“She gave me soap!” Her blue eyes, though dimmed with age, still manage to flare in indignation. “Does she think I’m dirty? Does she think I don’t wash?!?”
My elderly neighbour, Mrs. L., is in full battle-cry against her sister-in-law. Again. Being a well-brought-up woman, I don’t argue with my elders. I don’t know the sister-in-law, despite all the tales of offense and infamy I’ve heard. What Mrs. L. tells me won’t hurt this woman, since the much-scorned SIL lives in a different city.
The offense is clear, however: The scorned sister-in-law gave Mrs L soap for her birthday!!!!
I like Mrs L, I really do. She’s a feisty old thing, determined to live her life till the last breath as an independent woman. She still drives her car — only in brightest daylight, as her vision fades, and it won’t be long before he license is taken away, I’m sure. She lives in her own home. She has supportive family, who see that her fridge is properly stocked and that she gets to doctor’s appointments. And she has attentive neighbours, myself among them, who note whether she’s walking her little dog every day, and that her mail is not accumulating worrisomely.
But she’s also a cranky old biddy, only too willing to take offense, to see offense where there is none, to be OUTRAGED by something as simple as a gift of soap.
I listen and nod, listen and nod, until Mrs. L runs out of steam and totters back into her kitchen. Then I breathe a sigh of relief, shake off her negativity and willful self-absorption, and move on to my day.
I never argue with Mrs. L. She’s old, and, despite her brave front, she’s frail. The days that she can continue to live on her own are numbered. Though she’s in denial, I suspect much of her rage stems from this awareness. (Even if it doesn’t, even if she’s just a cantankerous old biddy, she’s old.) I am kind.
A frail, cranky old lady who, despite herself, sees the writing on the wall, is one thing.
I am less patient with the gazillions of healthy young things who do this sort of thing day after day. Today I came across this post.
I’ve been pregnant, three times. I meet a dozen or two pregnant women each year; on average, one of my clients becomes pregnant each year. When I taught prenatal classes, I saw hundreds of pregnant women in a year.
This sort of article wearies me. The woman who wrote it doesn’t like to be asked when she’s due, and doesn’t enjoy the ‘wow’ comment. Okay. So she doesn’t. But you know what? Lots of women do. What’s the poor hapless bystander to do? You say ‘wow’ to one woman, she’s offended. You don’t say it to the next, she’s disappointed.
When people make complaints of the sort this author makes, they are assuming that all people feel as they do. Therefore, what they need, is what everyone wants, what pleases them is what everyone should be doing. And that just ain’t so. Since all pregnant women don’t respond in the exact same way to their pregnancy and to comments on their pregnant body, then what she’s asking of people is that they be able to read her mind. Which is hardly fair or rational. This exasperates me.
I could have stopped here. There would have been a certain amount of undeniable satisfaction in writing an acerbic, biting, sarcastic post on the self-inflated precious snowflakeness in our society, the incessant demand that everyone UNDERSTAND me, and react EXACTLY how I want and need. How dare you step on my delicate toes?
But you know what? Once that moment of exasperation had passed, compassion arose, and I just couldn’t be so unkind. Because what this woman is really expressing is insecurity. She’s not being fair or rational, but her distress is genuine, and I feel compassion for her.
And I am here to say to the author of this post, and to all of you who empathized with it, “Oh, honey. The problem is not with those people, even if some of them are tactless. You’re pregnant? Congratulations! And I will tell you now, even though I haven’t seen you in the flesh, you’re gorgeous.”
How do I know that, sight unseen? Because pregnant women are. Gorgeous. Yes, you are. Each and every one of you. Despite how tired you feel, how bloated you feel. Despite the bags that may or may not be under your eyes. Despite varicose veins and linea nigra and flatulence and stretch marks and the aches and pains and general weariness… You.Are.Beautiful.
Know why? Because you are a miracle on legs, you are. And that baby inside you? Is another miracle.
Those people who want to know when you’re due? It’s because they want to celebrate with you! Or perhaps to commiserate, and on a day where you’re feeling nothing more than “will I ever, EVER get my body back?”, a little commiseration is always welcome. Isn’t it?
Those people who look at your belly and go, “Wow!”? They are thinking, “Wow. Isn’t it amazing what the female body can do?” Or they’re thinking, “Wow. I’m so glad that’s not me any more!” Or maybe, “Wow. I can hardly wait till I get to do that!” Or, “Wow! Who knew a tiny woman could stretch so far!!” Some of them may even be thinking, “Wow. Why, why, why won’t my body let me do that?”
What they are not thinking is “Good lord, what a whale!” Do you hear me? They.Are.Not.
If you take offense or cringe in shame, when you hear that ‘wow’… Do you know who’s thinking that ‘whale’ comment?
Nobody else. Just you.
When you are pregnant, you gain weight. You do. It’s a fact. A biological necessity. 25 – 40 pounds is perfectly, deliciously, healthy. You are not “fat”. In fact, this is the one time in your life when gaining 25 – 40 pounds is the right thing to do. (If you gain more than that, you are not ‘ugly’, but you are making it harder on yourself. Pregnancy will be harder. Labour will likely be harder. Chasing your wee one after s/he is born will be harder. So, for your own sake and comfort, please keep the gain to healthy limits. But ugly? You’re Not.) And shame? It’s so unwarranted as to be ridiculous. Truly, it is.
Okay, we could all wish some of them would be a little more tactful. Sure. But I will tell you with 100% sincerity, no one who says ‘Wow!’ when they see a pregnant tummy is thinking ‘Ew!’. (Okay, maybe 0.0001% of them do. You can pay as much attention to those people as you do to people who think the world is flat. They are the lunatic fringe and should impact your self-esteem as much as the flat-earthers impact your travel plans.) So, please believe me: people are excited, not repelled. Pregnancy may not bring out the tact in everyone, but it does bring out the joy. People love babies. People love pregnant woman.
