The Pregnant Feminist Series: Part 3

My daughter at 2 months

My daughter at 2 months

I am now 8.5 weeks postpartum (with a 2 month old baby)!  I am making this post Part 3 of The Pregnant Feminist Series, although I no longer pregnant (obviously).  Perhaps I will become one of those “mommy bloggers” and do my next series on diapers or something (that was a joke…sort of).  Meanwhile, I invite you to see also Part 1: The Feminist’s Pregnant Body and The Public and Part 2: The Pregnant Feminist and her Social Life.

Part 3: The Postpartum Feminist and the New Normal

I said it in Part 1, but there is no better time then when you actually have a baby in hand to reaffirm that motherhood is feminism’s final frontier.  The gender-typing started when I was pregnant, which I mistakenly assumed was a transient state, like the pregnancy.  Oh, was I disheartened to find that it was greatly exacerbated once my little bundle of joy graced us with her presence.  The New Normal.

I had taken it badly when I was told that the men in my family weren’t going to be interested in coming to the baby shower.  It’s a woman thing, I was told.  I protested and insisted that if calling it a baby shower meant that the men wouldn’t come, let’s call it a family baby party or something – find a way to make the arrival of a new member of the family something that would actually concern the whole family and not just its female representatives.  I was thrilled when the men showed up!  Well, most of them at least (all the ones that counted, for sure).

I had managed to break free from the shackles of gender roles!  Temporarily…

While pregnant, my partner and I had often lamented the fact that it had to be me that was pregnant.  Not that I didn’t want to be pregnant – in fact, I ended up loving the experience and can’t wait to do it again – but rather the frustration stemmed from the lack of choice in the matter.  Silly, I know, but feminists are big on choice, you see.

Now that our daughter has been born, traditional gender roles have been sneaking up and tackling us, in spite of ourselves.  

The first visit to the pediatrician felt strange until we realized that every time my husband asked a question, the doctor looked at me and answered.  I thought she was going to report me to the DPJ (Child Protective Services here in Quebec) when I mentioned that I was not taking the full year of maternity leave that we have the right to in Canada.  In fact, I am going back to work 2 days after my daughter turns 3 months old.  WHY, she asked me emphatically, to which I found myself frantically attempting to justify reasons that are personal, individual, and frankly, none of her business!  And she has not been the only one to have this visceral response at what I feel is a private family matter.  I have explained over and over that…*gasp*… my husband is the one who will be staying home with the baby.

One could claim that taking a “short” mat leave is a cultural thing, or merely a matter of perspective.  Millions of women in the USA go back to work mere weeks after giving birth – although it could be said they have no choice.  Since I have the choice, it must be because I don’t want to spend time with my baby.  My maternal mechanism must be somehow skewed or altogether broken.

But that’s not the only new-baby-ism that has confounded my couple’s feminist values.  Do breastfeeding and feminism have anything to do with one another?

I asked this question to my husband just the other day.  His reply was categorical: “No!”

While pregnant, my partner and I had discussed at great length our plans for feeding our daughter once she would be born.  I wanted to try nursing for a variety of reasons.  Research-based evidence in hand, I easily convinced him that breastfeeding is the best possible option for our child’s health (with health benefits for Mom, too! – I will post a feminist-approved resource list one day).  The decision was an intellectual one, based primarily on health.  My husband was concerned about the bonding part of things, and so we agreed that I would express my milk some of the time so that he could participate in feeding and connecting with our child as well.  It all made so much sense.

Nursing my daughter has been one of the biggest challenges and most rewarding experiences of my life.  It blows my mind.

It blows my mind because it came as a big surprise to me – that it would be challenging…or rewarding…or anything, really.  I’m not sure why, but I hadn’t really even thought about how I would feel about it.  It was just an action that I was going to perform, for health reasons.  Well, it turns out that I have a LOT of feelings about nursing.  In fact, I feel that it has changed me as a person.

My nursing relationship with my daughter started out with a lot of difficulty.  I have since learned that this is an experience common to many women.  In spite of the fact that there is a ton of information out there, the majority of what you find is anecdotal.  In my frustration while googling about one day, I exclaimed, “Why is there no good information on the internet about breastfeeding other than all these grammatically offensive forums!”  My husband noted that we live in a “mother knows best” culture.  I’m supposed to know everything I need to know by instinct.  Which is the hugest motherhood myth ever.

