So, yeah, it's been awhile.

I meant to write. I mean to every day. It's just that the only free time I have is naptime and bedtime, and frankly I'm using those times to catch some sleep myself these days, since my almost-11-month-old baby is sleeping like a newborn. I can't remember the last time I got more than four hours of sleep in a row, and the sleep deprivation is robbing me of my creative impulses, not to mention my will to live.

The husband joined the National Guard, and has one week to go of his 3 weeks of annual training. He'll be gone for all of October for more training, and then if things go as planned, he'll be headed to Officer Candidate School in January for 8 weeks, followed by more OCS and training for whatever branch he winds up in, all of which could total around 6 months. Penny and I are staying with my dad, who has kindly taken us in so as to save me from a breakdown while my spouse is off playing Army.

Things are stressful. I'm dealing, sort of.

I don't know how single parents do it; I'm ready to throw in the towel after only 2 weeks of parenting without my husband. I love this baby, but GOOD LORD does it seem like she's trying to kill me half the time. I spend about 50% of my time feeling completely inadequate and unsuited to motherhood, and the other 50% trying not to cry. There is a blog post in my head about that. Hopefully I can pry it out sometime in the near future.

Posted byMJ at 8:44 PM 1 comments  

The Fabulosity of Stay-at-Home Momming

When you're pregnant, you discover that every woman who's ever had a baby suddenly wants to tell you her birth story. Women you'd barely spoken to at work suddenly are keenly interested in the progress of your pregnancy, and desire urgently to describe to you in painstaking detail their own pregnancy/labor/delivery experience. You appreciate the encouraging stories, suffer panic attacks from the scary ones, and begin to wish in general that people would just quit talking about it already. Being pregnant is terrifying enough without the lurid descriptions of labor pain from the woman whose epidural line came out after an hour and nobody believed her when she said she was in pain, or the dire tale of the woman who needed an episiotomy and couldn't have sex for a year afterward, or the woman whose labor lasted 43 hours and ended in a C-section.

But you get through it. You have the baby with a little (or a lot) less dignity than you'd hoped, but it's sort of made up for by the awe you feel at the fact that you just squeezed a baby out your wee-waw (or had it cut out of you in a C-section) without either dying or going insane from the pain. Suddenly you're a parent, the event you've been anticipating for the past nine months is over and done with, and you're supposed to settle down and raise the perfect child after they let you take it home. If it's your first (and maybe even if it's not), you take a few days to pick yourself up off the floor after the responsibility comes crashing down onto your head. After a few sleepless nights and several days spent trying desperately wipe the deer-in-the-headlights look off your face while you attempt to navigate this new life, it begins to sink in that nobody is going to show up to take this kid and pay you twenty bucks for your time. It's yours. Yours. And you have to take care of it even if you haven't slept in three days and the milk's gone sour in the fridge and the catbox is overflowing and the dog needs to be taken out and you're hungry for something besides cheese and crackers and all your friends want to come over to see the new baby and you're down to the last roll of toilet paper. There is no escaping this responsibility, and you start to have moments where you think it might actually kill you. It doesn't, of course. You get through it however you can, and at the end of each day you wonder what the heck happened to that pleasantly child-free life you used to have. Your baby is amazing, and you love him or her, but man, this shit is EXHAUSTING. You begin to understand why rich people hire nannies.

At some point, you start seeing people again. Maybe you go to work part-time or you're only venturing out to the grocery store, but one way or another you start to see people. And just like the birth stories, you discover that after the obligatory exclamations over the baby's cuteness, they all want to ask you some variation of the same question: "Don't you just love being a mom?"

There are many ways to answer this question: you could refer laughingly to the lost sleep while assuring your partner in conversation that your baby is totally worth it; you could describe the magic of her smile and how this is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream; you could answer in the affirmative but mention wryly that you could do without the dirty diapers and midnight feedings. Lots of way to phrase it, but only one right answer: yes.

The answer that is entirely unacceptable, of course, is "no." Even though every woman who's ever had a baby understands the torture of sleep deprivation, the endless frustration of trying to entertain a baby with a three-second attention span and a hunger for new stimulation, they still expect-- maybe even need-- you to expound enthusiastically on how much you love motherhood. If you should have the unfortunate judgment to answer honestly, and your answer is not the one they expect, the shock and horror you encounter will rapidly convince you to lie in the future.

I learned the hard way. Somebody asked me if I was enjoying parenthood, and I laughed and said, "Not really!" The asker reacted as if I'd just told her I store the baby in the oven when I don't feel like playing with her. She physically recoiled with this look of horror on her face and said incredulously, "Really?"

No, not really. I just enjoy the feeling of being judged by people who believe they already know what I should feel!

If you want to know the real truth, there are moments when I question the sanity of any woman who claims to love taking care of babies. If you want even more truth, there are moments when I question my own sanity for even having a baby in the first place. I love my baby, certainly, and I do my best to give her a good life, but I cannot honestly say that this experience is one I'm particularly loving at the moment. I miss sleeping in, and I miss drinking coffee when I'm sleepy in the morning. I miss drinking wine with dinner. I miss having time to myself, and being able to do chores at my leisure instead of trying to squeeze everything into naptime. I miss working and going to school, feeling like a person with goals and a plan for achieving them. I miss going out on weekends, meeting friends for the occasional short-notice happy hour, eating dinner whenever I felt like it, spending quiet evenings on the couch with a book.

My life has been turned upside-down, and yes, I knew it would be, I expected it, I read all the books and blogs and advice columns, but the thing that has surprised me is this expectation that I should be enjoying it. "Enjoy this time!" I am regularly exhorted. "They grow up so fast!"

You know what? I would welcome a little growing up right now. A little room to breathe. A kid instead of a baby. A full night's sleep.

