Pregnancy

SPOTLIGHT ON: Sarah Kowalski – Motherhood Reimagined

Sarah Kowalski is a fertility doula, life coach, and author of the recently published memoir, Motherhood Reimagined: When Becoming a Mother Doesn’t Go As Planned, which chronicles her journey to motherhood when she realized at almost-forty that she actually did want a child – but she still didn’t have the partner or the white-picket-fence life she’d always pictured. Now, Single Mom By Choice and raising her beloved son, Sarah’s making it her mission to reach out to other women looking down the same poorly-lit path she embarked upon – and hoping to shed some light based on her experience.

I jumped at the chance to read an advance copy of Sarah’s book, and to chat with her about her quest, life as a Single Mom By Choice, and the guilt and self-care struggles so many moms face, partnered or not. Sarah’s book is personal, fascinating, heart-wrenching, funny, and oh-so-relatable – even though I got knocked up the old fashioned way and am raising kids with a partner.

Sarah’s book ebbs and flows with intense dilemmas and calming realizations, so the first thing I have to bring up is one of the key themes in the book: letting go. It’s a steady undercurrent in the conversations I have with fellow moms, that motherhood is not as we expect. Sarah’s experience, though, goes beyond the usual laments, including the expectation of being biologically kin with her child.

“You don’t expect that having a child is going to be someone who’s not related to you,” she says. “The idea of not being able to see what a mixture of my genes and someone I was in love with’s genes would end up creating was a big letting go, and a huge reason I wrote the book.” When she first decided to try for pregnancy, she knew she would need a sperm donor, but it took fertility challenges and a lot of personal struggle for her to come to terms with using an egg donor as well. Once her son was born, though, she found all her fears had been, well, for nothing. “I see how it’d be really cool to see myself in him,” she says, “but it also seems completely irrelevant.” With her background in medical anthropology, Sarah cheerfully adds that “what we think of as genes is amorphous in a way – there’s no way for me to know that I don’t share any genes with him.”

This realization is partly why Sarah feels called to help other women considering the same path. I have to ask, since she’s mentioned it’s irrelevant, why she chose the many-layered approach of fertility treatments, insemination, and egg donation – instead of adopting. Her answer at first is simple: “I really wanted to be pregnant.” But as she speaks, I see her reasons are threefold: physical, emotional, and practical. “I stumbled upon the concept of epigenetics,” she explains of her university days, “which is the idea that the environment your child is in affects which genes turn on and off. These are hugely influenced by the in uterine experience. What your biochemistry is, and what you eat, and everything about gestating, have a lot to do with what epigenetics express.” (Yikes, I think, as I wonder which genes got switched on by me eating nothing but Kraft Dinner and Cinnabons for the first trimester… but Sarah mentions that life outside the womb also counts for some epigenetic happenings. Phew!) Sarah also wanted a metaphysical connection with her child, because having him “inside of me, hearing me, and experiencing everything I was experiencing, somehow bridged the gap for me on not having a genetic connection.” More practically, she notes that egg donation in Mexico was more affordable than adoption in the US – and she worried about negative bias against single women in the adoption system.

But whether women choose sperm/egg donation or adoption, one of Sarah’s biggest surprises has been that Single Motherhood By Choice is “not that unusual,” and is “actually very doable.” She reminds me of a mother I knew when I was a young teen, whose three sons I taught in theatre classes for years – two by sperm donation and one adopted, I think. I remember being in total awe of her, thinking wow, you’re just doing that. Sarah laughs when I relay this story, but I see a special quality in Sarah and this woman I recall.

Aside from moms who planned their families and pregnancies, I know women who became mothers by accident, and still other women (like me) who became mothers by a sort of game of chance, the old let’s-stop-using-protection-and-see-what-happens game, almost as a way to take the pressure off the whole endeavour, let fate decide. But Single Moms By Choice are each deliberate in their entry to motherhood. I’m curious to know if that strong choice might affect Sarah’s parenting style, and she agrees it probably does:

“I was very ready to step into the role,” she says. “I remember my mom said, ‘But you won’t be able to go to movies or concerts,’ and I couldn’t care less! Maybe that comes partly from being older, and partly from really having to think through what I was giving up to become a mother. It helped me settle into being a mom. I checked things off my bucket list, or was okay with setting aside things that were still on the bucket list in order to do this.”

