So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

29 November, 2009

Non-Ranty Mamablogging

It's hard for me to figure out how to write about this whole motherhood gig, because I'm pretty much convinced that the stuff I can't turn into some kind of political rant or interesting bit of introspection about the nature of my personal reality will be boring to the entire rest of the universe so why write it? Which tends to bias me towards only writing about stressors, because stressors are for blogging.

I don't think that's entirely well-balanced, so I want to fix it.

Here's Little Foot, vigorously waving a toy lion made for her by Vieva, who appears occasionally in the comments here. (Little Foot's a Leo. This was pretty much the logic under which the animal was chosen.)

She really loves her lion. It is one of her two favorite current toys (the other being a small fish with a jinglebell in it gotten off Etsy). If she's lying on on the floor and presented with the lion, her face will light up, she will grab it by two limbs, and then (usually) roll onto her side as if she's attempting to bodyslam it and gurgle happily. Up until she flings it up over her shoulder and then fusses because oh noes the lion it has ceased to exist.

The rest of the time she manages to drop the lion on her face and then flips out because it's eating my face it's eating my face get it off get it off get it off!

She also grabs the corners of blankets and often winds up pulling them over her face, which leads to what I call an Object Permanence Crisis: "The cosmos has ceased to be, for I cannot see it! Alert! Alert!" I am perhaps not as sympathetic to this as I ought to be, I merely free her from the predations of the reality-annihilating spit rag.

I am reasonably confident that we have done horrible things to her sleep cycles, as they have settled in at this point to semi-conform to mine, and I keep really weird hours. She does, however, willingly sleep something like five hours at a go almost every night, which is pretty good for not quite four months old. She's a little fussy lately, we think because she's contemplating the possibility of teething part time when she remembers to, but not terribly so, and she rarely cries all that much - though the last few days she's frequently woken up from a sound sleep going from zero to howling, and I suspect babynightmares.

Much like the family has one night a week for dinner prep obligations, we've divided things up so one of each weeknight one of the parents is on primary baby duty, which means they handle diapers and so on as much as is possible. This is a great system, and I highly recommend that anyone thinking of having a baby accumulate as many allomothers as they can handle, because the level of sanity this enables is amazing.

Today, the other half of the family returned from Thanksgiving away from home, due to complexities of compromise and family obligation; Little Foot went down for a nap after nursing at about 11:30, giving me two hours in which I could put together a perfect little family dinner to welcome them home with. This worked out brilliantly, and she didn't wake up until they got back, which meant other people got to deal with the next diaper.

I'll not deny that doing the full-time daytime parent thing is very hard for me. I'm a pretty extreme introvert, and an infant is, of course, demanding and in my personal space a huge chunk of the time. The help I can get from the rest of the family is critical to my ongoing stability and competence as a mum.

But I'm becoming increasingly convinced that post-partum depression rates have a lot to do with support structures. I'm aware that my long-term history with clinical depression makes me really high risk, and there have been times that I've felt the stresses pushing on the edges of toppling over into a depressive state. But I haven't been there yet. (I suspect, if it happens, it'll be when the other half of the family moves back into their house after they finish their renovations, because having the people around both for company and babyassistance is a big deal.) And part of not having been there is being able to say "Hey, could someone get me out from under the baby for a bit?" before I hit some kind of internal meltdown crisis point. It's leaving me feeling increasingly militant about the need for real social support structures for mothers, and that if the sort of feminism I'd been exposed to had been, say, the stuff from Mothers for Women's Lib and blogs I've found from there I might have a much less bitter relationship with the word "feminist" these days, as opposed to the reflexive comparisons between being a stay-at-home parent and the 1950s with their subtextual suggestion that there's a necessary equivalence. (I saw an instance of this yesterday. But this is supposed to be a non-ranty post, not another "Oh look, I get to be a brainwashed pawn of the patriarchy, Donna Reed style!" post.)

Anyway, out of the politicalised bits. I love watching Little Foot work on figuring out the world. We got her a bouncy seat to set her down in at times, and then we got a toybar for it. At first, she flailed her hands vaguely and was stunned when things moved. And then, slowly, over time, she moved to deliberate manipulations: that bead will slide from side to side, that flower spins. (A bit after that, she got bored with it, so I took it off the seat for a while and now she's willing to play with it again.) The process of cognitive development is amazing.

For example - this was something my liege noticed - I have one of those hawk silhouette decal things intended to keep birds from flying into windows stuck to my bathroom mirror, because I'm a weirdo. For a while, when we brought Sad Baby in there to dampen a wipe to change her diaper, she would stare at the decal and Fall Silent, because of the primitive mammal reflex that goes SHIT DEATH FROM ABOVE at raptor silhouettes. Now she looks at the baby in the mirror (or the parent in the mirror) instead.

