Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Only Children=Diseased?!

I have no idea yet if this child will be my only child, but I certainly won't feel like I've failed her somehow if that's the case. I guess I knew in some disconnected way that having only one child is viewed critically in our society, but this article at Work It, Mom! illustrates an only child's frustrations about raising an only child. She comments, after reading a Time article debunking the myths about only children, that a single person is responsible for a societal belief that "[b]eing an only child is a disease in itself."

Do we really believe that?

When I've mentioned in casual conversation that this might be our only child, I've gotten responses that suggest I will change my mind and some that suggest they would never make the same decision, but I've never felt like the people I'm talking to think my child will be disadvantaged because of it. Is that what they're really thinking? Or is this just blown out of proportion?

For the record, I kept thinking about the scene from the movie Parenthood where Rick Moranis' character and his wife are discussing having another child. He's against the idea because he's (very creepily) trying to cultivate a little genuis and claims that most geniuses have been only children or have had "sibs" five years apart. His wife ends up screaming, "They're not sibs. They're babies!"

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

So Cute: Mila's Daydreams

This blog is so adorable.

Mila's Daydreams is the author's "maternity leave hobby." She says,  "While my baby is taking her nap, I try to imagine her dream and capture it."

EDIT: I have removed the pictures that I had posted from Mila's Daydreams because someone was stealing these amazing pictures to use without permission in advertisements. You can see thumbnail versions of all of them here.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hmm. . .

We went to Target today to register for the baby shower. All the things are conveniently organized into three categories: things for girls, things for boys, and "neutral." We opted for things out of the neutral category for a lot of things, but mainly because I just hate light pink. But there were these towels that, well, I'll just let you see for yourself:

To recap, the little girl towels say "I love mommy," the little boy towels say "I love daddy," and the neutral towels say "Mom and dad love me." Curious.

Uncooperative Already

I will be 22 weeks pregnant on Tuesday, and I've been feeling kicks for the past three weeks or so. They've gotten increasingly stronger and more regular, and I even felt it from the outside once. My husband is trying so hard to feel one, but this girl wants nothing to do with it. The moment he puts his hand on my belly, she stops. Every time. Stubborn, this one.

The Chronice Part 2: Of Fathers and Mothers

As I was reading the Chronicle articles, I began to think about something that I recognize is completely anecdotal at best and completely off-base at worst, but I wanted to put the observation out there and see what other people think.

The perceptions that many of the people talk about in the articles (the implications that the parent-to-be should stop the program, the sideways glances from dissertation committees that suggest a loss of hope, the apprehension when going on the job market) seem disproportionately to come from pregnant women.

Consider these quotes:

"It honestly never occurred to me that there might be a prejudice against hiring a woman so visibly in the throes of motherhood." ("Giving Birth in Graduate School")

"When I met with my co-chairs, they offered heartfelt congratulations, but I know that they wondered, as I did, if I would actually finish. My waistline was growing faster than the stack of pages on my desk." ("Giving Birth to Two Babies")
And then consider this one:
"Forty-six percent of the female graduate students we surveyed said they began their careers with an eye toward obtaining a faculty position at a research university. Babies changed that; only 11 percent of the students who were new mothers said they wanted to continue on that career path. Fatherhood for men similarly situated appears to have far less of an impact on their career choices—59 percent of men began their programs planning to pursue a research-intensive academic career, and 45 percent who were new fathers still planned to do so." ("Why So Few")

Now, I know that some of this is the age-old issue of women being seen (and seeing themselves) as primary caregivers while the men have more freedom (socially) to pursue their careers, but I really don't think that's all that's going on here.

I know several men in graduate school who are the fathers of young children. A lot of them are the primary caregivers while their wives/partners work outside the home. As far as I can tell, these are not men who shy away from stereotypically un-masculine roles, and they seem genuinely devoted to their children and their children's care. (And the three-part Chronicle article is written by a father who seems to fall into this camp.)

The mothers I know in graduate school are equally devoted, and many of them have shared caregiving responsibilities.