This deliberate choice may also affect everyday interactions with her son. “I’m more present with him,” she muses, “I’m not pining over some other life I’m not living. I think that I was ready to shift my priorities and ready to be okay with that.”

Shifting priorities is, frankly, a bit of a shit show for many new moms. I wonder how many of us actually feel totally ready for this adjustment before we give birth? I always filed it away under Parts of Momming I Just Couldn’t Have Understood Before, so it’s new for me to hear someone so clear-headed about it. Part of this, Sarah says, might be a benefit of being a single mom. She acknowledges that it’s hard for women to split their priorities between their career, their partner, and their new child – a list that doesn’t even include the woman herself.

It’s not a secret that for many new moms, the ‘self’ is the piece that gets squeezed out pretty fast after baby arrives. We have full lives before having kids. We’re at 100% capacity – and then along comes a kid who needs 90-98% of our attention, at least for a little while, and there’s no manual to figure out how to piece this new life together.  

Sarah doesn’t seem to struggle with this shift, though – rather, her book includes this beautiful moment of clarity:

“I had gone through an impossibly powerful rite of passage, emerging into my nurturing, loving essence, the mother I had dreamed of being. In fact, the transformation had already happened. I could fight it, or I could surrender into being the best mother I could to this beloved baby. I chose the latter.”

I admit to Sarah that this revelation baffles me. The online momosphere seems to subscribe pretty strongly to the belief that after having kids, you simply have to find a way to hold onto the you you’ve always been; it’s implied that if we don’t try, by default we will lose ourselves.  Frankly, the thought of losing myself to motherhood has, at times, caused me quite the downward spiral. Hell, part of why we started Raise A Mother was to provide a space for women to be their multifaceted selves – mom and individual adult woman.

But as I listen to Sarah, her perspective is actually refreshing: “I don’t think we are the same people – we are different as moms. It doesn’t mean you have to lose everything you love and hold dear,” she says. “I’ve noticed moments in my life where I’m trying to push something, or trying to make it happen, and I had to step aside from what I wanted, and try to notice what was trying to open.” She recalls an anecdote from the book where her Qigong teacher didn’t ask her to cover his class, as he normally would. “I called him in a complete fit,” she says, insisting she could be both pregnant and the same aspiring Qigong master she knew herself to be. Sarah and I both laugh when she relays his response: “If you paid attention, you’d notice you’re preparing to be a mother right now,” he said.

The myth popular culture sells us is that we can have it all – the implied message is that if we can, we should, so if we don’t, it’s somehow a failing on our part. Sarah doesn’t believe you have to let go of all your old priorities, just that they will shift, as your “orientation shifts from being completely me-centered to being other-focused, or me-and-other, so clinging to the exact life you had before only causes pain and suffering.” Wow. Maybe this is another benefit to single motherdom – maybe it’s painful for some of us to shift and reorient because it doesn’t seem our partners are having to shift and reorient in the same way… Sarah agrees this might be true.

And that’s not the only benefit of being a Single Mom By Choice. For one thing, Sarah says post-birth, it felt very natural for her to have this “very intense bond” with her son, where she wasn’t “being pulled in more than one direction as far as someone else’s needs and wants and desires.” There was no partner to also figure out a new dynamic with. She gushes about how it feels “really great to not have to debate” things like parenting philosophy or style with anyone else – she calls all the shots. And even though that comes with all the responsibility, Sarah sees the silver lining here, too: “Knowing that it all falls to me – on the one hand it’s incredibly daunting some days that there is no relief and there is no help, but I also feel there’s no energy wasted hoping that someone’s going to help me or I’m going to get a break.”

