Note To Self: My Husband Is Not The Patriarchy

I’m angry. Right now.

This isn’t just any run-of-the-mill anger. It’s the kind of seething anger that pops up every now and then without notice.

It’s anger without a reason.

This might sound crazy, but I’ll be perfectly happy one minute — and then ten minutes later I’m fuming. It literally comes from no where. There’s typically nothing that predicates it. It just happens.

I try to get rid of it — try to step away for a moment and breathe. The anger doesn’t happen all the time. But it happens enough. And I become bitter and resentful for an entire evening.

It’s truly awful.

It’s basically this — out of nowhere I become angry at the fact that I’m the woman in the house. And just to be clear — I LOVE being a woman. The anger stems from this feeling that there’s this unspoken, subconscious expectation of me based on my gender.

Don’t get me wrong — my husband is a feminist. A big one. He’s amazing. He pulls his weight. He supports me totally and completely. He loves his children fiercely.

Yet sometimes. Sometimes I can’t help but resent the fact that he’s a man (which I’m glad he is.) Although he cooks and helps with the cleaning, and splits night-time feedings 50/50 — I still feel short-changed as a woman.

Because I worry. I worry about every goddamn thing, and my beautiful husband looks so goddamned relaxed. The thing about Ernesto is that he knows how to kick his shoes off and read a book in the middle of chaos. He’s not being lazy — the man works his ass off. But he knows how to take a moment — a breather.

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And I don’t know how to do that. As a woman, it’s ingrained in me to care for everything — even when it’s not necessary. There is this deep-seated unspoken expectation within myself to run the household. To make sure the kids get their baths, to do endless loads of laundry, to maintain the kitchen, to wipe down the bathrooms, to change the sheets, to make appointments for the kids, to schedule playdates, to sign the kids up for activities, to make sure the kids are well dressed, etc, etc, infinity, etc.

My husband does a lot. Hell, dinner wouldn’t get made without him. I wouldn’t have any food in my house if it weren’t for his diligent shopping expeditions with the kids. And did I mention he brings home most of the money?

So why am I angry? Why am I complaining? I decided to have a family — I should be grateful. What the fuck is wrong with me?

Last year my husband bought me a stack of books on feminism from the used bookstore. It was a lovely gift. One of the books called, The Bitch in the House (trying to tell me something babe?) is a compilation of works by various female writers that highlight the daily trials and triumphs of being a woman. I didn’t read the entire book. As a matter of fact I only read the first 20 pages. It was difficult to read a book about angry women when I have so much anger of my own.

For god sakes. I just want to be content. And happy. Which I am most of the time — about seventy percent of the time if you want an exact number — a number I would like to improve on.

But the first essay I read in The Bitch in the House was a piece written by E.S. Maduro, titled Excuse Me While I Explode: My Mother, Myself, My Anger. She writes about her feminist boyfriend — a man who was the complete opposite of her traditional, sexist father. In it she explains her seething anger as she realized that even the most feminist men can’t escape male privilege — that these men with all their progressive ideas about women, still unknowingly bask in the glow of that ultimate advantage. And it’s infuriating.

Here’s an excerpt describing her anger upon returning home from work and seeing her boyfriend relaxing and downloading music at the computer in the midst of a messy, dirty house:

On such occasions I will be angry for thirty minutes, or maybe until I have eaten something. I will ruminate on the place of the woman in today’s “modern” society. I will cook and clean, and all the while think about how I am falling into the same trap of housework that my own mother fell into. As I scrub the kitchen sink, I will hear her voice saying, “You have choices,” and I will scowl at the concept of choice. I will decide that my modern, liberal, open-minded boyfriend, having been raised by a mother who did everything in the home (in addition to having a job), will never notice or care if his girlfriend or wife takes over those same domestic responsibilities. He is capable of doing all of them, but if they get done for him, my thoughts go, he might never even realize that they needed doing in the first place.

What she continues to say brings full circle the very conundrum that clutches me.

But then slowly, as I finish picking up the dirty clothes from the floor, I will think about his day, will remember that he works long hours, too — and that he loves music, that finding new albums to record off our computer is a way for him to relax, to wind down. It will occur to me that maybe he was waiting for me to come home so that we could eat together, that he didn’t know I would be arriving so late; that he was sincere, rather than just trying to avoid a fight, when he offered to cook for me {. . .} gradually my anger will start to wane, and in it’s place will come guilt and confusion and sadness.

