Motherhood and Women’s Liberation: Part 1

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Reading different books, listening to health practitioners and generally going out and about in public, it seems that everyone and their mother have assumptions and expectations on how women who decide to have kids should live their motherhood and how they should parent their kid.

It seems that nothing excites society more than discussing a woman’s right to decide if she wants to have children, how many, the spacing of said children, how she would prefer to give birth, how she would decide to rear said children, feed them and generally participate in their well-being.

Men who choose not to have kids are not seen as denatured, heartless monsters while fathers, for some reason, get a lot less judgement and a lot less heat about their parenting choices. Patriarchy for the win, my friend. So good to be a man in this day and age.

Being a feminist, I was afraid that becoming a mother would make me something of a traitor to the sisterhood. After all, don’t kids suck your freedom dry? The fear is real my friends. However, being a feminist can coexist with being a mother, so we’re saved and out of the woods. The thirst to explore the relationships between women’s liberation and motherhood did not leave me, so embark with me on some ramblings.

What interests me is the intersection between feminism and women’s liberation and social expectations of what motherhood should be. I will therefore start a series on feminism and motherhood and try to unpack all the conflicting thoughts that I struggle with on a daily basis. This should include the choice to stay at home, the case of working mothers, ‘parenting trends’. Dynamics within homoparental households should also be part of these series, although not written by me.

Patriarchal expectations of mothers are well -known and quite straightforward in their claims: women who bear children (and make no mistake, under patriarchal rule, all women SHOULD bear children) should stay home and tend to them, becoming homemakers while men provide financially for their family. These strictly defined gender roles seem to accommodate many women, who clearly state that they prefer being a stay at home mother to being gainfully employed, arguing that there is no greater job that rearing a family. Others decide to stay home for financial reasons: these are often women whose potential earnings would not or would barely cover childcare costs, and who thus decide to stay home to save money. Others have no choice but to stay home as they are unable to access quality childcare in their living area. A new emerging trend is the work at home mother, when a woman decides to start her own business or to work freelance, as a means to both earn money and manage to stay home to rear children. Truth is, there is not one size fits all reason to decide to stay home and raise children, and each woman probably has a wealth of reasons behind her choice (is it really a choice if you’re coerced into it by inequalities created by capitalism and patriarchal beliefs imposed to you?).

While involved dads and stay at home dads are becoming more and more socially accepted in certain circles, we are aiming at discussing here the burden of social expectations on women pertaining to motherhood, so we will not discuss further fathers in this post, except perhaps to say that whenever a dad decides to stay home, he is celebrated as the height of progressiveness, but when women decide to do so they are either judged or barely noticed as this is the bare minimum that is socially expected of them.

But back to mothers who face the choice to stay home. Different feminist currents hold different opinions when it comes to women choosing to stay at home: for some, stay at home mothers only replicate the age old gender stereotype that women are either biologically programmed to rear children or that they are, by essence, better skilled to do so than men, as evidenced by this article on ‘The retro wife’, published in 2013 in New York magazine. In this article, some women claimed that they were feminists who managed to be fulfilled by staying at home. The problem here is the justification they were providing: indeed, upon reading it, one could debate endlessly about their definition of feminism. Case in point, this quote by one of said woman, Kelly Makino:

She (Kelly) believes that every household needs one primary caretaker, that women are, broadly speaking, better at that job than men, and that no amount of professional success could possibly console her if she felt her two young children—­were not being looked after the right way. The maternal instinct is a real thing, Kelly argues: Girls play with dolls from childhood, so “women are raised from the get-go to raise children successfully. When we are moms, we have a better toolbox.”

Someone please inform this woman that feminism doesn’t mean replicating and reciting stale gender stereotypes and marketing them as radical ideas. The very idea that ‘girls play with dolls’ needs to be challenged and turned around, not celebrated and used as a justification for women to remain home and take care of children. As for the maternal instinct, Elisabeth Badinter (French feminist who is wrong on many other things, such as on her position on wearing the veil in France) is right when she states in her book (Le Conflit: La Femme et la Mère) that it’s a construct patriarchy invented to further essentialize women and reinforce the idea that women are natural born mothers. The idea that every woman possesses some sort of natural instinct that will magically lead her to be a good mother makes me roll my eyes: when a your child is born, you may or may not fall head over heels for them. It might be love at first sight, it might be a process, what is true is that you don’t know what in the name of FUCK you’re doing. And that’s ok, children teach you, the parents (as in, both people involved in this, not only the mother) to become parents.

