Tag Archives: pregnancy

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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A Gratitude Journal: Birthing Conditions

A couple of months ago, Shannon introduced the idea of gratitude journal posts here in our village, so here’s a second one, sparked by this insightful photography series by WaterAid, highlighting the differences in what women pack in their maternity bags in the different places WaterAid works.
Mother Waiting

Mother-to-be Chadla in Nicaragua, photo by Jordi Ruiz Cirera/WaterAid

What struck me most as I read through the series is the number of women who include medical/hygiene necessities in their bags for the hospital. I packed an enormous bag to take to have my first child, but now that I think about it, every single item in there was a luxury – slippers to wear for pacing the halls, a bathrobe, a book to read, music to play (I may have even brought a card game?), a journal to write in, our camera, clean clothes for me and John, etc. Even the things that seemed like necessities – snacks, juice boxes, sanitary pads, diapers, my water bottle, an outfit for Arlo to wear home – could have been easily provided or substituted by the hospital in a pinch. Some of these women need to pack clean coverings for the delivery surface, towels, basins, razor blades, string, clean water to drink, and disinfectant.
Mat Bag Contents

Malawian mother-to-be Ellen’s maternity bag contents, photo by Jenny Lewis/WaterAid

 
I’m a little sheepish admitting that I didn’t even use any of the crap in my hospital bag during labour; Arlo was too fast for that. I ate some of the snacks I brought about an hour after he was born, but a nurse would have brought me food. The private birthing room had a beautiful tub where I had a hot bath of clean water before going home that night – and if I’d needed it, they would have had a bed for me to sleep in, with clean bedding and pillows.
 
So I’m feeling very grateful this morning for the provisions made for pregnant/birthing women in the country I was lucky enough to be born in, through no merit of my own. We tend in our culture to put a lot of stress and worry around labour/delivery, especially for first-time mamas, but this bigger-picture reflection helps me to both be thankful for and confident in the situation I face as a birthing woman.
 
If this photo series touches you similarly, here’s where you can learn more about and contribute to WaterAid’s Deliver Life Initiative. There are many similar causes out there as well, such as opportunities to fund a safe birth for a mama-to-be at Kangu.org, or enable a newborn checkup in a developing country through Plan Canada. Some baby registries, like BabyList (which I used and quite liked), allow you to include contributions to these organizations as options for your family and friends. Contributions like these are just one way we can expand our village beyond those in our physical communities, and extend our support to women the world over.

Letter to My Postpartum Self

If you’ve read this blog before, you might have come across my account of the dark, twisty postpartum period I had the first time around that caused my current, second pregnancy to, well, basically scare the shit out of me. Fortunately, I’ve had time to reflect, talk this fear out, and hear some wise words from other mamas in my village. Still, I know it’s easier to keep hold of these calming thoughts while Mister Baby is still in my belly than it might be once he’s out here in the world and my postpartum hormones mix with sleep deprivation in a toxic brew of negativity. So this letter is not only for me, to come back and hold onto in any twisty moments I might find in the year ahead, but also for any mamas out there who are in the dark place now, or who are pregnant and worried about moving into the dark once their baby arrives. Much love to you.

Dear Mama,

I know things are difficult right now. That things may seem like they’re falling apart, or that all your preparation has been for nought, or that you don’t even recognize who you are anymore, or maybe even all three at the same time. You may be questioning core things about yourself, your abilities, your judgment, your life, your partner, and not believing there could ever be a time where this uncertainty ends. All I can tell you is that even though you can see no light at the end of the tunnel, there is a lightI promise. I’ve been down this road before, and so have mamas since time immemorial. But I know that right now this seems like cheap platitude, so here are some thoughts for while you wait for that little light to appear and grow larger:

Hormones

They are rampaging right now, and are extraordinarily powerful, so don’t discount them. Remember those horrible adolescent years where you didn’t know what to do, or who you were, or how you were ever going to get to where you wanted to be? Same thing in early motherhood. This is hormones mixed with being thrown into the deep end of new expectations and new experiences, while striving for independence and a sense of accomplishment within this new angle of what it means to be a woman. But remember those wonderful teenage years where it seemed like everything might turn out a moony fairy-tale after all, and you couldn’t wait for all the fantastic experiences that were certainly ahead of you? This is early motherhood, too. This is hormones mixed with the delight in your little one’s smiles, snuggles, and that unbelievably good baby-smell.   So it’s a roller coaster, but a roller coaster you’re riding with a blindfold on. To pretend you’re taking a train ride, or to feel as if you should have been able to predict that next rise or fall, is ridiculous. You can prepare a bit, but some days, a fall you didn’t expect will still knock the wind out of you. When this happens, you don’t need to justify why – you’re on the roller coaster, that’s why.