My body and spirit were ravaged by our initial attempts at nursing.  My morale was seriously flagging as I dealt with the discomfort of recovering from a vaginal birth, and the blinding pain of bruised and bleeding nipples during the relentless feedings every 2-3 hours around the clock, day in and day out.  I hadn’t slept longer than an hour or two at a time for weeks on end.  I felt so isolated and exhausted in the middle of the night all alone with this little being that was losing too much weight and just wanted to eat – causing me toe curling pain – and I was the only one who could do it.  What’s worse, I was starting to feel terrified of my baby, when everyone around me was saying, “How are you enjoying being a new mother?  She’s such a joy!”  When feeding time came around, I wanted to run and hide!  Mixing up some formula and having my husband get up in the frightening wee hours seemed like a brilliant idea.  Feedings turned into a team effort.  My husband would accompany me with each feeding, cheering me on and offering support.

Fortunately, in Quebec, free access to a lactation consultant is included in your health care coverage.  Without the guidance provided by the wonderful nurses and LCs at my local CLSC (community medical clinic), I am nearly positive that I would have given up on breastfeeding within a few weeks of my daughter’s birth.  In fact, I’m not sure what kept me from preparing that bottle of formula.  Sheer stubbornness, I guess, that did eventually pay off.  We devised strategies to enable us to keep at it – using an electric pump to increase my milk supply, feeding her with a cup or spoon or finger-feeding when I was too painful or exhausted to nurse, introducing a bottle with Papa and my expressed milk one feeding per day so that I could recover.

It worked.  Nursing has since become a pleasurable experience for everyone involved; a great source of love, tenderness and intimacy.  We have even revised our objectives to try to continue breastfeeding for a year + instead of the initial let’s give it a whack for six months and see how it goes.  Right now I can’t imagine not nursing my daughter!  I plan on expressing my milk after going back to work and hope to continue our nursing relationship and providing her with the best possible nutrition for as long as possible.

At first blush, I thought that my husband was right: breastfeeding and feminism have nothing to do with one another.  It does force us into certain roles in the eyes of society and certain members of our entourage.  Also, formula is often seen as a way of “liberating” the woman from her traditional role as primary caregiver of the child.  Anyone can prepare a bottle of formula and thus provide for one of the most important basic needs of baby.  In fact, Mom isn’t even required at all in the formula-fed baby’s life structure.  

But is simply removing the mother from the picture really liberating her?

Perhaps for some women having the ability to not be required for baby’s care is empowering.  To me, breastfeeding is incredibly empowering.  I alone have the power to nourish my child with my amazing body.  It is a way to assert control over my body and reclaim my breasts, sexualized by the patriarchy, and render them purposeful and essential.  I feel powerful in the face of a consumer culture that wants me to believe that a commercial preparation could be anywhere near as healthy and appropriate for my baby as my own perfect free amazing milk.  Going back to work and continuing to nurse is also an inherently feminist act, and not simply by virtue of role-switching with my husband: I can have the career that I want and care for my child the way that I want.

The Postpartum New Normal

It is no lie when they say that having a baby changes everything.  You formulate an entirely new identity in relationship to all of the newness.  Now to just keep reminding myself that the new normal does not have to mean abandoning all of the old normal.  You just try things, go with what feels right, and trust yourself!

Namasté!

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The Pregnant Feminist Series: Part 1

5 months

As I write these words, I am 22 weeks pregnant, which is 5.05966 months pregnant for those who are not week-literate.  It’s my first pregnancy: with every passing week, new sensations and social phenomena blow my mind; I am becoming increasingly convinced that pregnancy is the feminist’s final frontier.  In fact, I have had so many hormone-fueled thoughts on the matter, that I decided that I would need to break this down into a series of blog entries.  Aside from Part 1: The Feminist’s Pregnant Body and The Public, please see also Part 2: The Pregnant Feminist and her Social Life and Part 3: The Postpartum Feminist and the New Normal.

Part 1: The Feminist’s Pregnant Body and The Public

I find it horribly unfair that I have to be the one that is pregnant.  My partner and I have often bemoaned that fact that he is in a far better position physically, professionally and geographically than I am to support a pregnancy.  An avid runner, he is in the best shape of his life.  I gobble down sachets of instant oatmeal as I run from meetings to networking events.  He is an entrepreneur that works from home and can self-manage his time and workload.  I am just beginning year two of a two year contract that keeps me hopping days, nights and weekends (not to mention jobhunting at the end of the contract).  We live 10 minutes walk from his family.  I am separated from my family by an international border.  But alas, I am the one with a uterus in this couple, and so tag – I’m it!