Others currents make feminism about choice, and letting women decide what is best for themselves. My concern and question is: to which extent are we really free in our choices? When does internalized sexism begins and choices end? I honestly don’t have a definite answer on that. As feminists, our job is to keep questioning gender stereotypes first and foremost in our daily, private lives, and to keep questioning why we do things the way we do them. In all truth, I find myself fulfilling traditional gender roles more than I care to mention, so to some degree I am definitely not immune to internalized sexism. I’m working on it though, by keeping my eyes open and reflecting on my actions, every day (yes, feminism means that you can stop enjoying anything lightly, it’s awesome, you should try it).

At the same time, if we’re ranting about the difference of treatment between mothers and fathers by society and about the absence of judgement enjoyed by men, we should not add on to the already consequent pile of judgement faced by mothers, staying at home or not. The main difference, to me, is how we frame things. If a stay at home mother comes forward saying her true happiness is to stay with her kids and that she is most fulfilled in her role as a mother, without pretending that it’s a god given role or something nature and society expect of her, or that she would be the best at it because she’s a woman, I’d be first in line cheering her on and struggling at her side for her work to be valued, for make no mistake, it is WORK, and for her economic contribution to be recognized at public policy level as well as in the private sphere. This however should not mean that all household chores should be devolved to the woman ‘because she stays at home’. If we really are set on staying at home while challenging accepted gender norms, our actions need to reflect this need for change: that means equal involvement in everything household and child related by the partner. This decision also needs to be reversible, it needs to come from a point of understanding between partners that a woman doesn’t do so because she is programmed, because she is better skilled at it because she’s a woman, or because this is how things need to be done. A stay at home mother should have the possibility to go back to work should she wish to do so, which means several things: access to jobs, access to education, access to quality, affordable, childcare, and the absence of discrimination based on her motherhood status while looking for work. The responsibility to be the primary caretaker of children should also be shared, and flexible: today the mother can stay home, but tomorrow the dad can too. In such a flexible, evolutive framework, choice can be made possible.

This shift in accepted gender roles needs to be coupled with a struggle for social justice. Women are more likely to occupy precarious jobs, to be unemployed, to be hardest hit by economic crises, to be paid less than their male counterparts for the same job and the same qualifications and to face significantly more discrimination in the workplace that men. This gender specific situation is to link to the very nature of capitalism to create inequalities, therefore one can not tackle gender inequality without actively fighting the system allowing them to stay in place, capitalism.

Next post will be on working mothers

We dance

And so we dance, you and I, in the dead of night, when everything outside our window is nothing but a pitch black blend of sleepiness, when the leaves themselves do not dare move.
We dance, your tiny little hands
hugging me in an embrace I wish could be never ending, your long eyelashes fluttering to the rhythm of your sweet angel dreams.
We dance, and the love I thought I had for you when I was carrying you pales in comparison to the love I feel for you now, now that I know you, now that your big eyes stare at me with the seriousness only children can have, your stare an endless question I’m yet to answer, your eyes like two magnifying glasses peering into my very soul, leaving no place for pretence and lies, making room for honesty, forcing me into bearing my essence and presenting it to you. You, the only person that literally knows me inside and out.
We dance, and the world seems to stand still, to suspend its whirlwind of madness and violence, to hold its breath for one moment, one short moment, the moment of a dance between a mother and her child, the moment of a dance between any two people bound by love.
We dance, and as I rock you back to sleep, I feel the roots of unconditional love wrapping their stems around my wrists, forever binding me to you. And I kiss your beautiful face, softly, oh so softly to stop me from waking you from your deep slumber, and I will life to be good and kind to you, to spare you hardships and heartbreaks, feeling dizzy at the thought that no matter what I do, there will be things that I won’t be able to shield you from.
But for now, we dance, you and I, living in that moment of absolute tenderness. We dance, and with each step, we help carve the universal, never ending story of humanity.
The story of love.

Childbearing, Breastfeeding and the Battle of Motherhood

I wear my stretch marks like battle scars.

I had heard this phrase before, vaguely realising that childbearing and birth were something akin to a war, not fully understanding how radically true this was.
Childbirth is like a particularly intense hazing Nature puts us through. To me, it was this unimaginably violent, painful, radical test my body and mind had to bear, and here I sit, writing about it, trying to put words on the impossible, looking at my child yet not realising I have done it and lived to tell the tale.
Another part of me is laughing, pointing at the very pretentious act of writing about something experienced by millions of women every day, these millions not feeling the particular need to be writing about it all. This is the part of myself that laughs and points: Look at that little privileged girl, acting as if she were the only one that ever gave birth, making a big deal out of it. But bear with me and allow me to ponder on it all for a while.

