Monday, May 2, 2016

Those Maternity Leave "Perks"



I want to start by saying that I don't like judging other women's lives or choices and, if she hadn't suggested maternity leave is full of "perks" I wouldn't have given so much as a toddler's fart about Meghann Foye's "Meternity Leave" thing. You can read the piece that's sparked mom rage here.

In theory, I have no issue with the basic concept she's talking about, which is really just a paid sabbatical. The US has pretty crappy time off practices and the idea that everyone, regardless of gender or whether they become parents, might need some extended time off at some point in their career sounds reasonable to me. There are countries in Europe where people get a month off every year as standard vacation time. And they have healthcare and taking time off when you're sick isn't met with horror. I personally don't think the US has a particularly healthy attitude about time off.

The problem comes in when she starts equating maternity leave with "me time", "perks", and some kind of vacay full of leisurely self-reflection and manicures.





First of all, most states in the US don't provide paid maternity leave. If you do get paid time off, it can range from 2 weeks to 3 months, the latter being unlikely. Most women have to save up sick time, vacation time, and have no guarantee they'll have a job when they come back. This is particularly true for women who are poor.

Second, pregnancy and childbirth cost a lot of money. Even with insurance, there are out of pocket costs that can range into thousands of dollars. Care that's standard in Europe, like ultrasounds at every appointment to check on fetal health, are not provided by most OBGYN's in the states. You pay for it if you can or hope for the best. This goes for other tests from blood sugar to DNA.

Many women max out credit cards and use up savings during their maternity leaves. Others, when things don't go as hoped, have to choose between seeing their infant in the NICU or going back to work so they can have the time off when their child is home.

Don't those sound like really cool perks?



Even when things go well and as hoped, the idea that you're going to have time for lots of self-reflection and "me time" with a brand new human being in your home, who needs you to feed them every hour-2 hours, change them, comfort them, and love them is laughable. The feeding schedule alone for infants is like a gauntlet, especially if you're breastfeeding. Which doesn't go smoothly for everyone, often resulting in bloody nipples and frustration.

If you formula feed you get to read about how you're poisoning your child and feel like a failure with endless shame and guilt that you couldn't make something that's supposed to be natural and easy work. And that shame and guilt is going to be your new BFF for every decision from here on out.

Perks!




Meanwhile, your body is recovering from 9 months of having all its nutrients leached out while you grew an entire new person. Which you then either pushed out of your body, probably tearing your vag minorly or majorly...or had to have removed through surgery by cutting open your stomach which is actually your uterus stretched up from crotch to ribcage. You get to feel like a truck hit you for the next few weeks as you bleed for 2 months and your hormones go beserk, often leading to at least some kind of depression and anxiety from moderate to severe. If it's severe you get to have the "fun perk" of sitting in your home, terrified that you might do something unspeakable to your child who you love more than any collection of works could ever express, because you brain is a hot mess.

Are we getting the idea that the "perks" of maternity leave are not that perky yet?



When maternity is up, most women are faced with the "choice" of spending most of their salary on childcare because they can't afford not to work. Even when women want to return to work, the lack of support for mother's in particular means you're likely to be passed over for promotions and seen as "slacking off" for doing things like picking up a sick kid or leaving at a reasonable hour. This is in spite of the fact that studies show that parents either come in to work earlier to make up the time or work from home, and are more productive than their peers. Studies also show that while men are more likely to benefit from their status as father's at work, women are not. Women are told that taking time off to have a child has permanently set back their ability to advance, because since having children is "optional" there's no possible way they could make up that time or be better workers post having a child.



In the New York Post piece, Foye talks about how maternity leave seemed to give some of her female friends a chance to reflect on what they really wanted to do, with many starting their own businesses and leaving the corporate structure.