Maybe I'll look back and regret that I didn't savor babyhood. Maybe in the future I'll remember this experience fondly and advise new mothers to enjoy it. Right now, though, I'm just trying to make it through each day without surrendering to the nagging feeling that I've given up everything that made me me, to reassure myself that it will not always be like this. I'm trying to figure out how to be a good mother without sacrificing my identity entirely.

I don't love this, but that doesn't make me a bad mother. It makes me human.

Now quit looking at me like that.

Posted byMJ at 12:18 PM 2 comments  

My Body, My Choice, My History

It's Blog for Choice Day 2009, and I'm bringing the blog out of retirement to mark the occasion.

2008 was a big year for me: I gave birth in October to a perfect baby girl, and that choice is inextricably linked to the issue at hand on this 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The topic this year is "What is your top pro-choice hope for President Obama and/or the new Congress?", but before I tackle that question, I first need to tell a story.

Just over six years ago, about a month after my twenty-first birthday, I found out I was pregnant. I was working full-time at a stressful job, without health insurance, and living in a one-bedroom apartment with my boyfriend and my brother, neither of whom were employed. My boyfriend and I both felt very strongly that we didn't want to have children, and even if we had wanted children, our situation was not a stable one into which it would be advisable to bring a child. So I had an abortion.

I kept it a secret. My brother and my boyfriend knew, but I didn't tell anyone else. On a Monday, I had to go to my vocally born-again Christian boss and ask him for Wednesday off so I could "go to the doctor," quietly willing him not to ask why I needed the whole day and couldn't come back to work after the appointment. He allowed me the day off, much to my relief, but I was too afraid of questions to ask for another day to recover, so Thursday morning I walked a mile to the bus stop, exhausted and in pain, and put in a full day at work as if nothing had happened.

Let me be very clear: I did not then, nor do I now, regret my decision to terminate the pregnancy. It was the wrong time for me, and the wrong partner, in the wrong place. I knew these things, and I was the only person in a position to know them; it was my choice to make, and I made the right one. I did, however, feel a great deal of shame. Not because I believed I had done anything wrong, but because I felt the weight of other people's judgment pressing in on me from all sides. From the protesters outside the clinic, whose vicious stares made my face burn as they marched around with their signs condemning me as a murderer, a sinner; to the vociferously pro-life aunt who parroted such anti-choice propaganda as, "You know, they say the babies scream when they're being torn apart inside the mother"; to my own parents, whose refusal to discuss the sensitive issue in our religious and politically conservative house when I was growing up made me too afraid to broach the subject with them later, when it was a very real and personal issue to my life. Though I believed strongly that I was making the right decision for myself and my life, I did not know how people would react to it, so I felt I had to keep it secret, and it was that silence that caused my suffering. My emotions swung wildly as the pregnancy hormones left my body, and I longed to talk about my experience with someone, but fear of judgment kept me silent, and my secret festered.

Though I felt terribly alone and isolated, I was not. I saw women of every age, color, and economic level in the clinic that day. I overheard one woman in the recovery room tell a nurse, "I'm 43 years old and my children are in college; I'm done having babies." The woman in the bed closest to mine was weeping openly, thanking any healthcare worker who wandered close enough to hear her. Most of the women already had children, and most of the rest would, like me, have them eventually. None of us was there out of a perverse hatred of babies or cavalier irresponsibility. The common thread among all of us was that we had each decided that this was not the right time for us to have a baby, and we did what we needed to do to manage our lives.

It boggles my mind that some people would take away the rights of fully half the population to control their own fertility. Certainly, if you believe abortion is murder, you are free not to have one. But for all of us who don't believe that-- for people like me, who don't believe in the existence of a soul, or who fear the slippery slope of granting personhood to a fetus-- we simply want to be free to make the choice for ourselves. Every woman who's ever terminated a pregnancy had her own reasons not to want a child at that particular point in time. Is it really so hard to trust that an adult woman is capable of making a wise decision regarding her own reproductive life? To believe that what she decides is best for her is, in fact, best?

Which brings me to my pro-choice hope: that Obama, and the pro-choice members of congress, will frame this issue as it deserves be framed-- as a matter of trusting women to make our own decisions regarding our own bodies. So often abortion is discussed as a purely philosophical matter, and the real lives of real people are obscured by the rhetoric of both sides. The anti-choicers claim their opposition is motivated by a reverence for "life" and saving "babies," while well-meaning pro-choicers delve into the problems of personhood and when, exactly, "life" can be said to begin; both of these approaches completely overlook the living, breathing woman who will be forced to spend the better part of a year physically supporting another life if a pregnancy is allowed to continue. Having recently experienced a pregnancy from beginning to end, I am now more pro-choice than ever. Pregnancy and childbirth were the most miserable physical experiences of my life, and I can't imagine forcing any woman to endure that if she didn't want to. We must trust women to know what is best for them, and we must always bring the conversation back to this point: that adult women are autonomous people, capable of making our own decisions about our reproductive health.

Obviously, there are many other facets to the abortion issue that I'm not going to address: availability, affordability, doctors who refuse to perform abortions or refer patients to doctors who will, religious motivations for anti-choice arguments and the problems inherent in enshrining those beliefs in law, on and on ad nauseum. The most powerful argument I have to offer is my own experience, and the way the politics of abortion have affected my life. Now that I have a daughter of my own, I can only hope that if she should ever have to make the decision of whether to terminate a pregnancy, she will do it in a very different atmosphere from the one I faced. I want her to know my story, to know that above all it is a personal issue between a woman and her doctor, and to feel free to make her own choice without judgment from people who have no business meddling in her life.

I had an abortion in 2002, and I don't regret it. I made the right decision.

Posted byMJ at 4:52 PM 4 comments