So without that in-house help, I have to ask her – what does self-care look like? Again, her answer is not a standard mom-blog line about getting out to an aerobics class. She rarely gets such things, but she talks about “staying sane in the moments in between,” and gives a great example I fully relate to – after all, our sons are the same age. “I feel like waiting for my son to get into his carseat is part of my day where I’m going to lose my shit,” Sarah says, and I already know the scene: the slow climb, the distraction of something on the floor, the agonizing pace at which he does up the straps. “I always have this frantic feeling of Get in your goddamn carseat!” she says, and I feel relieved – this wise woman is just like me sometimes. But she uses a simple trick called “balancing on your skeleton,” which involves focusing on how her body supports her, her breath, and feeling her feet on the ground. “It feels like there’s a moment of zen,” she says, “rather than worrying about how long it’s going to take him to get in his carseat, taking a moment and breathing out.”

She feels like those “little moments” where she takes her attention away from her son (where it always is by default), “feel like an instant reset.” To reset yourself, Sarah recommends noticing the places you’re holding – like clenching your jaw or holding your breath – and softening those things. She also recommends walking meditation, since many of us are walking all the time with our kids anyway. (I tried this the other day when walking two cranky boys home before lunch, and it really did work.)

WebI love that her suggestions for self-care don’t require me to take an hour out of being a mom. I still want my wine nights with the neighbours, or time to do yoga, but I also want to be able to reset and be myself within the stressful parts of everyday life, and to model that ability for my kiddos.

I ask Sarah how she holds onto her pearls of wisdom – she seems to have so many – and she says her big moments of realization have stayed with her, but she also has to remind herself of them all the time. Writing her book was one great way to do that.

The particular pearl that struck me most while reading her book was this moment where she learns to peacefully hold two ideas that, to me, always seem in conflict: knowing she has done her best and accepting that there is more she could have done. Before this time, she believed deep down she wasn’t capable of doing her best, because “knowing there’s always more you could do, how could anyone ever feel they’d done their best?”

This really hits home for me. There is so much pressure on moms, all the time, to do more, to try harder. We love our kids, so we have to keep working or making things better for them. Sarah explains that “being able to hold paradoxes can be the hardest thing because we always want an answer.” It’s a value she’s learned from her Qigong practice. I really want to learn how to hold this particular paradox more consistently. Sometimes I really believe in #goodenough, but old perfectionist habits die hard. Sarah says trying to maintain these realizations in a physical way can be helpful – like writing them down.

As a Single Mother By Choice, there’s another paradox she holds, too: “I’m completely alone in raising my kid,” she says, “and I’m completely supported.” She trusts that she can find support, and knows that ultimately, everything falls on her. I know from reading her book that Sarah doesn’t have a lot of biological family support, but she does have a chosen family for her son. When I ask about them, Sarah glows: she talks about her son’s two chosen “grandmas,” whom she describes as her “wise women.” They are there for her in emergency situations, when, as she says, “I cannot deal, I need him away from me, I’m completely at capacity.” She also mentions her son’s daycare provider, who recently agreed to be her son’s legal guardian should the need arise. She says this seems like a “random” choice, but we agree that when it comes to choosing a guardian for your child, it’s not really about biological connection – it’s about who you want your child to live with and where, and who will teach your child about everything from sharing to academic pursuits to politics to loving relationships.

Whether it’s searching for a chosen family or finding out how to have the kid in the first place, Sarah stresses one skill required for Single Moms By Choice: being proactive. “I have to get over any sort of concern about asking,” she says:

“Humble is the word that keeps coming to me. You just have to ask and say, Hey, I need Sarah Kowalski photo2support. I’m looking for people who want to have a relationship with my child. I’m not shy about telling preschool families that I’m hoping my son’s going to have a friend and hopefully develop more of a relationship with someone’s dad for more of a male figure… Getting really good at making clear requests of what you need is important.”