I don't think it's because they had a ton of time for self reflection. I think it's because motherhood changes your perspective and you realize that our system basically tells mom's they're on their own. So we get real clear, real fast, about what we do and do not want to put up with. Because we DO NOT have any time to waste on leisurely self analysis, we have to get shit done, now, because the baby just whipped off their diaper and is running full tilt down the hallway like a poop bandit and also there's a lot of laundry to do and dishes and food for the week because babies aren't super patient about anything and hey, WHAT IS IN YOUR MOUTH NOW????

For a lot of women it makes much more financial sense to work from home so you aren't adding the cost of childcare to your already less-than-the-dudes salary. This gives you more flexibility, you can be there for your kid/s, and you don't have to rely on the fickle benevolence of an outside employer.

But a lot of women don't have the ability to do that. You need to be in a certain income bracket to make that work and working from home with a kid is full of distractions, obstacles, and wrangling. Kids don't give a shit about your deadlines or your need for "me time". There is no vacation from being a parent.

And that's the thing. A "Meternity leave" is just about you and whatever you wanted it to be about. Maternity leave is about bringing a human being into the world who will now need you 24/7 for at least the next 18 years. And even when that human being is not relying on you strictly to survive, YOU will still think about them 24/7 because that's parenthood. It gets down into your bones and becomes the core of who you are.

Self care can be a radical thing, I firmly believe that. Hence why assuming maternity leave is some kind of act of self care is so absurd. It's all about caring for someone else. And that's what makes it beautiful and difficult and exhausting.

So no offense Ms. Foye, but I think I'd rather prioritize paid maternity/paternity leave in this country before "meternity".



For another take on the "meternity" thing, this piece at Yackler Mag is great.



Thursday, March 24, 2016

Fear

Having a child and having anxiety are...really fucking hard sometimes. Having kids comes with a lot of terror, including a love that there are no words for, only the piercing, agonizing, totality of it...like bright sun off clear water. You feel so full and aching with it, so grateful and terrified of it, it's overwhelming.

I think this love makes you a little mad.

For instance; I know, with a complete and utter certainty, there are things I would do for my daughter, to protect and keep her safe, that I was not capable of doing before. It's a little frightening to know these things, to know that you could be brutal and unflinching about it.

My daughter just turned one and I've been struggling with a set of fears I'd mostly pushed away with the day to day of caring for an infant.

Mostly it happens when my daughter is sleeping in my arms, little face turned towards me, lips pursed a little, eyelashes against her cheeks. They are long and soft and tipped with gold.

And I think, "I want to be here for her always. So that she never feels alone or afraid. Hurt or alone or sad."

These are impossible things to prevent. Which then makes me think, "If everything goes well I will get old and I will die before her."

This is when it gets bad.

"I won't be there for her when she is old. When she dies. When she is scared of what comes next, which might be nothing."

And my heart breaks, its pieces raw and terrified.

"I don't believe in god or anything after. So when I die I will never see her face again because there will be nothing."

I become brittle and I finally understand the enormity of what I've done by bringing a new person into the world. The responsibility. The fear. The love.

Always back to the love.

Then I go about my day again. I feed her and I make her laugh. I hold her and I love her as fiercely as I can. I love her so much I hope it can make up for when, inevitably, I won't be there anymore.

And I hate that so much I can barely breathe.

So I go back to loving her and being grateful for her face and laugh and cry.

Because it's all I can do.




Monday, October 19, 2015

Stretched


Having a baby comes with a lot of changes. I realize this is like saying “water is wet” or “Viola Davis is an amazing actress” but still. Changes.

Lifestyle changes are the ones people seem to joke about most, which I largely don’t mind. Yeah, sometimes I wish I could just go to a movie or out shopping on my own but I did that for 35 years. Part of inviting a child into your life is making compromises like that. And stuff like not going to the movies and leisurely shopping are only temporary (well, theoretically).

Some things are more permanent. The changes in my skin,  hair, and outlook are going to be with me until I shrug off this mortal coil. Emotionally there have been so many intense shifts I’ve felt a little like a ping pong ball.