In hindsight, I think it’s safe to say that child birth really Is a big fucking deal. If men were doing it, there would be memorials in every city to every fallen comrade who died or sustained injuries giving life, and I can guarantee you that budget cuts would not be made on maternal/paternal health.
Childbirth is intense on a personal level, no matter what the experience: for me it was more that 30 hours of stalled labor and sheer anxiety spending every minute of these 30 hours monitoring my baby’s heart rate, making me beg for a Caesarian which I got in the end, comforting me in my personal belief that natural childbirth is barbaric, that epidurals are the best thing in the world (you can add capital letters to that, Let me rephrase: epidurals are The Best Thing In The World. Trademarking for good measure) and that I don’t see the point of that much pain if i can avoid it. Also, c-sections rule. Like Beyonce rule. That’s how much they do rule. The world. Period.

Not everyone has the same experience and you will certainly find many women strongly disagreeing with me and swearing that natural childbirth was the most beautiful thing they have ever experienced. The key here is to support women in their experiences and choices without making mothers feel that they failed somehow. Phrases like ‘your body was designed to give birth’, while coming from a good intention, can leave mothers who can’t give birth vaginally with a feeling of failure, as if their body and themselves had failed their child. Let me state something clearly: it is true that c-sections are major surgeries and as such carry significant risks for mothers and babies. However, sometimes they’re needed, as simple as that, and women who undergo them should not be made to feel as if they failed their childbirth experience or only got the second best option. It is this hierarchy of experiences made by so called experts and crunchy parenting trends that only reinforce feelings of guilt in new mothers.

There are as many stories as there are people and mine is just a straw in the haystack, just my version of an event. I’m putting in the disclaimer because having a child is one of the experiences that put me the most under scrutiny in my life. See how privileged I am? So privileged that I had not realised it before. So far I had not felt judged for my choices, or at least I was able to let things slide, until motherhood and its explosive molotov of emotions and reactions came knocking.
Let’s break things down: you’ve just evicted a human being from your body, no matter how, and you’re exhausted and overjoyed and overwhelmed and things have not settled in yet, but the Guilt and Judgment parts inherent to the way our societies treat motherhood are just looming outside the corner. Will you be breastfeeding? Yes? No? Exclusively? Yes? No? If so, why not? Will you be Abandoning your child to get back to work? Do you know, this and that would be the best for your child but that’s your decision. It’s funny how so many people can inject that much contempt in those little words: it’s your decision, as if your choices were radioactive concepts that seriously needed to be questioned. As a first time mother, the last thing you need is a self-righteous fucking ‘lactation consultant’ (seriously, that’s a thing) or midwife or well-meaning random person telling you to hold your two seconds baby in the rugby position to help her latch on a breast that still has no milk. How fun for everyone. Breastfeeding is such a sensitive issue, I could go on and on about the impact of WHO breastfeeding regulations on women.Indeed, research has shown that recommendations instated by WHO To exclusively breastfeed for at least six months tend to make women feel guilty, as researchers have dubbed this recommendation ‘unrealistic’. Yes, this would technically be the best option for babies. However, studies have shown that while the majority of women initiate breastfeeding at the hospital, in France and in the States, a month later the figure drops drastically. Why? Because breastfeeding is hard in and of itself, and is made even harder by midwives and professionals telling women who are having difficulties that they’re not managing because they’re not trying hard enough, which is of course something every new exhausted mother with a crying baby dangling down her breast needs to hear. Embarrassment, milk supply issues, pain, lack of access to information and appropriate health services, lack of support and maternity leave, major changes in lifestyle required by breastfeeding are other several reasons often cited by women to stop breastfeeding.
Another thing that turned the WHO guidance into added pressure for mothers is the way it is presented, in a very black and white fashion: it’s either breastfeed exclusively or don’t even bother. This is exactly how it was for me: my initial desire to alternate between breastfeeding and formula feeding (p was met very coldly by the midwife at the ‘baby friendly’ hospital i gave birth in, while the pain and latching issues we were having were just not taken into account in the conversations I had with the midwives, piling on the pressure. Don’t get me wrong, I know that the more a child breastfeeds, the more it stimulates milk production and offering formula might confuse your child as well, increasing latching issues. But I also know that many women would like to be able to discuss all their options in a guilt-free and safe environment, and would appreciate the flexibility of combining breast and formula feeding. Meeting their concerns with contempt isn’t likely to increase breastfeeding rates. As for me, in the end I just dropped the whole breastfeeding hoopla: I was in tremendous pain, my baby was crying bloody murder she was so hungry, she was only latching on one breast, she was starting to be jaundiced and I had to beg for supplements. I therefore figured I was simply not having this wonderful bonding experience some women wax lyrical about, that my child needed a sane mother and not a crying mess and that formula with a relaxed mother was better for her than breast with a wailing banshee.