Maduro talks about how she wants and chooses to be angry.

I feel frustrated by the guilt that accompanies asking Paul to take the initiative to run the dishwasher, to do the laundry without shrinking my sweaters, to buy groceries that are healthy. . . to ask for what my mother never would have, to be what she would have considered a “nag.” In wanting my home to be as well organized as my mother kept hers, I feel as though I must choose between doing everything myself and constantly asking Paul to do more.

And this is where the resentment comes in. I don’t want to have to ASK my husband to do more. Why would I do that when he already does so much? I don’t want to be a nag. But I have certain expectations of how a house should run — how a house should feel. As a woman, I know how to run a house. Why? Because that’s how I was brought up. My mom did everything — cooked, cleaned, and raised four children. I watched her do it all. And even though my mom is a feminist, I felt the unspoken expectation that this is what I would do when I grew up — raise children and run a household. As a matter of fact, it’s what I WANTED to do. As a little girl I dreamed of being a mother.

And here I am with four children. Cooking. Cleaning. Running a household. Except I have an amazingly helpful husband. And there are many duties that we try to split evenly. But I’m angry that it seems easier for him. Easier for him to get out of the house — or so I think. Couldn’t I go out for a drink at night if I really wanted to? Ernesto would totally support that. But I feel guilty for WANTING to — because, well — I have other responsibilities, and the dishes need to be done, and the laundry needs to be folded, and Kiera needs to clean her room.

And it’s so obvious that I’m doing this to myself. Ernesto isn’t to blame. I WANT to be angry — to bask in momentary bitterness. But I don’t want to WANT to be angry.

See how this is totally my problem?

My husband is not the patriarchy. He’s my partner. As a woman I’m lucky to have all the choices that I have today — even though we, as women, have a ways to go.

Ernesto says that I can relax too. Why can’t I sit down for a moment and read a chapter out of my book? Why can’t I draw or write for twenty minutes? Ernesto feels no guilt, no shame, no concern about taking that small amount of time for himself to recoup. And he shouldn’t. He deserves that. But that’s — in part — because he’s a man. Kicking his feet up is okay and smiled upon. Our society practically encourages it despite the fact that we’ve come a long way. There are just some things that don’t stress him out the way it stresses me out. BUT THAT’S NOT HIS FAULT. It’s this never-ending cycle that’s all just a load of shit because I’m doing this to myself.

Really.

So in the musical words of my nine-year-old daughter, maybe I should “let it go.”

Yes. I just said that.

I need to find a way to let go of this unrest I feel as a woman. This underlying rage isn’t doing me or my family any favors.

It’s time to move on from this stagnant place — time to be grateful for everything I have. Time to stop wallowing in these “first world problems.”

I think I’ll step outside and breathe in the fresh air. And just let all this shit go.

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Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

First of all, I just wanted to welcome all the new readers. I’ve had a spike in traffic over the past few months — so I figured it was about time to say hi to all of you who’re so kind to read my little blog.

I’ve noticed that my most popular posts on marriage (found here and here) and breastfeeding (found here and here) have hit a real nerve — in a positive way — with many of you. I’m trying to catch up on all the comments and some of the emails.

As for the reason for my absence — I had my fourth baby in January. He came four weeks early so things were chaotic for a while — and still are! I needed an extended break from the stress of blogging. Because it IS stressful. Even though it shouldn’t be. Blogging should be something that I enjoy, and I want to get back to the enjoyable aspect of it.

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Our newest addition

As for the four kids — well — it’s a lot. I knew what we were getting into when we decided to take the plunge for the fourth (and last!) baby, but the newborn baby stage is never easy no matter how much experience you have.

And I’ve come to realize that being a parent of four children has set me apart from other parents.

I officially belong to The Four Kids Club. I say this because I get looks of awe mixed with horror when people find out I have four children. I’ve even heard a few audible gasps from strangers. In the DC area, a family of six is considered an anomaly — weird — maybe even a bit psycho. But that’s okay.

We ARE crazy. Crazy in an awesome, fabulous way. In my opinion, that is.