And then there are the physical changes. Women are supposed to want to “bounce back” after pregnancy as quickly as possible, get thin, be “MILF’s”. That hasn’t been a priority of mine.

I’ve had body dysmorphic disorder since around the age of thirteen. It hit when puberty hit, like some kind of hormonal train derailment. I haven’t liked my body in any real sense since then. I don’t remember caring about it one way or another before then.

Nearly all of my body loathing focused on my belly. It hasn’t been flat since I was a pre-teen, and it was made clear to me that it wasn’t acceptable at the same time my hormones went haywire. It wasn’t a great combination. I really believed, for decades now, that my body was “wrong”. Monstrous in some way.

And then I got pregnant. I was really terrified about how I’d feel about the body changes and I won’t lie: the distortion of pregnancy was hard. I didn’t feel well, I was depressed for most of the 9 months (and post partum after was rough). I was heavier than I have ever been in my life and I felt drained and enormous. I’m not a big person at a towering five twoish and my body felt like some weird ballooning alien.

I’ve dropped nearly forty pounds post baby and I’m still not thin. My belly isn’t flat, it droops a bit. My stretch marks are still purpley and I have hips and saggy boobs.

And I like my body in a way I’m not sure I ever have.

As “imperfect” as my body may be in terms of comparison to our beauty ideals, it’s healthy. It’s strong. It carried my daughter for 9 months and gave birth to her. It has comforted and held her, nourished her, gotten up with her when she’s not feeling well and danced around with her and rocked her to sleep.

So I’m going to do something I never thought I would; share a picture of my belly on the internet.


This is how it looks, unfiltered, no attempt to make it look less than it is. It’s a small, personal thing in the grand scheme of actually Important Thing, maybe, but it’s a big deal to me.


I'm sure there are people who will think my belly is gross or the pic is TMI or whatever. I don't really care. I'm owning it the way it is and loving it for what it's done. Especially the way those stretch marks over my belly button look like horns. They are fierce just like my daughter. Just like me.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Love




I think that becoming a parent, from at least the moment when your child is born, makes you at least slightly insane. Or it makes you so sane that it looks like insanity to anyone who hasn't been through it. I can't tell which.

The love makes you insane. The love, the hormones, the fierce protectiveness that makes you feel like you could set things on fire in their name with just a thought. It's a kind of insanity I'm very grateful to be experiencing.

Parenting is the strangest combinations of mixed, intense, emotions. On the one hand, I never want to be away from my daughter and miss a single second of her nuances in expression, sound, or movement. On the other, I'd really like to poop and/or shower without a baby staring at me or melting down if she's away from me for a few minutes.

My daughter sleeps with me, curled up to me, running her fingers through the wisps of hair in front of my ears as she drifts off. When she's awake she tries to pull them out of my head. She strokes my cheek as she dozes, awake she bats at my face and pokes me in the eye.

If I could extend any moment into eternity it would be lying with her, as she cuddles with me, her belly against mine, her father pressed up against my back. I could live in those moments forever and have no regrets.

This love makes you insane. And you want every single second of it.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

SPINE


 SPINE
     


The first thing you notice about her will not be the subtle scales that play across her skin like opals set with inner flames. It will not be the impossible darkness of the ever-shifting cloud of her hair, threaded with seemingly thousands of tiny sparkling gems. You will forget the light luminous green of her sleek limbs.  You will not notice, at first, that she is half-naked, or that she seems to glide rather than walk across the deep jade floor. You will not realize that you have not seen the face behind that mass of deeply shadowed waves, because you already believe that she is beautiful. 

Instead, the first thing you will notice about her is the delicate looking tattoo etched along her spine. It is framed perfectly by the smooth curves of that pale, sloping back, and the blackness in which she floats. It travels along each individual vertebra from the top of her long neck to the base, just as her hips curve and disappear beneath a silky, draping skirt. You never see her feet.