The problem, then, seems not to be the way that men and women fashion themselves into parents, but how certain figures in academia seem to view them. And these articles seem to suggest that the most harsh light often falls upon women who are visibly pregnant.

Does this mean that these same committee members and job interviewers who view pregnant women skeptically have their fears relieved when they see a parent actually making it work with a child? If so, why the discrepancy between women who go on to tenure-track career paths as parents and men?

Does this mean that the mothers and fathers who are on job talks and meeting with their dissertation committee are actively hiding  (or at least downplaying) their parenting status when around these people? If so, that would explain why pregnancy--such a visual, undeniable sign of parent status--would be more of a hindrance.

Does this mean that the pregnant women who see and sense these reactions are imagining them? Maybe their own misgivings about balancing their careers, educations, and children coupled with the vulnerability of pregnancy make them more sensitive. If so, why do so many women report this happening during pregnancy?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Graduate School and Babies: Timing?

I've been reading the Chronicle of Higher Education, and I came across a series of articles that I find, let's say, interesting.   Here, in no particular order, are some of the articles on parenting and graduate school:

1) "Giving Birth to 2 Babies"

A woman compares the pregnancy and birth of her child and the development and "birth" of her dissertation.

2) "Why So Few Doctoral-Student Parents?"

This one looks at the benefits and downsides of having a child during graduate school:
"Why do so few people use the graduate-school years to start a family? After all, it's a period when students have more flexible schedules and the possibility of a community with which to share the experience of parenting."

3) "Graduate School With Children" Parts 1, 2, and 3 (requires Chronicle subscription)

A father with two children reflects on his return to graduate studies:

"Certainly, I am as passionate about my research interests and as eager to expand the breadth of knowledge in my field as any doctoral candidate.
But at the same time, I worry that when my adviser asks about my intellectual ambitions, I will respond with concerns about child-care costs or about Dora's monkey friend, Boots."
4) "Giving Birth in Graduate School"

This is a woman's account of her pregnancy during graduate school and the subsequent job search.

So, I've read through these and there are several things that I want to look at in more detail. For simplicity's sake, I'm going to split them into two blog posts: timing and the graduate school father v. the graduate school mother.


Much of the discussion (both positive and negative) about graduate school and parenting focuses on timing. Many of the parents in these articles used timing to defend their decision to have children. 

 From the third article:

"Much of the time-to-degree fatigue in graduate school is blamed on a lack of perspective, in which qualified students burn out as they become further and further removed from the outside world. I will not have that option. My life will contain all of the responsibilities of a doctoral student combined with the joys and sleep deprivation of parenthood."

From the fourth article:
"I chose to have my first child during my graduate studies for several reasons. One is my biological clock, but an even stronger one was the desire not be pregnant and on maternity leave during my first years as a tenure-track faculty member."

From this perspective, the timing of having children in graduate school makes sense on a biological and professional level. Personally, we decided to have a child now because we know that (if we decide to have another child) we want our children several years apart in age. Waiting until after I finish my PhD (which was already on the long track because I chose to take a full-time position at the university) would have made that difficult.

The last quote gets at the problem of timing, though. She's viewing her choice to have a child now as the lesser of two timing evils--God forbid that you try to get a tenure-track job while pregnant. There's a running theme through all of these articles that suggests potential colleagues take a pregnant or new parent less serious than other applicants. The implication is that someone's entire focus needs to be devoted to the career, and that a baby can only distract from that.

While I haven't been on the job market for a tenure-track job, I do agree with the articles' suggestion that this same idea is played out again and again for graduate-student parents before they get their degrees. The suggestion, for many, is that graduate school should be a time of intense (perhaps even sacrificially so) focus. As one commenter (superdude) on the first article said:

"The young woman was beginning her seventh year of a Ph.D. program in Political Science..." sums is up right there. It should never take seven years or more to get a Ph.D. in anything.

Ph.D. students should not have kids.

