So as I wrote in my last post, LM has started full-time preschool. And I’m not doing well. I feel lost, like I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with myself all day. I can’t seem to bring myself to write. In fact, this is the first time I’ve written. It’s some kind of block, I suppose. I wander around the house, looking for stuff to do—although there is actually plenty to do.
I know I shouldn’t complain — I have the luxury of not working. But even if I wanted to enjoy it, I don’t feel like I can reasonably sit around watching Food Network all day while my husband is at the office. My plan was to ramp up my freelance writing, and although I have scored a couple new gigs, they have not provided me with as much steady work as I’d hoped. Ironically, the week before LM started preschool, I got six, yes six, assignments, which prevented me from truly enjoying our last few days together. Now, nothing.
So I’ve got more to do to gain new writing opportunities. But instead of doing it, I just, well, don’t. I’m going through some kind of weird period of adjustment—or rather, trying to adjust and not doing a very good job of it. I’ve been trying to figure out why.
For a long time, my job was my identity. Then I got laid off, and “mom” became my identity. Now, I’m in some kind of in-between place in which I can’t figure out exactly who I am or what I’m doing. I have all these plans in my head, but I can’t seem to translate them into action.
I don’t want to go back to full-time work outside the home. I still want to be here at 3 pm when LM gets home from school. But in those six hours he’s gone, I want to have the motivation to write, go grocery shopping, do projects around the house, maybe even (gasp) cook (even though I’m terrible at it, now’s my chance to get better, right?). I feel pressure to do everything, and guilt that I have not been able to get my ass in gear.
I’m projecting all this onto Foggy Daddy, who I assume is mad that I’m not doing as much as I should. (There’s that word again, “should.”) He seems to understand, though, that I’m going through something and has given me time to figure it out.
Change is tough for me, I’ve discovered. I’ve never been so sad to see summer end, to see the leaves start falling. I love autumn, so it bothers me that I’m greeting it with such disdain. It doesn’t help that it’s still 85 degrees out. It’s still warm enough to swim FFS. The weather is in this in-between state, just like I am. It’s like it can’t commit, and neither can I.
To make things worse, I’ve had very little communication with LM’s preschool teacher. I don’t know if he naps, if he poops, what’s he’s been doing all day. He comes home with cute art projects and always has a smile on his face, so I think he’s enjoying it. But he doesn’t have the words to tell me what he’s actually been up to. With early intervention, in which I knew all his therapists and either participated and/or received a session note, I always knew what was going on. This is quite different.
Maybe I need to cut myself a break and allow myself the time to get used to this. After so long of wanting more time to myself, I finally have it, and now I just want my baby back. I see other three-year-olds going to preschool for three mornings a week, and I’m jealous their moms have the rest of the week to do other things with them. I’m just not ready to send him off for so long. I feel like a kindergarten mom, two years early. I’m counting the days to the Jewish holidays LM will have off in October.
I think if I was pregnant or had a new baby this situation would not be as fraught with emotion. I would still have the role of “mom” to focus on. I could justify lying around if I was pregnant or up every two hours with a newborn. I would have another child to take to mommy-and-me classes.
I know I’m just feeling sorry for myself. I still haven’t been able to pass my fertility testing — my damn lining just won’t grow. After the surgery I had in May, I had to have another procedure to get rid of what turned out to be scar tissue. After waiting six weeks to have that done, I went back into my prep cycle and my body just didn’t respond. So now I have to try it again. I honestly don’t know if it’s going to happen for us. All of these things are coming together to make life difficult at this point, when it really shouldn’t be.
Sorry for the downer post. But I can’t be the only one having a hard time transitioning to full-time school, can I? Please tell me I’m not alone!
In case you haven’t heard, apparently super wealthy moms on the Upper East Side of New York are not only staying home, they are receiving a “wife bonus” from their rich husbands. The monetary bonus is supposedly based on how they did at getting their kid into a good preschool and otherwise doing their wifely duties, according to a recent New York Times op-ed by Wednesday Martin. While the concept is abhorrent (although I’m in the camp that believes this may not actually be true), something else pissed me off about the piece. Martin’s argument against stay-at-home moms is not new and it’s not shocking, but it is extremely cringe-inducing. She purports to be talking about these crazy rich ladies, who she compares to “mistresses,” but what she’s saying could apply to all SAHMs. And that makes me mad.
Wife bonus or not, SAHMs are economically dependent on their husbands. Many of us achieved degrees of higher education that we’re currently not using. We may be giving those skills away “for free” by volunteering (or mommy blogging?). We may spend a lot of time in the company of other moms, segregated from our husbands. We may go to the gym. We might be intensely involved in our children’s lives. These are the charges that Martin levels against the rich Upper East Siders – but wife bonus aside, doesn’t that sound like SAHMs of the middle classes, too? Is this article, with its “wife bonus” as click bait, taking a generalized jab at all moms who don’t work?