The lines of the tattoo are so fine that you cannot imagine what tool etched it there. It moves with her body, so much a part of her skin that you believe she was born with it, like a strangely detailed birthmark. It slithers along her spine, always moving, like a living, breathing thing.

In a way, it is a mark of her birth, though it came upon her rather later than when she slipped out of the womb. This mark of her fall weaves along her spine in coils and curls, in delicate lines and swirls, shimmering with a hint of scales. The beauty of her body is equaled only by the desire to possess it, completely. Followed closely by the certainty that you never will.

It does not matter that you have forgotten why you are here. You have forgotten all the trials that led you to this moment, all the battles, all the blood. Your sword has been abandoned, your quest a pointless task easily put past.  Nothing matters but the body before you, its lithe muscles, Like countless others before you, you are drawn to the sway of her, the promise of heat and sweat.

Then she begins to dance.

Each limb becomes a fluid blur. She flashes towards you, small breasts pink-tipped and bare and free of any blemish. Her muscles move and slide with a sinewy, disturbing grace. The subtle scaling of her flesh glitters, the fair green sheen of it glowing in the dark. The tattoo seems to twist towards you with each smooth rotation of her hips. Her hair swarms about her, a wild haze of curls set with sparks.

She is shadow and light, a body of motions, a swaying skin. Each glide brings her closer, just shy of touching you. You want that more than you have ever wanted anything. Almost.

You still have not seen her face.

She spins around you and as she finally slides her startlingly cool hands up your back you sigh. Your clothes are gone in a moment. She runs palms up your spine, followed by those small breasts, finally skin to skin. Her fingers come around and over your belly. The wanting blossoms, full, hard, demanding.


She presses you down onto the smooth jade floor. She straddles you, her hair hanging over her face, swinging like living shadows. You reach to push it back and she holds you away with sinewy strength. You want to see her, need to see all of her, but you are helpless in those hands. Then you feel the heat between her legs over you and forget anything else. She laughs, then, throaty and dark.


Inside, you are lost to her slick heat. It holds you, rocks you, consumes you. You breathe for her, move for her. She lets you hold her hips as she takes her own pleasure, you watch as she comes in waves, her back arching impossibly tight, breasts thrust high. She is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen. Caught within, she holds you on the brink, slowing you, taming you, claiming you.

Finally she lets you touch her, and you run your hands up her back, damp with sweat. Her spine slithers against your fingers as she clenches around you. She tosses her head and hair back as you are set free, aflame, hoarsely shouting with the violent, pulsing force of your coming.

You collapse beneath her, still filled with a wanting you cannot understand. You run a hand across your eyes feeling drugged, stung, drained. Her heat is your heat and you want her again, your hands yearn for the touch of her skin. When you look up you finally see her face.

The shifting shadows of her hair pull back to reveal eyes that ache with the monstrous, inhuman, terrifying beauty of the utterly damned. Her hair coils up, the things you took for glittering gems the eyes of hundreds of black snakes. Her mouth, impossibly red, smiles without pity. The slits in her yellow pupils regard you with a hunger that can never be satisfied.

Your last thought, as you become stone, is of that tattoo along her spine, the mark of her monstrosity. A warning and a promise of your demise.


She stands over her prey, a sad light in her serpentine eyes. She leans down and kisses the stony cheek, which cracks, splits, and crumbles. She considers the pile of dust that was once a human being before gently blowing it away. She glides toward another long hall and waits.

There will always be others.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Just For the Comfort of Sleep





New parenthood is hard. Anyone who tells you it's not is lying to you or themselves. Something being hard doesn't mean it's not also awesome, worthwhile, and rewarding. It's just also hard.

I'm a work at home mom, which means I'm raising while daughter while also working, usually in the same space. It's challenging. I feel guilty when I put on a show to occupy her while I check emails or do some writing. Most of what I get done happens during her naps. I love having her with me but I do sometimes wish I had help, even if it was just a few hours one day a week. I rarely get a shower to myself. Childcare just isn't affordable for us right now, though, and I'm glad I can be there for her. I know I'm lucky.