But why this pressure? Why can't someone take seven years to get a PhD? Being able to balance the responsibility of parenting with the demands of a career or graduate school (or both) necessarily requires that the intense focus gets shifted a little. Last semester I took one class, not three. My professor didn't know I was pregnant until after the class ended, and I promise that my focus on that one class was as intense as it would have been under any other circumstances. How does that make me a less serious graduate student?

Finally, there's the issue of the physical timing of a birth (and the inevitable debilitation that follows):

From the fourth article:
"I am due to defend on October 2nd and to deliver two days later. No problem, I tell myself, my first child was two weeks late."
And the first:
"The baby's due date, however, was firm. Sometime on or around May 28, 2009, the baby was coming. I couldn't apply for an extension, and whether I'd finished the reading or not, I was about to face the ultimate comprehensive exam."
I'm feeling a little of this pressure myself since I teach a class that doesn't technically end until December 14 and I'm due at the end of November. I've crafted a syllabus like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book that allows me alternate possibilities, but I know I can't possibly plan for all of the things that could happen. I've covered the big ones: I deliver on time, I deliver a little early, I deliver a little late. If things get complicated and I'm put on bed rest a month out, I don't have a good plan.

Timing is complicated, and everyone has such a personal grasp on his/her own responsibilities, goals, and abilities. There were tons of comments on all of these articles of parents who made the balance work, and I find these refreshing and hopeful. Unfortunately, many of them also talk about having to do it in the face of doubting committees and tongue-clucking advisers.

I got some of the same reaction when I declared that I was dropping to part time status to take my current position. It was as if I somehow diminished in ability and importance to some of the faculty. I wonder if some people are so convinced that their path through graduate school is the path that they can't even envision another one?

What do you think? How has the concept of timing affected your parenting balance?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Calm Before the Storm

It is moments like this one that remind me why I love my job so much.

Tomorrow will be the last day that I have in the office before the start of a very involved three-week, residential summer program, one that requires me to teach two back-to-back classes M-F.

All day long I have been wandering through the empty hallways in a rush, helping my colleagues prepare for the students who will start arriving this weekend, and I can feel the campus coming back to life.

I've also been working on my syllabus. At the risk of sounding like a huge nerd, I always get a rush from planning a class. Every time I find the perfect article to accompany a class discussion (like the one above from this site, which I will use to talk about visual rhetoric), I get downright giddy with excitement. I doubt my students share my enthusiasm, but I hope they can at least sense my passion.

Cleaning Out My Closet

I had a doctor's appointment today, and the doc said that my weight gain is right on target. It was nice to hear, but it's still difficult for someone who has struggled with weight control her whole life to watch those numbers climb. (I'm sure it's difficult for people who haven't struggled with weight control as well.)

While several of my clothes have been relegated to the back shelf for the moment, this baby has also prompted a wardrobe purge of a different variety. My husband's clothes are currently hanging in the soon-to-be-nursery's closet. So I'm going to have to share. I started cleaning out my own closet and decided to finally part with those four or five pairs of jeans that haven't really fit in a few years. It was a little liberating.

Plus, if I ever can fit into them again, I can always go shopping.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Feminist Mother's Hopes to Mother a Feminist

After writing my previous blog post about whether or not I would let my daughter watch Disney Princess movies (I still don't have a real answer, by the way), I came across this blog post from blue milk.

In it, blue milk gives a series of questions for feminist mothers to ask themselves. Now, many of these questions are unanswerable for me because I'm only pregnant. I have no idea what being a parent will actually entail. I hope to revisit these questions once my daughter is born and I have some experience to go along with my apprehension, hopes, and (let's be honest) fear. In the meantime, I think that reflecting on these issues now will give me a better perspective on what it is I want to accomplish as a feminist mother. (Reading the responses other women have given to these questions has also helped tremendously.)

So, here are my best attempts to answer as I am today and how I hope I'll be in the future:

1.How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?

My one sentence description: My feminism strives for a world where women and men are viewed as equals and a person's individual talents, passions, and abilities determine his/her role(s) in life, not gender.

