Monday, November 16, 2009

The Frontlines of Motherhood

A first time pregnancy is fraught with fears and questions. Existence, as I have known it, changed the moment I realized my life had reproduced another. A raw wonderment framed these fears and questions as the human body illuminated itself with miracle after miracle of unfolding life.

Beyond scientific reasoning, the body simply knows its duties, its problems, and negotiations. It produces milk and ajusts its supply according to demand. The body releases hormones that strengthens hair, nails, and bones while moving emotions around in preparation for a new life.

There are things in pregnancy that simply happen, almost like instructions were written in our bones and our bodies just obey. Decisions around birthing, terminating, breastfeeding, daycare, and health are uniquely assigned to each mother, like DNA. No fingerprints are alike. No pregnancy experience is mimicked or identical.

My own pregnancy, mostly, has been joyous, comfortable, awesome, and reflective. The most difficult terrain to hike has been balancing the identity of a working mother to be and making decisions to work post partum. An almost mother is asked to project. Predict. Assume. Have an answer based on the factors around you.

To be honest, that expectation - the expectation to know what my life will look like, what I will look like in a new role - feels ridiculous. Absurd, even.

It occured to me as more questions about WORK came up in conversation that we really don't allow parents the privilege of adjustment. We give parents the decision making power, the expectations, the information. We give parents enough advice to get through anything. What we as a society DON'T do is give a reasonable amount of time to transition ourselves into our new role as life and caretakers. Supposedly that is what the 9 months of gestation are about. However, the expectation of WORK is to continue along as if we are NOT pregnant, as if we are NOT expecting. The expectation is that we arrive at the places and appointments just as we always had been, regardless of what it took to get there. Even if you had to pull over to vomit, even if you had to stop and eat because your stomach felt like it was concaving, even if you dragged your body out of bed and it felt like it had been drugged with sleeping pills - you still show up and work. Never mind the growing globe underneath your shirt, work is WORK.

Work - our societal structures of financially compensated labor - dictates that we make projections to the best of our ability on what we will do once we birth. We run with the leashes around our neck that dictate much time and space we are able to take, or "be off work," when, ironically, this time will likely be the most difficult, painful, work-filled time ever known.

I have yet to find someone with a story whose work, company, organization, or agency truly and humbly honors that transition.

When we ask for family leave or maternity leave, what are we asking for? Are we asking for time to adjust? Or are we asking for a period of self and familial transformation? Every parent I have ever known has communicated in one way or another that life, as you know it without children, changes from top to bottom. Every layer, every facet of decision making and lifestyle is altered to make room for another person.

Now, I'm not advocating that new parents get an unlimited amount of time and money because of a decision to start a family. Understandably, businesses need to continue. Tasks need attention. Labor needs call. But, in the twisting definition of modern families, how we care for new life is just as important as how we care for new parents. How satisfied and/or stressed new parents are directly impacts the quality of work they produce and the quality of love they can share with their children.

So, when people ask me what I am doing after the baby is born, I answer with the most honest answer I have: I don't know.

I don't know. There is no reference I can pull or a map I've created.

But, decisions have to be made.

Who will take care of the child?

And I also wonder

Who will take care of me as a new parent? Who can I turn to in times of emotional flux? Who will answer at 3am when the whole street has dark houses and mine is only one lit up? Where do I go in my journey to be a good, decent parent?

Despite a floundering job market where feeling anything but gratitude for even having a job is not permissible; flexiblity, understanding, and basic employee trust would be revolutionary these days. We're not robots. There's no formula to know exactly what I'll be ready for and how I'm going to balance that. But the system we've designed, the main street sidewalks we've paved all point to schedules, numbers, and dates. There's no room for adjusting, really adjusting to life's milestones. We're given handfuls of weeks, sometimes even less than that to rearrange our lives. There's no space to truly embrace the beautiful unpredictability of life. There's no space to laugh at ourselves, or our mistakes.

Sometimes I feel like when I am most honest, I am labeled naive and irresponsible. No, I have no plan yet. Yes, the baby is coming next month. No, I don't know about daycare. Yes, I do want to breastfeed, I think. I don't know. Maybe.

Why is it that when I say, "I just want to see how I adapt to being parent," the persons listening hears that I'm not ready? That I'm not thinking things through?

And then there's my partner...he has even less options than I do in his "family leave" options. Since he technically did not "birth" anything out of his body, he should be able to jump right back into the swing of things after a few weeks.

The war zone in frontlines of motherhood are dry and worn and dirty. Even in the best of circumstances where we welcome and love the changes to our bodies, minds, and memories, we are expected to keep those changes OUT of our workforce lives. The productivity, the race toward an arbitrary goal, the endless monotony and routine must continue as if nothing but pleasantries occured. Never mind if you're stitched up in the center of your body or your chest is aching with battle scars. There's no time to waste explaining how sleep deprived you are - just GET TO WORK.

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