Sunday, November 16, 2008

The sacrifices & compromises

In my last full-time position, I was given the opportunity to actually do the work I always wanted. I had not one, but two large-scale true urban renewal projects. Fort Myers isn't exactly a metropolis; but I was the project manager for two of the most dense, urban scale mixed-use projects in the City's history. It didn't really hit me until the day before I realized I was pregnant with MiniMe. My company had sent me to the State Planning Conference & I was very actively pursued by several other employers. I felt like the new, pretty girl at school. Except this had nothing to do with my appearance & everything to do with my brain. It was a profound moment in my life. Trying to talk about it makes me stutter. 

I was completely unprepared for becoming a mother in so many ways. Yes, my own mother worked through most of my childhood, but of course that first year, when she stayed at home with me, I don't remember that. I didn't realize that finding a caregiver was so hard. I didn't know that I would feel so torn; that I would come to resent my career for taking me away from MiniMe. When my boss tried to dangle a carrot in front of me that she might want me to take her place when she retired, I was already feeling the weight of what I wanted. I was honest. I told her that I wanted to have a child, & I knew that she worked longer hours than I would be willing to with a new baby. She assured me I could do it. It was a vague statement, & I remember feeling like I was expected to just smile & nod & move along. When I complained later of the trouble I had getting MiniMe to sleep the woman actually suggested I drug her. It's what she did with her children, after all.

I remember being three years old & refusing to speak English to my mother. She was away from me most of the time. I resented the changing of rules between when she was around & when she wasn't. "No es Mama!" I would shout. I believe it's something that made me a better mother to MiniMe, who so greatly needs to know what to expect. 

I never expected to be on this side of the Stay-At-Home/Working Mother battle. I always felt that I didn't deserve to have a choice. I spent so much time & money on my education. I am talented in my field. I felt the choice was made, if not for me, because of me. But when I think back to that the panic I felt when our nanny pulled the rug out from underneath me & I suddenly had no childcare, I shudder. The relief I felt when I found the wonderful, but outrageously expensive Montessori school that she attended for the majority of her first 3 years, was monumental to me. 

When I remember that first day back to work I get angry, but mostly at myself. I was lucky in that Biggie was the one who took her in, that I got to pry her from my breast in the privacy of our own home, was given the time & space to try to get ready for work in solitude & silence (except for my blubbering).  When I rushed in on my lunch hour to nurse her, she had already been fed & was asleep. I was full of milk. I had left my pump in my office. I just sat in a chair & held her & wept. Ms. Kim, who would become one of the people I am most grateful for, brought me Kleenex. I hadn't wanted them to let her go hungry. I was glad she was taking the bottle. I just didn't know it was going to be so hard. We had an appointment with the pediatrician that afternoon & he had told me that if she wasn't yet eight pounds he was not going to sign for her to be in daycare. I nursed her in the waiting room until they called her name. She was eight pounds, one ounce. As we drove home, I had expected to feel relieved. I could go back to my work & feel I was doing a good job as a mom, too. That's not how I felt. 

It is so hard for me to put into words how I feel about this scenario. Saying I am mad at the way that families are treated in this country is an understatement. No, I don't think parents should be given special treatment in society. I certainly think children should be. I'm not saying they should be allowed to run around like hooligans. I'm saying I think that we were made the way we are for a reason. The whole thing I went through of going back to work when MiniMe was just 9 weeks old?? Yeah. Never shoulda happened. It was torture for a reason. Both my body & her body were designed to put us through bloody hell if we were separated the way we were because it wasn't in our best interests. Now, I know there are some mamas out there that NEEDED to go away from their kids for a few hours (preferably to somewhere with someone playing a harp & a king-sized tempurpedic bed) when their kids were nine weeks old. It's alright. I get that. However, the majority of women, & babies if they could, would tell you they'd probably be better off, & choose to be, together. 

We have to screw with everything. We have to take every single natural process & try to make a buck off of making it better. I am completely not surprised with the whole formula thing. I wonder if anyone has ever taken it as far mentally as I have. Wouldn't be shocked. Follow me, here... 

It's no secret that men love boobs. But truthfully, boobs are meant to serve the purpose of nursing, producing food for the babies. Now, I know that there are a lot of women out there that can't nurse successfully & I'm not trying to make any judgements on them or the families who simply choose to use formula because they don't want to nurse. But the pushing of the formula!! The gallons upon gallons of free formula given to new or soon-to-be new mothers! We've got a perfectly good system of feeding babies, but we can take this thing that was invented to feed orphans or kids with sick mothers, tell everybody it's better than breastmilk, make tons of money off of it, our wives can go back to work & we get our wives boobs back to ourselves, again! (I literally had a dream involving Mad Men about this)

Then, there's the cereal... It will help them sleep better, it will help them gain weight. It has been found to increase the likelihood of diabetes! Yeah! Not only that, it tastes like wallpaper paste!

Sometimes I feel like in the effort to free women from the trappings of motherhood, we kind-of made it an expectation. I feel like people use these 'advancements' to pressure mothers into spending more time away from their babies than they really want to. I feel like shaking a fist in the air & it's not because I want to stay home with my little offspring, gloating in the wonderfullness of bon bons. It's because it's what I feel I am supposed to do. I don't resent her. I resent that I'm going to have take a hit in my career for doing what I thing is the right thing. Anyone who knows me knows I take this work, of being a parent, seriously.

One of my peers, who seriously is a mentor, but so funny & humble she comes across as more of a peer, has a daughter in her second year of college right now. The friend is beautiful, witty, an excellent cook & hostess. She has an illustrious career. The daughter is darling, insightful & charming. When the daughter was graduating from high school I was leaving that last full time position. My friend told me in an almost self-deprecating way that I was doing the right thing. My friend was sad & was questioning her past decisions to not stay home for a while with her daughter. I don't want to be watching MiniMe graduate from high school & feel like I missed something. I'm grateful for this time & glad we, as a family, found our way to it.


tiggy said...

You know, it might have been hard for you to express your feelings but you werre really so eloquent about something that I'm sure many mums feel. The pressure to be everything to everyone is so great in this day and age.
i am grateful for the time I am having with Ivy and Noah. ivy's illness forced me into being a stay at home mum and although, i love midwifery. I love being home with them more. I love being here when the big kids come back from school. I hated the pressure of doing both.

Maria said...

I know this is an oldish post you wrote but I just found it – and I wanted to chime in. I feel so similarly. Before becoming a mother (and a single mother at that) I had no idea – about so many things. I didn't understand how important mothers and babies are to each other. I didn't understand how impossible we as a society make it for mothers to actually take care of their own children.

I have come to believe that motherhood should be subsidized – I don't know how, but it's ridiculous that it isn't. It makes me SO MAD to think about going to work to pay the babysitter so I can work so I can pay the babysitter…

I have been lucky enough so far to be able to stay home with my daughter (by the skin of my teeth) and to be able to take her to work when I've had to go. That is going to come to an end though. With the economy doing what it's doing, I'm going to have to get some kind of 'real' job - but it'll have to be one with flexibility for a sick kid and other emergencies, which means it won't pay as well… and I just absolutely hate having to give over the care of my daughter to someone else, just for money.

I guess it's the perception that mothering isn't work, isn't valuable, isn't worth anything. It's so demeaning and illogical.

Thanks for the opportunity to vent my spleen on this!