The pressure on women is so bad it prompted me to read Elisabeth Badinter and-gasp- AGREE with certain points she made.
And we all know me no likey essentialist so-called feminists that try and keep veiled women out of public institutions.
Badinter wrote about the whole Mother Nature/crunchy movement that is emerging and questioned the pressure applied on women to breastfeed, stay at home and make crafts, take care of children etc, stating that the ultimate aim of this trend is, as it always has, to keep women in private spheres and keep them from investing themselves too much in their community role.

Truth is, like for everything else, society apply an incredible amount of pressure on women to be super-mothers. The sacralised version of the Mother with a capital M is re-emerging after having been seriously put into question by women’s movements in the seventies, encouraged by the economic crisis and how much more vulnerable it has made women. In this model, a True/Good/Perfect Mother suffers to bring a child to the world, breastfeeds exclusively for a long time, bakes cookies while eating none herself because she needs to lose weight to be a good role model to her child but also to remain sexual as women are sexual objects and should remain so under the current patriarchal paradigm we’re forced to live under.

After several months of talking to other women, the conclusion I’ve reached is quite radical in its simplicity: choices are not the same to everyone, and each woman should be able to freely opt for what she feels more comfortable in without the Midwife/WHO/Religion/your mother police having a ball tearing these choices apart. It’s hard enough making these choices and owning them, and no one needs the extra guilt. The important thing is to ensure women have all the information they need to make informed decision, and all the support they need to feel comfortable with their choices and situations. Needless to say, it is rather pointless to make women feel guilty for their choices on the one hand and support and make budget health cuts on the other, taking away from mothers the structural, public support they need. Governments should stop issuing recommendations they do not give themselves the means to achieve, making women bear the brunt of achieving said recommendations on their own.

However, even the question of choice is a false debate: how much choice does a woman with poor access to healthcare have? Not every country has free universal coverage and even in those who do, access to medical follow up during pregnancy and good healthcare for delivery is constrained by a woman’s socio-economic circumstances. Even breastfeeding for example might not be a choice but the only possibility given the cost of formula, or on the opposite, maybe breastfeeding can’t be an option because of lack of maternity leave.

Public health structures, class, personal choices, and structural factors all weigh in to shape a woman’s experience of childbirth and child raising: what is at stake is to make sure women do not pay the price of judgmental trends and inappropriate public policies.

Tales of the Phoenix City – 29

Gaby was watching the ever expanding frame of her friend, taking pictures of her as she moved bare foot on her tiled floor, draped in a large lacy poplin white nightshirt. Nina was looking tired in the Beirut sinking sun, the sweet autumn wind finding its way into the apartment through the half closed green shutters, gently caressing people and furniture, reminding them that there were good reasons to stay, too. In spite of everything. Nina was arranging on her tray the delicious looking fig jam and homemade sweet anise kaak Lily had brought back from the Bekaa valley, pondering if her hunger was greater than the nagging nausea that had plagued her throughout the 36 weeks of her pregnancy.

