Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Low Bar of Fatherhood

   This post will probably be all over the place and slightly incoherent simply because there are so many related topics all wound up together that I'm not sure how to cover everything in an orderly fashion.
   Let's begin with the basics. Patriarchy sucks. And one of the most poignant examples of the insidious nature of patriarchy is the often heard statement "I'm not a feminist because I like men/don't hate men/don't think women are better than men, etc." This perpetrates a straw-person version of feminism that undermines and delegitimizes the actual idea. Are there some self-proclaimed feminists that think men are scum? Yeah, of course. There are also non-feminists who think men are scum. That's like saying because there are some self-identified Christians that are also racist bigots, all Christians are racist bigots or being a racist bigot is an integral part of Christianity. At the end of the day, feminism is about equality for both genders- women AND men. Feminism is as important for masculinity as it is for femininity. So, with that being established, being a parent has definitely made certain aspects of our patriarchal system more apparent. There is the obvious restriction of women's birth and reproductive rights as well as the restrictive and hypergendered views of motherhood. But what is also interesting is the way in which fathers get screwed.
   There are two basic depictions of fatherhood in our culture. We'll call them "Superdad" and "The Blithering Idiot". Superdad is the man who, despite having a penis, still makes a decent parent. And apparently this is noteworthy. This is the idea behind "mom porn" which is generally depictions of attractive male celebrities taking part in childrearing activities like babywearing. Or why our Mom Parent and Baby group leader nearly fell over herself trying to tell Joey how glad she was to have him (the only male) there. Seriously, the group description says "open to fathers" but they call it Mom and Baby? This depiction of father's idolizes men for being parents. Now, I'm not hating on fathers. Being a parent is incredibly hard and deserves recognition- much more than it currently gets. But that is the problem- this isn't about parenting, it's about fathering. A woman doing any of these things goes completely under the radar, because of course a woman takes care of her child (even though there are plenty who don't). But a father taking care of his child apparently deserves a medal. Once again, I'm not hating on dads. They deserve all the praise they get. The point is, so do mothers. There is something odd when a dad taking care of his kid is referred to as "babysitting". Or when single fathers are idolized as martyrs while single mothers are labeled as irresponsible welfare queens. As well intentioned as the "Superdad" idea may seem, when we really get down to it, it's incredibly insulting. Imagine if at your work place, every time you attended a mandatory staff meeting, your boss singled you out and congratulated you on making it to the meeting and how proud he was that you made it there and were present. You'd feel like an idiot, am I right? Like somehow it was extraordinary that you were able to find your way out of your own cubicle. That's kind of what we are saying when we act like dads walk on water for doing what mom's do every. single. day. without mention.
   Which brings us to the blithering idiot. This is more obvious. This is the punch line of countless sitcoms. The mom goes on vacation, or to a friends house, and everything falls apart without her there and the whole is episode is a mad scramble to fix everything before she returns. Or this Huggies commercial that claims dads are the ultimate test of ineptitude. Or this car commercial that claims the first role fathers play in pregnancy, birth, and infanthood is buckling the kid in the friggin' careseat. Not only are dads completely incapable of caring for their children, but it's not seen as bad. It's hilarious, because what did you think would happen? Obviously only people with vaginas are capable of raising kids!
   Then of course, there is the melding of these two. We'll call it the Super-idiot. Think Three Men and a Baby, Mrs. Doubtfire, Big Daddy. The male character starts out as any penis-baring individual would- completely clueless when it comes to children and domestic work. But over the course of the overused plot line, he endures some kind of transformation where it turns out he actual is a good dad...better than good...he's a great dad! Because A) he still has a penis, and B) the child(ren) are still breathing. Those are apparently the only qualifications. Now, we can go deeper with these plotlines and make some connections to the journey that every parent faces as they set aside their selfish, youthful ways for the good of the child and their family and come through a process of growth and self-reflection. But once again, these are rarely stories of parenthood. It is almost always fathers who are depicted. Because women as capable mothers is apparently a given.
  So all in all, we are left with some troubling repercussions for all parents and for families in general. These ideas lead to:

  • De facto custody for mothers over fathers
  • Pretty much non-existent paternity leave in the wake of already crappy maternity policies
  • Social and professional stigma for those who do take paternity leave
  • A complete disregard for non-traditional families, such as same sex couples. 
  • A lack of support for struggling mothers (because they are supposed to just pick it up "naturally")
  • A lack of support for struggling fathers (because everyone assumes they aren't really involved)
  • Societal acceptance of poor fathering
  • Societal apathy towards good mothering
  • Child-related services aimed at mothers (Mom & Baby classes, Mother's Day Out, etc.) at the risk of excluding involved and present parents who happen to have a penis.
    And it sucks, because this creates an environment that perpetuates these ideas whether the individuals want to or not. Like dads who would LOVE to stay home with the newborn, but can't because their workplace doesn't offer leave. And in turn, these ideas are being passed down to the next generation, because the children are observing the fact that dad goes to work and mom takes them to the park. Luckily, some aspects of this are getting better. But as long as the "Superdad" and "Blithering Idiot" figures are go-to characters in our culture and media, it's going to be really hard to represent the "Father" figure.

 


Friday, July 12, 2013

At least we don't have yellow wallpaper...

 

 If you're missing the Charlotte Perkins Gilman reference, we can't be friends anymore. Go read some decent American-feminist literature and get back to me.

   I have a wicked case of post-partum depression. It's getting better (obviously I'm coherent enough to write this). I basically have done nothing except nurse the baby and sit. I had absolutely no appetite to eat anything, so I lost a ridiculous amount of weight and had no energy (in addition to being sleep deprived in general). I cried throughout the day. If Perrin started crying, I shut down completely. I couldn't do anything except stare at him. Joey would take him and calm him down. Joey changed his diapers, and held him, and basically did everything aside from nurse. He brought me whatever food I did eat, and my vitamins. He called psych counselors and lactation consultants and basically anyone who could help. I just couldn't get myself to do anything. I hated everything- especially the baby. The baby was nothing to me except pain. I knew, in my head, that it he wasn't being mean on purpose and that he is just a baby...but there were times when I could swear he was trying to inflict as much pain on me as humanly possible. It's a strange feeling to be so sad and so angry and then to feel guilty for feeling those emotions.
  I really don't know what else to say except that things got bad. I never wanted to hurt the baby, but Perrin and I coexisting didn't seem to be working out. One of us had to go, and I was the adult (sort of), so it seemed like it had to be me. I needed to go away- back to Memphis, somewhere else, I don't know...something had to give. Finally I wasn't able to handle it anymore. Joey stepped in and insisted I get help. He called our midwife and found some local PPD resources.
  I started seeing a counselor and she (as well as our midwife) agreed that fixing the breastfeeding relationship ASAP was key. The pain was driving a lot of my resentment towards Perrin. They brought up the possibility of me pumping and bottle feeding to eliminate the stress of nursing, but I refused for two reasons. First, I wasn't quite desperate enough to risk our future nursing relationship just yet. Second, and most importantly, nursing was all I had. That was my only interaction with Perrin. I did it because I absolutely had to. If we introduced bottles and Joey could feed him...I knew I wouldn't look at Perrin again. So I hung on to our nursing relationship and Joey called every lactation specialist in the state he could find until we started making progress. Now nursing is almost pain free.The counselor also stated she thought I was scared to interact with Perrin and that was one of the reasons I would just shut down. She suggested attending some Mom and Baby classes to get some tips and help on interacting with my baby. Joey and I now attend a Parent and Baby class on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
   Our midwife assigned me some homework as well. The first was eating and sleeping more, for obvious reasons. She also stressed my need for socialization. We don't really have many close friends in Tucson, and definitely not lots of kid experience. We don't have a tribe. So my midwife put in contact with some like-minded parents near by. We have had two social get-togethers this week.
  So things are slowly getting better. It is still ridiculously hard. I'm living off of gluten-free Oreos and Lucky Charms. Our house is a wreck and completely filthy. Every ounce of our energy is going towards just surviving until tomorrow..but it's getting better.

