A No-Win Situation

The recent conflicts in the news such as the access to birth control vs. religious freedom debate, the push to remove formula from NYC hospitals and restrict it's access to improve breast feeding rates, the breast is best, as long as it isn't seen in public controversy, and the recent news stories discussing how the new Yahoo CEO unwittingly became a lynch pin in the mommy wars debate; all hinge on one key aspect: the politicization of the female body.

Somehow, no matter how much we have fought for equal rights (a topic I discussed here, in Part I and Part II) we have failed somehow to address the politicization of the female body. Despite our challenging of gender roles from the early 1960s, we have made very little in-road towards reconciling our modern day lifestyle with pervasive traditional gender roles. I agree with the author of the article discussing the recent appointment of a pregnant woman as CEO of Yahoo who quotes Rosalind Chait Barnett, a senior scientist at Brandeis University's Women's Studies Research Center, "If a man was taking a job like this and his wife was going to have his first child, that would be a yawn," she says. "People [wouldn't] be talking about it."

However, despite the fact she has made her way into the media spotlight for being pregnant, she has not helped matters when she declared that she is planning on taking only a couple weeks maternity leave and working through that. I agree with the author that she is setting up unrealistic expectations for normal working mothers (and perhaps herself). After all, there is no guarantee there won't be complications. I expected to go back quickly myself with my last pregnancy and ended up back in the hospital for a week with complications. We all know what they say about the best laid plans.

I also agree that she, as a high performing employee, has access to all the resources she needs to follow through on that promise assuming a normal delivery. After all, like celebrities who can afford a cook, a nanny, a night nurse, a chauffeur, and a maid, she will essentially be unburdened from all repetitive and physical domestic labor. That means she can function at a much higher level because she will be getting more sleep, eating well, getting personal time to improve mental performance and living in a clean house with no effort. Individuals availing themselves of these resources also don't see their children very often. There are trade-offs in all things.

So, rather than idolizing or demonizing this poor woman, we need to recognize that regardless if she succeeds in fulfilling her promise she will be condemned. She will be condemned for setting a bad precedent for other working mothers. She will be condemned as a neglectful or bad mother for going back to work so soon. Or, if she changes the plan, she will be condemned for not doing as she has said she would (as many first time mothers change their tunes post-delivery after the reality of the baby has arrived) because she will have given every employer out there yet another reason not to hire pregnant women or mothers. Literally, she can't win. She probably had no idea that the very fact of accepting the job would thrust her into the limelight of the mommy wars. Her body would become politic and her every decision criticized.

It is in this moment that we as mothers should stop and make a conscious decision not to judge her. Not to judge her certainty on her short maternity leave. Not to judge her decision to take on such a position of responsibility on the eve of one of the greatest transformations a woman can make. Not to judge her if she changes her mind and backs out or if she succeeds in fulfilling her promise to work through her maternity leave. When the entire country is focused on her decisions, we as women can only lose. It is only by letting her make her decisions for her family, for better or worse, without imposing our own beliefs on top of her that we can truly begin to loosen the politics around the bodies and choices of women.

The Right to Nurse

I am not an activist. I do not judge. I, as an anthropologist, was taught to be fairly open-minded towards other's beliefs, cultures, religions etc. As it applies to motherhood, I am not the type to stand here and tap my feet and waggle my finger at someone and spout off about "breast is best" and then rip my shirt off in an act of in-your-face activism. If you choose not to nurse, fine. If you choose to nurse, but are uncomfortable doing it in public, ok. If you choose to nurse in public but choose to do so with a giant blanket, or nursing cover-up, or my personal favorite...the Hooter Hider, go for it. I choose not to subscribe.

I subscribe to one belief and one belief only, I HATE to hear a fussy baby. If my baby is hungry, guess what? I am going to feed said baby and I am going to do it in the most discreet manner possible because that is who I am. On that same note, I find discretion is often circumvented by the introduction of a blanket which instead screams, "Guess what I am doing under here!?!?!" But regardless, the bottom line is I am going to FEED my child. If you have a problem with it....well then you can go hang out in the restroom, or the corner or closet or wherever else you think we nursing moms should go to hide from sight. My baby is hungry and I am going to make sure he eats! Period. Have you ever been so hungry you can't stand it? It makes you cranky. Now, would you rather see a tiny square of naked side, or listen to an infant SCREAMING at the top of his lungs?

