DISCLAIMER: I know that “articles” about child-rearing and parenting can cause quite a ruckus on the Internet. Please do not read this as if it were “an article”. Rather, read it for what it is: a blog post of a girl who is simultaneously terrified and elated to become a mother in the next few weeks. That’s all it is. A blog post. An opinion. A cry to be heard and understood. That’s all.
Oh, I’m a slave to my hormones, too. Take that into consideration as well.
Yesterday, Dan and I spent our Saturday together doing some last minute preparations for our baby’s arrival (which, if you haven’t been following our pregnancy blog, is only merely a few short weeks away). We bagged up things we needed to return, made a list of things we still needed to buy (and bought most of them!) and did some organizing/nesting. It felt good.
I can’t explain in words how excited I am to meet this little guy. Over the past nine months, I’ve grown to know him in my belly. I know his movements and I know what his little body feels like on the outside. I know that he likes to stick his butt straight out on the left side of my belly button (perfect for little love-taps!) and I know that he isn’t a big fan of me laying down. (He instantly starts squirming to get comfortable.) I just love him so much already and I know that the second I lay eyes on him, my whole world will be rocked.
I guess it’s different for dads who, while they can put their hands on our bellies and sort of feel what we feel, don’t really get “hit” with the reality of fatherhood until they’re in the hospital and that slimy little creature is in their arms screaming at them. Women are caregivers from conception, growing and nurturing that little human inside their bodies for nearly a year before introducing the baby to the father to let him care for it. So, in essence, we women are “more experienced” come delivery date and I guess that means that dads need some help.
Last week, while we were perusing Burlington Coat Factory, Dan found a book in a sale rack all by itself. From afar, it looked like some hokey novelty book no one would ever seriously buy, which is why we assumed it was in the sale pile — just to get rid of it.
After mindlessly flipping through it and laughing out loud, Dan exclaimed, “We’re getting this!” and we walked to the register to do so.
We’ve both been reading it and, I must say, it’s wonderful. A must-have for any new parent. The book is well-written, hilarious, and, above all else, extremely helpful. Even as “the mom” and not “the dad” I’ve found it to be quite enlightening in preparing me for the crazy changes ahead.
Changes. I am no stranger to those anymore.
Take right now, for example. It’s Sunday morning. I’m sitting up in my bed, still in my pajamas with my hair a mess and my glasses on. I’m blogging in a quiet house while my husband toils away at church. My over-sized t-shirt is almost uncomfortably tight across my bulbous body, the tell-tale sign that the act of expelling a child is imminent.
Nine months ago, everything looked different. At 10:30AM on a Sunday, I’d be at church with my husband, most likely since about 8:00ish, getting ready to hang out with the youth group to which I ministered for five years. I’d be chugging some sort of caffeinated beverage loaded with artificial sweeteners and non-fat milk, terrified of getting fat. My pre-baby body would be adorned in cute clothes, not just “whatever I could squeeze into that morning”. So on. So forth.
But here I am, no longer leading any ministries, no longer making music with my friends, no longer writing a book, no longer training for marathons, no longer wearing “whatever I want to”, no longer staying out super late with friends “just because”. Rather, I’m sitting here, waiting to become a mother, spending my time Googling things like, “How do you change a diaper” and “How long do babies sleep in bassinets” and “How frequently do newborns feed” and so on.
You know that scene in Talladega Nights when Ricky Bobby is getting interviewed and he just whispers, “I’m not sure what to do with my hands”? That’s kind of how I feel right now. I don’t know what to do with my hands, or my life, until this little guy shows up. Then, I’ll be on 24/7. All mom, all the time. That will be my role. That, and that alone.
Yesterday, while we were organizing, Dan asked me where he could hang his new Spider-Man poster. He (jokingly I hope?) placed it on a wall in our bedroom and asked if it looked okay. I shot him a look, to which he replied, “Oh, I know that look. That look means no. That look means this isn’t going here.” I nodded in agreement.
“You know,” he went on, “my dad book says that I should have my own space with my own things to remind me that I’m not just a caregiver. I should be reminded on a daily basis that my life isn’t over just because I’m a dad and that I can still do the things that I enjoy.”
I looked at him sadly, then glanced around our 1000-square-foot apartment. “When you find a space to call ‘your own’, feel free to decorate it however you like,” I playfully snapped, then went back to scrubbing the toilet.
Suddenly, it dawned on me. Nowhere in any of my “you’re about to be a mom” books have I read that I should have my own space, or focus on things I enjoy to reinforce the idea that I’m not “just” a caregiver. On the contrary. I’ve been told that I’m absolutely “just” a caregiver, and have been since conception. I’ve read things like, “Your body will never be the same,” and “You will feel like you have a baby attached to your chest forever,” and “You will never sleep again, but that’s just what being a mom is” and “You will quickly learn that the things you used to do, you can no longer do, and that’s just the way it is,” and, my personal favorite, “You will also have a man understandably chomping at the bit to have sex with you again, so make sure you cater to him as well as the baby you’re caring for 24/7.”
So, this morning, I am a bit melancholy. A bit mournful. I’m not saying that being a mom is a bad thing. I’m not saying that the fact that I’ll be on 24/7 won’t be completely worth it. That’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m just annoyed that in a world so dominated by fatherlessness, it’s sad that we’re perpetuating the idea that fathers need not focus solely on that role because, of course, how can we expect them to? They’re just dads after all, whose contribution to the “miracle of life” is pretty minimal compared to the mothers’.
Well. As a girl who grew up not knowing her father, I can tell you, a father’s presence is absolutely priceless and I don’t think it’s unfair to demand equality in child-rearing.
Surely, my husband cannot breastfeed. That is absolutely something that only I can offer our son. But there are things Dan can offer him that I can’t as well. And, furthermore, we’re both still individuals. We both are people outside of our caregiver roles and I feel a bit bitter that the importance of the mother maintaining her individuality isn’t more widely acknowledged. Rather, we’re told that “being a mom is a full-time job!” and that we’re all our kids have at the end of the day. That’s a lot to take on, especially when coupled with the pressures to get back into our pre-pregnancy bodies and go back to having sex with our husbands as soon as inhumanly possible. (Oh, and don’t get me started on the guilt I’ve been subjected to because I have literally NO CHOICE but to return to work.)
“You, woman? An individual?” society barks. “No, my lady, I’m afraid you are mistaken. You are a sex-having, baby-making, child-rearing machine, who is supposed to be 5’10″ and 115 pounds and tanner than any given member of the cast of Jersey Shore. That’s what you are. That, and nothing else.”
All the while, all Dad has to worry about is where to hang his Spider-Man poster so he doesn’t feel like “his life is over”.