Monday, September 22, 2014

"Feminist Mom" is Not an Oxymoron

I found this cool symbol on this website.

It's nothing new for feminists to be at odds among each other. After all, we are a vast group of people who, in essence, share only anatomy and a desire for equality. What that equality looks like and is composed of is often a matter of heated debate.

And one of the biggest rifts in the community I've witnessed is child-free feminists vs. feminist moms.

Yes. There is such a thing as a feminist mom, by the way. The fact that my body housed, birthed, and fed two small humans does not mean that I suddenly lost my intelligence, my drive, my politics, or my passion. In fact, and you might be shocked to hear this, having children strengthened and reignited my feminism.

My two children - one boy and one girl - will inherit whatever world we leave them. And while there are many problems that need fixing - chief among them climate change and our alarming lack of gun sense in America - I feel that the embedded patriarchy and even misogyny in our culture is often the root of what ails us. I want to leave my kids a better world, and in order to do that I need to raise them to be good people. People who feel neither entitled nor defeated by their gender. People who feel a responsibility to others, not competition to be better than others at all times. People who know how to process their emotions in a healthy way so as to avoid the depression and rage that plagues us all too often.

But just because my feminism was strengthened by breeding doesn't mean that every woman's feminism would do the same. It's true, becoming a mother does make it hard to relate to your child-free friends on some level, especially in the beginning. I'd be lying if I pretended that weren't true. When the days are relentlessly hard and you feel like simply a pair of hands to pick up a kid and a pair of boobs to feed said kid - like anything that use to be you is as distant a memory as your most recent shower - it's hard to sympathize with your friend whose coworker's music is getting on her last nerve or who accidentally locked herself out of her apartment. And when those days are really, really, really hard, you might even find yourself resenting your friend for not making the choices you made. And that's when your treading on feminist territory.

Because to be a feminist means that you support a woman's choice to have the life that fulfills her, as long as it doesn't infringe on others' rights. It means realizing we all have struggles, often ones nobody sees or discusses, and nobody's life is more valuable nor more difficult than another's. It means not expecting a woman to breed nor refrain from breeding, because when we tell a woman what to do with her body and her life, then we are eclipsing that woman's rights.

I'm in the majority. Most women have children. It is what is expected of us, and I fulfilled those expectations. Add to that the fact that my genetics make me want the romantic company of a man and that I have white skin, and you've got one entitled lady. I realize this. And I realize that my feminist sisters who live child-free lives (either by choice or circumstance) face an avalanche of criticism and judgment and annoying "concern" from friends, family, and strangers on a daily basis.

So keep all that in mind when I say how sick and tired I am of listening to women criticize other women for their parenting choices. I. Am. Over. It.

Women who denounce "slut-shaming" (when people say that a woman "asked for" assault or rape based on her choice of clothing) are sometimes the same women who roll their eyes in disgust when a mom breastfeeds her child in public or continues to breastfeed a child into the toddler years (or beyond).

Women who would defend a woman's right to birth control make fun of the women who are fighting for more respectful, evidence-based birthing practices and dismiss us as "natural birth freaks."

Women who stand up for equal pay for women judge another woman for choosing to stay at home with her children.

Women who fight against domestic violence - not just physical but also emotional - rant on Facebook about a mom who spoke gently to her misbehaving kid rather than chewing his head off like our parents did.

These women are unwittingly a part of the patriarchal machine against which they rage. When you say breasts are OK when a woman is dressing that way but not OK to feed a child, you're suggesting that breasts are sexual in nature, not biological. When you say that a woman can prevent herself from becoming pregnant in the way that suits her but shouldn't have more autonomy over her actual birth, that's a pretty lopsided view of our reproductive rights. When you say it's not OK for a woman to choose to work as a full-time parent, you're limiting her opportunities. When you get on a woman for not being "tough" with her kids, you're suggesting the patriarchal way we were parented is ideal (i.e. the parent figure tells you what to do, no discussion or learning, and that way is often enforced with anger or even violence).

You may not understand another woman's choices. You don't have to. (This simple fact is one that also eludes the community of mothers who still often nit-pick at each other and fuel those ridiculous Mommy Wars.) But if that woman is fulfilled, then as feminists we need to work our butts off to support her.

This is how we will change the world. If I hear fellow moms criticize a child-free woman, calling her selfish or unfulfilled or spoiled (and yes, I'm sad to admit I've heard all of these from other moms), I vow to you that I will stand up for her. I'll remind those women that we are privileged to live in a time when women aren't considered mere vessels for procreation, and that children no longer have to be raised by reluctant and/or resentful parents. That living child-free doesn't necessarily mean sleeping in on the weekends and going out for drinks every night. But if a woman does both of those things then that's her prerogative, too.

But I ask that if you are a child-free feminist,  you take a moment to reevaluate your stance on moms. Maybe, like most of my friends, you are supportive and fantastic. Or maybe you find yourself sighing in disgust when you see a stroller coming your way, assuming the mom behind it has no life other than her kids and thinks she's superior to you for pushing a baby out of her hoo ha.