So thanks to all of you newcomers for stopping by. I hope to give you more posts to read and enjoy. Right now I can only post on a weekly basis due to my membership to The Four Kids Club or TFKC. But even then I can’t make any promises due to the crazy life that I lead. In the meantime, feel free to like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter (although I don’t tweet much ) or follow me on instagram.

— Sonja

Love By A Different Name

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Me and Ryan

I really believe that the first born child has it harder than the rest. I guess that doesn’t sound fair to the middle children or the babies — but it’s true.

Oldest babies are the test babies. The ones who have to live through their inept first-time parents’ mistakes. The ones who have to live a life recovering from their parents’ neuroses and anxieties about raising a human being for the first time — a foreign, precious, and terrifying experience. The responsibility of being a parent doesn’t really hit you until you’re holding that helpless creature in your arms and looking into those newborn eyes that encompass endless possibilities.

My boy. My oldest. I made mistakes with him. I had him too young. I wasn’t ready for his amazing, life-altering presence. But I did the best I could.

Now he’s approaching thirteen. He smiles less. He rolls his eyes at me. But he’s still Ryan. Funny. Helpful. Neurotic. Imaginative.

He has a learning disability that makes school a challenge for him. Some nights, his homework is almost unbearable for him. Tears well up in his eyes. “What’s wrong with me?” he says, as he rests his head in his hands in utter defeat.

It breaks my fucking heart. I want him to be happy. To know that my love for him is vaster than a billion universes combined. When I give him hugs, he puts his head on my shoulder — and I know he’s slipping away. Away to that tumultuous, angst-ridden place called teenagerdom. And I don’t want him to leave. Because he’ll see me with new eyes. He’ll see the mistakes I made.

And as he stands on that cusp, I’m about to give birth to my last baby. My last boy. A baby I’m ready for. A baby who’ll have more than Ryan. A baby who (god willing) won’t have to go through some of the difficulties that Ryan went through.

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As I’ve grown older, I’ve become a better parent — more patient and better able to enjoy the moment. I didn’t have that joy and unceasing devotion when I was young. I wasn’t a bad parent; I just wasn’t ready. I was in a perpetual state of impatience, waiting for that next developmental stage, because — god. It sounds awful, but I just wanted Ryan to grow up already. I loved him with ceaseless intensity, but I didn’t know how to enjoy motherhood. And he had to have felt that. I know he felt that.

So now I’m in my thirties. I have a three-year-old and a new little one waiting to make his entrance into this world. And I’m ready and able to give them boundless patience and tenderness. I’m ready to enjoy every moment of their little lives. It’s not fair to Ryan, but as Ryan has grown I’ve become a better mother to him. And that’s something, right?

Damn it. Here I am, not even a week after writing a post on mom guilt, and it’s here staring me in the face. Fucking guilt. But I’m human, and the best I can do is forge forward as a better mother, giving all my children the love they deserve; love by a different name.

I Let A Third Grade Snob Get To Me

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Kiera being her fabulous Kiera self.

My nine year old daughter, Kiera, frequently comes home with a host of tales about a particular girl in her class.

I’ll call her Claire.

Claire is, like, uber fashionable. “So in style,” gushes Kiera.

Kiera was enamored with her at first. Claire is new to the school and just exudes coolness. Apparently. “She’s already soooo popular, mom,” says Kiera. To make things even more interesting, Claire gives Kiera all kinds of fashion and style tips.

“Claire says I have to flip my hair behind behind my shoulders because it looks better that way.”

“Oh my god. Claire has soooo many lip glosses. She showed me. She brought them to school in her backpack.”

“Claire is so into make-up and style, mom. She ALWAYS looks fashionable. That’s ALL she talks about.”

“Claire taught me how to walk like a model today. We sway our hips like this. See?”

Oh my sweet nine year old girl. I told her that Claire focuses too much on looks and that perhaps she (Kiera) should redirect the conversation to other interesting topics. Not that fashion and beauty isn’t fun. I loved that stuff when I was nine. But the focus is a bit excessive. In addition, Kiera started asking for particular clothes because “that’s what Claire’s wearing.”

But then Kiera’s stories started changing.

“Claire told me she wouldn’t be my friend anymore if I didn’t wear my hair up.” She said this as tears filled her big blue eyes.

“Claire was telling me that I look funny today. I don’t think she likes me anymore, mom.”

