You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2009.

thanks to writing maternity for pointing me to this article (in the new yorker) on breastfeeding & pumping. it’s both amusing and bemusing, and none too cheery about current attitudes about how best to breastfeed in america.

appropriately (and sadly) enough, i pumped while i read it.

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from jen, at glow in the woods:

Do you associate a certain place with your lost child, be it a city, home, or otherwise? How has that relationship changed since your loss?

effie died on a cold, crisp winter’s day. it was months before we saw signs of spring: rhododendron buds starting to color, bulbs nosing their way through the dregs of snow. but within days of her death i was craving grass. all i wanted was to sit on a patch of grass somewhere, somewhere in the sunlight. 

spring came with its rains and blossoms. snow melted to reveal greening grass underneath, but it was still wet and cold. muddy. i needed grass. i needed to sit in my little patch of earth.

i found this patch far from home a few months later when i went to a professional conference. i went to the conference’s opening activities and felt on the verge of a panic attack. i couldn’t introduce myself to all these people — to any of these people — without talking about effie, and maybe only about effie. but i couldn’t bear to open myself up like that, and i didn’t really think it would be appropriate anyway, and soon i felt like i would suffocate. so i gave up on the conference, and  instead spent a week with mac, hiking and sitting in the sun on gravel, on rocky mountaintops, in snow. and on grass. i found my grass.

and anonymity. nobody knew who i was and what had just happened to me, and nobody was failing to show me sympathy or care. we walked the city streets, invisible. at home we felt our loss was invisible, but here we were invisible. anonymity was more healing than i thought was possible.  it helped me step outside of myself, it helped me remember other versions of myself, it helped me not to burst into tears every time someone tried to talk to me.

between the anonymity and the grass i finally felt at home, at home in a place where neither i nor my children were known, at home in a way i could not have found anywhere else. and that sense of home will make that city very special to me, always.

for whatever reason, my periods came quickly after bitsy, even though i was nursing exclusively. i had a long strange one at four months post-partum, then nothing for two months, then one more, and then mae.

so i’ve been watchful now that boo is four months. and at the first sight of what could easily be tell-tale signs, i assumed my period was on its way. (and indeed it may well be — the signs are still there.) but it also may not be on its way. one of the signs that i thought i saw was a decrease in milk supply, something i remember happening with bitsy: a temporary decrease at specific times in the cycle. 

and i was pretty sure i’d hit that point. by friday afternoon last i was certain my supply was dropping. boo was fussy, begging to nurse, but acting all put out once he latched on, like i wasn’t living up to his expectations. (get used to that one, kiddo.) and then i thought about how much he would normally eat during a work day, when the pumped milk he gets is supplemented with formula, and i realized that he probably was genuinely hungry. and indeed — he gulped down a healthy helping of formula before turning his beatific smile on me. “see? you only need to FEED me.”

he had a restless night and we nursed a lot. we followed that 24-hour nursing session with a cozy saturday, hanging out around the house with the family, which for boo meant lots of being held and being played with and nursing as much as he wanted. which was a lot. which i assumed he was doing because my supply was dropping and he was helping me build it back up.

then sunday.

sunday he was inconsolable. he nursed. he took bottles. he ate extra helpings of rice cereal. and i’m thinking to myself, oh crap, this is the beginning of the end. he’s not getting enough from me, despite 48 hours of non-stop nursing on demand. it’s over. and then i started watching him nurse. saw him yank his head away, and noticed that his cheek was soaked by juicy milk droplets. watched him pull back off the breast only to have milk continue squirting him in the face.  there was so much milk, and so much suction, that it just kept on coming. it was literally pouring out of me in a steady stream. if ever there was a moment to feel like a cyborgian milk machine, this was it.

now, i know there are women who have abundant milk supplies. i know there are even women who struggle with the problem of having too much milk. i am not one of those women. i struggle to keep my supply up, to keep my tiny little less-than-A-cup breasts steadily (let alone heavily) producing — producing, since there isn’t exactly tons of storage capacity. my babelets must nurse mightily to help me in my efforts. and boo, despite my concerns, is doing his job exceptionally well.

i’m still taking both fenugreek and domperidone, and while those are obviously madly successful (at least, i can think that today; tomorrow is another worry — tomorrow is always another worry), i was concerned that my body’s own hormones were perhaps overriding them. not to fear, i guess: the milk is coming, the baby is eating, and the only left for me to do is to continue to not be able to understand the workings of my own body.

two friends, in as many days, have been fired. one in higher ed, one in medical administration. two very bright women. two very bright outspoken women. at least one of them reports up a chain of command that is, for the next three rings in the chain, all women — none of whom (imho) are as bright as my friend.

also in the last two days, two women who report to me have come to me wondering about a rumor (ostensibly started by our own hr staff) that we are facing more layoffs in the coming months. i have heard nothing about this, but then, i wouldn’t.

i’m not feeling very optimistic about things this evening.

so excited to find this that i’m dashing off an incomplete answer. danger danger.

