Motherhood and the New Feminism

motherhood

I am a feminist, and Motherhood is the best job I will ever have.

I have been feeling a lot of crazy emotions this week. It all started with this study that recently came out that asks the question, Is Breast Best? When I started reading the commentary surrounding this study, what I noticed in myself was a feeling of frustration. Actually it felt like someone’s hand on my throat. Why? That is so ridiculous.

I followed that feeling down a rabbit hole and came across this article written by Hanna Rosin, called The Case Against Breastfeeding. Rosin writes,

 Is breast-feeding right for every family? Or is it this generation’s vacuum cleaner—an instrument of misery that mostly just keeps women down?

Ms. Rosin writes how her motivation to breastfeed was driven by science, because Ms. Rosin is a journalist, right, a critically-thinking, intellectual one at that, and in order to make decisions in her life, including how to raise her children, she looks to the facts. After delving deeper, Ms. Rosin is stunned, and delighted, to find that there are conflicting studies about the benefits of breastfeeding.

When I looked at the picture on the cover of Sears’s Breastfeeding Book—a lady lying down, gently smiling at her baby and still in her robe, although the sun is well up—the scales fell from my eyes: it was not the vacuum that was keeping me and my 21st-century sisters down, but another sucking sound.

motherhood2After a little quiet time, I had a strange realization. Hanna Rosin reminds me of my mother. More universally, she reminds me of my mother’s generation.

My mother dreamed of being a lawyer since age 7, and fulfilled that dream. She graduated from Yale University. She argued a case before the United States Supreme Court. She is a mother of three children. My mother’s accomplishments are really impressive. Beyond her career accomplishments, she gave birth to and raised (alongside my father, from whom she is divorced) three children who are smart, funny and (for the most part) kind. We are all graduates of prestigious colleges. Two girls and a boy; all feminists themselves.

I am proud of my mother. But I also know that it wasn’t easy for her. Make no mistake: she did not Have It All. An image comes to mind: A school-day morning circa 1993, around 8:00am, my mother, naked except for a towel, dripping from the shower, scrambling around the house looking for a hand-saw so she can saw my three-year-old brother’s head free from the rungs of one of the kitchen chairs. My best friend’s mother, Mrs. Valenti, a stay-at-home mom who dutifully drove me to and from school every day of the year, has just arrived to pick me up. Mrs. Valenti stands there, just kind of helplessly watching while my mother’s life implodes in front of her eyes. Did I mention that Mrs. Valenti was my secret childhood hero? 340681_10150472032557139_432768882_o

I want to have a shower for a woman when she backpacks on her own through Asia, gets a promotion, or lands a dream job not when she stays inside the box and does the house and kids thing which is the path of least resistance. The dominate cultural voice will tell you these are things you can do with a husband and kids, but as I’ve written before, that’s a lie. It’s just not reality. ~ Amy Glass

Could this young woman be right? Should women of my generation learn from our mother’s mistakes and just give up the fantasy of motherhood altogether? Is that the only way for us ever to be paid, cent for cent, as much as men? The only way for us to truly grasp at our dreams in this deranged world? The only way to truly achieve? 429327_10150678766597139_1048171010_n I am thankful to my mother for giving my daughter more options than she herself had. She was after all, only the third class of women to be admitted to Yale. The question of ACHIEVEMENT itself bewilders me. Because first I have to ask myself, what do I value? If what I value is money, then I will always be disappointed in myself as a mother. First of all, I could make way more money if I never had to leave the workforce to give birth.

If what I value is success in the traditional sense, then I might also be at a loss. At this point in my life (and my daughter’s life), I am grateful for my three nursing shifts a week. I don’t feel like I am missing anything. I don’t want to be anything else.

Hanna Rosin, I honor your voice, as bonkers as you are. Thank you for de-mystifying the scientific evidence of breast- versus bottle-feeding so that mothers can choose with the best possible information what is right for them and their families without having to live with guilt everyday that they did their children some grave needless harm.

As for me, I breastfed because I liked it and it made my baby happy. I would have done so even if an “expert” told me it didn’t matter. A note to the “Experts”: A woman is determined to breastfeed or formula-feed her baby, no one wearing a white coat is going to change her mind.
So: What do I value?
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When I was a sophomore in high school, I won a place on the Ann Arbor Teen Poetry Slam Team. My team traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico and San Francisco, California. I performed a slam poem called “Don’t Cry Over Boys” in front of thousands of people. You know all the mean girls in high school? Well, I performed in front of them, without flubbing one word. When I was finished, the entire audience gave me a standing ovation. My heart thumping, my voice trembling, and tears welling in my eyes … that moment made me proud.

Do you know what makes me even more proud than that?

I breastfed my baby girl for two full years. I breastfed my baby girl despite going back to work at seven weeks (to the day) postpartum. I spent several hundred hours in a tiny closet pumping milk for her so that she could drink my breast-milk while I was at work.  For one and a half full years, we never took her to the pediatrician for a sick-baby visit, not once. To this day, she has never had an ear infection, she is not allergic to anything, and she has never taken an antibiotic. Whether or not a scientist (or sociologist) tells me I have the right, that makes me proud.

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In this life, what I value the most is not what I can accomplish.
The way my daughter’s soft skin feels next to mine is a sweeter sensation than being submerged in the world’s most picturesque lake.
It terrifies me more to imagine keeping her safe into adulthood than it did to ride into Guatemala City, by myself, on a bus with armed guards, at 10 o’clock at night, with all the money I had in the world in my two front pockets.
The funny shape of her toes inspires more wonder in my heart than the view of the entire Grand Canyon, North and South Ridge combined.
Her arms around my shoulders teach me all I need to know about love. Not just the way my mother loves me, but the way that God loves me.
Maybe that’s how I am able to forgive my Mom for confusing me all these years.
(Love you, Mom.)
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One last note: As my friend Rebecca says, even stay-at-home moms probably sometimes run around naked with a saw. Working full-time does not mean you are not putting your kids first. I don’t think that my perspective is better. It’s just the perspective that’s right for me. In the other words, If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out.

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