Then the stories started turning into tear-filled tales of Claire’s dictatorship. Kiera couldn’t even draw something in class without Claire telling her she was doing it wrong. Kiera couldn’t play during recess without Claire pointing out Kiera’s failures. Claire would frequently get in Kiera’s face, boss her around, and declare that Kiera was not a good friend if she didn’t wear her shirt just so.

In short, Kiera was beginning to feel pretty damn inadequate. And Kiera feeling inadequate is a HUGE deal. She is the most enthusiastic, positive-thinking, go-getter that I know. She rarely lets anything get her down. She truly is a happy child — one that typically doesn’t care what people think.

I didn’t feel that these Claire episodes were happening often enough that it required me to get involved. Sometimes you have to sit back and let children navigate friendship struggles. I wanted to encourage Kiera to stand-up for herself. So I continued to encourage her:

“If she gets in your face again, tell her to back off. You can tell her she’s being mean and that you don’t want to play with her.”

“But that’s so hard, mom,” Kiera would say, “If I tell her to go away, she says she doesn’t want to be my friend. And then I start crying!”

“Well, you don’t WANT her to be your friend, Kiera! You’re a good person and you don’t need a mean-spirited person making you sad. By crying, you’re giving her all the power.”

Kiera would stand there silently and nod her head. I could tell she was taking my words in but didn’t quite know what to do with them.

And then.

One morning, Kiera came out of her room wearing an eclectic, colorful outfit — mismatched and odd looking but it somehow fit her personality.

Kiera announced:

I’m tired of all this fashion stuff. I’m just gonna be ME. I’m back to my hippy self. I’m gonna dress how I used to dress. This is me, mom.

With Kiera’s change of heart, the tales of Claire began to diminish. Usually a few weeks go by now before Claire is even mentioned. When Claire IS mentioned, however, it’s still not in a nice way.

This morning Kiera told me the following:

“I told Claire that you used to smoke cigarettes and she says that means you’re a bad parent.”

Ok. No. Uh uh. I don’t think so, CLAIRE.

In my extreme annoyance at this Claire tidbit I said, “Tell Claire she’s talking out of her butt.”

Kiera just stared at me wide-eyed.

Shit. I let a third grader get to me.

“You want me to tell her she’s talking out of her butt?”

“Yes, Kiera. You have my permission.”

She shook her head and smiled in disbelief.

What can I say? Sometimes you need a little third grade mentality to tell a third grade snob to back off.

So there, Claire. I said it. You’re talking out of your butt. 

Now go away.

The Moms Are Alright

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I’m a good mom.

I am.

What about you?

It’s so easy to get caught up in the “I’m not doing enough” mentality that seems to plague parents. Mothers especially are hard on themselves due to the deeply ingrained societal expectations that have been embedded into their double X chromosomes. We just think we need to do everything. No matter how independent and strong we are as women — no matter how far we’ve come — we have a deep, irrational fear of not being perfect. Not to say that fathers don’t feel parental guilt too — they do. God knows I’ve seen my husband wracked with guilt over something he “should’ve” done, or “should’ve” done better. As parents this guilt lies in wait — and we usually bend at it’s will.

But as mothers. As mothers — and as women — we have this unachievable expectation that we should have the supermom ability to make things right. And if we don’t make it right the first time, we beat ourselves to a pulp. If we don’t achieve unrealistic levels of excellence, we bend to the guilt — to the voice in the back of our head that says:

You fucked up. You’re fucking everything up.

And I’m tired of it. I’m tired of myself and other women feeling guilty because we don’t feel completely fulfilled as mothers — for not attaining some sort of mystical and spiritual plenitude from raising children. Motherhood is not what defines us, right? So why should motherhood be our sole definition once we have a fertilized egg embedded in our uterine lining?

I came to the conclusion a while back that I wasn’t going to bend to the guilt anymore. I don’t know how or when I came to that conclusion, but over the past few months I have refused to feel guilty over my inability to be a perfect mother.

Because that’s fucking dumb.

Here is what I’ve come to accept:

Motherhood is a part of my identity, but not my identity as a whole. I’m imperfect and I’m totally cool with that shit. I will not feel guilty for my imperfections. I will not feel guilty for putting myself first sometimes. All of this does not mean I love my children any less.