It sure sounds like it to me.
But as someone on one of my FB groups said about it: “Yawn.” OK, so this is just one more log on the fire of the mommy wars. We’ve heard this before. Women should work so in the event that they divorce they have means to support themselves. So that they are not marginalized. So that they can have power and influence. So that they are not kept women, mistresses, prostitutes.
Here’s the thing: Women do not make life choices so that they can advance the feminist cause. That’s not to say they are not feminists: Many SAHMs, myself included, identify themselves as such. But when you become a mom, your needs are second to the needs of your children. One could argue that by working you are ensuring means of survival for your young ones, or that you are providing a good role model for your daughters, or that when you work your life is more fulfilling, so you’re happier, which makes you a better mom. Maybe these things are true for some moms. But maybe for others, they are not happier being away from their kids. Maybe they can be just as good a role model by staying home. Maybe what to do in the event of divorce is not a consideration in a marriage based on love and trust (sure, husbands could die, but that’s less likely; and there is probably life insurance in place for that scenario). Maybe even though they don’t make the money, they have equal access and claim to it.
In the case of the UES moms, well, rich people are easy targets to hate. Why are we to assume these women are unhappily living in gilded cages? If we won the lottery, I’d venture to say most of us would not work, or would do only the work that fulfills us, even if that means doing it for free (because we wouldn’t need the money anyway). So what if these women have nannies and spend their day at the gym, volunteering and lunching with friends? Maybe they’re happy that way. Who wouldn’t be? In a retort in Elle magazine (by Blair Schmaldorf, ha) the author argues that all the UES women she knows work in high-powered roles. But this is not a good rebuttal – she’s defending UES women, but not the concept of not working. In fact, she seems to be agreeing with the first article’s premise that not working is something to be judged for.
I will still argue that for most of us, staying at home is not an “extravagance,” as the NYT author says about the UES women. We make sacrifices in order to do so; or with the high costs of daycare it might not even make financial sense to work. It may be a choice, but it’s not akin to entering a menstrual hut, and I find that comparison, put forth in the piece, to be extremely insulting. We’re doing what we think is right for our family.
Look, if you want to work, work. If you don’t want to work, don’t. Twenty-first century feminism is supposed to be about choice, isn’t it? And I would venture to say that if workplaces were more family-friendly, more flexible, and had longer maternity leave policies, women wouldn’t be leaving the workforce so readily. I, for one, can’t imagine dealing with all the crap that goes along with a high-stress job in addition to raising a family while actually being able to enjoy my life. Technically, I do work, but my part-time freelance pay is a fraction of what I used to make as an editor-in-chief. I’m doing it because I like having a creative outlet, and if I do go back to work I won’t have been out of the game completely. My real goal is to find a way of working that suits my lifestyle and my family’s needs, a la Diane Keaton in Baby Boom (best line: “I’m sorry, but the rat race is just going to have to survive with one less rat.”).
I know moms who work part-time. I know moms who don’t work at all. I know moms who have gone back to work only to quit because they couldn’t take the long commute or the inflexible office policies or because they were just not happy. I know moms who have followed their husbands’ jobs across the country or even to new countries. People make decisions based on what is best for their family as a whole. Maybe that’s too puppies and rainbows; maybe I’m supposed to, as a feminist, have a stronger opinion about the way women are “supposed to” act. But I just don’t. Because I don’t believe doing what you’re “supposed to” do, one way or another, is what feminism is about. So study away, anthropologists-who-think-they’re-being-smart-but-are-really-just-hating-on-their-neighbors.
What do you think about the “wife bonus” article? Did you feel that it was condemning all SAHMs?
I feel a little down today and I’m not sure why. I *should* be super happy – it’s Christmastime, I have a wonderful son, I have a great husband and family – but somehow something is missing. I’m not sure what it is.
I talked to my husband about this last night as we lay in bed. He thinks it’s that I’m constantly searching for something more, that I can never be happy with what I have. I think he’s partially right. I do want more – but I’m not sure what more is. I don’t want to go back to work. I don’t want to be in an office all day, answering to some a-hole boss, feeling guilty about being away from my son and then feeling guilty for going home to be with my son. I don’t want my son in daycare. I don’t want to have someone else raise him.
But at the same time, this stay-at-home mom thing is tough. I nearly had a breakdown this morning because I couldn’t get our new printer to print our freaking Christmas card address labels. My son was playing in the guest room, where we have the desk and printer, but I knew it was only a matter of time before he would start whining. It was just taking too long to figure out the damn printer – and sure enough, I couldn’t get it done before he was begging for my attention.