I guess I've been a feminist for my whole life by that definition, but it was not until college and the last five years or so that I've been able to talk about that belief with any intellectual grasp on what it means.

3.How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?
Obviously, my "motherhood" is still, quite literally, nascent. That's not to say that it's had no effect on my feminism. In fact, in a conversation I had with my husband shortly before the ultrasound to find out if we were having a boy or a girl, he told me that he thought I would enjoy raising a boy because I would raise him to be a strong feminist. I hadn't put much conscious thought into my role in shaping my child's views on feminism before that, but it is one of the reasons that it is so important to me that I continue my career after giving birth. Now that I know I'm having a girl, I've been going back and forth between thinking that it will be enough to be a strong role model for her and being terrified that the media around her will be too manipulative. Chances are the answer is somewhere in the middle.

4.What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?

I don't know the answer to this yet, but it's something that I think about frequently. Many of the other mothers answered this question by explaining how they offered the same toys and clothes to their girl and boy children, how they did not encourage their children to act "like a girl/boy" but how they did not discourage them from doing things they were interested in. I hope that I can also create a space for my child(ren) that allows freedom of exploration in these roles. I also have fears about how difficult that will be, especially when it comes to interacting with my extended family, who are not very feminist in their thoughts or actions.

7.Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?
Being pregnant alone has made me recognize this. It is challenging to me to not be able to do things because of my pregnancy. I had some early complications that had me on lifting/exercise restrictions, and depending on my husband to do things like carry the laundry baskets/groceries/anything heavier than a gallon of milk drove me crazy. Even now that the restrictions are lifted, being pregnant makes me feel more vulnerable than I've ever felt in my life. I imagine that this feeling will intensify after my daughter is born.

8.If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?
I am very fortunate to be married to a man who shares my views on feminism and with whom I feel comfortable discussing this at length. I do suspect that he will find it easier if he has a daughter that does not conform to normative gender roles than he would have found it to have a son who does not conform, though I know that is a challenge that he will work on diligently if the need arises.

10.Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?
While reading some of the other women's responses to these questions, I noticed one woman who said that she does not often openly identify herself as a feminist mother because the feminist movement in the US is so splintered that any mention of the f-word requires a lengthy explanation. To me, some manifestations of feminism in America seem to have failed mothers by failing to make a space for them. Some of the most radical or militant versions of feminism seem to take an all or nothing approach, one that does not leave much room for the nurturing that mothering (and parenting in general, I would argue) requires. That said, there are plenty of strains of feminism that do allow for this type of nuance, and those are the ones in which I find solace.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Some More Things To Balance: Gender Roles and Princesses

So, ever since the ultrasound revealing that I'm having a girl, everything has seemed much more real.

This dose of reality has also left me considering a few more pieces that need to be balanced if I'm going to feel like a successful parent. First of all, since I'm having a girl, I've been really considering what this means to me as a feminist.

Secondly (and something I'm sure I will discuss more as time goes on), I am also having a biracial child (I am white and my husband is black).

Intensifying the way that I balance these socio-identifying markers of my child is the fact that my own studies deal with issues of rhetoric and difference, particularly how pop culture influences shape the way that we view "differences" like race, gender, ability, class, etc.

At the moment, I'm focusing on the gender issue.

For some background, I should tell you that I grew up in a very traditional home, as far as gender roles go. My mom was a stay at home mom from the moment I was born, and my dad was the sole provider of the money. My mom also did all of the cooking, cleaning, and baby-tending. In addition to the traditional roles (which I feel pretty neutral about, if both parties agree to the roles), I feel that my parents also had some negative roles. My dad controlled all of the finances, to the point that my mom had to ask for an allowance to buy clothes for herself and the kids. My mom was very insulated from the outside world and rarely interacted with other adults.

Despite seeing my parents in these roles, I was not much of a girly-girl. I climbed trees, hated dresses, caught frogs, and more often than not went to bed with scabbed knees and scratched arms from my adventures playing in the woods.