It may be especially important for single moms, but I think it’s a lesson we can all appreciate. Sarah is now helping women in a myriad of ways to navigate some difficult paths, and to ask for the help they need. For more information on her services, or to see about getting a copy of her fascinating book, check out motherhoodreimagined.org.

Many thanks to Sarah for speaking with us at Raise A Mother!

 

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Another Birth Story

Hey Mamas! Long time, no see. This time, though, there’s a pretty good reason for my little hiatus: he’s here!

That’s right, our second son arrived 12 weeks ago, just over 38 weeks into my pregnancy. Little J is small – he was just over 6 pounds three weeks after birth and is still not on the growth chart – but he’s doing well. He’s cooing and smiling and doing all the things little nuggets his age tend to do.  And so, I have finally found the time to emerge from deep in the newborn forest to share my experience of his birth. Continue reading

To Push or Not to Push: That is the question

pregnancyThe third trimester has officially started at our house. Woohoo! As Raise a Mother regulars will know, this pregnancy hasn’t been the easiest, so I am excited to be heading into the homestretch.

At the same time, we’ve still got so much to do. When I was pregnant with our first, I carefully researched and planned, making sure we got things ready throughout the nine months so we wouldn’t have too much to do at the end. This time…not so much. One of the things we have yet to sort out? Whether or not to try for a vaginal birth after c-section (VBAC) or to opt for a repeat c-section.

We are fortunate to have health care providers who are committed to giving us all the information we need and then supporting whatever decision we make, (Shout out to Ontario’s midwives!)

Still, it’s a big decision. After all, it’s literally deciding how we want our child to come into this world. If you had asked me right after my son was born, I would have said, without a doubt, that I wanted a VBAC. I even asked my midwife at my discharge appointment what I could do to help to increase the odds of a successful VBAC the second time around.

I had a hard time with my c-section, both before and afterwards. I was disappointed when my son refused to move from his breech position – our little Buddha making surgery a necessity. I was scared shitless when my belly stopped growing properly around week 34 and then my amniotic fluid got low, ultimately resulting in our surgery being scheduled earlier than initially planned because little buddy was no longer getting the nutrients or space he needed. After the surgery, my body temperature remained too low for me to hold my sweet baby, so I watched from under an inflatable hot-air blanket as my husband had the first skin-to-skin contact with our son. I had to wait at least an hour to hold him, let alone try to feed him.

I felt like a failure whose body hadn’t done what it was “supposed” to do. It didn’t help that I, like many women who have had c-sections, had difficulty breast feeding. My son didn’t regain his birth weight for a full three weeks, and we ultimately moved fully to formula feeding after three months of struggling with a never-ending cycle of bottles, boobs and pumping. I promised myself that if I had the chance to do it again, it would be a vaginal birth all the way.

But now, more than two years later, I can honestly say I’m torn about what to choose.

Because I’m not the same Mom I was when my son was born. I have enough distance, perspective and confidence to know that I didn’t fail my kid when we had a c-section (or for that matter, when we switched exclusively to formula). In fact, that was me Mom-ing Up. We did away with my expectations of how things were supposed to go and instead went with what was going to work best for my kid and for our family.

Now, there is a big part of me that finds it appealing to go with what I’ve already done – the “devil I know”, so to speak. After all, there are so many things about parenting that throw you into the deep end, leaving you to either sink or swim. Why not choose the thing that’s more familiar – where you know what to expect – if given the option to do so?

On the other hand, assuming that all is going well and there are no complications, VBACs are statistically safer than having another major surgery – which is, of course, what a c-section is. Not to mention that the idea of trying to deal with a six-week recovery period with a two-and-half-year-old at home sounds far from appealing, if not impossible. Seriously, how am I not going to pick up my firstborn for six weeks?

And, just because my c-section no longer makes me feel like a failure doesn’t mean that I’ve given up my desire for that moment of having my child placed on my chest immediately after he’s emerged from my body. Do I really want to give up that opportunity voluntarily?