I don’t recognize myself anymore, and I think a big part of my identity crisis has to do with not working. Yes, I do blog – but that doesn’t make any money. I do freelance – but I don’t think I will even crack 10K in freelance pay this year. And it’s not even about the money – it’s about feeling that I am doing something worthwhile, that I am contributing to my family and to my community and to society at large. My husband tells me that I am because I am raising my son. So why do I so easily brush that aside?
I envy some other SAHMs who are completely content to do what they are doing and have no desire to do anything else. I feel jealous when I see a former coworker interviewing stars on the red carpet, or flying somewhere to do a set visit, or hosting some big event. I get jealous of unmarried, child-free Carrie Bradshaw types I know who are living a fabulous life in the city with their urban families and their glamorous parties and their high-powered careers. I see myself there in an alternate universe.
And yet I don’t want to trade places with these other people I’m jealous of. I know if I was living that life, I would be missing what I have now, and I know it’s not possible to “have it all.” I also know I don’t want to be trying to juggle working full time and raising kids and keeping my marriage afloat and doing family activities on the weekend while still having time to read the newspaper and bake cookies and whip up gourmet dinners.
The modern myth persists that this is possible. I can tell you, it’s not. Unless maybe you’re one of those people who can live on four hours of sleep or have lots of hired help. For some reason, in mom culture there is always the notion that we aren’t good enough, that we should be doing all these things perfectly. I feel like I’m constantly trying to keep up with some impossible standard that just doesn’t exist in real life.
So this sense of floating along, of being adrift in my life, is me trying to find my new way in the world. Because I have no idea where I’m headed. I would like to make a new career of writing and working from home – but by “career” I mean something that pays. I would like to figure out how to do that while having a childcare situation that I’m happy with. I don’t want to feel like I’m constantly having to choose between my identity as a career person and my identity as a mom.
Last night the movie Baby Boom with Diane Keaton was on. I love this movie – even though it was made in the eighties I’m amazed at how well it holds up, and how relevant the struggles that she faces still are today. If you haven’t seen it (spoilers ahead), it’s about a career woman, the “tiger lady,” they call her – who unexpectedly inherits a baby from distant cousins who died. After trying to balance her stressful job with parenting, she gets pushed out of her position in NYC and moves to Vermont, where she goes a little nuts but eventually finds a new path making homemade baby food. Her business expands, and her old bosses want to acquire it from her, which would necessitate a move back to the city to work as COO. The deal is a great one, but she turns it down. Remembering how her boss had told her she’d have to make sacrifices to get ahead, she tells him, “I don’t want to make those sacrifices – and the bottom line is, nobody should have to.” She finds her own way in the world and is able to be a success on her own terms, while still being the mom she wants to be.
That’s what I want. I hope I can find it.
Did becoming a mom change your identity? Has your perception of yourself shifted? How do you balance work and parental responsibilities?
Because of MIT’s recent contest to Make the Breast Pump Not Suck, there’s been a lot of talk lately about how the breast pump does, in fact, suck. I think it’s great that we are finally discussing ways to make it better. But I also think that no matter what, pumps are going to suck. Because no one wants to be hooked up to a mechanical device, especially when it replaces cuddle time with your baby.
The first time I used a breast pump was only a couple of days after I had my son. He was tiny and couldn’t latch on, and his blood sugar was dropping. The poor kid was shaking like a leaf, and he needed nutrition badly. So they hauled in the hospital-grade pump in the hopes that he would take breast milk from a bottle. I wasn’t prepared (why would I be? I didn’t anticipate having problems breastfeeding, because no one tells you you might), so without a pumping bra I literally had to sit there holding these two cone-shaped flanges over my boobs for 20 or so minutes every two hours. And I admit that I hated seeing my husband feeding our baby with a bottle. I was supposed to be the one feeding him, and I was not expecting that I wouldn’t be able to.
The nurses were amazed when I pumped 10 ml of colostrum. I had to keep pumping every two to three hours to get my supply up. One embarrassing moment happened while I was pumping and there was a knock at my hospital door. Without thinking, my husband said, “Come in,” and an old man (the hospital chaplain, perhaps?) opened the door, took one look at me and quickly closed it again. He never returned.
Eventually LM (my nickname for my son, short for Little Man) had to be moved to the NICU. There was a pumping room there, or I could pump in LM’s room when his roommate’s mom was not using the device (hospital pumps are “closed systems,” meaning multiple people can use the same pump without contamination). I feared I was still waiting for my milk to come in, because I thought I should be producing more. The lactation consultants looked at me with concern. But they didn’t realize that perhaps my body just didn’t respond as well to a machine as it would have to my baby.
It was in the NICU that I met another mom who told me about the wonders of a pumping bra. They’re a pain to put on – basically a bra that has cut-outs where the nipples are to put the flanges through. You can also make one yourself with an old sports bra (just cut holes for your nipples). This mom told me that without having to hold the stupid flanges, you can do this, as she motioned typing on her smartphone. And she was right – it was a lifesaver, or more accurately, a sanity saver.
