Absent without Leave.

People make all sorts of assumptions about you when you reproduce. I don't think it is deliberate, but for some reason, in our culture, a baby isn't a baby anymore, it is a statement. A statement that the mother may or may not actually make. I guess it isn't surprising. In a time where a woman's reproductive rights are being attacked, (Step a way from my uterus, said Stephanie, to basically every Republican ever,) I guess it makes sense that our spawn is enlisted in the battle as well.

Who knew my cute wiggly worm means I suddenly hate my job, or the fact that I took a Hypnobabies class means I hate nurses? It doesn't, but apparently having a kid means you don't have opinions anymore, so other people get to make them for you. And then tell you alllll about it.

I remember taking Clara to the fabric store a few weeks after she was born. I stood at the cutting table, baby strapped to my chest waiting for the nice lady to cut my fabric.

Lady: So don't you just hate Obama now?

Me: (Startled) Excuse me?

Lady: Obama? One of his people said that SAHMs don't work?! Can you believe it? And Obama signed off on it! After that Romney woman raised five babies! Doesn't that just make you so mad?

Me: Oh. well. Everybody works, including the President. I'm sure we are all just doing the best we can. (Yes. I actually said this, I thought it was a surprisingly coherent answer for someone who just had a human being sliced out of her.)

Lady: You know that staying at home is much harder than working, right?

Me: Well, like I said, everybody works. (I'm tired now, and just want to pay for my fabric and go home.)

Fabric lady isn't the only one ready to tell me how I should feel about motherhood. Well meaning people tell me that "I must be so much happier now that I don't have to work," or, "Can you imagine leaving that little angel?" (It is none of your business, but yes, I can imagine leaving her. I can imagine leaving her on May 25th, because that is when my maternity leave ends.)

Other people hear her squeal in her car seat, roll their eyes, and say "You will be so nuts at the end of six weeks, you will beg to go back to work."

The scariest question is the breast-feeding one. Strangers ask you if you are nursing (Really? You are going to ask me about my boobs? When was the last time you had sex? Oh. I'm sorry, I thought we were playing Ask-Inappropriate Questions. My bad.)

If you say yes, I am breast-feeding, you might get a look of approval. Or you might get a lecture: "There is nothing wrong with formula!"

You say no, and a swarm of La Leche League members appear, with SWAT-team level stealth abilities, and armed with statistics about brain development and eye-sight. "Yes, formula is fine. You know who else used formula? Ted Bundy's mom. Also, Hitler's."*
Here's the thing: The War on Terrorism and the Mommy Wars are basically the same thing. See, I made a chart to show you. (Don't judge me. I get to do whatever I want when my baby is sleeping. Showering was an option, so was making this chart.)

War on Terrorism
Mommy Wars

          1. Started and perpetuated based on bad information: The other side hates us and has WMDs. We must bomb them before they bomb us.
         2.  If you say you oppose this war, you love terrorists and hate America.
          3. Even when we realize it is pointless and expensive, we must continue fighting to save face.
          4. Unscrupulous politicians will use this war to advance political agendas.
          5. People who are different than us (Muslims) are all terrorists.
        6.  Nobody wins

         1.  Started and perpetuated based on bad information: The other side hates us and doesn’t value our life choices. We must attack them before they attack us.
          2.  If you don’t take a side in this war, you hate women, mothers, and babies.
         3.  Even when we realize it is pointless and makes being a mother harder, we must continue fighting to save face.
         4.  Unscrupulous politicians will use this war to advance political agendas.
        5.  People who parent differently than us (stay at home, or work,) are all terrorists.
          6.  Nobody wins

Now I'm a liberal who (mostly) likes Obama, so my next statements about Terrorism might be a little biased. But from my understanding, I think lots of people realized that bombing the heck out of Afghanistan and Iraq wasn't working. Terrorism is a problem, but we had to end the war and look for better solutions. The average citizen of Iraq/Afghanistan wasn't the problem, but they were the ones suffering the most.

The way our country treats mothers is a problem, (our approach to maternity leave, ahem,) but the mothers vs. mothers fighting isn't working, so we need to end the Mommy  wars and look for better solutions. (Longer maternity leave, paternity leave, flexible work schedules, someone-make-me-president-already-because-I-GOT-this.) The average mom isn't the problem here, but when our decision to have a child becomes part of someone else's agenda, we suffer the most.

You know what does help a new mom? The people who offer support regardless of which side you are on on the working/baby-wearing/breastfeeding/co-sleeping debate. My friends who let me walk with them to pick up their kids from school so I can talk to grown-ups and get some exercise, even though I probably slow them down. The friends who give me tips of breast-feeding, but also tell me to keep a can of formula handy. (It isn't weird when a friend asks about your boobs, in case you are wondering.) Those people help.

