That Would Be Me With A Toddler At The Pro-Choice Happy Hour

My daughter is two. She is a lovely, wonderful, vivacious girl. Her new thing is that she comes with me to pro-choice happy hours.

Before she was born, I was going to action/networking/professional-type stuff nearly every night of the week. Happy hours. Panel discussions. Volunteer phone-banks. Impromptu vigil for social justice? My candles were by the door. This is an easy habit to fall into as a young do-gooder, especially when you love what you do.

After she was born, I stopped doing most of these things. It was just too hard, especially when I was still nursing and rocking her to sleep. That’s changed, but babysitters are still costly and hard to find. And yes, after working all day, I like to spend time with her.

Does this make me less driven? Nope.

But yes, I had been missing some of the things I used to do.

I started questioning that. Yes, my responsibilities have changed, but that doesn’t mean I can’t find a new way to re-engage with my old interests. So I started bringing my daughter to the pro-choice happy hour. It’s happened twice in the past few weeks.

I think of it as occupying my own life. I can be a parent, and still do things I love with my kid in tow. Even if kids aren’t explicitly invited. I can use my judgement and pick and choose what might work based on the situation and her needs at the moment. Occupying my life even though I’m a mom with a kid to watch isn’t just good for me and the kid, it’s good for everyone. Kids are part of life and we must include them.

I want my daughter to know that she’s welcome to be a part of the interests I hold outside our family. I want her to know it’s okay for women and moms to be part of public life. I want the people at the pro-choice happy hour to see that we can make some of our activist spaces kid-friendly with hardly any work, and I’m happy to share the joy of my daughter with the many, many activists who support abortion rights as a matter of human dignity and also happen to love babies (believe it!).

Yes, we’re only there for 20-30 minutes on the way home from daycare, and we sit to the side with her yogurt or hummus and pretzels, but I get to see my friends and be a part of the social side of a movement I work in.

Occupying my life takes other forms, too. Turns out that having a kid means you get a lot less sleep, and don’t always get a chance to shower and/or get ready. Well, this happens to me regularly now. Just today I did a meeting on Skype video with bed-head from several hours before. I’ve stopped feeling shame about this, and invested in pomade instead. I’d rather do the things I care about than waste time or energy berating myself, or take myself out of the running because I have a kid who doesn’t serve me breakfast in bed and warm my bathrobe.

By watching me, I hope she will see that mothers can be whoever the hell they want to be. I have been enjoying showing myself that, as well.

 

Parenting, Self-Esteem, And Toddlers Holding One Leg Up

My self-esteem kind of fell to the shits some time after my daughter was born. It wasn’t postpartum depression; I’d made it okay through the weeks of shifting hormones and months of endless infant crying. I cried twice after she was born; once in frustration that I wasn’t getting to hold her as much as I wanted during what felt like a never-ending cycle of visitors, and once that first day after my husband went to work and everyone was gone. Other than that, I was fine.

Until I wasn’t. I started losing confidence. New parenthood can be isolating, physically: You just can’t leave the house as easily as you used to.

To compound matters, I had less to say about work, because I was working half-time. I had been used to connecting with people on the basis of work.

Sometimes it’s said that people who talk about their kids are boring. Emotionally, I bought right into that, while intellectually I still know this is a feminist issue that angers me. Frowning on kid-talk serves as a way to silence and trivialize women since we often find ourselves serving as primary caregivers to any children we may have.

All of this meant I became more isolated still.

I realized in the grocery store that I was getting out of tune with myself; it was becoming too hard to buy basic things like pasta or peanut butter. I would look at multiple varieties and not know which to pick. I didn’t trust myself. Decisions that should have taken three seconds were taking 10.

So I wrote an email to two of my closest, dearest friends, telling them that I felt my self-esteem was hitting a lower patch and asking for advice on what they thought I should do. I also asked my husband for ideas.

I think, honestly, it surprised some of them, although they all rose to the occasion, were supportive, and offered awesome ideas. There is some taboo in admitting when you don’t feel great. There shouldn’t be.

Our security in ourselves and the way we feel about the world are hardly static. You could even be the strongest person in the world and still hit rough patches. Admitting the crap times when you have them is a really helpful step to tossing them down the Litter Genie.

Through conversations with my lovelies, I came to realize that what I was really missing was a sense of accomplishment, and that was what was decking my self-esteem. When I had been working around the clock, I had stacks of achievements in the detritus of my to-do lists. People recognized my work. I had the ability to write for pleasure 20 times more often than before the baby, and get feedback in the process.

