Find out why now is the time for moms to stop being martyrs and start being selfish.
When I was a child, my mother would tell me the story of my birth on my birthday. Even though by the time I was six, I knew it by heart, she always indulged me because she knew it made me feel special. As one of four kids, we constantly fought for attention (and the best cereal), and so she knew by telling me the details of that day, I was made to feel important on my birthday. I wanted to carry on the tradition while the memories are still relatively fresh, and detail my experience of bringing DC into the world so that he will always have it, and feel special too.
My youngest son, DC, (i.e. Douglas Clifford after his grandfathers) turns two years old on Sunday. If you’ve ever met DC you know that he is someone that plays by his own rules, and no manner of chiding, begging, or bribing will make him do anything he doesn’t want to do. There is a great deal of academic debate on the topic of nature vs nurture in determining the character and personality of an individual, but I have the opinion that most of who we are, and how we behave is derivative of nature. DC is so diametrically different in demeanor from his more timid and acquiescent brother, that sometimes I wonder how they can be related. Personalities aside, his birth, as is often the case, was indicative of his determined and independent personality.
Days before my due date (January 30th), my parents drove from Florida to help with soon-to-be older brother Nash for when the time came for me to leave for the hospital. Life was fairly unchanged, my pregnancy had been easy, and I was able to run, work, and sleep normally. On January 28th, my husband, Sam, left for an overnight work conference. Thankfully it was in Atlanta where we live. I spent the evening with my parents re-watching old episodes of Game of Thrones as they caught up on Jon Snow’s influence over the Wildlings, and then went to bed. I remember feeling extremely alert and having trouble falling asleep, but around 11 pm, I finally did. Around 1 am, I woke up with strong cramps, and I knew DC had decided to make his appearance while his father was away for the night at a conference. I was beginning to know DC.
Nash’s birth had taken exactly eight hours, so I knew I had time. I called Sam and he, in his quintessential, easy-going manner, said “Ok, tell me when your water breaks and I’ll leave.” (We naively thought this birth would go exactly as Nash’s had, where the water breaking with him had signaled us to leave.) I went downstairs and turned on the t.v. which woke up my concerned parents. I told them to go back to bed and rest because labor had just started and we wouldn’t need to leave the house for a few more hours. Adorably, both of them got out of bed and stayed with me, and so we decided the best course of action was to finish the Game of Thrones marathon. Finally, the contractions had become powerful enough to warrant a drive to the hospital, even though my water still hadn’t broken like it had with Nash. Since Sam was staying overnight at the conference hotel, my dad took me, and luckily we had just skirted the infamous Atlanta morning traffic.
There were a lot of vehicles on the road despite the early hour, and the winter sky was still dark. When we arrived at the hospital, my dad ran towards the Labor and Delivery entrance to see if we could enter there, or be forced to go through the main ER entrance because it was so early. While I waited for him, I texted my sisters, who both immediately texted me back with words of encouragement, solidarity, and love. I felt as if they were in the car with me, comforting and guiding me along. Soon my dad was running back to the car and leading me out of the cold and into Labor and Delivery.
At 6:30 am we checked-in at the hospital, and I was given a comfortable room, fitted with a large birthing pool. The midwife asked if I wanted to wait to fill the pool, warning that warm water will sometimes delay the progress of the labor. I smiled, and politely asked her to fill it up. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my dad more miserable, and even though I wasn’t making any noise, he told me that just knowing I was in pain was torture for him as a parent. I told him to go to get some coffee, and I labored alone for a few more hours as women have done since the beginning of time.
My reliance on meditation carried me through the continuous waves of pain. I focused only on my breath, and imagined the safe delivery of my baby. I trusted in my body and the process, and knew that I would be fine. I never allowed fearful thoughts to take over, even when it was hard for me to catch my breath. I treated the pain like riding a wave, trusting that I wouldn’t drown. I let go completely and let my body guide me. The warm birthing pool was essential for keeping me comfortable and allowed me to easily change positions as needed. The hours flew by and soon the sun was shining through the cracks of the closed blinds.
The midwife and nurses came in periodically to check the unborn baby’s vitals, acknowledging that all was well. Sam arrived at the hospital around 9:30 am, after not escaping the aforementioned traffic. DC was born an hour later in the birthing pool, and as soon as the cold air touched him, he cried out loud and strong. I know that I was waiting for Sam to arrive in order to give birth, and I still jokingly rebuke him for extending what would have been a perfectly fast and easy labor because he had work obligations.
DC came into the world happy and healthy, and we knew that our family was complete. Later in the day, my parents brought Nash in to visit us, and upon seeing them, I burst into tears. I broke down, not from exhaustion or the hormonal crash (which is very real) but because some of the most important people in my life, individuals whom I love the most, were all in the same room–every one of them feeling this intense, palpable love for this newest member of the family. It was a perfect moment that I will never forget.
We left the hospital the next day, and life ever since has been one chaotic but beautiful wild ride, thanks in great part, to the unbelievably cute and indefatigably rebellious DC.
The issue of whether a woman should continue to work after having children, or resign herself fully and completely to being a stay-at-home mother (hereafter”SAHM”), has always been hotly debated. Even before I was blessed with two wily and vivacious sons, I heard the shots being fired back and forth on television, radio, movies and books about this pressing issue. SAHM advocates proclaim the sheer unbelievable selfishness of mothers who would place their small, defenseless, children in institutions to be raised by strangers, rather than sacrificing their ambitions for the good of the family. On the other side, working mothers routinely lambaste SAHM’s who chose to leave their burgeoning careers, by saying they are throwing away years of advanced education and financial independence in order to play patty cake and coordinate carpools and play dates. “Why what if she and the husband divorce, then she’ll be sorry with her shortsighted choice! And forget getting back into her chosen field, that door is closed!”