I love them fiercely. 

A good example of how mom guilt pervades motherhood is the #momfail hashtag on twitter. I know the momfail hashtag is an attempt to be self-depracating and humorous. I mean, it’s good to laugh at ourselves and our mistakes. But a depressing thing to note is that there are far less dadfail hashtags than momfail hashtags. Why is that?

Because women are set up to feel guilty from birth — because we not only need to do everything; we need to do everything right.

So here is a list of my so-called failures as a mother. These “failures” are what make me perfectly imperfect. And some of them I wouldn’t even consider failures — they just may be failures in the eyes of others.

  • I yell too much.
  • I’m impatient.
  • I’m okay with my kids not being involved in a shit-ton of activities.
  • I’m okay with them watching a little too much TV.
  • I’ve accepted that their rooms are just going to be messy most of the time.
  • My two oldest children are familiar with a whole slew of swear words due to my inability to keep my mouth shut when I’m driving. Also I have the knack of not censoring myself if I drop something, stub my toe or if I’m talking to my husband about a really shitty day at work. There are just some situations that my children will here me say “shit,” and “fuck.” And I’m okay with that.
  • My house is messy and cluttered.
  • I’m disorganized and an epic procrastinator. I don’t do chore charts and I’m bad at planning meals. I just tell my kids what needs to get done (and they kind of know what is expected of them by now anyway) and I just kind of throw meals together at the last minute (that’s if my husband doesn’t make dinner — which he usually does.)
  • I don’t read to my kids every night.
  • Sometimes I put my three year old in bed without brushing his teeth (scandalous!).
  • My two younger kids will go three or four days between baths. I don’t know — it just seems silly to waste that much water every night. Plus it just makes my life easier. My 12 year old is getting to that point where he HAS to shower at least every other day — he’s starting to get all gross and oily. Because ew. Puberty.
  • I drink two cups of coffee a day and will have an occasional glass of wine. And I’m 27 weeks pregnant. But I refuse to bend to the idea that pregnant women should abstain from all things pleasurable. Pregnancy is pretty fucking miserable anyway. Might as well enjoy my coffee.

I CANNOT be a perfect parent. I CANNOT live up to the unrealistic expectations that are heaped upon mothers from the time, the day, the second, they conceive their first child. I embrace my imperfections as a mother —  and I recognize the areas where I need to improve.

So just as the kids are alright — the moms are alright too.

And isn’t that all that matters?

Now stop your crying and acknowledge the fact that we all fuck up. You’re doing a fabulous job.

Postpartum Bellies Unite!

What does your postpartum belly look like?

No, really. I’m curious.

I’ve seen lots of lovely postpartum bellies — perfect, supple, flawless postpartum bellies. But most of those bellies of perfection are on movie stars or royalty. I’ve known maybe two women whose bellies bounced back to pre-pregnancy status. And yes, I was jealous.

So I’m curious. Go to the The Honeybee blog and tell me — does your tummy look as good as her picture?

Because holy shit. Mine doesn’t.

Not. Even. Close.

If yours looks fabulous, then more power to you! But a nice tight postpartum belly with smooth skin is just luck of the draw. It’s genetics, my friends. Yes, staying healthy and working out prior, during and after pregnancy definitely helps. But all of those things don’t really help the skin — the puckered, stretch marked skin. So you can see that the woman pictured in the blog  really hit the genetic lottery (she looks pretty stunning) — although she claims that she got her body back by clean eating, it would be nice if she admitted that a lot of this is genetics.

I know that Babble did a piece in 2012 about postpartum bellies with pictures galore of real postpartum pooches. A few of them were nice looking, but many were puckered, lined, and indented with scars and stretch marks.

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Postpartum belly from twins

I’m currently 25 weeks pregnant, so my belly is perfectly round and beautiful. This is the only time when you can’t see the stretch marks — the only time when you can’t see the puckered, sagging skin around my belly button and c-section scar.

It’s been a source of great insecurity for me. And it’s good to know I’m not alone.  Because apparently many women end up with the same battle scars. It’s just that women don’t like to talk about it. It’s embarrassing. Especially when women are praised for having perfect bodies soon after birth — take Kate Middleton for example. She was severely scrutinized for having a belly pooch ONE DAY after giving birth and is now praised for having a flawless belly four months postpartum.