– Jesus Fucking Christ, for the love of all that is good and holy, how, just tell me how, does your body manage to accommodate that alien in your belly?
Nina smiled patiently. After all, this was a question she kept asking herself, about four hundred times a day.
– Well, I’m not even sure myself. Sometimes I stare at my body in utter wonder, thinking it’s the most perfect, clever thing in the world…
– Please spare us all the hippy talk I am begging you, interrupted Gabrielle, all this hoopla about your body and its abilities yawn yawn yawn
– Ma hek, if you left me finish. So I was saying, sometimes I am amazed by what I can do, and other times I just feel so, well, full, so heavy, and achy, and moody…
– Are you naming the seven dwarves?
– No seriously, that whole pregnancy thing is no walk in the park. I will never understand the women who claim to have never felt better than when they were pregnant. It’s a huge strain on yourself, on your body and emotions, it’s like this tidal wave of change, you don’t recognize yourself. Everything swells to accommodate a person you’re creating, a person you feel jab and poke at your insides and punch and kick you. Sometimes I’d be sitting down and it’s like my bump has already a life of its own, it goes crazy from one side to another. How odd is that? It’s happening to me yet I can’t wrap my head around it.
– Well, you’d better start wrapping your head around it, seeing as you’re giving birth in about four weeks.
– Yeah no, i’m not.
Gaby started and looked up from her objective, trying to assess her friend’s tone.
– You’re not?
– I’m not.
– Okay then. What do you propose will happen? Will you keep that child inside your womb for all eternity, kangaroo style?
– No no,they shall take that child out of me, but I do not plan on ‘giving birth’ and ‘laboring’ and participating or cooperating in any way to the delivery of that baby. I’ll just let modern medicine do what it does best: fix things.
– You scared?
– To fucking death. The pain, Gaby, how does one bear the pain? I hear all that talk by the midwives about how beautiful and manageable everything is through breathing but i’m like, ‘quit lying to me, if breathing magically made the pain go away, women would not beg for epidurals and oxygen and the shit loads of drugs they ask for, half crying’. I’m not gonna lie Gaby, i am seriously wondering about how people deal with the fucking pain. I demand to know.
– Wait, I’ll go back to my extensive experience in giving birth to 14 children. How the fuck do I know? The whole process seems so foreign and remote to me. A bit like China.
– Nina chuckled, trying to get comfortable in her vintage upholstered wicker chair, putting her swollen feet up. Gaby resumed her frantic picture taking.
– May I ask why you’re all over me with your camera? You look like a paparazzi chasing Kim Kardashian.
– Who?
– Never mind. Just stop taking pictures of the sorry mess that I have become. And since we’re on the subject, please stop likening my vagina and its upcoming torture to China.
– Oh for fuck’s sake, can we please stop with the whole pity party? I am told many, many women have done what you’re about to do before. Apparently it’s even very probable that your body will know what to do by itself. So breathe. Didn’t they teach you anything in that drab, God forsaken prenatal classes of yours? Grace came with you and she bored me into a proper stupor with talk of dilatation and effacement and perineum and pushing and ‘managing the pain’ by breathing and whatnots. Seriously, if you could handle the pain of the preparation to the whole ordeal, you’ll do just fine at the event itself. Oh and by the by, I take pictures because you’ve never been so beautiful and I want to frame a couple of those for your child to see how perfect her mother was while carrying her.
– I didn’t know you were such a thoughtful, kind poet.
– Well, there I fucking go, the sensitivity of Verlaine trapped in the body of Patti Smith
Nina planted her eyes in her friends’. The intense gaze rattled Gaby, who stopped being flippant and held Nina’s gaze with the same intensity and gravity. Now was not the time for jokes.
– Seriously, Gabrielle. What am I doing? Did you see the state of the country and the world I am bringing that child in? Am I doing the ultimate selfish thing? I don’t really care about my child not really having a ‘father’ figure…
– Yes she will, she’ll have me!
– Seriously, ‘father figure’ simply doesn’t mean anything anyway, except maybe patriarchal oppressor. But I feel like I am under so much pressure. My body is definitely not my own anymore, by nature’s design and by people’s will, by the constant stream of ‘well wishers’, telling me I should give birth without medication, telling me I should breastfeed because it’s better, and don’t even get me started on all the parenting advice perfect strangers are showering on me. Sometimes i just feel like escaping but It’s like I’m stuck. I just would like to be able to claim my life and body back, but people are trying to sell to me the sacrificing, long suffering mother stereotype as the ultimate and best mother figure that could ever exist and I just don’t want this for myself, and i don’t want my child growing up thinking it’s ok and normal to be a slave to motherhood.
– Your tangled web of questions has confused me,not the least because i think, of all your organs, the most fucked up as of now, is your brain. Since when did you start caring about what people say? Seriously, you’ve been renting your body for the past nine months, bloody do what you want to do with it when it’s over. You’ve always been your own person, I don’t see why that should change. Raise your child the way you want to, telling her what you think is right and then let her make her own experiences. The way I see it, just let people’s remarks and comments slide off your back and carry on.
– You know, you’re a good cheerleader…
Gabrielle saw where this was going.
– No, please, no
– And as a good cheerleader and my best friend, I’d like you to come with me the day I give birth
– OOooh for fuck’s sake, Jesus Fucking Christ, no, fuck, no, don’t do this to me, Jesus, no, can you imagine me with the blood and the cutting of things, and the whole butchering, no, I’ll probably be taking pictures for my gore collection instead of helping you anyway, seriously, take Grace, she’s strong and responsible and lovely and has been to the classes, or Lily, she’ll sing hippy welcoming songs to your child, don’t take me, please
– I want you. You won’t let them bullshit me when i’m vulnerable.
– But
– I want you. Gabrielle, will you be my ‘birthing partner’?
– Oh Jesus Fucking Christ, yes i will but don’t ever, ever refer to me again as birthing partner. Ever.
– Good, said Nina, closing her eyes and relaxing. You were not hard to convince after all.
– I feel like i’ve been manipulated in some way, mumbled Gabrielle, fixing her filter yet again. Fuck.

Where I Try to Speak to My Unborn Child. In a Letter.

Dearest unborn child,

You and I are in the final home stretch of our journey together as an entity of one. Or one and a half, if you look at my profile.

In about six weeks (or less, if you decide to show up before, which i don’t advise you to do, please keep baking, Mama is not equipped to see you in an incubator), you will hopefully, inshallah, please God (Mama is also superstitious and overly anxious, just so you know where you’re landing), show your little face to the world.