On the other hand (yes, I have three hands in this scenario), the idea of trying to have a VBAC and ending up with an emergency c-section scares me the most. The idea that I could shoot for the moon and end up with a birth where I feel even more separate from my baby – and both of us are put at greater risk – is my personal nightmare. So, does that mean we shouldn’t even try?

At the recommendation of our midwife, my husband and I attended a VBAC information session run by ob-gyns from a local hospital. The facilitator emphasized that we shouldn’t think of this as a single decision, c-section or VBAC. Instead, we need to answer a series of questions: Are we comfortable with any medically-approved induction methods or do we want to rely on my body going into labour naturally in order to go for a VBAC? At how many weeks do we give up on that and schedule a c-section? If we opt for an elective c-section, what does our birth plan look like if I go into labour before the scheduled surgery date?  etc, etc, etc.

I found this framing very helpful because it recognizes the many variables that come into play in any birth experience. My husband and I want to ensure that we are on the same page, so our plan now is for each of us to answer the questions and come up with what would be our own ideal birth plan. Then we’ll compare and find the plan that will work best for both of us.

Of course, the decision may not end up being ours in the end. I know all too well that kiddos have a way of rendering your well-thought-out plans irrelevant. The circumstances of this pregnancy may shift and a VBAC may no longer be an option. The best we can do is plan for the best-case scenario, be prepared for things to change, and keep our focus on getting our little nugget here safe and healthy.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with a repeat c-section or VBAC. Any advice you can offer to this mama-of-two-to-be?

 

And then there were four…

Well, mamas, I’ve got an announcement: I’m pregnant again!

My husband and I are officially expecting our second child, due on March 3rd. No news yet on the baby’s sex, but we should be able to find out during our ultrasound in October. Since I love a) spoilers and b) planning ahead as much as possible, you can bet that I am counting down the days!

I am so excited to be able to share this news with you. It has been incredibly hard over the past couple of months to not be able to write about the ups and downs of the first trimester – especially when I know how great a resource of support we have in this village.

Being pregnant this second time has been a lot harder than with my first. The exhaustion and the nausea have been much worse than I experienced with my son. At one point a few weeks ago, I asked a good friend of mine, “When was the last time you were nauseous every day for months?” It wasn’t until I said it out loud and saw his eyes widen that it hit me what a physical toll being pregnant can take a body, even from the very beginning. And I know that many, many women have it worse than me.

Here’s what they don’t tell you about being pregnant when you already have one or more small children, (though it should be pretty obvious): toddlers don’t care that you’re pregnant. My son doesn’t understand that I feel sick and need extra rest. He’s busy being two and experiencing all the intensity of his brain developing at an incredible rate. He needs me to be the best, most patient mom I can be, day in and day out – even when all I want to do is find a comfortable position to lie in while I figure out what I might be able to stomach for dinner.

For all you mamas out there with older children, I know this doesn’t stop at toddlerhood. I distinctly remember, as a teenager, chasing my poor pregnant mother around the house making waterfall noises when I knew she had to pee. (I am SO sorry, Mom. That was totally a dick move.)

But the thing is, even with all its challenges, it’s the joy I find in being a parent to my son that makes me even more excited to meet our new little babe. Last week at my midwife appointment, I got to hear the baby’s heartbeat for the first time, and it was just as thrilling as when I heard my son’s tiny heart thumping away – long before I had any real sense of how much my life was about to change.

I’m so glad this cat’s finally out of the bag! I am looking forward to sharing these next few months with all of you mamas out there, and to hear about your experiences in this crazy world of second-time motherhood.

 

pregnancy-announcement

One Birth Story

There are two reasons for sharing my birth story in this particular way.

First, online discussions about birth are too often fraught with tension, either focused on quantitative details (length in hours, degrees of tearing, number of interventions, etc.) that can be used to compare/measure us against fellow moms; or devolving into endless debates with battle lines drawn on natural/medicated or vaginal/c-section grounds. Ultimately, though, we are all women who have experienced something at once unbelievably common and, at the same time, incredible: the growth of tiny people inside our bodies who are now real live people in the outside world. So I think we also need space for us to just share how that experience felt for each of us, without comparison or needing to identify our position on some ‘debate’ about motherhood.