When I was 12, my parents went through a very nasty divorce that left my mom struggling to return to the workplace with few translatable skills. She did it, but she's certainly not doing work that she enjoys, and she struggles to maintain a comfortable lifestyle.

All of this is leading up to one point: I don't know how I feel about Disney Princesses.

Maybe that's not even very accurate. I think I know perfectly well how I feel about them. I never liked them much, even watching them as a child. I always, always identified with the male protagonists or with the villains. I would pretend to be Aladdin or Jasmine's pet tiger, but never Jasmine. I was very fond of Ariel's underwater friends, but she seemed pretty stupid to me. The most classic princesses--Cinderella, Snow White, Aurora--were downright boring.

So, when I started stumbling upon posts (like this one, or this one, or this one) suggesting that maybe girls shouldn't be allowed to watch these movies, my first reaction was somewhat apathetic. I said to myself, "I watched them, and I think I'm a driven, independent woman, so surely they're okay."

Now I'm not so sure.

For one thing, I didn't really watch a lot of TV, period. I don't know how to ensure that my failure to morph into a body-obsessed woman hell-bent on finding a rich, muscular husband repeats itself.

I realize, of course, that my daughter will not (for quite some time) be watching any shows with the critical eye that graduate studies has beaten into me. When she sees Ariel give up her voice to gain legs to meet the prince, she will probably not be thinking: "Oh, but now she's silenced, and her inability to walk properly on her new legs represents a weakness and dependency." In a way, this is comforting. Perhaps my daughter will just watch the movie for the story, enjoy it, and move on with her (successful, independent) life. On the other hand, maybe I'd feel more comfortable if I knew she would analzye it in that way.

The bottom line is that I don't think that I will ever be able to watch those movies again with that critical analysis turned off. With that in mind, I don't think that I will be able to watch my daughter watch those movies with a clear conscience. I also don't want to deprive her of good, innocent fun. For the moment, I think I've decided to watch everything that she is going to see carefully and determine what messages are being sent. If I think I can live with those messages, she can watch it. If I can't, she won't.

I know that I will be criticized by some of my friends for this decision. They will call me silly and say that I am over-thinking things, but sometimes I think the world could use a little more obsessive analysis.

Note: In no way is the fact that I'm carrying a girl the only trigger for these thoughts. I would have had the same misgivings about letting my son watch these shows, but I suspect the social pressure to watch the Princesses would have been diminished. With things like this in mind, though, I don't think the negative influence is any less.

The Meaning of Life

That's what I'm pondering after reading the New York Magazine article "All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting."

This article (or at least the first two-thirds of it) seems completely focused on whether or not parenting made people happy.

Most people assume that having children will make them happier. Yet a wide variety of academic research shows that parents are not happier than their childless peers, and in many cases are less so. This finding is surprisingly consistent, showing up across a range of disciplines.

The article does get more balanced by the end, but the beginning of it is so bleak--what with the play-by-play of a suburban mother at the end of her rope and the descriptions of plummeting levels of reported happiness with each successive child--that I seriously wonder how many parents or potential parents kept reading.

I brought this article up on a message board at, and though this is obviously a slanted audience full of women who are expecting or already mothers, I was impressed by the nuanced interpretations that they brought forward. Many of them brought up the point that the purpose of parenting wasn't happiness, and that people are just afraid of hard work, regardless of how rewarding it may be in the end.

Even this wasn't quite good enough for me though. As I stand on the precipice of motherhood, I admit to many emotions: fear, uncertainty, apprehension, but also joy, fulfillment, and anticipation. Happiness, I am certain, fits into these, and I am confident that it will fit into my life as a mother as well.

That's why I was so happy to see that one of the ladies at The Bump posted a link to a response by Rufus Griscom: "Yes, Kids Make Us Happier."