Motherhood didn’t feel like that. Every time I changed her outfit, my dear sweet daughter seemed to spit up profusely again. Even putting her down for a nap wasn’t much accomplishment, since she’d usually wake up and start crying almost immediately. What I needed, bluntly, was something new that we could do. I knew it had to be us and not just me, or I wouldn’t get the accomplishment near often enough.

So we tried a baby yoga class. And we started coming back, week after week. We’ve been going for almost a year and a half now. Thing is, it worked, and actually fairly quickly. I just needed something new, something I could point to as something I was getting done. As time went on, and my daughter grew, the class became irresistible fun. I love to watch her sing, dance, and do a tree pose (A DEAD-SERIOUS TODDLER DOING A TREE POSE!).

Recently I shared this story in a workshop I facilitated on pregnancy after an eating disorder, as an example of how it’s totally cool to speak up during the divots of life and work toward your own mental health. A doctor who was also leading the workshop responded to my claim that probably none of the other parents in the room knew how important that 45-minute class is to me. She said: It probably is for them, too.

We need to be honest that parenting is not always easy, that life is not always easy, that it’s okay to experience ups and downs and talk about them. It’s actually a sign of strength. At least, that’s the message I hope I’m teaching my daughter.

On Motherhood And Employment

In our culture, pregnancy is viewed as something you did to yourself. Having a child comes with consequences you must be prepared to accept. This isn’t gender neutral; it’s no accident that women’s reproductive capacity is reduced to a supposedly objective decision-making matrix that sets up women as a class to fail.

On any given day, cultural and political leaders will portray children as punishments for casual sex; as luxuries for wealthy families; and at their most heinous, as ruses for public benefits or citizenship status.

The idea of pregnancy and children as consequences for which women must pay plays out in many sectors of our lives, including restrictions upon reproductive rights, and punitive attacks on the social safety net.

Here I will discuss some of the negative consequences for women in the workplace. I say women intentionally; although not all women are or will become mothers, it is often anticipated they will. So even a woman who has no intention of having children is often unfairly judged by her actual and prospective employers.

The United States does not guarantee paid parental leave. Today pregnant workers still face inadequate workplace protections, as made clear by the failure of Congress to pass a Pregnant Workers Fairness Act that would simply clarify that employers must offer minor accommodations when necessary, such as increased bathroom breaks or lighter lifting duties. A year of day care costs more than a year in public college in 31 states.

These are not just women’s issues or family issues; these are massive economic problems that constrain our economy.

But, I’d argue, our cultural attitudes suck at least as much as our institutional failures to accommodate the reality of parents who work, a reality that resoundingly ends in undervaluing women in their personal lives and on the job.

I have a toddler. It has only been a few years since I was in my early thirties, single, and facing all sorts of biological clock-type questions about whether I wanted to have kids. Bluntly, this kind of pressure can destroy a dating life (if you want one) — I have watched it happen with friends and experienced variations of it myself. But even more, I wish that some of those people who wondered about me being single would have instead asked what I was reading, or working on, or thinking about current events.

If and when women do have children, the very real work they turn around and put into caring for those children is often portrayed as heroic (“the hardest job in the world”), which may be well-intentioned but is ultimately patronizing since caregiving for one’s own family is put on a pedestal but neither compensated nor respected in the marketplace. In portraying the motherly woman as idol, this false heroism also excuses men in heterosexual child-rearing relationships from stepping up to do their fair share.

And on the job? Mark Zuckerberg once said of Facebook having younger (i.e., childless) employees:

“Young people just have simpler lives. We may not have a car. We may not have family. Simplicity in life allows you to focus on what’s important.”

What’s important, apparently, is to be found in those corners of the office where working moms don’t hang out late at night.

You might think, “What the fuck, Zuck?!” and write it off, but I’ve heard versions of this riff in explicitly feminist settings. In one example, I heard a non-profit executive express resentment that women with children didn’t have to work as much as she did. In another, I heard a consultant express concern that a boss who worked standard business hours because of her kids didn’t understand her younger employees needs to come in later in the day.

The first case is frankly bullshit. There’s a cliche going around that if you want something done, you should give it to a mom — and that’s often true. I know motherhood has greatly increased my time management skills. If I need to get something done, I no longer plan to get it done later — that leaves too much margin for error when a toddler depends on me. Further, it’s unfair because many employees smoke and take smoke breaks, or go on long lunches with friends, or leave early to play recreational sports.

The second case greatly concerns me, because ultimately what concern over the supposed rigidity of a working mom’s office schedule says is that a woman with children isn’t fit to make decisions, and isn’t fit to judge how her team should work, including whether they should keep the same hours. In other words, that a mom isn’t fit to be the boss.