It hasn’t kept me from grumbling to myself – Equality is a feminist illusion.  And we will never truly gain equity until we can reconcile this whole child-bearing thing.

But that, my dear readers, is another rant.  Today, I make the grim observation that in North America, the pregnant body is public property.  Oh yes.

And we all know how people treat public property.

It’s not so much the belly touching for me.  Although the belly touching does make me uncomfortable (thoughts that run through my head – is my belly too soft?  Were they expecting a firmer baby bump?  That’s not where the baby even is, but please don’t go poking around 4 inches lower…), I have accepted it as something that people can’t seem to control themselves from doing.  It started at the dawn of month 4 when I was just barely starting to show and hadn’t even come to terms with my own changing body yet.  And it’s not just your old Aunt Matilda that does it – I have had my belly stroked, patted or poked at family barbecues, yes, but also at networking events and at the office, at restaurants by waitstaff, and at the locker room at a public pool.  It’s like I have this giant magnet strapped to the front of me and people run from all directions to put their hands on it.  Ok, I shouldn’t say people – women!  The day a strange man puts his hand on my belly without my consent will be a very unpleasant day for him, I can guarantee it.

Like I said, though, it’s not so much the belly groping that I take issue with.  I have been far more put off by some of the insensitive comments, observations and questions.  My body is now a point of speculation for the self-appointed pregnancy experts, the uninitiated in the wonders of child-bearing and the curious.  I’m not to say that all comments, observations or questions are unwelcome.  I have encountered very many kind, gentle and tactful people in the past several months and I heartily welcome their insight, shared experiences and well-meaning queries.  In fact, one question I love to hear is “How are you feeling?” – when asked sincerely by someone who really wants to know, it is a relief for me to be able to vent about the variety of new sensations, physical and emotional, that I am experiencing.  But when I am asked, “How much weight are you allowed to gain?” or told, “You don’t look very pregnant”, I have to wonder what planet these people are on.

I haven’t gained very much weight at all, mostly due to the fact that I was vomiting multiple times a day for the first 4 months and just desperately trying to get nutrients into my body.  It was really worrisome to not be able to keep down every attempt at providing a balance of vitamins and minerals, proteins and carbohydrates.  And hard to not count pounds and calories and to focus on how I feel.  I talked about it with my doctor, read some books on the matter, developed game plans with my partner – things are going better now, and we have things under control.  So then to hear from some random acquaintance that “you really should try harder to gain some weight”, I feel like killing them.  Like I want to have to explain my concerns and strategies to this person I barely know so that they can feel like I’m not intentionally trying to not gain weight.

I’m not the type of person that needs other people’s approval – but then again, I’m not used to be confronted so directly on issues that I am already feeling vulnerable about.

I gave a presentation to a room full of regional managers at work.  At the end of the presentation, I announced my pregnancy and intentions regarding leave and the continuation of my project.  One of them shouts out, “Where are you hiding it?”, and they all laugh.  Yeah, yeah, it’s really funny that I am 5 months along and just look like I’ve had a few too many beers.

Like a lot of women, I have always had a difficult relationship with my body image and weight (see: Having a Positive Body Image: A Feminist Devoir).  When the morning sickness subsided and I started to put weight back on instead of shed the pounds, it was the first time in my life that I have been happy to gain weight.  Relieved, even.  And it has taken nerves of steel to reaffirm to myself everything that I believe about my body, and owning my experience, and believing in myself in the face of criticism.

So here is my advice to other first-time pregnant feminists out there:

  1. Focus on intention.  When some awkward dope in your entourage says something that makes you want to unfriend them from Facebook, just try to remember that 99% of the time it is well-intended (believe it or not).
  2. Rally the troops.  Bring your confidantes in closer and build a network of allies.  If you’re finding social situations hard to handle, check out Part 2: The Pregnant Feminist and her Social Life.
  3. Make self-care community-care.  You are not alone.  No, seriously, remember – you are not alone.  All of that public property awkwardness stems from the fact that in North American culture, having a baby is a community event.  Work that to your advantage.
  4. Stay true.  Just because you are the pregnant version of you and are probably not feeling quite like yourself these days, don’t forget that you are still you – all of the boundaries and beliefs that you held pre-pregnancy may be evolving, but they are still your own.  Don’t give them up or hand them over to anyone else.
  5. Take the time to fall in love.  You are going to be a mother!  If you are a gen-y feminist like me, that probably scares the crap out of you as much as it energizes you.  Take the time to marvel at the wonderful weirdness of your body and the life that you are creating.  This is what’s important – the rest of what’s going on outside of you and your body right now, it all takes the backseat to this.