I appreciated Griscom's balanced analysis. He admits, for example, that:

If creative expression — writing, singing, filming, yodeling, chainsaw sculpting — is one of life's great joys, along with enjoying the creative expression of those around us, then let’s be honest and acknowledge that people with young kids experience less of this.

But he also concludes that:

Much of the problem with these studies, and this broader discussion, is obviously semantic. We should really have more words for happiness; fulfillment, pleasure, gratification — none of them really fit the bill. There are dozens of varietals of happiness, and the most sublime among them require a certain amount of sacrifice.

With this quote, he touches upon my initial reaction to the New York Magazine article. Yes, if you define "happiness" as something closely associated with "fun" (as the title obviously does), then maybe the day-to-day moments of parenting don't appear to make people too happy. This is especially true if you are surveying parents about their current daily activities. Well, no, I don't expect changing dozens of diapers to be a particularly rewarding experience. And yes, I suspect that having to curl into the corner of a tiny room somewhere to pump breast milk won't represent the height of my enjoyment.

But to me (and this is where I disagreed with some of the ladies responding on The Bump), happiness is the meaning of life. I yearn fully to be happy, but happy doesn't mean always having fun. I want to feel fulfilled, satisfied, and emotionally complete. I also want to have moments of joy, laughter, and wonder. I do not have to have every moment filled with these things to consider a decision one that leads to happiness.

I fully expect moments of motherhood to be unpleasant, exhausting, and frustrating, but does that mean that they will make me unhappy? Not in the long run, I suspect.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

It's a Girl!

We went for the ultrasound yesterday, and after much jiggling to get her to cooperate, we found out that it's a girl. Everything looks good.

We also found out that there are no more signs of the subchorionic hematoma. Thank God!

Already Fighting the Guilt (But I'll Win)

So, I'm a bit of a planner (obsessive, some have called it) and within hours of seeing my positive pregnancy test, I began to ask my husband what we were going to do about child care. I knew even before we started trying to conceive that I was going to continue working. If we start with kindergarten, I've been in school for 20 years now, and I've been here because I love what I do. I love my students. I love the research. I love it all.

Initially, I was completely convinced that we needed a nanny. Right before I got pregnant, I signed up for the opportunity to teach three connected courses over an entire school year, and I knew I wasn't going to be able to take much more than 6 weeks maternity leave because I had to be back in the classroom shortly after Christmas break. Thinking of leaving a tiny 6-week old in day care seemed terrifying, and I pictured a Mary Poppins-esque woman floating to my door and allowing me to leave my little one safe and sound in the nursery.

So, I started researching, and I found out that a nanny is expensive. Really expensive. At first, I didn't let this deter me. We could afford the lower end of the nanny spectrum, and I had my mind set on someone taking care of my baby in my home.

But the more I thought about it, the less sense this made. Sure, we could afford the lowest prices for a nanny, but that also means we're affording the cheapest nanny. In this case, that seems to mean someone who is only nannying because she (they're all she's--but I'll keep the feminist commentary for another day) can't find a job in the field she really wants, usually doesn't have much training or experience, and sometimes has some odd hour requirements (because she's a part time student, for example.)

On the other hand, I could take the same amount of money and pay for a high-end day care. We're in the process of researching these now (and arduous task that I'm sure I'll rant about later). It appears that our hard-earned money can buy us day care that ensures licensed, trained specialist who want to be working in this field, individualized plans (even for infants!), a guaranteed low worker-child ratio, and some flexibility on hours.

I'm slowly coming around to the idea. I know that it will mean more hassle in the mornings and the potential for more sick days. But I'm trying to make it where this decision doesn't come with more guilt. I recognize, logically, that having someone give individual care and attention to my child in a day care is just as nurturing as having someone do it in my home, but I'm still working on accepting it emotionally.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Bubbling hot, hot, hot. . .

This picture could be me (though she looks better in the bikini).

I feel so sorry for my office mates. Our building has atrocious heating/cooling, and the thermostat that controls my office temperature is located in the meeting room next door. My co-workers have (lovingly, I think) started to tease me about their need to bring parkas.