  So to those people who are offended by my experience- the people who tell me I should think of all the childless couples in the world and appreciate my baby more and get over the "difficulties of motherhood" (their condescending quotation marks, not mine)- Screw you. I'm in enough of a mental hell with plenty of guilt all by myself, I don't need your baggage. If I could snap my fingers make it all pretty, I would do it in a heartbeat. But guess what, I can't. It hurts and it's hard and I don't know what to do except work my way through it. So I can either pretend this isn't happening, or I can be honest and maybe help someone else out there know they aren't the only one. I saw another mom at one of our groups- she looked exactly how I felt. But we were both there and both dealing, and we will both be okay. So if I ever hear a person tell another PPD woman to just get over it and be happy with her baby, I'm going to punch them in face, ahimsa be damned.
 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

My Baby is Kind of an A$$hole...

    I got a lot of great feedback from the breastfeeding post. Apparently, most people get it. They experienced it and they can commiserate. So, at the risk of sounding like I just like to bitch constantly (which is probably pretty true at the moment), I thought I'd go a little farther out on that same limb. Call CPS on me if you want. At this point it just sounds a lot like free babysitting. I'm going to be honest with people and share another little "gem" that I think rings true for most people but that just doesn't get talked about- I don't like my baby.

   There. I said it. I don't really like the kid. Not yet. I assumed birth would be this magic moment and I would get that rush of oxytocin and fall in love. I would spend hours staring at him and nuzzling his head and kissing his little face. And then he was born, which was cool because this tiny person came out of my vagina, but nothing really happened. Nothing clicked. And now, almost 3 weeks later, I still have this little person hanging around.
   Don't get me wrong, for a baby he is pretty cool. We are finally getting this nursing thing down so he is sleeping better and for 2-3 hour stretches now. He only fusses when he is hungry for the most part (he just happens to be hungry all. the. damn. time.) Overall he is pretty easy going...for a baby.   It's the baby part that's the hang up. Babies are kind of assholes. They scream at you, drink too much, puke everywhere, then pass out- like a really shitty college roommate.  He'll fall asleep at the boob, lose the nipple, then get pissed at ME because suddenly the milk is gone. Or start thrashing around with my nipple in his mouth. Or kick the living crap out of me while nursing. Or claw me with those godforsaken razor blades they call fingernails. He doesn't do anything fun or interesting yet. He smiles really cute sometimes...but usually that means he's about to shit his pants. Right now, he's just a demanding little bottomless pit. And he smells bad. Like milk and sweat (both of which are probably mine, but whatever. I KNOW I smell bad).
   Now, I know he doesn't do any of this stuff on purpose. It's just the baby thing. But that hasn't stopped me from looking up one-way plane tickets. Or fantasizing about driving off into the sunset. Or threatening to let him starve on multiple occasions. Or begging Joey to let me put him up for adoption. Honestly, the thing holding me back is usually that I will miss Joey too much. And that then he'd have to eat shitty formula (food is kind of my 'thing'). So I stay and nurse him. And then he falls asleep and looks all adorable and I figure, I can probably do this after all. And I know it will get better. It's just that...I don't really know this person yet. And save the "what did you expect/ you got yourself into this" bullshit. Yeah, I know. I knew babies would be kind of a time suck. But I don't think it's really possible to KNOW until you have one. Or at least not with the way most people talk about it. So I'm sure we will get to know each other better and then it will be all soul-gazing and fireworks. But right now he's rooting on Joey's chest, which means I'm up to bat, and I really just want to go hide in the closet.

*He really is a pretty cool baby. It's not his fault we aren't hitting it off right off the bat. It's just a mixture of a lot of things- like breastfeeding trouble, lack of sleep, and a loss of autonomy. We are just going through an adjustment period right now. But Joey is taking great care of us, and I know it's getting better. But don't think you're weird if you don't fall head over heels in love with your baby immediately. You're not. Babies are just assholes sometimes.