How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?

i suppose you could say i became a feminist when i was seven and went to my first women’s lib rally. or perhaps when i was eight when i decided to become a doctor in addition to becoming a mother (which had been my only professional goal up ’til then). i was undoubtedly a feminist by high school when i turned from being a cheerleader (my junior-high pursuit) to playing volleyball, tennis, and running track. i was an intentional feminist by college and enrolled in courses that studied feminist theory. i was a decided feminist by twenty-three when i threatened to sue my employer for firing me for not wearing make up. so i guess you could say i became a feminist long before i became a mother.

What has surprised you most about motherhood?

the ways it challenges my thinking about sex and gender, particularly for women. i do not have a good relationship with my mother, who is perhaps one of the most misogynist people i know. it took me a good long while to realize that it wasn’t just me she dislikes…it’s all women. and that many of the things that are strange about my upbringing, especially as related to gender, can be traced to that dislike. she taught me, explicitly, to distrust women and to prefer men as friends and companions. It really took me until I was in college to see through that, and until graduate school to come to terms with it. now, as the mother of a (living) daughter and a son, i find myself struggling to overcome some of those ingrained notions of gender identity that my mother instilled me….notions that, quite frankly, i didn’t really even know i had.

the other thing that has really surprised me about motherhood is my capacity for love. i didn’t doubt this capacity before I had children, but having kids…? wow. i had no idea that love like this was possible. and it’s amazing, and, well, i love it.

How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?

one of the biggest changes is its intentionality. i spent a lot of time, as a child, with my grandmother, who belonged to a lot of what my grandfather called “women’s groups.” she taught me to assume that i would go to college, that i would have a professional career, that i was just as smart as the next person. now that i say that out loud, i think that’s not unlike what a lot of young women in the last 20 years have grown up with–i’ve certainly seen that with undergrads who, for example, benefit from title ix while claiming not to be feminists. it’s a bit of what i experienced — i made assumptions about what was and wasn’t acceptable but didn’t identify as a feminist per se. (at the same time, i didn’t deny it. it just didn’t occur to me one or the other. as a young woman, being feminist was normative for me.)

one of the ways being a feminist affects my mothering is this: i am very aware of, and try to be very careful with, my language and my assumptions around my kids. (i could argue this extends beyond my feminism, which i think is also true, but i believe its roots are my feminist roots.) i try not to tell bitsy, for example, that she looks “beautiful”: instead i opt for words like “fabulous” or “terrific” — words that i would apply to boo as well. i’m not afraid (nor is mac) to joke about sex/gender systems (and more), as when bitsy the other day pointed at me and said “mommy!” and then pointed at mac and said “my other mommy!” and laughed herself into hysterics on the floor. mac laughed right along with her and said “bitsy has two mommies!” (okay, that’s an example about mac, but i’m co-opting it. at least i was in the room when it happened.)

What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?

perhaps the most important thing here to me is the issue of choice. and i don’t mean just abortion rights, although obviously i mean that. being a feminist mother means, to me, that i have a responsibility to help my children see choices: the choices they make, the choices that exist in the world, the history of different kinds of choices and the personal and political implications of those choices. perhaps — i hadn’t had this thought before, and i would want to think it through more carefully before going fully on the record with it — being a feminist is about understanding women’s rights and the choices, and kinds of choices, involved and at stake, and then extrapolating outward from there. i would hate for my children to grow up as feminists, for example, without having appropriate awareness of issues of class, economic status, ethnicity, nationalism, etc. obviously identifying as a feminist means — or might mean — putting women’s issues, or more generally, gender issues, first. but not, i hope, to the exclusion of other issues. women can’t afford to trade on oppressions, fighting against their own while ignoring those faced by others. none of us can.

Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?

being a partner involves sacrifice. being a good human in the world involves sacrifice. i think it’s an old-fashioned notion — very 2nd wave, perhaps — to think that feminism and sacrifice are irreconcilable.  but to the details of the question: one way for me to reconcile my choices is to think of them in terms of personal happiness. it makes me incredibly happy to be with my kids, and at this point, i would rather spend my evenings with them than out with girlfriends. so in a way it’s selfish of me to stay home. and since it’s also stupid of me to stay home all the time–thereby risking my networks not to mention my sanity–i try to maintain the friendships i have as best i can. the truth is, at least in my experience mothering, somebody somewhere is not getting all they want from me. one of my jobs is to try to balance those needs so that, oh, say, the suffering is spread out equally. or maybe at least communally: to each according to the amount of suffering she (or he) can manage. right now, boo’s needs really rule my world, and i’m ok with that. in fact, i really like it–snuggling up with him is not only important for him, it’s important for me. so letting boo’s needs rule my world is, in its own way, a bit selfish.