Second, my central Scary Unknown the first time around was what labour would actually feel like, and I didn’t feel my childbirth ed class really covered it. Particularly, what might it feel like when the baby actually comes out, the precise moment when something that was the size of a beach ball under my shirt would actually exit my body? A reasonably terrifying prospect, but oddly, a memory which faded within a few months of the experience. I remembered all the quantitative and factual details that get retold endlessly to family, friends, and new fellow parent acquaintances, but I didn’t remember what the contractions or pushing actually felt like. Growing and delivering a child is the most awesome physical feat I have ever accomplished, and I imagine I’m not alone in this sentiment. It seemed a shame that I didn’t have any qualitative memories of what my body actually experienced.

(Heads up: The author knows she has a few friends who are uneasy with a lot of vag-talk, so if this is you and you don’t want to read descriptions of her reproductive parts, maybe skip this one.)
Pregnant mother

How is this supposed to go again?

So with these two things in mind and my second delivery approaching, I decided to journal about my experience of childbirth – during my labour:  Continue reading

3 Reasons I’m (Mostly) Ignoring My Due Date

A pregnant woman’s due date can mean a lot. It’s the standard question she gets from strangers. Inputting it online procures alerts about what fruit or French pastry her baby resembles in size each week. It charts her ‘progress,’ determining the topics of each medical appointment and when she can have that long-awaited ultrasound. It’s how she plans her last day at work or a baby shower. It might even be the same as a holiday or a friend’s birthday, which can heighten its excitement. It helps to prepare for a MAJOR event in her life.

So why am I trying to ignore this important date the second time around?

Well, with my first child, my due date was 8 days after my sister’s due date, which was VERY. FREAKING. EXCITING. I cannot stress that enough, seeing as these were not only first babies for both of us, but first grandchildren in our family. Our joint family baby shower involved a decorated calendar where everyone placed bets on when each baby would be born, and there would be prizes! Throughout our pregnancies, our symptoms were almost like clockwork.  What she experienced one week, I would a week later. It was wonderful to share all those details with someone whom I knew got exactly what I was talking about.

Then my nephew was born – 10 days early. So naturally, once he had made his arrival, my brain went into hyper-anticipation-readiness mode: That means it’s only a week until I go into labour!!! Of course, in the way that it does, reality kicked my expectation-having ass with nearly another month of waiting. Our boys’ birthdays are 27 days apart.

So while due dates are all very well and useful for some things, here are the three reasons I’ve been thinking of a ‘due month’ this time around:

3 ReasonsI'mIgnoringMyDue Datethe 2ndTimeAround

#1. It keeps everyone else’s (completely understandable and unintentional) pressure at bay… which helps me to feel less stress. 

When asked with baby #2, “When are you due?” my most common response has been “Not until the end of March,” or “Sometime late March/early April.” No one’s really been counting down the way they were the first time (including me!), which has reinforced in my own head that there is no reliable countdown to do, so therefore I don’t stress about it. Sure, it was a little embarrassing at prenatal yoga to be the only one in the circle who usually couldn’t remember how many weeks along she was, but it’s been kind of nice when even close friends ask casually, “So wait, when’s your  actual due date again? I forget.”

#2. I can truly enjoy the early days of mat leave this time around.

With my first pregnancy, I was a bundle of nervous excitement from the moment I left work on my last day. The nine days I went past my due date were the most impatient I have ever known, as each day I woke up thinking, surely it’s got to be today!  I expended most of my energy trying every natural induction remedy in the book: massage, stretch and sweeps, spicy food, hours of bouncing on an exercise ball, copious amounts of red raspberry leaf tea, as much sex as I could get my body positioned for, and as long and brisk walks as I could handle at a 40-week waddle. Also, certain that the wee lamb was going to come by his due date (if not early!), I had long checked off my to-do-before-baby-comes list. I was impatient to start using all those clean baby clothes and strapped-in carseat, not to mention eating the delicious freezer meals my mother-in-law had stocked in my kitchen. This time, I’ve been off work for a week and there are still things on the to-do list that haven’t been done, but I figure I’ll never know when it’s down to the wire, and it could still be weeks away, so why not just take a walk, get a pedicure, or read a book for now?