I’m happy for her and all. But the media praise for her perfect body sure doesn’t help us “normal” women. It just makes us scrutinize ourselves more. It makes us wonder what’s wrong with us — what we did wrong to have this thing. This sagging, sad, droopy thing. 

It’s no wonder many women run out and get tummy tucks.

But that’s not something I want to do. Ever. I’ve actually grown to appreciate my belly with all its flaws. Because when it comes down to it, I EARNED those stretch marks. I earned the puckers and the squishiness. And no amount of sit-ups and working out will make that go away.

Here are a few more pictures of postpartum bellies.

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The above picture is from the blog Birth Without Fear which has a great post on postpartum bodies.

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So, my fellow women. I think it’s time that we embrace our bellies. After all, we’ve earned it. Have you learned to accept and even embrace your post-baby body? Or do you still struggle with insecurities?

I think I have moments of both — empowerment punctuated with insecurity. I think the more we talk about it, the less ashamed we’ll feel.

Postpartum bellies unite!

Eight Year Old Girl Believes In Herself

Kiera, my eight year old daughter, saw that I was reading a few articles on feminism this morning. She nodded her head and said, “Ah yes. Womanism.”  So then she stood before me and proudly proclaimed:

A boy at school said girls are weak and that we can’t even pick up a pencil.

So I picked up HIM.

That’s my girl.

How To Give Up Breastfeeding And Not Feel Guilty About It: Intro

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breastfeeding (Photo credit: sdminor81)

This week I will be doing a series of posts on breastfeeding.

And as you can see from the title — I’m sure you know where I’m going with this.

My feelings on breastfeeding are a bit complicated. I nursed my first two successfully for well over a year. And I was quite smug about it. Things changed with baby number three. It was a struggle that made me re-think my entire philosophy on breastfeeding and how breastfeeding is yet another guilt – inducing choice that women have to make. And the conclusion I came to when I went through my breastfeeding hell with my third baby was this:

Breastfeeding culture is not friendly to women — it’s coercive.

And here’s where it gets complicated — because I’m not anti-breastfeeding. I’m a breastfeeding advocate. A breastfeeding advocate who thinks it’s a woman’s choice as to whether her breasts will be used as a feeding device. And perhaps the term “feeding device” is not correct — because the breasts are also a source of nurturing for the infant — an experience — that if it all goes smoothly — is actually quite lovely.

But when it’s not a lovely experience, then the whole nurture aspect goes out the window. If mommy is stressed, then baby is stressed.

A woman should not have to make excuses as to why she’s not breastfeeding. A woman doesn’t “give up”. She comes to the conclusion that:

  • It’s not for her. Period.
  • She gave her body up for nine months and for the love of god she just wants it back.
  • It’s none of your damn business what she does with her boobs.
  • She gave it a go but complications arose and life is too short to worry about feeding her baby from her boobs when there’s a perfectly acceptable alternative — formula.

The F word.

Formula. It ain’t poison. It’s food. And whether you believe it or not — if prepared correctly — it is a perfectly acceptable and nutritious alternative to breast milk.

For the next week I’ll touch on how my idea of breastfeeding has evolved from a you-must-breastfeed-your-baby-even-if-it-means-martyring-yourself mentality to the idea of breastfeeding as it relates to feminism, choice and Total Motherhood. 

Total Motherhood being an ideology held up by society that is, according to Joan Wolf a professor of Women’s Studies at Texas A&M University, a “moral code in which individual mothers are ultimately held responsible for any harm that befalls their children.” A code that, essentially, expects women to anticipate any and all harm that may befall their children, and eradicate it. If a mother fails, then she is made to feel guilty — perhaps not directly, but indirectly in the form of mommy blogs, articles, and mommy forums that reflects a general message pervading our society:

That mothers hold the key to our children’s well being, and if we choose not to breastfeed, we are throwing away the key. An idea so fucking backwards that it essentially throws women under the bus all over again.

I mean, really. Don’t you think women have endured enough? Aren’t you tired of being made to feel guilty about every decision you make?

Tomorrow I’ll touch on my past beliefs on breastfeeding and the difficulties I faced with a baby whose hunger for life literally mangled my breasts — and how a certain blog helped me through it.

Until then, may you feel empowered with every decision you make!