When she sees me for the first time in a while - and some values of 'a while' are 'five minutes' - her face lights up with joy and she kicks enthusiastically two or three times with the sheer exuberance of it all. And I wonder, sometimes, if I have ever before had in my life someone so unreservedly happy to see me. There are times it makes me think of the stereotypical imaginary teenaged girl who has a baby 'so someone will love her unconditionally', and, weirdly, being a mother has given me more sympathy for that half-myth than I ever thought possible, even while it gives me an ironclad, hardcore, "Oh no no no no, hon, you don't have any idea what you're getting into."

I look at the world and I try to find ways to protect my child from parts of it, to introduce it to her so she can navigate it without taking grievous harm, to show her how to be strong and secure. I know that nobody escapes childhood unscathed, but I pray every day that she escapes it unmaimed.

More politically flavored post later, riffing some on these links assembled by Elf of Dreamwidth. I've been reading more and more of what gets called "mommyblogs" lately, for obvious reasons. (Psst, Mamacrow, you have a parenting blog somewhere, right?)

I leave you on this note:

15 November, 2009

The Cult of Mommon

Trinity posted a link to this article thing. And, man.

But let's talk about the greatest gift a woman can receive: being a mommy.

This pisses me the fuck off even more now that I have a Little Foot to look after. I mean, the gender-essentialist 'women are all about the baybeez' thing has always annoyed me, especially since I know plenty of women who aren't so much and a few men who are, and the amount of 'No, really, you should have kids (unless you're some kind of my-standard-of-defective, in which case you should never come within a half mile of one)' bullshit in this culture makes me crazy.

I'm not touching the rest of this stupid article, just that one sentence.

No, "being a mommy" is not a fucking gift. The magic stork did not drop by my place with a giftwrapped angelbaby who never requires anything inconvenient, okay?

You know where my baby came from? My innards. And I built her over forty-one weeks of nausea, increasing mobility impairment, heartburn, significant gender dysphoria, emotional fragility, and, admittedly, reprieve from my depression. Her arrival was two days of fucking back labor, frustration, blood loss, and twelve goddamn stitches done despite the fact that apparently my body will only consider believing in lidocaine for brief moments.

Gifts do not require twelve stitches upon receipt, people.

And that's not touching on people who had C-sections, who went through long-term adoption processes, who otherwise, y'know, worked and sacrificed and bled and paid for their shot at 'being a mommy'. Or a daddy. Or. That's not touching on people who have been locked out of parenthood because the adoption agency won't place with a gay parent. That's not touching on a whole lot of things.

Being a mommy is not something that was bestowed upon me like the halo on a medieval madonna painting, unlike what this sentence would like you to believe. This sentence, like all of the mommy-worship culture, wants to paint a beatific portrait of motherhood, the angel of the household proven with the babe-in-arms.

Being a parent is something that one does. And it's something that one has to do every single day, a constant choice, a deliberate act.

Deliberate consciously chosen perpetual commitments: also not gifts.

What makes me a mother is not mystical processes bestowed upon me by a benevolent universe because I have a worthy uterus. It is not some external thing that fluttered down and spread its wings over my family.

What makes me a mother is sitting here typing this blog post with Little Foot cradled in one elbow because she needs to nurse. What makes me a mother is bouncing her when she has bellyache, changing her diapers, giving her a bath. What makes me a mother is doing this even when I feel like crud because of my current state of illness. And, y'know, these same things - barring the breastfeeding - are the things that make the other members of my family parents.

I have always had a vocation towards motherhood, and always been aware of what that would require of me. I spent ages fearful about this, worried that my depression would mean that I was doomed to be a failure as a mother, someone who would not be able to properly care for my child. And frankly I resent the idea that the years of work and therapy and personal development I spent preparing, the nine months of gestation, and the weeks of recovery and childcare are a gift as opposed to a goddamn accomplishment.

And there is a trap in this "gift" language - if a mother has a bad day, needs someone else to look after the kid because ohmygodsI'mgoinginsaneIwillneverhavepersonalspaceagain or thescreamingthescreaming or ifIdon'tgettwohoursofuninterruptedsleepnowsohelpmeIwillexplode or whatever else - well, that's being an ungrateful bitch. Because motherhood is a "gift", you know, this magic thing bestowed upon the worthy and enuterused, and that means that one is obligated to bow one's head and cradle the baby and look holy so that the motherworship can commence, because how can we properly revere someone who has mud and blood in the sacred motherhood and who acknowledges that there are times that it is fucking hard to do and my gods, I'm pulling my hair out here need some time away, etc.?

The "gift" of motherhood is a trap, simultaneously erasing investment and effort and commitment and choice and dedication and making it unconscionable to express displeasure, talk about issues, have postpartum depression, express a realistic picture of what it is to have a baby. It erases the experience in order to replace it with something clean and pristine that can be adored without contemplation of consequences or actual respect for the real efforts of mothers.

I am not your fucking madonna-and-child icon, proving my worth for worship by placid acceptance of this bounty.

Motherhood is not a fucking present.

A baby is not lagniappe.

Little Foot is tucked up against my breast, one arm wrapped around it with her cheek pillowed on the nipple. When I look at her, she smiles in her sleep; if she were awake, she would meet my eyes and beam with a toothless grin, pure delight at being with me.