#3. It turns out maybe it’s not possible to know when your ‘due date’ should be, anyway.

A recent study on women’s gestational length suggests that why babies don’t generally come on their ‘due dates’ might have less to do than previously thought with errors in calculation or inability to pinpoint when conception actually took place. Instead, the study found that even when you know exactly when a woman conceived, the length of a normal, healthy pregnancy still varies by as much as five weeks. Five weeks! Knowing this last time, instead of thinking that babies who don’t come on their due date are either ‘early’ or ‘late,’ probably would have kept me from some of my impatience and stress about it. Medical issues aside, I imagine the same could be said of mothers whose babies come ‘early,’ and so they may have different worries or stress as a result. When I think about it, it makes sense that there would be this much variation. Women are all different, our bodies are all different, and our babies and experiences of motherhood are certainly all different, so why would we expect pregnancy length to be an exception? Maybe this is just another (small) example of how we can do better on accepting our diversity as women and mothers, rather than feeling pressure to fit into some standard mold.

So if you want to love your due date, love it. If you want to live by it and build to-do lists around it, power to you! But if it ends up stressing you out, making you impatient, or causing unnecessary worry about being ‘early’ or ‘late,’ then perhaps remembering that a ‘due date’ is really more of a ‘due month’ might help.

 

 

Hey, Dads-to-Be: Patriarchy Might be Causing Some Shit at Your House

If you’re a dad-to-be, I know you’re likely getting a lot of information right now on why your pregnant partner isn’t… well, herself. You might hear about incessant nausea, joint and muscle pain, bloating, extreme fatigue, trouble sleeping, swelling of limbs, constipation… and that’s just the physical side of things. From the emotional/psychological angle, your partner might show inexplicable weepiness, sudden bursts of anger, emotional confusion, frequent changes of mind, or overwhelming worries that she can’t seem to make you understand… thanks, hormones. Hopefully, it’s understandable why these things might make the person you thought you knew so well behave at times like someone you don’t even recognize. But there might just be another, sneakier, underlying contributor to your partner’s frustration, sadness, anger, or anxiety… especially if you happen to be in love with a feminist.

Chances are, if your partner is a feminist, patriarchy might well be fucking up her day (or week, or month) right now. Think about it: your partner’s likely proud of her ability to achieve things, happy in her self-sufficiency, and values her place in ‘the world.’ So if this sounds like her, consider these six new realities she may be facing:

#1. She simply can’t do things she’s used to being quite good at. 

“Girl power.” “Empowerment.” “Be the change.” These are catchphrases of modern approaches to raising girls into strong women. She grew up on these, perhaps internalized them, and is, hopefully, damn proud of the things she has achieved – athletically, professionally, creatively, organizationally, you name it. Now she might not be able to get out of the car without assistance, carry bags, reach things on high shelves, shovel snow, or, you know, walk at a normal pace. Nothing to make you feel like a child again like not being able to walk properly.

#2. Her own brain and body seem to be working against her. 

Patriarchy is bolstered by assumptions that female bodies and brains are simply inferior to male ones – that women’s brains are simply less “rational” than men’s, that their bodies aren’t as “strong,” etc. – and such beliefs have been used to justify women’s oppression for centuries. Now your partner’s dealing with “baby brain” (where she forgets things or has trouble articulating ideas), and she can’t lift heavy things. It might be frustrating her to feel that she’s perpetuating stereotypes that have been used to discredit women for eons, even if it’s only temporary, and even if the whole reason for her temporary lack of rationality/strength is that her body’s busy working on an incredible feat of strength: you know, growing a whole other damn human being, brain, muscles, organs, and all.