Another thing that helps? Watching Bones. I've always liked Bones, (in the battle between the Deschanel sisters, Emily will always win,) but I especially liked it when Bones was pregnant at the same time as me. I felt tired after a day of teaching? Get it together, Child Bride, Bones is solving a murder. I showed a movie on my last day of work (two days before Clara was born.) Bones went into labor during a prison brawl.

Then I watched the episode where Bones goes back to work. She comes home and doesn't want to put the baby to bed because she missed her so much. Booth asks her if she thinks she went back to work too soon, and asks her if she wants to take more time off.

Bones: No. I want Christine to know that what I do is important. Just because something is difficult doesn't mean I shouldn't do it.

Booth: Says something supportive, but I forget the exact quote because I'm finally okay admitting that I see Booth as his own kick-ass character, and not just another incarnation of Angel. Sorry for the distraction.

The point is, that Bones is right. While she decided to go back to work, her statement isn't another bomb in the Mommy War, it is a statement that works for everyone. You go back to work? Great, what you do is important.  But Bones' statement would still be true if she had decided to quit her job and stay home. I want Christine to know that what I do is important. Just because something is difficult doesn't mean I shouldn't do it.

Being told how I feel about Clara, and motherhood, and working sucks. Parenting is difficult enough without people telling me how I feel about it. Fortunately, just because something is difficult, doesn't mean I shouldn't do it.

* I bet you are dying to know how I feed my baby now. Hint: I frequently flash old guys on accident.


Jackie Norris said...

I feel the same way. Women need support because motherhood is just HARD whether you work/stay home breastfeed/formula feed, sleep train or co-sleep. It's just damn hard.

I'm trying to figure out how to look at a situation and think "Hmm... not how I'd do that," without throwing another bomb in the mommy wars. I guess it starts if I don't keep that opinion to myself? It can be a hard line sometimes.

Miranda said...

I probably would have been escorted off the premises after stabbing that fabric woman with her own scissors. Proof that you are a much better woman than I.

MeganandClaudy said...

amen. I found this post because a friend of mine linked to this on her facebook. glad to see this kind of opinion being put out there. I recently blogged about a very similar subject: It's always nice to find new blogs with refreshing topics!

Karissa said...


smalldog said...

I had the exact same, "THERE it is," moment watching that Bones episode.

Abby (Diligent Joy) said...

I haven't been reading blogs for a while now, which makes me quite late in telling your congratulations. I saw the pictures of Clara and she's perfect. Totally perfect!

Meg Morley Walter said...

I still feel guilty every time I give my baby a formula bottle. It seems like I shouldn't feel guilty for nourishing my child. I feel judged whether or not any one is actually judging. I wonder if it always feels that way? Motherhood, I mean.

Sarah said...

Flashback news from 1919!

Politicians just realized women vote and vote more than men--and they want their vote. Common denominator among women--they are or are close to mothers. The mommy war is totally made up to get votes. How about all the mothers band together and attack real issues--instead of attacking each other for each others' personal decisions.

Boo to strangers that ask personal questions. Hooray to strangers that give you cake not for having your baby natural/c section for breastfeeding/formula for working/ or staying at home but just for being a mother. (Never actually had that happen but I would be okay with it. I would also except anything with peanut butter in it.)

Tori said...

I've always thought the biggest enemy of motherhood is other moms. I've been back to work for almost 4 months since having my baby and sometimes I feel guilty for not feeling guilty enough! Moms are hard enough on themselves, they don't need other moms making it worse.

calvinfossey said...

I have a 2 year old and have had my share of feeling judged by my every decision, but I've also come to the realization that since becoming a mother I am much more judgmental than I was.

I think it's because I make decisions that I think are best for my kid and when people don't do it, it makes me wonder why they aren't doing it "right".

I don't necessarily like that about myself now that I'm a mother, but it's the truth.

Also, it infuriated me that Jessica Simpson got a C-Section because she's terrified of pain. You can bet I will be judging her for every single parenting decision she makes - starting with the name Maxwell.

Ru said...

A bit off topic, but I plan to use "Don't you just hate Obama now?" for all sorts of inappropriate things.

Running out of paper towels, overdrafting a bank statement, leaving coupons at home, forgetting to get my oil changed, screwing up the curtains I want to sew ... DON'T YOU JUST HATE OBAMA NOW?

Aubrey said...

Stephanie, My comment proabably has nothing to do with this particular post. But I have been away from blogland for a bit so I just read your last 3 posts in succession and can I just say YES YES YES! I would like it if you could invade my brain for a bit so I could articulate my thoughts like you. Carry on.

