word to your mother

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.

Maybe pampered mom (who still wants to show off her mommy muscles) = coddled child = something worse than the entitlement generation.

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.

Woman up.

the parent trap: let’s get together, yeah yeah yeah

I’m tired of flexing my mommy muscles. But I do it anyway.  I roll my eyes, roll up my sleeves, and throw my elbow down on the table.  Ready to armwrestle yet another mother.

It starts before the baby is even born.  In active labor, I walked into the hospital, stopping every minute or so to claw at the wall.  The man at the reception desk asked if I wanted a wheelchair, and all I could bring myself to do was shake my head and keep walking.  “They never do,” he said behind me.

We never do. Because we’re showing off our muscles.

And then the baby is born, and so is the competition:  How long were you in labor?  I had the longest labor on record.  Or I had the shortest labor on record.  And I didn’t have an epidural, did you?   And how big was your baby? Mine was in the 95th percentile for both height and weight . . . 

Right.  Because all of that means you’re a better mother.

This is what women (or at least those of us who are mothers) do.

We engage in complex battles over breastfeeding; the women who can’t or choose not to feel like they have to explain themselves, the women who do feel the need to let everyone know. (At one point, I think I started basing my self-worth as a mother on how many bags of breastmilk were in the freezer.  And then I got suddenly sick and had to be medicated, and the medication made the baby sick.  The frozen breastmilk was not enough.  And so I was not enough.)

Right.  Because a mother is nothing more than the milk her breasts produce.  (And, apparently, now, in order to be “enough,” you need to breastfeed your children until they reach the second grade.  Thank you, TIME.)

My son slept through the night at six weeks.  Mine crawled at six months.  Mine was walking before a year. My baby’s first word was “loquacious.” 

And perhaps the most well-known is the ongoing conflict between the stay-at-home-mom and the working mom. It might be amusing if it wasn’t so bitter.  Both sides have reasons for believing they are superior, but really, no one is right.  And so we’re no better than the popular girls on the playground in grade school;  we form cliques, we alienate, we gossip.  (I was at a PTO committee meeting a few weeks ago, and when I mentioned that I worked outside the home, the women around me recoiled as though I had some communicable disease.)

 My son scored six goals at his last soccer game.  My four-year-old reads at a tenth-grade level. 

Oh, shut up.  Please shut up, ladies.

I’m too damn tired of this.  I’m tired of using these sculpted arms for defending my choices as a parent. I’m tired of people like Anne-Marie Slaughter telling me I can’t have it all when she has no idea what my all is.

So I think I’m done with this fight; don’t ask me to show you my mommy muscles, because I won’t.

I need to use them to hold my strapping toddler while he sleeps during church. I need the muscles for the days my daughter wakes up with a fever and vomits curdled milk all over her face, and for the times I carry my sleeping six-year-old to bed.  Or maybe for the night I catch my three-year-old flipping quickly through the pages of Love You Forever, telling herself, “the mom doesn’t die, the mom doesn’t die,” again and again.

I have them, I promise. But I’ll save them for when my week-old infant is hospitalized with something that can’t be identified, and I try to comfort her while she’s hooked up to monitors and I wonder if she might die because no one is telling me otherwise.

Or for the days when mommying and teaching and writing don’t satisfy my restlessness and I want to be closer to my all . . . whatever my all may be.

The truth is that the competition exists only because none of us know what we’re doing.  We have no idea whether or not the choices we make are the right ones.  What is truly self-doubt disguises itself as a boisterous pat on one’s own back.  (Maybe if someone did pat us on the back once in a while, we wouldn’t have to use our mommy muscles to do it ourselves.) We can only do what we think is right for our kids, and because our kids are different, our choices will be different.

Ultimately, we have to trust that the goal is the same, no matter how we try to get there.  (I mean, who doesn’t LOVE a choose-your-own-adventure book, really?)

We don’t need each other to tell us that we’re not enough.  We’ve got ourselves to do that.