#3. She knows she’s about to be thrown into a shit-storm. 

Despite how far feminism has come, the label mom still comes with a lot of baggage. Check out Google Images’ top hits for “moms”:

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 Superhero. Handling everything. Blissful. Clean. Beautiful. (With one little tiny freakout in there, but it’s the ugly outlier.) Our culture still assumes motherhood is a ‘natural’ state your partner will just easily, gracefully fit into. (If this was true, we wouldn’t have postpartum depression, but we sure as hell do: about 10-15% of Canadian mothers are affected, with similar rates in the US.) It’s also culturally assumed that a woman will necessarily – and don’t forget, happily! – set aside large portions, if not all, of her adult identity to devote herself to being a mother… though she’s also expected to retain enough appeal (sexually, intellectually, socially) to maintain her relationship with you, and all other adults. Then there are the “mommy wars” and contradictory parenting philosophy camps on all sides to contend with, plus pressure to choose one of these camps so you start things off on the ‘right’ foot.

Even the strongest and freest woman might reasonably dread her inevitable entry into this fray, because even if she tries to avoid the whole thing, she doesn’t live in a bubble, and she’s smart enough to know this. She will, at some point, be thrown into the mix by others.

#4. Her world has shrunk to the bubble of your relationship. 

Reading stacks of literature on pregnancy and baby care. Being too fatigued to do anything after work other than get home, eat dinner with you, and then go to bed. Giving up physical activities she used to do regularly. Having to reduce hours at work or go off early entirely in order to be on bedrest. If your partner faces these sorts of limitations, it can feel like her world has become entirely enclosed in this pregnancy – which, since the baby isn’t here as a separate person yet, might really feel like her whole world has become enclosed in your relationship. And if she values interactions with the world outside of her partnership, this can be incredibly frustrating or lonely.

#5. She is sometimes literally barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. 

There will come a moment when your partner will be shoeless, with a uncomfortably large belly, and happen to be making herself a sandwich. The cultural relevance of this will hit her, and she will either react with exceptional good-humour defensive skills, or fall somewhere on the irritated/grumpy/sad/angry/outraged spectrum. If you’re not familiar with the phrase, see here; it’s a fairly upsetting history.

#6. She has to watch you continue to live with none of this. 

You won the biology and patriarchy lotteries. While your life might have changed since the positive pregnancy test, it’s no contest with the changes put upon your partner. You’re not responsible for prenatal vitamins; eating with the growth of another human in mind; doing 9-months worth (and probably longer) of designated-driver duty; getting up multiple times during the night to keep hydrated and use the bathroom; having an altered libido (and often, contrary to popular lore, not in an awesome way); preparing for a necessary and possibly lengthy absence from work; and learning how you’re going to push a baby out of your genitals. So from her viewpoint, you get to maintain all your physical abilities, keep staying up late if that’s what you choose, keep eating what you like, keep drinking with friends, and just generally carry on with life.

Of course, this isn’t patriarchy, it’s biology, but it’s so wrapped up in patriarchy and socialization that it can be a psychological gong-show for your partner. And it’s not your fault that this is the way it is – it’s the biology lottery. It’s not your fault that you won, but it’s not her fault that she lost either, so the least you can do is be a gracious winner, empathize with her over the inequality, and understand where she’s coming from.

There are good parts of pregnancy, too, no question. There are women who love being pregnant and have minimal discomforts. There are women whose chosen lifestyles already fit well with the demands of pregnancy. There are non-feminist women and women who don’t see their feminism as contradictory with the roles of wife and mother. But this isn’t for the partners of those women.

This is for the partners of women who might feel some patriarchally-fuelled upset about their pregnancy, motherhood, and the tangled interactions of biology and culture. If any of these things seem like they might resonate with your partner, being open to talking about them with her might help you get through what can be a conflicted, confusing, and stressful time. Who knows? Sometimes a simple, empathetic, “Fucking patriarchy, eh?” is all she might need.

 

 

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