That is a gift.

08 November, 2009

His Mind is Engaged in the Rapt Contemplation

Lissy at Thinking About My Kink wrote a post linking to a Feministe post about the changing of names, and now that Feministe is back up from whatever it was doing before, I'm reading the comments over there.

And the person in there who annoyed Lissy is almost making me annoyed enough to post a comment on Feministe explicitly denying that my nonexistent feminism was 'why' I didn't change my name when I was legally married. (That feminism made this possible for me to do readily is a given historical fact; it doesn't have so much to do with my decisions on the matter.) It's not about your goddamn movement, okay? (And I'm even setting aside here the rant in which I note my opinion that talking about whether something is a "feminist choice" is pernicious, not least because it always degenerates into the sort of "you're calling me a bad person", "no I'm not I'm just saying your choices are bad" froth that's going down over there.)

My lion and I talked briefly about whether or not I was gonna change my name. He was profoundly touched that I had even, for a moment, considered it, as he had assumed that I wouldn't. And that contemplation made clear to me that my surname was the only part of my legal name that I had any sense of strong identification with - annoying though it is to have because nobody can spell it and nobody can pronounce it, it is my goddamn name. If I were going to "change my name" it would be mucking about with the forename portions, and certainly at that time I had no idea what I would change my first name to if I changed it.

(I do know how I would legally change my name if I did so at this point. I have not done so, not because I'm 'waiting to get married' or any of the other things that have been raised in that thread, but because I am undecided about the hassle, kind of tickled in a pseudo-anarchist way by the idea that the government knows me by a name that isn't 'mine', and, fundamentally, haven't gotten up my arse to wrestle with the paperwork. It's apparently not that hard to do around here - a friend of mine changed her name, both fore and aft, a few years ago - I just haven't gotten my shit together. And that's for a forename change where I know what I'd change it to. I make notes on legal paperwork sometimes with an aka in case I ever do make a legal change?)

So, yeah. I have this surname thing. It's attached to an ethnic heritage; it is in fact attached to the ethnic heritage that is the smallest part of my genetic makeup, but a greater point of personal identification than many, and from a beautiful part of the world with a landscape that feels right to me. (Perhaps not as right as my more recently ancestral stones and streams of New England, which is more recent bloodline, but still comfortably correct.) It is also attached to the side of my family I have more cultural kinship with. In some ways, all the hassle that came of having the surname made me more attached to it, as opposed to the rather generic-for-my-generation forename and distinguished-but-only-used-attached-to-the-forename middle name I got.

Further, though I was not involved with my liege when my lion and I got married, it was pretty well established that my ideal situation would involve me having two marital relationships. In a multi-spousal poly situation, the whole name-change-upon-marriage thing turns into a level of relational calculus that is frankly beyond me. My liege comments that this is what clan names are for, but unfortunately we don't have any way of establishing a legal-socially meaningful tribe. It's just easier this way, even if it means that the four adults have four different surnames.

(Oh gods. Someone's using 'the personal is political' to mean 'your private choices are reflections on my movement's effectiveness and thus mine to harsh on you for' again. The same someone who irked me enough to write this post. Gods be. What is it they say, never read the comments? And, I mean, yes, the social convention of name-changing irks me, though it doesn't piss me off like getting letters addressed to Mrs. Lion Hislastname, like I don't even have a fucking forename of my own.)

I also find it useful to be able to respond truthfully to telemarketers asking for Mrs. Hislastname that there is nobody here by that name, but hey.

So we get into the iterative decisions about names. Like kids.

Honestly, my expectation was that my first kid would have his surname, next one mine, to do equal time for everyone. But in the larger family discussions, we talked about it, and there was general argument that it was probably for the best to have siblings with the same surname to make social things easier. And that for children I bear, that surname would be mine - because I feel strongly about my family name and want it to persist, because my brother does not intend to have children, and because it cuts off the implied answer to "But which one is her real father" at the fucking knees and requires that people who want to be that unconscionably rude actually verbalise rather than assume they know the answer based on differing surnames.

(When I announced Little Foot's name to my relatives, my father asked me if she had my surname because of his notion that female children should take their mother's name and male children their father's. By the way.)

And maybe that choice "makes it easier for others" to choose to keep their name, or change it, or whatever else. But the thing is, I don't give a flying fuck at a rolling donut about that. There's just, y'know, time better spent. And for matters like surnaming, that time's probably best spent trying to get the legal stuff changed to what it apparently is in Quebec, where a name change requires getting a name change, not getting married. Rather than talking about how Those Women are doing it wrong - not even about the apparent half the population who thinks that women changing their name should be legally mandated, nope, Those Women.

Always doing it wrong, Those Women. Pretty sure I did it wrong by not Striking A Blow For Feminism there. (Alternately, that feminist motives will be projected upon me by people who are inclined to do so, whether for or against. Which is further evidence that "feminist choice" is nonsense phrasing.) Oh well then.