Feelings

Similar to hormones, these are only sometimes things you have any control over, and they come in waves. Sorting out whether this particular rage about some unfinished laundry is the result of today’s emotional tsunami or a legitimate, last-straw outburst you would have had in the pre-baby days will be difficult. So if you think something specific or tangible is causing your melancholy or exasperation, notice it, but wait until the wave passes to decide how to move forward. Never be afraid of identifying a feeling, or admitting that you don’t know where it’s coming from, or that it’s overwhelming you. This is not a failure of rational thought – this is rational thought, because you’re recognizing the reality of your situation. The incoming tide will eventually stop, and you’ll be back to the emotional levels you’re used to handling as a reasonable adult.

Your Body

After birth it will be yours again, but not yours. You will still be attached to your babe for most of the day. You will not look like your pre-pregnancy body, at least not for awhile. You will not have your libido back, perhaps not for a much longer while than you find acceptable. You will be exhausted, at first from the experience of birth and its initial recovery, and then from carrying your wee one in your arms instead of in your belly, from night-wakings and extended periods of crying (from you or your little one). This is okay. Motherhood and marriage/partnership are long games, and you have time to adjust. There is no need to freak out about where you are 6-weeks, 3-months, or 8-months down the road from the birth day, or worry that this is where you’ll be forever. It isn’t.

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Housework

Acknowledge your role as a new mother, and not, unless this is your long-term plan, a ‘stay-at-home parent’ (even if this is your plan, give yourself some time to just be a new mom first). Keeping your baby alive and yourself sane can be a full-time job in itself, with simply no room in that job description for ensuring a tidy living room, kept-up laundry, made beds, or washed dishes. Keep the division and expectations of household labour at pre-baby levels until you’ve had a chance to adjust; don’t take everything on yourself just because you’re ‘at home’ now. If you’re going back to work after a year, this adjustment could be the whole damn year. That’s okay. If it takes less than a year, bonus for you, but treat it as a bonus, not an expectation.

Family

Fuck the advice you’ve received about ‘managing’ family interactions in the postpartum period – you’ve probably been told to both accept all help that is offered, but also to guard time to bond with your wee one so you’re not overrun with well-meaning visitors. This conflicting advice, especially while riding the hormonal roller coaster, might have you torn in the same day between desperately needing someone to be there to hold your baby so you can have a shower, but feeling like a failure if you ask for help because you can’t even manage to get a shower without assistance. Or feeling incredibly lonely for another grown up to talk to but also so drained you don’t have the energy to contribute to an adult conversation. In those moments, identify your feelings – loneliness, or irritability, or  perhaps a desire to just be alone with your baby but only-after-that-shower-because-unless-that-happens-you’re-going-to-go-crazy. Look at the feeling for a minute, then let it drop beside you onto the floor. And then ask for that help from someone who loves you, and be honest with them about that feeling so they can help you in the way you need, which is really what they want to do. Trust me.

Bonding with Your Wee One

You are your baby’s only mama, and no one can replace you. Even if/when you don’t breastfeed, even if you go back to work early, even if your wee one loves spending time with other relatives and friends… none of these things change that you are momSo embrace those other relationships for your child, embrace the good things that come along with the absence/end of breastfeeding (inebriants, non-nursing clothes, and outings longer than 2 hours, anyone?), and embrace the return to the parts of your professional work that you enjoy. Cut yourself some major slack on the bad days (see all the thoughts above), and luxuriate on the good days, so that you live presently in the moment with this new tiny person who is constantly learning more about the world, and about you, his mama. Love every new discovery. Teach him to breathe deeply through pain even when you think you might fall apart instead. And remember that this moment in time, whether it’s going fantastically or horrendously, will end. Let that knowledge increase your appreciation of the moment or your comfort for the future – or perhaps both, if it’s that kind of day.

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Remember that you are working through a tremendous feat, walking on the rocky mountain that is the postpartum period. There is no finish line, no set path, no goal to get to the top, even though it may feel like you should have such a goal in sight. There is only your experience of each day on the mountain, how you feel there, and the memories you will keep later. Eventually you will leave this mountain, but you may not even notice when the ground evens out. So don’t worry about looking for the plateaus – just live in the place you are today, find a spring of fresh water and a soft place to lay yours and your baby’s head. Whenever the sun is out, take a pause to let it warm your face. If you do that each day, you’ll be just fine.