As you can probably guess, I chose to continue working despite the very real pangs of guilt of putting my (then) little babies in the care of other adults. However, my emotions aside, I logically understand that my children are better served learning curriculum with their peers in a structured classroom environment, rather than staying home with me all day bouncing from one random activity to the next. I have witnessed my oldest in class, without him knowing, and he is much better behaved and far more focused than he is at home doing the same type of project with me.
With that said, I do not want to disparage the mothers who choose to stay at home. At its core, the decision to give up financial independence and prolong any career advancement is innately personal. Whatever the reasons are behind her choice, it should remain exactly that, HER choice. I take issue with those on either side who self-righteously place blame and condemnation on a woman who is simply doing what feels right for her and her family. How she defines that and lives with that day in and day out, is her burden to bear, and an unkind, and (probably jealous) condemner, is not going to change her mind about her current situation. Rather, it will only causes a greater divide between two sides that should be working together and excited that both options are in fact available.
It seems strange that this topic is still relevant. I feel as if it has been talk-showed to death, however just today I was reminded through a friend’s indecision on social media and the responses that followed, that it still continues, and that women have not resigned themselves to living and letting live. Perhaps, it is because we are all dealing with our own form of guilt. There is no genuine winner. The working moms feel like they are not being present enough during their children’s formative years, and the SAHM’s feel as though they have sacrificed everything and will be left an hollow vessel with nothing to offer once everyone is old enough to take care of themselves. The truth, is that when we place our value in people and things outside of ourselves, we will never be happy. That holds true for careers and/or children. Happiness, as we all know, is an inside job. So make the choice that is right for you, and feel confident in that decision. After all, we are the ones that have to live with it, no one else.
I have a confession. It is not what mothers are supposed to say. It is “wrong”. But I believe in living an authentic life, and so with that, comes revealing things that you normally would not in order to maintaining a shiny veneer for your family, Facebook friends and colleagues. My big, dirty secret is that I am a working mother, and I would not have it any other way. Well, unless that meant I could keep my kids in daycare AND not work, in that case, sign me up.
See, doesn’t that come across as backwards, mean, and lazy? I imagine readers thinking why would she even have kids if she was not going to raise them herself? What is the point? I would see it that way too…before having children.
Now I know what mothers have known for a long time, but perhaps never really talked about because there was simply no advantage to revealing weakness, especially if it did not change your circumstances. But I can freely say, with absolutely zero reservation, that being a mom is HARD. Not the love part. Loving your children is the easiest, most natural inclination there is (thanks mother nature). I loved my two the moment I found out I was pregnant, and meeting them at the birth only confirmed my adoration for these little souls. However, I am not talking about maternal love. I am speaking instead about the day-to-day GRIND of being a mother. It is an entirely different and savage animal. It takes patience (something I am self-aware enough to know that I intrinsically lack), fortitude, physical strength, mental and emotional balance in the face of obstacles, and of course sheer willpower to do what needs to be done even though it may be the last thing you want to do at that moment.
For example, last night my oldest son Nash did not want to go to bed. I was exhausted after my reveille at 4am with his younger brother. Nash sensed my weakness and instead of complying with my firm, (yet obviously not convincing enough) demands that he go brush his teeth, use the potty and go to bed, he happily said “No mommy”. Mommy looks tired, the iPad could be mine all night, teeth brushing be damned! (So I imagine he said to himself). And it could have turned out that way, I was that tired. But then I would feel like I was failing, and he is only four for Gods sake, and I need to get it together and get him to listen to me!!! (So I imagine the range of emotions coursing through my body put to words in the milliseconds after he said no). After a brief, albeit boisterous, back and forth, Nash did what I asked him to do and was asleep within minutes of laying down. Goodnight.
I use this mundane, everyday experience, to illustrate my point. It is such an honor to be responsible for another life, one that you had a part in creating, but the long days of doing what has to be done in order to keep life going, is incredibly tough, and I am so thankful that I have a full-time job to release me from that drudgery, at least temporarily. And in that space I grant myself through work completely unrelated to motherhood, there is room for reflection and growth. I believe, because it is absolutely true for me, a mother who creates space for herself to nurture her selfish desires and curiosity about life, brings so much more richness to her and her children’s lives, and the result is that everyone benefits from it in the end.
I am incredibly happy to be a mother. Everyday I am challenged, I learn something new about humanity, become more empathetic and grounded, and release any remaining vestiges of my ego due to some embarrassing event at a store or restaurant. I am a better person because I am so tightly bonded to these other humans, but I am not ashamed to admit that come Monday morning after a long weekend with the kids, I am ready to drop them off at school with a kiss and get to work so I can think without distraction, or take a sip of hot coffee without having to break up a fight.
Motherhood is a wild, ever-evolving time in the life of a woman. It comes with so many challenges, ones that no one can really prepare you for. My little sister is thinking about having her first baby, and even though I feel like I’m constantly telling her about what new craziness I’m experiencing with my boys, I am so excited for her because I know her life is really about to begin. She will be elevated to another dimension of stress, sleeplessness, and aggravation, but with that also comes the emergence of a love for another person that I know I had never experienced before in my life. It is truly indescribable but also so incredibly simple, you just love them completely. I tell my sister that it is this instinctive, powerful drive that keeps me going when motherhood gets tough, but I also tell her to not quit her day job.