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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.

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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.

bitsy’s got her own perspective on things.

five-five-two.
bitsy can count to twelve (especially if you’re loose about needing ten or eleven), and so she counts regularly and often, most usually things that are arbitrary and invisible (which i take as further proof that she is an astute observer of current events, since counting arbitrary and invisible items is all the rage in the economic sector.) but every now and then she’ll look slyly sideways at me and say “five-five-two.” i respond with nine-nine-one. or three-three-four. these appear not to be correct. i am now brushing up on the business section of the nyt.

don’t say “x” to me.
i’m nursing boo and bitsy climbs into my babyful lap to kiss the baby or poke his eye, and then to holler in his ear “i love you baby!”

“ssssh,” i say. “baby is trying to sleep.”

“don’t say ‘ssssh’ to me mom,” she says, turning on a dime from sweetness and light to toddler rancor.

pick a scenario, fill in your word. i am not to say ‘x’ to her, and she means it.

i am not disobedient mommy.
most often said with a sweet, beseeching look after she has broken thomas-the-train tracks over boo’s head. technically i suppose she’s right, since i haven’t told her specifically not to use her brother for kung-fu practice. my bad.

from jen, at glow in the woods: We’ve all become much too aware of the fragility of life, regardless of what took our children from this world. I would like to hear how other babylost mamas who went on to have more children came to the decision to try again. How long did it take for hope to outweigh your fear?

i spent several days drafting an unsatisfying response to these questions, and then a few nights ago, between answering bitsy’s plaintive requests for lunch (at 3 am) and nursing boo (at 1 and 4 and 5:30), i realized this: my hope has never outweighed my fear. that perhaps hope has had virtually nothing to do with getting bitsy and boo here.

this isn’t entirely true, since once i was pregnant with them i was pretty damn hopeful that i would stay that way long enough to deliver them, breathing and healthy, into this world. but i don’t think i had hope when i wanted to conceive after losing effie and mae. i don’t think i had to get over my grief to start hoping. (i had to get over it to start ovulating, but that’s another post for another day). more, though — i don’t think i needed hope because i had, instead, something more like belief.

it wasn’t exactly belief that i would deliver a living child. certainly i would have been a fool to believe this after effie (since i did not yet have evidence to the contrary) and even still after mae (when i wondered if i had something worse than my medically-diagnosed “bad luck”). i think i believed something much less concrete — something like more children were coming. i don’t know why i believed this — i’m not generally the believing type — but somehow, for some reason, i believed. i believed that we would be able to conceive a viable child-to-be, and that that baby could live.

it wasn’t rational, this belief. it wasn’t spiritual, or even what you might call heart-felt. it was more like knowing something, oh, i don’t know…like the sun would rise, or winter would be cold. that very basic, maybe even primal knowledge: it was going to happen. whether i willed it, hoped for it, or fought it: it was going to happen.

many years ago mac and i bought our first car. new to us, she was an eleven-year-old brown beauty, sitting quietly on the dealer’s lot, outshone by her newer, snazzier car-lot companions. from the dealer’s office i looked out into the lot over to the section of used cars we could afford, saw this car, and told mac under my breath “that’s our car.” he gave me this look, a kind of “seriously,woman, what are you thinking?” look, but he agreed to take the car for a test drive. within a few minutes he knew it, too. this was our car. we took her home, and for years joked about my special powers. when i thought something was going to happen mac would smile at me and ask “like the car?” i could usually say yes or no. and if i said “yes,” i was almost always right.

the whole baby thing was a little like that. certainly not that i had special powers — god knows i would have used them to keep effie and mae with us — but that i just knew. more kids were coming. and now, here they are, my little bitsy & boo, and now that they are here? i am full of hope for their futures.

i complain a lot lately that i never get to be alone with my thoughts. so you’d think when i do get that chance i’d make the most of it, yes? no. in true scribblette fashion, i make the worst of it.

i first noticed this habit during my bout with grief therapy after effie died. i was supposed to be working on being mindful–and i suppose i was, for what i discovered is that when quiet, my mind goes to bleak places. its favorite pastime is to script imaginary conversations with women from whom, or toward whom, i feel something negative: resentment, judgment, jealousy, you name it. so i would find myself washing dishes, staring out the kitchen window, thinking about the wife of a friend and how hatefully condescending she is. or in the shower, hot water beating blissfully on my neck and back, conjuring a judgmental mother-in-law’s opinions on my housekeeping skills (never my strength) or my cooking (no longer such a joy) or my general demeanor (getting blacker by the minute).  it was nice to realize that i had a habit of imagining people and their personalities and that i could quit mistaking my imagination for fact; good, too, to realize that this habit might not be such a good one.

but then a lotta life happened and i found myself far too busy to be alone with my thoughts, since every waking moment was taken up with a new baby, or a big move, or a new job, or a new house, or a new pregnancy, or another new baby, or yet another new baby….and there was so much busy-ness in my brain that i couldn’t really take deep breaths (literal or figurative ones) and, as a result, things seemed kinda quiet. but only because i didn’t have psychological space for imaginary insults. (wow. i could get nostalgic over that one.)

unfortunately, lately i find myself back in that place. i am desperate for even 10 minutes to shower by myself, but then when i get those 10 minutes i spend them beating myself up. i expect the worst from everybody, i assume that innocuous or even genuinely curious questions are somehow veiled passive-aggression….and i don’t know why. i don’t know what i’m processing, but it’s obviously a doozy.

i’m not usually one to get emotional around the holidays. but now that i’m thinking about this, sure, my bleakness could be the result of the yo-yo that has been this holiday time in my recent past: in december 2004 i was pregnant. for most of december 2005 i was a grieving mother, and then on december 24th i found out i was pregnant with bitsy, making me a grieving, anxious, and hormonal mother. in december 2006 bitsy was here, and still new, and the world was a glorious place. in december 2007 we were in a new house in a new city in a new state and were mourning mae’s recent death. and now, in december 2008, boo is here.

huh. come to think of it, maybe that *is* enough to send a girl spinning.

spinning or not, i need to reclaim my mental space and adjust this bad habit, before i make everybody in what’s left of my world a miserable wreck — either in my imagination or worse, for real.

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Your Word is "Why"
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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