After four days LM was sent home, but I wasn’t done with that monstrosity of a pump. Because hospital pumps are the strongest out there, I rented one. But even though the pumping bra made it hands-free, I still couldn’t get up and walk around. I was chained to the thing. And I was still trying to figure out how to get the baby to nurse directly from my boobs. So I’d try breastfeeding him, then when that wasn’t successful I would bottle feed him, then pump for the next session. My supply did seem to slowly be increasing, and soon I was able to use solely breastmilk, instead of supplementing him with formula. The supply of milk in the fridge hovered on just having enough, but there was not much I could really do to increase my output. I tried nursing teas, herbs, whatever I heard might work.
I was going crazy with it all, because I felt like I was spending my whole day feeding this child or preparing for him to feed. I found out you can store pump parts in the refrigerator for up to eight hours without having to wash them, so that helped a little. But LM was still not latching. I was about to give up on nursing, when finally, one day LM figured out how to do it.
When his weight got on track, I got the OK from the doctor to ditch the pump. I started EBF (exclusively breastfeeding) and enjoyed some pump-free time, but a couple of months later in preparation for going back to work I thought I should start building a “freezer stash.” This time, I used the pump I had purchased.
Insurance is supposed to cover a breast pump; but my insurance was not clear on how that worked. I got the Medela Freestyle, which is so small you can carry it around, because after all that time being chained to the hospital’s monstrosity I wanted something portable. The medical supplier I got it from told me I’d have to pay out of pocket and then get reimbursed. I knew that because I was getting an upgraded pump I might have to cover the difference, but when I got a check back from insurance for the $400 pump it was…$60. I fought with the insurance and the supplier but each blamed the other for whatever it was I did wrong.
Then the ironic thing was that then I heard Medela’s Pump in Style (which I might have been able to get without having to pay out of pocket) was actually a better choice, because the Freestyle’s motor was not as strong. I started to get very worried about being able to pump enough while at work, and that concern began to outweigh the mobility issue (after all, I was mainly going to be sitting in my office pumping anyway). But it was too late – even though unopened, I couldn’t return the Freestyle. So here I was with a pump I didn’t even want that insurance wouldn’t cover. Gah.
I pumped once a day to build a freezer stash. I also got a $35 Medela hand pump which, though not hands-free, worked really well for me. Because it didn’t seem as complicated to hook up as my other pump, I ended up using it more. I often pumped in the car while my husband was driving, because that was time when I wouldn’t really have been doing anything else with my hands anyway.
I was really nervous about finding time to pump at work. There had been days when I didn’t have time to pee or eat lunch, so how on earth was I going to be able to pump? True, I could work on my computer while pumping, but it meant interrupting my day to hook myself up, take it off, etc. I didn’t know how long I would be able to last, but it was really important to me to keep breastfeeding. I was faced with the dilemma that every working mother who wants to nurse is faced with. And it sucked.
My grand plan was to pump during my commute – while driving. I’m not sure if that’s illegal, but, I reasoned, why would it be? It was hands-free. Sure, it would be super embarrassing if I ever got pulled over, and I hoped it wouldn’t be dangerous if I got in an accident (can one be impaled on her flanges?). I did a trial run after my back-to-work hair appointment. I hooked myself up in the parking lot, covered myself with a nursing cover, and switched the pump on. I made it home fine, with 5 ounces of milk to boot.
Then I found out my position was being eliminated. A huge weight fell off my shoulders. I didn’t have to pump anymore. I actually did pump once in my office when I returned for a day to clean it out. It was weird, knowing that that would be the one and only time I would have to do something I’d been dreading for months.
After that I basically stopped pumping. The milk in my freezer went bad – I felt guilty I hadn’t donated it, but I wanted to keep it until the end just in case an emergency came up. There were a few other times I had to use the pump, but for the most part my $400 contraption sits in a box in my closet.
I cannot imagine pumping several times a day for months while at work. I’m not sure I could have done it. Because I got fired and then had the luxury of staying home with LM, I could breastfeed as nature intended. I hate that the pump purports to make women’s lives easier (and in some ways it does), but it also brings up so many other problems. It’s an excuse for not extending maternity leave – if you want to breastfeed, you can just pump! It’s unwieldy, it’s expensive, it takes time away from your child. If the choice is having a year-long maternity leave, like they have in other countries, or returning to work and using the pump, guess which one is better for mom and baby?
I have to be glad the pump exists, because without it NICU babies like mine and others who have it far worse than mine would not be able to receive breast milk. But personally, I was so happy to see the damn thing go. I haven’t had to pump in about six months, and don’t miss it one bit.
What was your experience with the breast pump? Do you hate it or love it?