Yes, dads get some crap in the workplace, too, but rarely if ever will you hear it suggested that he’s not pulling his weight, or he’s not fit to be the boss, because he has kids. It’s assumed a woman will step up for him when junior throws up all over the classroom on presentation day.

My college thesis examined the failure of the feminist movement (at the time, so we’re talking 2002) to tackle the problem of child care in a visionary way and as a major rallying cry — specifically, why it costs so much, why quality is so varied, and why it is inaccessible to so many. The voices calling for universal child care, or Social Security contributions for caregivers, are too few and far between.

Ultimately the conclusion I reached is that liberal feminism is too invested in theories of bootstraps individualism, and that acknowledging caregiving as gendered, much less a societal obligation (it takes a village) rather than a personal lifestyle, could be seen as threatening to undermine the “long way” you’ve come, “baby.”

I still believe, to an extent, that’s true, but to another extent I would argue today that the failure to progress also sits largely in the friendly and willing cooptation of many feminist organizations by the Democratic Party, which throws bones to the ladies as a matter of electoral convenience and sometimes deeply felt principle, but never should be confused with a movement making radical demands for social change. Although it has been.

I believe these dynamics are at play when we consider why it is not equal to be a mother, or for that matter a woman, in the workplace.

Video: January 2015 To The Contrary Appearance

I appeared as a panelist on this week’s episode of To The Contrary, and discussed abortion clinic closures, working parents, and global women’s rights. You can watch a video of the show here:

Video: Thanksgiving Weekend November 2014 To The Contrary Appearance

I appeared as a panelist on this week’s episode of To The Contrary, and discussed fraternities and rape on campus, gender inequality in the workplace, and feminism and motherhood. You can watch a video of the show here:

 

The Unsung Heroes Of Mother’s Day: Friends

Please pardon me for publishing this about a week late. I am, after all, a new mom.

Friends don’t get enough recognition on Mother’s Day, and they really should. Before I became a mom, I associated Mother’s Day with family. Don’t forget to call mom! Get her some flowers. Say something nice to grandma. But the commercial aspects of Mother’s Day as a biological event only carry us so far.

After all, even before I became a mom, I was aware how painful this day can be for many. For those facing infertility, or loss of pregnancies, children, or parents. For those whose mothers and families have shunned them for their sexual orientation. For those left feeling unrecognized or unappreciated as step-parents, or caregivers, or birth parents. For those who have families that don’t look like the kind that get slapped on the back of a minivan with those little white stencil stickers.

I knew, before experiencing this first Mother’s Day as a mom, that it is friends who carry us through the hard parts of family. What I didn’t know is how much friends could and often would rise to support my journey as a new mom.

During these past 11 months, I have learned how incredibly isolating new motherhood can, at times, feel. There is this crying baby that won’t respond to anything and you haven’t slept or showered in several days and OMG! And then there are those first forays into parenting in front of others. Breastfeeding in public or taking a baby to a restaurant — these are often represented not as personal decisions but something that must be guided by what others think. Being honest can be intimated as a matter of (poor) etiquette: talking about your children is boring, posting pictures of your baby on social media is aggrandizing, discussing the details of birth is TMI. Some people stop giving a shit about you. Some people assume you’ve stopped giving a shit about your career. Sometimes people say judgmental things about your parenting decisions, and it feels like a rusty knife scraping the folds of your psyche.

But the overwhelming truth I have learned is this: Entering into motherhood, like other major life changes, reveals who your true friends are, and sometimes those answers are surprising. People who might have seemed more like casual acquaintances come out of the woodwork, offering support and handwritten cards in the mail. Colleagues and professional contacts who, without prompt, make proactive space to let you know your child is welcome at an after-hours gathering. It has been especially moving to me to see how some of my intentionally child-free feminist friends who really, really, and rightfully don’t like the assumption of a “mother” role for women have noiselessly made space to accommodate a new me, and my little one; and but also how loud-and-proud feminist mothers have welcomed me with open arms and helped me negotiate the complicated feelings that come with being newly beholden to a little one who needs you all the time. Blessed are those who acknowledge that it can take much more time for me to respond to and initiate calls, texts and emails, or make carefree plans to do “adult” things, and value me with patience for what I can give now.

Motherhood is something that we can’t do without support, and usually it’s family that gets the acknowledgement. It is friends, those who are mothers and non-mothers, who are the unsung heroes of Mother’s Day. I was delighted and surprised to learn on my first Mother’s Day as a mom that I would be flooded with love, support and well-wishes not just from family, but from friends. Thank you.