Jennifer said...

I really enjoy your voice.

alex said...

I really liked that storyline on Bones, too. Also, it didn't really help my baby-wanting at all.

Julie said...

It has taken me ten years of motherhood (working at least one, if not two, jobs outside the home during that time) to realize that it would be wonderful to get over making a big deal about things that aren't really right or wrong (how you give birth, how you feed your child, where they go to school) and spend our energy on more important things, like swapping babysitting to go on dates with our husbands or sharing yummy recipes kids will eat.

MamaBear said...

Stephanie, I love you. You say things that I wish I had said, that I felt in my heart but couldn't put into words. Just because something is hard doesn't mean I shouldn't do it. This should be our mantra, we mothers, especially as our children get older and want to quit everything that isn't easy.

I would totally walk with you and listen and shield you from the dirty old men who like watching mommies nurse. lovelovelove

ChristyLove said...

I've been looking for evidence that suggests I should get into Bones other than my leftover crush on Boreanz from middle school. So thank you for that.

I wish I had your tact. I've sassed more than my fair share of people with the "ANYWAY, [change the subject]" response lately. I'm not good at being nice about having my personal space invaded.

workingmommawithababy said...

This is such a great post. I work at an office part-time and often my coworkers will ask if I like my "days off" at home. It drives me nuts because I know at home that I'm not sitting around eating chocolates while my child sits in his own poop.

Yet, I also get the looks of condescension from SAHMS when I tell them I work (how do I feel right leaving my child with other people for part of the week?!)

This happens with basically all parent decisions: breastfeeding, working, husband involvement, daycare, tv watching, letting your baby ride around on the dog (this topic is especially heated), etc.

How do we expect things to change for women and mothers when we can't even band together on the commonality that MOTHERING is hard, period.

On the plus side, I do think more women are seeing this divide and thinking about the harm it causes. The divide can be conquered. There just might be some women in fabric stores who end up as casualties along the way. :)

Melissa said...

I refuse to take part in the mommy war as well. I am doing what's best for my kids and family. It may not be what you're doing, but that's ok because I'm not you... I hate to say it, but it gets worse. I suffered PPD because of the mommy wars. i wasn't GOOD enough because I didn't give birth "right" for some of my more crunchy natural birthing friends.

Not to sound like a hippy, but why can't we all just love each other?

Kemi said...

I stay home with my 5 kids. My husband has worked two jobs at times, to make this possible. I breastfed some of them more than others. All of them had formula at some point. I have been on the receiving end of many "OMG" looks for every single one of those statements-- from both sides.

There is a 5 1/2 year gap between #4 and #5. What I NEVER expected to hear, from anyone, was if I had gotten pregnant on purpose, just so I didn't have to go back to work when all the kids were in school. I was so stunned, I sat there with my mouth open and couldn't articulate a single thought.

Sometimes, people really suck.

Wendy said...

Well, since I don't have children, I'll keep my mouth shut on what is "right" for anyone else!

I was laughing over the Obama conversation a bit, because I was wondering just the other day why I feel so compelled to be polite to someone who assumes I have the same political views they do and rather rudely pushes those views. They started it, so why do I respond by demurely withdrawing from the conversation?

Women, mothers and not, do seem to say some of the most hurtful things to each other. Rather sad, after so many decades of fighting to have the right and power to choose, that we question each other so much.

Jessica said...

Amen! Is it too forward to tell you I love you and ask you to be my best friend?

I have finally gotten over the guilt of feeling like I should WANT to stay home. Guess what? I like working. It offers me something that I don't get at home and makes me more sane as a parent. So I've given up on the "goal" of being able to stay home. Instead my goal is to raise good kids and ignore other's expectations of how that should happen.

Laurel, Brian, Addison & Liam said...

I work full time, with my kids. No, I'm not a stay at home mom. I'm a work full time away from home and get the privilege (most days)to bring them to work with me. It's the hardest damn thing. I love "sick" days when I am home with my kids, but then love to go back to work because sometimes it's easier on me for them to be occupied by the other kids who get to come to work with their moms. It's hard no matter what you do, and it's rewarding no matter what you do. And YES, we need to support other women no matter what they do, how they feed their children and what they wear. I love this post. And I have fed my kids both ways, breast and bottle and they BOTH have their advantages and disadvantages. Whatever works for you, works for YOU because they're YOUR boobs and YOUR kid, so mind your own business and just give a pat on the back and tell that mommy they're doing a good job. Amen, over and out.

tappens said...

This post is great! I read your blog but rarely comment. And thank you. We need more rational mommy togetherness and less us vs. them.


AzĂșcar said...

I've been all of those women.