Namasté!

“Social Media, YEEHAW”: A Cowgirl’s Take on the Final Frontier

This cowgirl and "Sarah Palin". It's a long story.

This cowgirl and “Sarah Palin”. It’s a long story.

I say “God, I love social media” at least once a day.  Even after all these years there is still something mysterious and intriguing about the net, and that just downright tickles this little lady.  My partner says I am “abnormally curious”.

I consider myself a social media “newbie”, although that’s not really accurate.  I joined Facebook in 2005, was on MySpace for like a day (omg is my profile still out there??), have been blogging in various different forms since 2003, and if we include AIM, MSN, ICQ, and all those chat do-hickeys, yes, I have been social media-ing for over 10 years.  I now know just enough to get myself in real trouble in just about all of the ways you can social network.  But, it just sounds better to say “newbie” than “has over 10 years of experience but still has only a vague idea of what she’s doing”.  It’s hard to admit, right?  With the appearance of the term Social Media Guru, it makes it sound like there are actually people out there that have reached social media enlightenment, whereas I contend that the Social Media/Online Community Managers/Digital Specialists/etc. out there are more often people like me – students of the practice.  I am humbled frequently by all that I have yet to learn.

For this seeker of the avant-garde/amusée of the unknown/innovation aficionado, it’s enough to get me hot and bothered – and this past week has been practically orgasmic!

Rush Limbaugh vs. Sandra Fluke

In what is purported by his own website to be “the most listened to radio talk show in America”, Rush Limbaugh described “Susan” Fluke (her actual name is Sandra) as a “slut”, “prostitute”, “whore”.  Who is Sandra Fluke?  A 3rd-year student at Georgetown Law School, Ms. Fluke testified at the House of Representatives hearing on women’s health and contraceptives in favour of insured coverage for contraception.

10 years ago, what would have happened?  Heck, even 5 years ago.  The outrage would have been the same, but the response, very different.  Perhaps we would have written letters or taken out an ad in a paper like this one:

"Traditional" media still has an impact. Ad seen in the New York Times (March 4, 2012).

“Traditional” media still has an impact. Ad seen in the New York Times (March 4, 2012).

I am not saying that this doesn’t have an impact, what I am saying is that its impact is compounded by it getting immediately posted on Facebook and Twitter, and then going viral.  Even the fact that I can link to the original footage at the heart of the controversy thanks to YouTube is pretty amazing.

But the real magic in all of this is as small as a click.  Numbers.

We can now measure outrage in hits, views, retweets and shares – for all the world to see.  When you start adding  everything up, you start to have a real impact.  Rush Limbaugh, despite his apology-that-is-hardly-an-apology, lost TWELVE advertisers and two broadcasters!  There are economic consequences to blatant sexism and degradation in the age of social media!  At last!  And what’s even better, we can now THANK those businesses that chose to part ways with Limbaugh to confirm that their interpretation of those numbers are correct.  This is indeed what the people want.

Kony 2012

Do you know who Joseph Kony is?  If you don’t, you obviously haven’t been connected to the internet in the past 72 hours!  The rise of Kony and the fall of Invisible Children were swift and global.

I checked my email early Monday morning to find this video (Kony 2012, 29:52, by Invisible Children), which I promptly watched.  Then checking my FB and Twitter, holy crap it was everywhere filling up my newsfeeds.  The hashtags #StopKony, #MakeKonyFamous, #Kony2012 were trending GLOBALLY on Twitter.  Within 2 hours, events were organized to take to the streets on April 20th (as the video instructs).  Within 3 hours, harsh critiques started cropping up, giving the whole thing the allure of a scam.

Now, the content may not have all been published in that short of a time span, but that is how the virality was hitting my online communities.  Bing, bang, boom!  Wildfire on the prairies!  YEEHAW!

International Women’s Day

March 8th rocked my socks this year.  There were a ton of really inspired events taking place, and I wish I could have attended all of them!  A quick shout-out to the social media mistresses that organized the Tweet-up Féministe, when I am awesomer (and wealthier) and have a phone that can handle social medias (gasp, yes, I admit it, I have an antique Blackberry that does email, that’s it that’s all) I will be a very enthusiastic live-tweeter.  Which I could turn into a conversation about social media and privilege, socio-economic status, etc, but let’s stay focused here.