I hardly can believe it, yet can’t wait to meet you. In advance of your great debut as part of humanity, I’d like to apologize for all the throwing up and shaking you I did over these nine months, and while I’m at it, for all the anxiety and stress I put you through. I’m sure that can’t have been too enjoyable for you. Rest assured it wasn’t for me either, but what can you do? we are quite literally in the same boat.

I can’t wait to see what you’ll be like, can’t wait to get to know your character and your quirks and what annoys you and what will make you laugh. It really is as simple as that: somehow I am making a person and I’d really like to meet and greet that person. Your father is as impatient as me, he has a lot to teach you, apparently producing Trotsky Explained to Children books is high up next on his to do list, and I am under the impression that you’ll be the first (last? only?) child benefiting from that collection.

Darling child, Bringing you into this world doesn’t come without a dose of guilt, especially when I look at the current state of the world. We’re bringing you to a place that’s rife with conflict and heartbreak and displacement and violence and inequalities and hatred. Put this way, it seems rather unfair to bring yet another human being in such a mess. Perhaps We were being selfish when we decided to try and have you, but we rationalized it, thinking we might bring another Frida Kahlo or De Beauvoir to this world, or at the very least make the world a little nicer for your mere presence in it. And I truly believe this, although my opinion doesn’t really matter, after all I am your mother, of course my world is going to be brighter because you are in it. We also hoped that we would be able to show you all the glorious and gorgeous beauty in this world, all the solidarity, and courage, and love and friendship and music, smiles and laughters that world can hold.

Will you like me? I mean, you kind of have to like me at first, and your father as well, because we will be the ones caring for you so you won’t really have a choice, it’s either that or no milk, but as you grow up, will you like me, like us? Will you like the people we turned out to be?

There are so many things that I’d like to fight within me to make your life sweeter. I’d like to fight my continuous anxiety to enable you to explore the world with your own antennas, to form your own opinions, to be your own person,to give you enough confidence to know that no matter what, wherever i will be, the only true spot I’ll forever be rooted in is your heart, and that I’ll be safely tucked there as you’re tucked into mine. I’d like to participate in building your confidence in yourself and in others, to be open, and curious, and to questions situations, ideas, things, people. I’d love to help you get a sense of justice, and to teach you to fight for it, with the conscience of your own privileges, without smothering you, without shoving my ideas down your throat, without you feeling that I’m pushing ideas onto you that do not agree with your own conclusions.

Seriously, this parenting thing is a motherfucker. How does one do that?

I’d love for you to be proud of me. We always talk about parents being proud of their children, but honestly, think of how excruciating it would be to have your child look at you with disappointment. I could not hold that gaze. I’ll try my best to remain my own person, to contradict the messages you’ll no doubt hear and maybe pick up from the patriarchal society we live in. I vow to try and show you that a woman doesn’t need to be dependent on anyone, that she can hold her own, that she can dress as she pleases without anyone being entitled to say anything to her or aggravate her, that she is the mistress of her own mind and body, and that courage and strength are not masculine values. Don’t ever let anyone limit you because you’re a girl, or you’re young or whatever. Don’t let anyone limit you and your potential, period. And that includes me.

I hope I’ll be able to wrap you in a blanket of infinite and endless love, so that you’ll always have a place where you’ll feel safe.
I hope you never doubt that I’ve got your back, no matter what.
I hope to meet and greet you in six weeks and start off our journey together, your tiny fist already raised in protest.

Also, if you could be kind and not excruciatingly hurt me during labor, that’d be greatly appreciated.

With love,
Mama

How to Live with a Pregnant Comrade Without Losing Your Head (Or Laboring Hers)

 Significant Comrade is pregnant.

 

I, the Rev, am going to become a FATHER! Not that I subscribe to the idiotic, bourgeois, reactionary model of the patriarchal family where the biological male has all the power and the privileges within the family cell and the woman is left as the proletariat of the marriage, as Comrade Engels would say. Because I don’t. Let us be clear about that.

 

If the doctors are to be believed, I’m to ‘have’ a daughter, not that she will ever be my property, not at all, or that she will necessarily identify as a ‘girl’ as portrayed by the heteronormative patriarchal society, gender being a social construct anyway as Comrade Butler explained it. She will be absolutely free to become whatever and whoever she will want to become and I’ll fiercely love her anyway. Although in hindsight, perhaps maybe not if she decides to work for the World Economic Forum or for Morgan Stanley, or if she becomes a right wing militant, or worse, a Stalinist. Imagine that. Sometimes I can’t sleep just thinking about it.

 

Huh. I realise Significant Comrade and myself will have to tread very carefully if we want to transmit our beliefs and values to our child. But then again, is sharing these with her an act of oppression? Will I be crushing her critical thinking and creativity? Have I already started? You know, because I talk to her, and read things to her, things like ‘Marx at the Margins’, the ‘old social classes and the revolutionary movements of Iraq’ and ‘Hezbollah and Hamas: A contemporary study’. I also sing to her sometimes, things like the International in French, English and Arabic, although Significant Comrade’s temper seems to be slightly shorter than usual and I kind of got yelled at. I tried Bella Ciao, thinking it might be better received, but got the Petit Manuel pour En Finir Avec le Capitalisme thrown at my face, by accident I’m sure.