If you feel shame — seriously: shame?!? — when someone comments on your size, the problem lies not with the commenter, but with you. Because you don’t believe, in your heart of hearts, that your growing, blossoming, lush body is beautiful.
I’m here to tell you, it is.
When I taught prenatal classes, I would often hear women complain that they didn’t feel ‘feminine’ any more. And I would tell them, “Can you think of a single time in your life when you are more womanly? What man on the planet can do what you’re doing now?” You may not look like the pencil-thin 14-year-old models in Vogue, but you are as female as they get, sister!
All of it. All the aches and pains and lumps and farts and burps… and … beautiful skin and thick hair, blossoming breasts and lush, luxurient curves. You are beautiful. Utterly beautiful.
If you believed that yourself, if you really, really believed that, then every time someone asked, “When are you due?”, you’d be thrilled to tell them. And every time someone looked at your voluptuous belly and said, “Wow!”, you’d caress it with your mother’s hands, and you’d say, “Yeah. Isn’t it great?!”
Because it is. It’s great. It’s a miracle. It’s beautiful.
I’ve been thinking this week about the Great Divide amongst mothers. Stay at home or go back to work. The so-called “Mommy Wars”, a term I loathe. I loathe it because it’s too simplistic. I loathe it because it’s too often true — women do wage war with other women over this issue. I loathe it because it’s so damned unhelpful.
I was inspired to muse upon it as a result of an email conversation with a woman I quite admire. We were discussing a parenting issue she had recently encountered, and as I composed my notes, I was having to pause, consider, reconsider, rephrase, edit, alter, tweak…
She isn’t a difficult, prickly woman. It wasn’t a difficult, prickly subject, except that it was informed and underscored by the work-home debate. The issue haunted our conversation. As I sought examples from my own parenting experience to bring to her dilemma, they were, necessarily, examples from the other side of that great divide. I wasn’t attempting to convince her of the superiority of my choice over hers, but it’s so easy to mis-step, so easy to cause offense, even when trying very hard not to.
I got to wondering why that would be. Why, even when two women are trying very hard to be respectful, is it so easy to poke at the other’s sore spots?
You know what? I had an insight, I think.
When a woman is deciding whether to go back to work after the birth of her child —
I need to back off a pace and address a pre-issue, lest I cause offense to yet another group of women. I am very much aware that there is a significant percentage of mothers for whom this entire debate is irrelevant, and its continual appearance in public discourse a continuous abrasion. Because, as they rightly say, “Wouldn’t it be nice if it were an actual choice? Wouldn’t I love to have to luxury to even consider making a choice?” No matter that some of them might still choose to return to paid work, the fact is for them it isn’t a choice. You can speculate as much as you wish on how many of the people who think they don’t have a choice in fact do, but it is undeniably fact that many, many families simply cannot afford to have a parent stay home. So, no choice, and the unceasing blah-blah-blah about it is just too freaking annoying for words!!!
So, to you women? You might just opt to skip this post now.
Back to the post.
When a woman is deciding whether to go back to work after the birth of her child, she (and her partner) will take a set of factors into account.
She’ll consider practical issues like finances, insurance, availability and quality of daycare, professional development, pension, time. Personal issues like ambition (this is not a dirty word, by the way), aspirations (for yourself, your partner, your children), self-esteem (what are its sources, for you?). Parenting concerns: will my child be best served by having this role model, or that? living here or there? having mom around all the time, or sharing time with other loving people?
The thing is, each woman making the decision is going to be choosing from a very similar range of factors. When two women weigh “child’s emotional health + personal aspirations + finances + role model + professional development” and come out with two entirely different choices, it can be very easy to see the other woman’s choice as a criticism of yours.
If you weigh the same set of factors, shouldn’t you come up with the same decision?
Well, no. Only if those factors carry precisely the same emotional weight for each person. Professional advancement was never a huge motivator for me. I might like the increased salary that came with it, but the job title isn’t a biggie. For me. I am not going to extend that to someone else and say, “If you really valued your children, “mom” would be the only job title you’d aspire to.” Any more than I would accept it if someone said of me, “If you really valued your daughters’ future, you’d be showing them that women can achieve great things in the world.”
We need to stop saying this critical stuff to each other, and even more important, we need to stop reading it into what other women are saying. Because really? I believe we read offense into things far more often than it’s intended.
(A little secret? Even if offense is intended, the best response is often to refuse to hear the insult. React to it straight, as if you believe they were only sharing a different perspective, with no judgment at all. Very often, if you do that, they will retract the claws and go along with your interpretation. They may even feel quietly ashamed of themselves, and change their tune a little. Thus we evade and re-direct aggression, and reduce the intensity of the Mommy Wars.)
Human beings are emotional animals. It is pretty much impossible for us to make a 100% rational, 100% non-emotive decision. In the case of parenting, I tend to think that’s for the best, anyway. Parenting is so very much about emotions, after all. You can’t eliminate them from your parenting decisions, nor should you.
So, you’ll weigh the same sorts of factors, and you’ll come up with a different conclusion than your sister, your best friend, your co-worker. Not because you’re right and they’re wrong. (Nor even because they’re right and you’re wrong — relax!) But because the factors carry a different emotional weight for each of us.
And that’s as it should be. We are different. Our children are different. Go to work or stay at home? Make the decision that feels right to you, that meets your needs and matches your values as closely as possible. And your children? Will be FINE. Love your child/ren, spend time with them, respect them, guide and correct them, provide a stable and nurturing home … and they’ll be fine.