Love,

Lindsay

Trying Not to Let Hormones Best My Good Judgement

Do you ever have one of those moments where you feel like your emotions control you and not the other way around? Well, in this pregnancy I’m having those moments more often than in my first, and today’s particular hormonal meltdown led me to one important lesson.

The specifics aren’t important, the time, location, or parties involved. What is important is that I let the hormonal meltdown dictate my behavior. I acted in a way that I would never normally act,  and sent information about my feelings  via text message, a mistake I thought I had learned long ago was never a good idea. I was immediately embarrassed about this, and tried to retract my behavior to the injured party, but the things I wrote had already been recorded, already received, already interpreted, already reacted to. In normal communication behavior, I know it’s vital for me to step back and reflect on what it is that I truly want to say, how I truly feel, and take the time to let the hormone wave pass to determine if it’s a good idea to articulate that particular sentiment out loud. And if it is, I know in person conversation is always better than a text message.

When I started writing this post, I didn’t think it had a lot to do with motherhood, other than the fact that my meltdown was spurred by pregnancy hormones. But maybe it was also just one of many small experiences that serve to remind me of one of the key skills of parenthood. There are a lot of stressors that come up as a parent – overlapping worries about your child, the demands of balancing work and home life, the strain that feeling like you have much less time than you used to can put on your relationship with your partner, etc. But one of the key skills, I think at least for me, is learning to not let the emotions that arise along with those stressors dictate my behavior. Learning to model for my kids that we are each capable of making conscious decisions about how we behave, even in times of duress. Of course, I’m going to slip up. We all do. And if we’re lucky, we have people in our lives who will embrace us even in those moments where we let the hormonal wave wash us away, against our better judgement; I know I am. And I know I will try to be that person for my kids, the person who will help them stand up again when they’ve been knocked down by the waves, but also show them how to stand stronger the next time.

Our Bellies, Ourselves

A couple of weeks ago, I got on the bus for my morning commute. It was crowded and I was carrying a large bag, so I was pumped when a woman got up to give me her seat. I was less pumped a few minutes later when a couple of kids got on the bus and the same woman insisted that I remain seated because I was pregnant.

The thing is, I’m not pregnant. I was pregnant a year-and-a-half ago, but I’m not anymore.

I didn’t know what to say to the woman, so I said nothing at all, and just stayed in my seat. I figured that correcting her would only serve to make both she and I feel embarrassed and uncomfortable — and the kids had already found other seats anyway. Still, the experience stuck in my mind for the rest of the day.

When I was pregnant, I was thrilled when people noticed. I loved getting seats on the bus and using the “Expectant Mothers Only” parking spaces at the grocery store. It was one of the only times in my life when I truly embraced my body in all its forms. It was remarkable to me, then, how bothered I was when someone thought I was pregnant now. Why did that assumption suddenly make me feel so bad about myself, when it used to give such joy?

When I told a colleague what had happened, she gave me a hug and said, “That’s just the worst. Because that person is really just saying that there’s something wrong with your body“. Lindsay concurred: “People just don’t recognize that there are many different, normal body shapes,” she said.

And they were right. What I was most bothered by was a stranger making any sort of presumption about the state of my body and feeling comfortable enough to comment on it.

This annoyed me when I was pregnant as well. My husband was shocked when I told him about complete strangers touching my swollen belly, or sharing unsolicited advice about pregnancy, birth, my health, or that of the baby. But other mamas and mamas-to-be I talked to had all experienced the same thing.

The truth of the matter is that even a slight indication that a woman might be pregnant seems to suddenly turn her body into a public object that all are entitled to judge and comment upon. And whether or not the woman is actually pregnant, these judgments can cause her to feel quite insecure.

Last year, Jennifer Garner made headlines when she told Ellen DeGeneres that she did indeed have a baby bump — one named after her three children — and that everyone (including the tabloids) would just have to get used to it. Women cheered. Because whether my rounded tummy is the result of a bun in the oven, or a cinnamon bun for second breakfast, it shouldn’t be up for public comment.

Aside from the fact that it is generally much safer not to comment on someone’s pregnancy until there can be no doubt that there actually is one, I appreciate that this woman was only trying to give up her seat on a bus to someone she perceived as needing it. But even if I was pregnant, I would be perfectly capable of deciding to give up my seat for someone else.

Because it’s my baby bump after all.

~ Shannon

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