 

I’m kind of getting yelled at, or cried on, quite a bit at the moment. Sometimes, I wish Comrade Trotsky would have been more of a ‘family’ man, instead of running around in Mexico with iconic painters, so he could have written a book in the vein of the Russian Revolution but on how Revolutionaries could better support their comrades during pregnancy and childbirth. Like last time, when I found the Significant Comrade crying her eyes out in front of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, which is in itself a very sore subject in our marriage. I hoped she was being tearful because of the stupidity and crass consumerism of it all, but apparently it was because Kourtney was being mean to Kim. Who are these people? Who is Kourtney? Who is Kim? And why are they making my Significant Comrade cry? Sometimes I can’t help but wonder how Comrade Marx managed with Jenny. I mean, she has been pregnant seven times. Seven. Ah but look at Comrade Karl daughters, all socialist activists, translating the works of their daddy! Sometimes I wonder if my daughter shall do the same with me?

 

When I share my concerns with Significant Comrade, it seems to me that she is not quite so keen on discussing these things with me. Something to do about having enough on her own plate and how would I like to weigh a ton and be full of water and having trouble breathing, sleeping and eating? I have to say, that left me speechless. As a revolutionary, I can not speak in lieu of the oppressed, and my Comrade is clearly being oppressed. Also, when I tried and talked to Significant Comrade about the absolute need of trusting our child to make her own experiences in life and not be overly protective of her, Significant Comrade did not seem to share my views either. I believe her exact words were: ‘Listen to me you stupid Rev, are you the one being asked to expel a baby the size of a ginormous turkey from a hole the size of your nostril? HUH? HUH? Nah, I don’t think so, so you shut the fuck up and you leave me to decide when that child will be able to start with her own experiments with life and that is never, or not until she’s 30 anyway, the world is filled with serial killers and sexual predators’. Which I thought was a bit much, in all fairness, but I thought it best not to argue.

Now that I’m about to become a dad, I value my life.

I am nevertheless hoping that the revolution will prevail soon so that patriarchy and neo-liberalism become things of the past and so I’m trying twice as hard to make it happen before she turns 5. Time is running out my Comrades, let us build a whole new world.

 

Sometimes, when I try and lay my plans for the triumph of revolutionary socialism to the Significant Comrade, she just hugs her pregnancy pillow (which she dubbed ‘her new husband, but I am fine with that, as I do not own my Significant Comrade. Also, it’s a pillow) and tells me to shut up and go to sleep. ‘Your child will be a Menchevik anyway’, she said.

 

And here I am, eyes wide open in the dark. What if she is?  

What People Do Not Tell You Upon Becoming Pregnant And Other Surviving Tips

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Yes ladies, it is high time to lift the veil on the broad platitude people serve you once you’re pregnant. Ever heard: I’ve never felt better than when I was pregnant? Oh you’ll see, morning sickness is totally manageable, just drink ginger ale and you’ll be fine? And, yes I was a teensy bit tired?

While it might truly be like that for some women (of which I am super jealous by the way), it is to be said that 1) it is not like that for a a significant amount of women and 2) as pregnant women, we’re encouraged to shut the fuck up when it comes to our pregnancy woes and just wear a beatific smile and nod softly to everything and everyone, because we should be so grateful and happy to be pregnant you see. Which we are, don’t get us wrong. But we’d be even happier if we could tell the world that morning sickness is wrongly named because it is all fucking day sickness without feeling the eyes of judgement digging into our souls. Apparently, the second we see that tiny line on the pee test is the moment we as individuals should stop existing and the time we start to bear everything with a brave smile just because we are mothers in the making. Sacrifice should be our new credo or something, so we should just suck it up and think that it’s all for the greater good.

 

Er, no.

 

I am ranting, because I really, truly, want to whine and get the throbbing guilt out of women’s heads. My lovelies, if you feel miserable during pregnancy, and not at all like the model mums we see in specialised magazines (which are basically like any other ‘women’ magazine with their self serving dose of guilt, you just need to add a bump) it doesn’t mean you’re going to be a bad mother, or that you don’t have what it takes. You feel miserable because you throw up 3 times a day, and that would make anyone pretty miserable too. Yes you’re beside yourself that you’re making another human being that you’ll love so much your heart will ache, but you tend to forget about that when you see your dinner in reverse. You’re just a normal human being.