One thing I've learned is that while I'm teaching her a lot, I'm learning a ton myself. Especially to trust myself and my instincts.

This past weekend we decided to try the "cry it out" method on the advice of our pediatrician to get our baby to sleep through the night. I was honestly reluctant, she's never been a great sleeper and just has a hard time to working herself down. It's just how she is and while the "cry it out" method isn't as harsh as people think, I just wasn't convinced this was going to work for her.

It didn't.

In fact, it didn't work so spectacularly that she vomited from crying. Twice. And it's not like we let her cry for hours or anything. I know the idea is that they'll "work themselves out" and just go to sleep. Our daughter has really never done that, not without HOURS of frustration before then. She just isn't the kind of kid who shuts off like that. She has to be really tired, but she can still keep herself awake for a while before she finally shuts down. That's not helpful to anyone, least of all her, and it makes that particular method just completely useless. Because she isn't going to get the message, she's just going to be miserable, so we'll be miserable, and no one is sleeping.

I've read up on the vomiting thing and it's "normal" for babies to get so upset with crying they throw up. For me, that's just not acceptable. And the thing I had to remind myself is that I have the right to make decisions for myself and my daughter that I feel are right. That work for us. I know a lot of people whose kids didn't sleep through the night until their 1st birthday and beyond, regardless of methods attempted. It's just how it is. I don't think there's any one "right" way to do any of this, beyond the obvious like making sure they're fed and growing and loved.

There are 4 times my daughter has slept for 8-9hrs at a stretch, and nothing about any of those times has been any different. She wasn't out more during the day, she didn't play more, or eat more (or less). She just slept for that long. I've wracked my brain trying to see if there's any difference but there isn't. I never had to soothe her those nights to get her back to sleep, she simply...slept. If going out was the trigger, then the day we went to the beach should have resulted in a longer night. Nope. If more day feedings was the key, then the day she ate 32 ounces should have done it. Also nope.

Look, I trust my pediatrician. I'm pro vaccine, I don't think I know more than doctors, and I'm all about researched science. I've read all the stuff I could on childcare techniques for feeding, sleeping, all of it.

But I've also listened to parents, including nurses who work in pediatricians offices, and some kids just...do things at their own pace. That's it. You can make yourself nuts or you can accept it. And you can learn to trust yourself that you know your child and that it's okay to do things differently than what you're advised when it just doesn't fit. Obviously make sure what you're doing is safe, and don't ignore medical advice in favor of "homeopathic" nonsense. But if you know your kid just isn't going to sleep without a bottle or a cuddle, well, that's how it is. Trust that you can do this.

And trust that though you WILL mess up, it won't ever be because you didn't love them and didn't try to do the "right" thing. It's just that what's "right" for your child may not fit any "technique". That's what makes them little people that you're learning about as much as they are learning from.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Dear Daughter




Dear Daughter,

You are growing so fast, nearing 6 months already. Every day you do something new and amazing to me. Your smile lights up my life and makes my heart full and aching.

We have our rough patches. You desperately want to stand and walk but your little body just isn't ready yet. You're not great at sleeping, you want to experience the world all the time. You cry and I want to gather you up and protect you from everything that will ever hurt you in any way, even when it's out of love because you just can't launch yourself off a lap or stick whatever comes into view in your ever questing mouth.

It must be so strange for you, daughter, this world and being alive in it. I hope I am helping you learn and grow, I hope you can feel how much I love you even when I'm tired and frustrated and wish you'd go down easy for your nap.

Your face is beyond beautiful to me, but more than that, it is fierce and sharp and determined. It is not superficial prettiness, but a strength of will even though you are barely past being born. I will do everything I can, everything that's in me, to make sure you never lose this utter sense of self.

As your hair grows from brown to a fair, white blond, I hope you stay as defiant as the curl you were born with, that refused to fall out, and always know that I love you with all I am and more.