Thursday, July 19, 2012

A secret about motherhood...

Okay, I'll say it. Since it seems that no-one else wants to admit it and it seems career suicide to even hint at it. The secret, it appears, would upset the feminist, we can have it all agenda. So here it is.

Motherhood is tiring. And new motherhood is exhausting.

My youngest is 7 and I've still not fully recovered from the physical and emotional trauma of pregnancy, birth, and a new baby and motherhood. And she's my 4th child. I'm not really sure how or if I was a fully functioning person after the birth of my first.

There's the obvious part: the 9-month ordeal of pregnancy, the related physiological changes, the hormonal roller coaster, and the birth of a whole new person. Sure there's the sleepless nights, which, really, if that's all there was, anyone could deal with that. But there's also the mental part. Trying to focus on anything that doesn't involve warming a bottle or wrapping a little baby booty in a diaper, putting together a coherent sentence, even keeping up with what day it is. I don't even think I was fit to leave my house with my first child for a good month. This new person also demands more of your brain cells, developing in you a sense of vulnerability, about everything. There's no world situation, weather forecast, or news-worthy danger that you don't wonder, "how will that affect my baby?" And that doesn't go away. As infants, I checked on my children whenever they were sleeping, day or night, just to make sure they were breathing or that a blanket wasn't covering their head or that they hadn't just dissolved into thin air.  Right, moms? You check for choking hazards in the formula and do background checks on the high school student coming over to babysit. Your brain can no longer singularly focus, whatever you are doing, wherever you are, there's a few cells wondering "is my child safe?"

It's all part of being a mother, taking on the role of "Mommy".

You will be forever changed, hopefully for the good. Because mommy-hood is a wonderful thing, it's a good place to be. And new mommy-hood is a spectacular place, even if it's because you only get to be there for a short, finger-snap, eye-blinking, gone before you can get all the banana stains out of your clothes, moment of time. Some cultures celebrate this time of human development, revere it, allowing mom to rest and baby to bond. Giving them time to get to know each other's smells ad sounds and signals. Acknowledging that it takes a moment to recover from birthing a person, that there is some physical restoration required.

But somehow, we seem to be evolving to the point where "she who jumps out the bed first, wins", as if, the shorter maternity leave, the better woman you are.

The new Yahoo! CEO is starting her job at 6 months pregnant and plans to only take a few weeks off for maternity leave, during which time, she will continue to work. And somehow this is a wonderful step forward for women everywhere? "Drop your baby and rush on back to work?"

(Now, let me clarify - this is not a judgement on this woman. When/if/how she takes maternity leave and balances her career and her family is between her, her Mr., and Yahoo!)

What I find interesting, however, is the general public reaction that her shortened - but working "leave" is a good example for women who want to have it "all". People seem excited that the CEO will barely pause to birth her baby, getting quickly back to making sure our Groups messages and emails make their way across cyberspace without a glitch. I don't quite understand why this is a step forward for women - working, college students, stay-at-home - whatever.  It seemed just a few years ago we were cheering mandatory maternity leave and family leave. Now, the pendulum is swinging in the other direction - less days is better. Where are we headed - when will companies build delivery rooms down by the mailroom? Moms can drop their babies and be back at their desk in time for her next meeting, dragging her IV behind her.

Why do we, as a society, put this kind of pressure on women? And why do we, as women, put that kind of pressure on ourselves? When will it be safe to say, "I want my career, but first, can I just take some time to get to know this new little person?"

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Robyn said...

The US has to be the only country that frowns upon taking a break, vacation, leave, etc. I don't call what she is doing "A way to make it to the top." It's stupid. Take time to nurture your newborn. I'm tired from raising teenagers. I need a maturnity break.

Frances said...

I think you are right as far as the American version of vacation, as far as length and actually not working. My husband works with several European offices and we are amazed that when the employees say they are on vacation - they really don't bother to answer their phone, email, nothing. What a concept - they actually take the time off.