I promise to try to raise wonderful kids who'll turn the tide of this current climate if you promise to keep defying societal expectations brazenly and confidently. Together, we might actually be able to gain the equality for our gender we so heartily desire.

PS - One of my favorite women to follow on Facebook is the Feminist Breeder. She says a lot of what I tried to say here, but much more eloquently. She also has a website.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


 Stella, Age One

 Sam, Age One

Sam is one. I can't believe this sweet, brilliant, hilarious little man has already been in my life one year, and yet I can't imagine my life without him.

People don't talk much about one. Everyone talks about the Newborn Stage - nursing constantly, up every couple of hours, wanting to be held constantly. And everybody talks about the Terrible Twos which, if you read my blog, you know I actually quite enjoy.

But nobody talks about one.

One was my breaking point with Stella. It was when my post partum depression hit its peak and didn't relent for months. I had no clue that PPD could really affect a mother that long after giving birth, so I figured something was just wrong with me, that I was a bad person for not enjoying my emerging toddler, that surely I'd soon get over myself.

Now that I have Sam and am also mentally healthy, I see why one was the straw that broke my back. When Stella turned one, that was officially our anniversary of hellish sleep. Sam wakes around 1 - 4 times per night, but he usually just nurses and goes back to sleep. Believe it or not, that's really pretty manageable. Stella, on the other hand, woke anywhere from 4 - 8 times per night, wanting to nurse constantly but lacking the jaw and head strength to do so on her own, meaning that if I didn't want her to scream bloody murder and wake all our neighbors I had to hold my breast in place for her while she took half an hour to 45 minutes to nurse. And, unlike Sam, she refused to take a pacifier.

One is the age where the child has specific wants, but she doesn't know how to express herself. Sam's new habit is screaming at the top of his longs - short rhythmic bursts that sound like a car alarm - until you get him a yogurt or change his diaper or fetch his paci or give him a hug. We're late to the game, but we're trying to teach him to sign so we can figure out what he wants before we all get headaches. It can be frustrating, but it's not as intense as Stella's earth-shattering fits. She would scream at the top of her lungs - one long burst that made you question if she actually needed to breathe oxygen. She would arch her back, try to jump out of my arms, smash her head on the concrete if I wasn't watching her. And, unlike Sam who's appeased the minute he gets what he wants, once Stella was in the Tantrum Zone, it was next to impossible to get her out. I remember days where the child screamed like that for hours on end. Hours. I was a wreck.

One is around the age where babies start to walk. Sam is pulling up on everything, standing up on his own, and has even taken the stray step here and there. This is incredibly exciting, of course, but it can also be frustrating. Because while you're waiting for the child to become mobile, they are reaching their maximum weight and need to be carried a lot. Sam is 22 pounds and I tote him in and out of daycare, in and out of stores (before I plop him in the shopping cart), up and down our stairs at home, and to and fro the car. My back is in extreme pain. But again, it was far more intense with Stella. She weighed a lot more than Sam, for one thing - almost 30 pounds at age one (that girl nursed like no child has ever nursed in the history of the world and yes - babies CAN get fat on breastmilk). And she hung out in this prewalking stage for months. I kept thinking, "Today has to be the day she will take her first step," but it never was. Months we waited, worried about developmental delays but not wanting to seem like neurotic parents. And whereas I get Sam in and out of a car, I was schlepping Stella either in an carrier or a stroller up and down subway steps. I remember sneaking in hot baths whenever possible and slapping Ben Gay all over myself.

One is the age when babies are into everything. We have baby gates that keep Sam contained within our first two rooms, which have outlet covers, no small toys, and nothing else that could hurt him (in theory, at least). The second one of us opens the gate to go to the kitchen, he bolts for it, crawling as quickly as his chubby thighs will take him, and we have to scramble. If we leave a stray piece of mail on our in table, it's ripped to shreds and partially eaten within minutes. If we leave a shoe by the door, it's in his mouth. He's pulled our dining room chairs on top of himself, and got his finger stuck in a cat toy. All in the "safe" rooms. And don't get me started on what it's like to take him to homes or businesses that are not baby proofed. I basically have to trail him, prying things out his hands and catching lamps before they fall down. If there's a doorway, that's where he wants to hang out, especially if it's in a busy establishment where he could get clobbered, like a doctor's office. In this regard, Stella was no different, but because she was such a late walker, this stage lasted forever. When toddlers learn to walk, they still get into things that could hurt them, but at least they are somewhat distracted by their mobility enough to give you a few minutes break here and there.

We didn't know it at the time, but Stella was exhibiting classic signs of her now diagnosed Sensory Processing Disorder. I just figured I was failing as a parent, and had no idea that there were actually programs and people that could have helped both her and me. So all the frustration of dealing with these issues combined with my guilt sent my mental health into a ravine, and it would take a long time and a lot of work to recover.

Sam is behaving like a run-of-the-mill one year old, and I'm mentally healthy, so now I just find this stage a bit challenging. It's filled with adorable moments - new words and snuggles and so much learning - and because I'm not in that dark place this time I can take a moment here and there to enjoy it. Also, since he's my second kid, I know this stage is finite - it'll be over before I know it - so I focus on the positive as much as possible, secure in the fact that soon he WILL walk and talk, and that will make life a lot easier.