 

So on to the list of things that you should be aware of upon getting pregnant (and since i’m only about 18 weeks, I expect said list will be getting longer):

 

  1. Everyone Will Have Good Advice to Shower on Your Head

    Even the men, who last time I checked did not have a uterus. Even your grocer. Even that person on the bus whom you don’t know and don’t want to know. My mother’s advice has been pretty straightforward: you’re pregnant, eat whatever you want and suck it up. I’m not sure I found that helpful but at the same time I prefer it to the people who guilt me into natural birth and breastfeeding and look horrified when I press the point that I WANT ALL THE DRUGS THEY CAN GET ME AND MORE, and that I’m not sure about breastfeeding. Sometimes I think I’ll do it just to escape the curse of the BUT IT’S SO GOOD FOR YOUR BABY preaching. In any case, I still like to shock aforementioned judging crowd just because I’m mean and pregnancy has not been able to change that. Again, my mother is superb: ‘I never breastfed you, it wasn’t the fashion at the time and yaaaa I don’t like it’. However, she’s been made to feel guilty as well and now tells me she regrets it. I don’t blame you mom, I’m not super comfortable with the idea either. Something tells me I get my body back after 9 months of not controlling it, maybe since it’s my body and my breasts, I should be able to make my own decision? Bottom line is: breastfeeding and bottle feeding both make healthy babies, so live and let live. And don’t feel bad for wanting your body back.

 

  1. You’ll Have Anxieties About Everything

    Yes, you will. Before you get pregnant you’ll be scared about not being able to. When you are, you’ll be scared about miscarriage. Once the baby starts kicking, you’ll freak out when you haven’t felt it for two seconds. When you’ll be towards delivery time, you’ll be scared about the birth. How are they going to get that baby out of you, you’ll ask? I mean, seriously, I know women have been doing it since time immemorial, but HOW ARE THEY GOING TO GET IT OUT? During the birth, you’re scared they won’t cry once they’re out. I confided this fear to my sister who acknowledge having had the same one with her two daughters. Thing is, she said it almost in a whisper, as if it were something shameful. It’s nothing to be ashamed about, on the contrary, apparently it shows you’ll be a good mother because you care and stuff. Congratulations. Now worry away.

 

  1. You Won’t Sleep Well

    Say bye to sleeping on your stomach. Say hi to restless leg syndrome. Say bye to peaceful, funny, dreams, say hi to gory preview of childbirth and various scenarios where something happens to your baby, your partner, your family, the earth. Say bye to long night, say hi to peeing three times during the night.

    Say bye to feeling rested.

 

  1. You Will Get The Usual Suspects

    Swelling. I can’t wear half of my high heels anymore. PEOPLE. Me and my shoes were tight. Real tight. I almost cried when my new nude and gold pumps would not fit my feet, not that I needed a reason to cry, but it hurt. I know I’ll probably love the baby more than my shoes but Jesus fucking Christ, it does not feel good.

    Feeling tired. Not tired like you want to sleep. The first trimester is a blur of me clutching at my bed and never wanting to let go. Ever.

    Morning Sickness. You’ll feel nauseated by things you used to love. You’ll throw up. Repeat, Pause for throwing up, Repeat, pause for throwing up.

    Weight gain. Enough said. But that one is not too bad. You can eat whatever you want because you’re pregnant you see, so yes, have that piece of cake (sickness permitting of course)

 

  1. You’ll Love Everyone. You’ll Hate everyone. Especially your partner.

    You will cry over little nothings and will bite the head off anyone who dares to tell you ‘it’s the hormones’ fault because you’ll be totally convinced that ad was really objectively REALLY SAD and that ANYONE would have cried over it and it’s not BECAUSE YOU’RE HORMONAL. You’ll want to bitch slap everyone, especially your partner because, well, he/she’s there and merely exists, next thing you’ll know you’ll love him/her like you’ve never loved anyone in the whole wide world.

You might be a tiny bit difficult to live with, but you won’t realise it because for you it’s totally normal. And no, the fact that you threw a hissy fit this morning at your husband because he bought the wrong kind of cereal is not a mark of mood swings. Conflicting cereals really are upsetting.

 

  1. You’ll stress over telling work you’re pregnant

    As if you made a major work blunder. Because that’s the world we live in now, and that’s regardless of your employer’s reaction to the news, you’ll stress nonetheless, because pregnant women are made to feel by society that their place is not in the workplace, but at home knitting socks for their child. To this day, my hero is this UK diplomat with whom I had an appointment. I didn’t know her so she just texted me: you’ll find me, i’m the 8 months pregnant woman. And there she was, rocking the human rights council with her bump and I thought YOU GO GIRL YOU SHOW THEM!!! Show them we’re pregnant not mentally reduced.

Please feel free to add anything you like, I am likely to have forgotten a ton