If you are curious why I am suddenly ranting, it is because today, for the first time EVER in three children, I was asked to leave a pool while nursing. I had originally latched the baby on as slyly as possible while sitting on the top step of the entry section so that I could keep Piper, who was struggling a bit, within easy arm's reach. A pool employee, after walking by four times to see if I was really doing what she suspected I was doing approached me and nicely told me that while I was welcome to nurse the baby wherever I wanted on deck, I was not permitted to do so while "in the pool." I explained that I was not in fact "in the pool" and that only my feet and backside and the baby's feet were actually touching the water. Then I very nicely refused to move and quoted Colorado State Law "A mother may breastfeed in any place she has a right to be." I then inquired whether I had a right to swim in the pool. At this point she became highly frustrated and belligerent and told me she was going to call her manager. I welcomed her to do so and said, "Perhaps she is aware and can explain that this same situation was just on the news two weeks ago and that the pool, Pirate's Cove, had to issue a public apology to the nursing mother for breaking the law and that you are very much in the wrong right now."

It was at this point that she adjourned to the other side of the pool and whipped out her smart-phone, perhaps in effort to become smarter because she did not approach me again (one assumes she fact-checked me and found I was correct). Instead however, she and a large group of patrons that had collected sat across from me the rest of the time I was there and pointed and talked. Eventually after an hour or more of being extremely uncomfortable I left. Up to that point I would like to add, including her, there were a total of 6 other patrons at the pool. There was no crowd and no one was paying much attention until she stepped in. In the end I wasn't so much angry as deeply disappointed that even though the news had just dealt with this issue two weeks ago, there were still such uneducated people.

Again. I am not an activist, but if you are going to tell me to "cover up",why don't you tell these girls "cover up?" Pretty sure J. Lo is sporting more exposed breast than I do when I nurse.
 Or how about the girl rumored to be our favorite Christian, Tim Tebow's girlfriend
 This woman is definitely sporting more skin in the breast area than any nursing mom I have ever seen....but then again, what do I know?
 This is from a bikini catalogue, you can purchase this for your very own collection...hat not included. Not too much breast here, right?
 Or, my personal favorite, the ultimate string bikini. This I am sure is much more tasteful than me upsetting people by feeding my baby.

Lastly, a quick Google search shows many stories that are similar to my own. Apparently I am far from alone.
 A mom at Pirate's Cove.
Mom Told Breast-Feeding Violates Pool's Ban on Food, Drink

So I looked and found out that
Organizations exist to report any discrimination against a nursing mother.

And lastly I will leave you with this: The American Academy of Pediatrics states, "Breastfeeding and human milk are the normative standards for infant feeding and nutrition." and recommends "exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced, with continuation of breastfeeding for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant."

Back in the Saddle

Well, we are back from a wonderful week in the beautiful (and might I add COOLER- temp-wise) Colorado mountains and it is time to get back in the saddle. In addition, the previously mentioned half-finished garden project is now nearly complete and I am posting pictures so that you can be appropriately impressed with my hours and hours of physical labor.

I had planned on getting back to writing about some culturally different approaches to motherhood and income production today. But, since the date now marks an event of great sadness in my beautiful home state, with the horrible massacre in Aurora on the minds of everyone... instead, please take a minute and imagine yourself in my little piece, or peace of solitude.

Mentally sit on my bench, or take a walk down the path. Pause at the grass garden (the little ones on the end are new and will grow to match the old ones) and reflect on how beautiful, how precious and how fast life goes. Then take a minute to send a well-wish or prayer to all of those struggling with the effects of this tragedy. There are so, so many.

I will catch you all another day when we can get back to problems of the world. Today....today I just want to be.

To Birth or Not to Birth, That is the Question

It is July and I promised that this month I would provide some examples of how other cultures are dealing with the work/family balance. In doing so, I promise to postulate some, what I would like to think are, workable hypotheses for how we might change our approach in this country to benefit mothers in a more efficient way.