I'd be remiss if I didn't take a moment to direct you to some resources. First off, now matter how old your baby is, if you're feeling chronically sad, angry, or anxious, you might have PPD and there is definitely help out there. Please get the help you and your family deserve.

Secondly, if you suspect your baby or child might be delayed or be different, trust your gut. Yes, all babies are different and they don't look at clocks or calendars, but sometimes those differences indicate a condition that can be helped through early intervention. Check in your state to find out what resources are available. Here in Kentucky, we have the fantastic First Steps program!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

September 10, 2001

Thirteen years ago tonight, I sat in my bedroom which was just big enough for my full-size bed in my shared apartment in the West Village of New York. I pulled out my journal and wrote this quote: "I wasn't worth the pain my death would cost."

It's from a Dar Williams song called "After All," which is, in my opinion, the best song ever written about being suicidal. It doesn't romanticize it at all. In fact, the point of the song is that she chooses to live simply because she doesn't think she's worth enough to hurt those that love her. It's bleak, but damn, is it honest.

I was reminding myself, as I did so often in those days, that no matter how terrible things were, I couldn't subject my family and friends to the pain of suicide. I closed my journal, probably cried a bit, then fell asleep.

When I woke the next morning, it was to both my landline and my cell phone ringing off the hook. The twin towers a mile away were on fire and those people - the ones I didn't want to hurt by killing myself - were terrified that I was dead.

This isn't the story of how the shock of 9/11 rid me of my suicidal tendencies for good. I had a lot of trauma in my childhood combined with a genetic predisposition to depression, and it would take actual therapy to make me well.

What I had was tremendous survivor's guilt. I was supposed to go to a building at the base of the twin towers the next day for a 9am appointment. I was unemployed and it was time to check in with the unemployment agency to convince them that I was working  hard to find work, and then use their databases to scour for prospective positions. The plan was to wake up at 7:30am, shower and make myself presentable, then walk out of my apartment by 8:30am so I could stroll down 6th Avenue and pick up a coffee along the way.

What I actually did was hit the snooze button a million times, then just turn off my alarm because I was depressed and figured I'd never get a job anyway and would soon be crawling home to Kentucky. When I heard the loud explosion a few minutes later, I groggily assumed they were trucks banging over pot holes and went back to sleep.

Had I woken up on time, I doubt I would have died. I wasn't supposed to be in the buildings themselves, after all. But I kept imagining scenarios of how it could happen. A piece of shrapnel from a plane plummeting toward me as I walked down 6th Avenue. And even more horrendous situations that I'm embarrassed to admit. How the hell was it fair that this whiny, suicidal girl with no spouse and no kids would be spared when so many people with rich, full lives and non-suicidal brains died?

September 11th has become a regular day. We never thought it could happen, but here we are. Bars are offering drink specials, organizations have meetings, TV shows that have nothing to do with what happened that day will air tomorrow.

But to me it will always be the day that death came really close and woke me up. My mental health wasn't fixed that day, but I did shed about 1,000 pounds of my chronic fear. I opened my heart and met Dave, my now husband, just over three months later. If I could go back in time and assure 25 year old Randi that 13 years later she'd have a husband, a daughter, and a son who love her so much it's ludicrous, I wonder if she'd have felt differently. Probably not. Because she was clinically depressed and needed help, and couldn't really see more than a minute into the future.

I found out this afternoon that September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day, and it seemed like such a crazy coincidence. So, if you feel like things will never get better, or if you're worried that someone in your life is suicidal, act now. Get help. Don't wait for a wake-up call. In fact, here's a resource for you.

And take a minute tomorrow to remember 9/11. Such a senseless tragedy (that spawned other senseless tragedies in its wake), and a day that most of us will never forget.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Wonderful Twos

As you may know, I left my career of nearly 13 years as a public school teacher to work with preschoolers. I now work with two year old kiddos. They are insanely cute. They're learning to be verbal, learning their boundaries, learning to eat with a fork, learning their colors, LEARNING LEARNING LEARNING. It's a great job with great people, and I'm very happy there.

But the thing that strikes me the most is how much I miss Stella at age two. That sounds weird, I know. She's six, and she's a wonderful six year old - smart and hilarious and kind. We get to do cool things like read magazines together and chat about life. She's tiny, but she's my best friend.

But being around these two year olds daily - one of whom reminds me so much of Stella both in her looks and her mannerisms - makes me miss this time with Stella.

Two. The age when we moved to Kentucky from our stressed-out Brooklyn life. The age my post-partum depression really started to subside. The age when Stella became verbal and no longer screamed bloody murder to show me she wanted something. The age she was walking on her own and somewhat independent. The age when I had long stretches - finally - of just enjoying being a mother, rather than fighting 1,000 demons.

So, although I'm not a person who believes in longing for the past or wanting to go back, I wish I could go back and just have one day with that sweet two year old. In the meanwhile, I'm just going to keep gazing longingly at these pictures.