- Category: Feminist Consciousness-Raising
By Candi Churchill
This is an edited version of a talk given at an event organized by Rad Dad author Tomas Moniz, June 2012 at the Civic Media Center in Gainesville, FL.
All this talk about this way or that way to shoot the baby out of the canal. Epidural or no epidural? Are you going “natural” or are you going to allow “interventions?” Sleep training? Attachment parenting? Cry it out? Breast? Bottle? Both? There are a lot of ways to have a family and raise a child and in the end, most kids are going to be loved and provided for (we hope). But what about what happens to us? There’s not a lot of talk about how hard it is to readjust to your new life.
When I had my baby, my life changed forever. Sure it changed for the better in many ways. I wouldn’t trade him for the world. My heart stretched in ways I never knew possible. I love his laugh. I love his kisses. He’s amazing. But it is extremely hard and I feel some days that I’ve lost myself. I didn’t expect that.
I had three months paid (sick) leave when he came along. It was wonderful. I was “lucky.” I took walks. I ate well. I had lunch dates, play dates, nights out with friends. Then I had to go back to my job. At first I relished using my brain for something other than baby things. I had to travel out of town the second week back at work. This was supposed to be gut wrenching and difficult. It wasn’t. After a day of hard work on my feet, it still was much easier than caring for my son.
Sometimes it is hard working out of town. My child was sick a lot for about a year period and I often didn’t want to go, especially if I didn’t feel my work was valued and two parents are especially needed when there’s vomit, excessive poop and fever involved. I used up all my sick leave for my parental leave, so I usually didn’t have much choice. I had to go to work. Now my husband works 150 miles away, so when I have to travel for a work, it’s a real shuffle.
I have been having serious mood swings for a long period. Periods of not sleeping well. Sometimes I feel blissful; manic happy times where I honestly feel like the luckiest person in the world to have a challenging job and a wonderful family, then dark, desperate, lonely moments where I want to run away from anyone who needs anything from me. Every other mom in the world seems more together than me. More relaxed. More organized. More loving. More patient. My moms group and feminist movement sisters remind me that we all felt this way from time to time and that there should be no comparing. No guilt! But somehow guilt creeps in anyway.
There are times I know I am doing a great job as a mom and I enjoy myself, no doubt. This is what I wanted: a sweet child with a great temperament. A partner who is a father and not just a “babysitter” who “helps me,” though I wish he could be around more. A decent job, good health insurance. What is wrong with me? It could be so much worse!
But some days I can’t get out of bed. I’ll skip showering (not a great idea). Skip breakfast (a worse idea). I enter the world like a zombie, but I pull it off. I’m great at my job, no one knows I’m often feeling sad. Paranoid. Alone. Incompetent.
Maybe I just needed to work out more. Eat better. Go to bed earlier. Take more short cuts. Take time for myself. Take anti-depressants, see a counselor. Take a mental health vacation. Plan date nights.
I tried most of those things.
But you know what? There are no individual solutions.* Some strategies are life savers, but the root of the problem is that I work too many hours and have too many demands on my time and energy; I am oppressed as a woman and a worker. The “double day” is killing me. And not just the long 60-hour intense weeks either, it is the grind of even a 35 or 40-hour work week. Workers in the US work some of the longest hours in the industrialized world.** I am angry about our conditions here in the U.S. People in other countries not only work less hours, they also have a lot more vacations and holidays than we do and retire earlier– by law!-- as well as real paid family leave for men and women (for a year!). Now that’s time. That’s family values. And U.S.-style “reforms” are eroding what other people’s movements have been able to win, especially in Europe.
I could be a better parent, a happier person if I had time. Be whoever it is I am aside from a mom, a wife and an employee.
I need national health care, not tied to a job or marriage. Then I wouldn’t feel so tied to my job or a job. I need a sabbatical. Time to travel again. To just come back to myself. Myself underneath an intense job. A “spirited” child. A strained marriage. Maybe with more time off my husband and I could remember why we fell in love and not just manage tasks and give our best to our child and ignore each other.
I need good, quality childcare that’s public. Finding the right private childcare center is exhausting. You’ve got to look at the hours they are open. The costs. Location. Ratios! Their “philosophy.”
And I worry about our public schools. Underfunded. Crowded. Being “reformed” (privatized) by Wal-mart executives. Teachers are demoralized and leaving the field or left long ago. Will my child get the public school education that I got? Have we re-segregated? What the heck will I do in the summers? Or when schools close at noon on Wednesdays? Is this our individual problem to navigate?
Raising a family doesn’t have to be this hard. Most of us value people over profits, but those in power do not. If I can lose myself, how many others are lost? Trudging on through life. Depressed. Oppressed. Lonely. But in love with their kids or in love with something they don’t have enough time to enjoy. How many of us are living like this? And when are we going to get together and build a movement to turn this all around? I’m up for it. Are you, sisters?
* For more on this see, Carol Hanisch’s “The Personal is Political” in Feminist Revolution, 204-205, which can be ordered from www.redstockings.org