There is a general consensus in the anthropological literature that it is intrinsically difficult for women to combine income-producing activities (ie: work) with the domestic responsibilities of child care and housework that almost universally fall primarily on the shoulders of women. The ease or difficulty in which women navigate this has a lot to do with the cultural realities in which they function. In other words, societal and material factors can either help or hinder a woman's efforts to provide an income for herself and family. This extends not just to income production, but the production of children as well. The number of children that a family HAS is often at odds with the number of children a family WANTS depending on the cultural and material context in which they live. In addition this can change historically over time.

Reading C.H. Browner's article, "The Politics of Reproduction in a Mexican Village" the women of a small municipio (township) were caught between the pressures of the Mexican government to restrict births and local pressure that was seeking to maintain and promote population in the area to avoid loss of autonomy. Browner found that the women were succumbing to village pressure to raise more children than they felt they could comfortably afford or care for because of the prevailing pro-natalist mentality that was characteristic within the specific area. Most women, because of economic and domestic pressures desired few children, but feared public censure for any attempt to curb fertility.

So, these women were having more children than they desired because of societal pressures.

Then there is the U.S. In some ways we are the opposite from that village in Mexico. I know many women in my circle of friends who have made the comment, "Oh we would have loved to have more children, but I just knew there was no way we could afford it." Our culture has it set up so that the resources required to care for, provide for and educate each child mean you have to have access to a fairly high income if you wish to have a larger family and avoid a daily struggle to eke out a living. I have even seen passing references in newspaper articles that have likened a large family in America to a status symbol, much like a big house, fancy car or expensive vacation. By that same token, I know women who want so badly to have a meaningful career that they would never risk it by having a family. The unspoken, but often acknowledged fact is that many women, through the mere act of procreation, are signing the death warrants on their employment future.

Just like the women in Browner's municipio, who should not be forced by society to have more children than they want, the U.S. should invest in families more so that women don't have to unwillingly restrict or forgo fertility.

The Invisible Victims of the Colorado Wildfires

With all the recent media coverage on our fires here in Colorado I have had working families in the burn area on my mind, specifically working mothers.

It all started when my husband came home and was discussing the closures his company had to make in the evacuation zone. My husband's company is a financial institution and we have joked many times that they fancy themselves an "essential service" in a crisis. Now, in this case I would argue that is true, but in a snowstorm or some other situation where the whole city is shut down, it usually is not crucial to get cash, or make a deposit.

Anyway, we were discussing the fact that two of the four potentially at-risk locations were closed down, but that one of them called in their employees half way through the day when they lifted the evac orders, only to send them home again later when the fire switched directions. This got me thinking about working mothers. I imagined one of the employees in that location might be a working mom; she may or may not be evacuated from her home with her children, then after thinking she did not have to go in to work, they call everyone in. What does she do? Chances are if she lives and works in the fire area her childcare is closed as well. Now she has no home, no childcare, her kids are probably out of sorts and she is required to be at work. Then, assuming she scrambled and found someone to watch the children, and made it in to work, she would have then been sent home.

Now, I am sure that there were many, many mothers affected by the evacuation orders, and they have been weighing heavily on my mind. All the factors that go into the delicate balance that is caring for kids and managing a job would become chaos in the event of a natural disaster. One thing goes wrong and the house of cards collapses. In the case of one of my friends, she was told if  work was closed down, their hours were going to be deducted from their vacation/sick time. I imagine that is hardly an isolated incident. So, if your workplace is shut down and you have no one nearby to stay with and you can't afford a hotel (assuming you could find one anyway) you either have to drive all the way back to work or you have to take vacation. Or an even worse case scenario, your childcare is in the evac zone and your work is not. Suddenly a woman is bereft of care and appears to be "unreliable" to employers. That becomes one more reason to not hire mothers.

Obviously many of these mothers have husbands, boyfriends or live within a larger support network, but even then, tradition dictates that childcare problems almost universally fall to the mothers to sort out (a blog for another day, but Ann Crittenden writes about in her book The Price of Motherhood). Because of this the mothers are going to be the ones predominantly affected.

So, to all those mothers out there in Colorado who are temporarily displaced, lost their homes, struggling with the work/life balance in the worst circumstances and doing so with children who are most likely scared and out of sorts, you are in my thoughts and prayers. I am especially praying for all the single mothers out there who are struggling with these problems right now. I consider you to be the invisible, undiscussed victims of this disaster. I can only hope that this does not have any long term effect to your employment and that you find yourself with support and back on your feet sooner than later.