to be unloaded and loaded (perhaps while we’re fighting off a toddler whose chubby fingers keep reaching for the knives), and the laundry that is piled only a foot from the ceiling needs to be folded. And it will be a long long time before we get a good night’s sleep. (Once, when I was nearing the end of one of my pregnancies and probably looked swollen and uncomfortable standing in the office of my school, the parent of one of my students placed her hand on my protruding belly and said, “Just remember: they’re a lot easier to take care of when they’re in there.” I often think of how right she was.)
Let’s be honest — it’s hard. But it’s going to get a lot harder before it gets easy.