If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?

i used to tell mac that one of the things i liked about him is that he’s part girl. he has some traditionally-girly behaviors, like an ability to talk about his emotions, and a need to reach out to others. i dont’ know that he would identify himself as feminist (i certainly couldn’t see him wearing a “this is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt), but he shares many values with feminism: belief in gender equality, an understanding of the historical oppressions of patriarchy, sympathy with women’s experiences, etc. it’s something we share, but also something we don’t talk about a lot, at least not any longer. (we probably talked a lot about it during graduate school, or during early days of our courtship, but all that is many states — geographic and psychological — away.)  now there’s rarely a need for explicit discussion.

but it’s true, i guess, that having kids has brought this back into our daily conversation, at least a bit. as an example: mac is a sports fan in general, and in particular belongs to a local cycling team. his fandom means that he likes to watch sports not only on the weekends but also during “high” seasons like the world cup or the tour de france. his team membership means that he’s often out,  himself, training or racing. he and i talk a great deal about making sure that bitsy is included in those worlds (the other day she asked to watch football on t.v.; during the summer months she regularly asks to watch cycling; she loves loves loves going to bike races to watch her dad). we also remind each other that boo’s sex is no guarantee that he will want to be part of either world. in fact, in one version of our fantasy future, bitsy and mac are on a cycling-racing team together, and boo and i are on the sidelines giving them hand-ups.       

If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?

i’m not sure this isn’t also a bit of a false dichotomy. i was reading, recently, the blog of a new mother who asked about cosleeping and side-lying for nursing. most commenters (and there were over 100) noted that cosleeping is a dirty secret: almost all mothers do it, and most mothers are afraid to confess to it. i feel the same way about attachment parenting at large. sure, there are explicit practices that constitute attachment parenting, but some of the general guides (i know these are only some) — hold your baby and keep him with you during your day; nurse your baby according to his needs; sleep with your baby — are things that many, many parents do without ever considering themselves to be  “attachment parenting.”  parents may even engage in these behaviors, or follow these principles, while intentionally not labelling themselves as attachment-style parents. and i may be jumping into the philosophical abyss here, but isn’t the idea of raising “secure” children who have healthy attachments to their parents something most parents want?

anyway. as for me (and mac), we practice some aspects of attachment parenting. we both — but mac especially — get nods of approval when we’re out in public with boo in a sling or carrier. i  personally feel that holding boo as much as possible is one of the ways i can mother him best. it helps me to feel confident about my parenting and it helps him to be a happy kid. i don’t see much there that needs to be resolved.

Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?

i’m wary of the generalization that there is “a” feminism to have failed anybody; perhaps the notion that feminism is monolithic is one way “it” has failed mothers. but:  i think 2nd wave feminism brought a lot of necessary political, psychological, and material advantages to mothers that are good; it also had its own kind of backlash, which we saw in the ’80s with the talk about women believing they could be “supermommies” and hold down demanding professional jobs outside the home, come home and be fantastic, organized, together mamas, and then still have time and energy (not to mention the desire) to be loving sexual partners. when the 3rd wave came along it brought an aspect of hipness, youth, and energy to what was beginning to feel, to many young women, a set of stale politics. it became more possible to be pretty, to wear heels and lipstick, to be girly and smart, especially simultaneously.

i am grateful for this, but i confess that i struggle with it. my years in graduate school came at a time when, if you wanted to be considered a serious feminist it was safest and smartest not to be too overtly feminine. i still have friends who live that belief. for me, now that i am nearing a Very Certain Birthday, i find that i feel good — sometimes, i confess, even better — about myself when i’m a bit done up. sure, i can recognize this “getting up” for the performance of the non-essential me that it is, but it’s a performance i’m glad to be able to opt into and out of, to make work for myself, simply to have available. and yet i know i have friends who are disturbed by this, who believe that wearing make up is a cultural compulsion no matter how savvy the woman applying it. currently my struggle with this is mostly about raising a daughter. how to teach her to understand, and distinguish between, compulsion and choice? there is no clear or easy answer, and i suppose i should be grateful that that  is my struggle and not something as fundamental as, say, the right to vote. knock on wood.
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You see life as complicated and intriguing. The only thing you know for sure is that you haven't figured it all out yet. You question everything and believe very little. And whatever you believe is likely to change. You are interested in theories, philosophies, and religions...even if you don't buy into any of them. You are also fascinated by how things work. You'd like to understand as much in the world as possible.

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