One of the events I did end up attending was a screening of Miss Representation followed by a powerhouse panel of amazing women.  One of the panelists remarked that there is a lack of girl news in the media.  Which got me thinking – that’s another noteworthy impact that social media has had on us – we now get to choose our news…to a highly refined extent.  When she made that comment, I couldn’t help but thinking that I see girl news everywhere, all the time.  But then I remembered that I live in Vagina Land, that magical wonderful place in which I am surrounded by like-minded individuals (or at least ones that don’t shock and offend me), girl news is omnipresent and positive messaging abounds.

When I leave Vagina Land, like watching television for example, my husband and I play games like “point it out when a commercial does NOT offend you”.  It’s hard leaving Vagina Land.  I worry sometimes that in my social media bubble where I alone choose who I follow, like or subscribe to, I am missing out on a more objective view of the whole.  Where do my values stand in relationship to the rest of society?  Is Vagina Land just as isolationist and extreme as Tea Party Land?

Another panelist noted a fact that I deem essential in navigating the social media jungle.  While yes, clicking, viewing, retweeting and sharing does have an impact, sometimes you need to get off your computer and speak to real people and take action as well.

The cowgirl’s take: Social media this International Women’s Week was about rompin’ and stompin’ the bad guys.  What are you posting?

MissRep Review: An Unanticipated Reaction

The documentary Miss Representation, by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, and aired on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. The film explores how the media’s misrepresentations of women have led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence.

Ok, let’s be honest, this is not actually a review.  Rather, it’s an anecdote of this girl’s response to watching the documentary for the first time – one that took me wholeheartedly by surprise.

I have the best husband there ever was, that ever will be.  It’s Saturday night, I’ve been working all day (yes, on a Saturday), and I come home about 2 hours later than originally planned.  The woodsy odor of toasted almonds greets me as I open the door – Sole amandine, my favourite.  He tells me that we’re having a movie night.  Perfect.  What’s on the schedule?  First up, Miss Representation.  I melt.  I have managed to marry the most feminist man on the planet.  (Second up is Dédé à travers les brumes, another great choice, btw).

One of the reasons I was so psyched to be seeing MissRep right then was because I am planning on attending a screening and panel discussion on the documentary for International Women’s Day (March 8th).  I thought it would behoove me to see it for myself first, reflect, and then have intelligent things to say or questions to ask. I’m not that good on the spot.

Plus, I’ve been dying to see it since watching the trailer.  The trailer was sent to me by a fellow Girl Guide back in October.  Her commentary was short and sweet: This is why girls need Guides.  Watching it back then was like getting punched in the stomach.  Alone in my office, eyes wide, it made me feel sick, physically nauseated.  Powerful.

So, my husband and I sat down with our dinner and away we go.  What was I expecting?  I thought I would be shocked, outraged, called to arms, indignant.  Yes, I felt that.  What I didn’t expect was guilt, affliction, grief.  3 minutes into the film I burst into tears, and they continued to flow for the duration.

I cried my heart out for the entire 90 minutes of Miss Representation.  I cried for myself, I cried for every woman I had met and those I hadn’t, I cried for men, for children, for America.  I even cried for Sarah Palin.

In my drama and despair, I told my partner that I could not bear the risk of bringing a child into this world.  I realized that the world that I believe in and dream of is generations away from reality, that my children will be victims the way that we are victims, without any way of knowing if it will get better.  I told him I felt like I was wasting my time with non-profits empowering women and girls – that my passion would be better utilized in the corporate world or in politics.

He stopped the film.  He’s not used to seeing me feeling hopeless, and I can see that I’ve got him worried.  He knows that I want to have children with all of my heart.  He knows that I believe that the struggle is not just necessary, it is essential to work to improve the lives of future generations.  He knows it.  I know it.  But for 90 intense minutes, the dark side caught up with me.

It is important to look at the dark side.  But it is also important to bring as much light with you as possible!

The light that you bring with you when you examine and explore the most painful parts of humanity is the love that you have for humanity.  You bring your friends, you bring your partner, you bring your family and even that jerk that cut you off on your way in to work.  You bring every ounce of forgiveness you can muster.

Saturday night I held on to my darling husband and counted my lucky stars.  I will keep up the fight and generating light.  Roland Barthes asks: Is it better to last or to burn?  I say you gotta do both – you need to just keep adding fuel.

*** TRIGGER WARNING ***

Miss Representation Trailer: It’s 8 minutes and 52 seconds that are worth your time.  Watch it.