Unburdening Our Girls

This week I am speaking to a group of teenage girls in the church Young Women’s program about my education and career. I have mixed feelings about it.

I was initially flattered and surprised that an acquaintance thought to ask me, since I have no connection to the Young Women’s program. (Query whether I should really be surprised: there aren’t exactly a whole lot of professional women to choose from.)

I was also excited. I love teaching and speaking and I LOVE teenage girls. Sadly, I don’t think that I will ever be called to work with girls in the church because I don’t have a temple recommend and married outside the church and am probably rightly perceived by church elders as a bad example for the rising generation. So I felt like I should jump at the chance to get to know the girls here in Chicago, on however brief a basis.

Looking at the bigger picture, I was thrilled to learn that my local congregation is actively working to encourage girls to reach their full potential. I longed for church experiences like this as a young person and advocate for them as an adult. Local initiatives that present a picture of LDS womanhood beyond wife and motherhood are exactly what the church needs to begin chipping away the at sexist cultural traditions that persist today.

Given all the upsides, I was surprised to find that I was hesitant to agree to the assignment. What Mormon feminist could in good conscience object is to educating girls about their options?

Me, apparently.

The root of my discomfort is this: the dichotomy between my own beliefs and the church’s teachings on the role of women in the family is too stark, too unresolved, for me to give advice on this topic. It feels unethical to present myself as an example of a working mom, when prophets and apostles have clearly and repeatedly denounced my lifestyle, maintaining that a married woman’s primary role is to nurture children while her husband provides. Even if I don’t explicitly address the fact that I have a young child or that my husband stays at home, my presence at a church sanctioned career event implicitly condones choices that directly contradict major church teachings. True, most church members don’t criticize my choices to my face, but there is no denying that they aren’t choices that are widely accepted by the Mormon community. There is no denying that most Mormons elevate 1950s-style family roles as the divinely-decreed ideal to which we should all aspire. Who am I to stand up in front of a group of impressionable young women and suggest otherwise?

To put it bluntly, it feels deeply hypocritical to lead young women to believe that they can pursue full professional lives, knowing full well that if they actually follow this advice, they will be shamed for being selfish, materialistic, and worldly. For rejecting God’s plan. For depriving their children of a mother’s nurturing care. For being, in so many ways, less than women who don’t earn a paycheck.

The church — members and leaders alike — wants to have it both ways. They want to prove to the world that the institution is good for women, that it encourages women to further their education and provides opportunities for personal growth through public speaking, leadership, and service. To that end, content creators for the church website emphasize the similarities between men and women at church and gloss over the many ways that women lack authority. To that end, local leaders tell young women that they can become doctors and lawyers and teachers and gloss over the many talks from church authorities advising that it is only appropriate for a woman to work outside the home when she has no other option (as in the case of widowhood and divorce).

At the same time, the church is also committed to preserving the patriarchal order, both in the institution and in the home. To that end, spokespeople for the church refuse to engage with people who support the ordination of women. To that end, committees of church employees publish manuals that claim that men are preside over family affairs. To that end, the church encourages women to participate in temple services that expressly subjugate them to men.

The fruit of efforts to implement these two desires — to uphold a patriarchal system while simultaneously conveying the message that the church values women — is tension. Tension between local efforts and teachings by the highest leadership. Tension between the public face of the church and private ceremonies. Tension in the hearts and minds of people like me, who are certain that God does not sanction inequality but who do not want to lead girls down the unhappy path of questioning the religious community of which they want to be a part.

Tension and reservations aside, I decided that I am going to participate in career night for the young women in my area, and here’s why:

I didn’t know that my grandmother was a working mom until I was 28 years old. I happened to stumble across letters documenting her promotions in some family history scrapbooks. My own grandmother. My Mormon grandmother. The only one in our family who came from pioneer stock. A woman so principled that she refused to get in my grandfather’s car on their first date until he put out his cigar. A woman so faithful she married him anyway, knowing he’d be baptized less than a year later. A wife and mother to three girls in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. The woman who raised the most faithful person I know today, my own mother.

When my mom later told me, like it was not a revelation, “Oh, yeah, my mom always worked,” at least part time, and not even because she had to, but because she liked to, I felt, at long last, unburdened. The top layer of all the shame I carry for failing to live up to the standard set for women in the church lifted. I finally had a precedent, in my own family even, of a righteous woman and a good mom working to support her children. I wish I could ask her about it. I wish she could reassure me that I worry too much, that my family’s happiness and salvation doesn’t depend on this one choice I made, to work. I wish I could thank her for showing me a different way, for finally opening my eyes to the possibility that the decision to be a working mom does not have to be a big deal. It is just part of life, such a normal part that nobody thought to mention it to me for 28 years.

In ten years, the youngest of the girls I’m talking to tonight will be old enough to have graduated from college.  Some of the girls will be applying for post-college jobs.  others will be going to graduate school.  Others will be married, some will have kids. I have no idea what the church will look like when these girls are making decisions about marriage and work and how to build a family. I believe it will be better than it is now. Beyond reinforcing the importance of getting an education, working hard in school, and finding a fulfilling career, I want to give these girls a model. If they ever find themselves feeling burdened by church teachings about what a woman should be, I want them to be able to look back and recall the lady who spoke to them when they were in the young women’s program, the lady who worked hard and had a kid and was proud of it. I want them to remember the lady who knew she wasn’t doing anything wrong. I want to point them to a God who knows that the only thing you need to make a family work is love and if you’ve got that, the rest is just details. No big deal.

Posted in Gender, Religion | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

“I’m From Nowhere”

Last winter was a tough one. Chicago was miserably cold, and I know I’m not the only one who reached a breaking point with week after week of plunging temperatures and dumping snow. It’s August now, but the rose-colored glasses I wore for Chicago last four years are still frozen over.

This post isn’t about weather, though. It’s about community, that feel-good internet buzzword that always makes me feel a little sad because the truth is that I’m having a damn hard time cobbling together a community that makes Chicago feel like home. It’s just so big! I know there are people living here who are my kind of people, but I can’t find them. Or, I found them, and they live on the other side of the city, so I never see them, because who has time and gumption for three-part commute (train, bus, walk) in the dead of winter? Or, I found them and then they moved back to California or Idaho or Missouri or Indiana or whatever. The transitory nature of big cities can be heartbreaking.

Plus, adult friendships are hard! I like to be social, but I look primarily to my family to satisfy that need. My mom recently told me that when I got invited to go on playdates as a kid, I would check her schedule first, and if she had plans to go out in the evening, I would choose to stay home because I needed that mom time. In college, I didn’t understand when my roommates wanted to go to parties or movies with other friends or hang out with their boyfriends. Can’t we all just hang out here, just us? Having a kid compounds that need. Every week brings another missed happy hour So that I can rush home in time to spend more than hour with Dylan before bed, every weekend a brunch or party or class for which I waited entirely too long to send my RSVP regrattably no. I’m not even reaping the social benefits of being part of a religious community these days. Playgroup meets on weekdays when I’m at work, Relief Society activities meet during bedtime, and our non-traditional family structure makes it hard to really  connect with other ward members.

I could go into all the reasons why making and keeping friends is so hard for me (I keep moving, I have a crazy job, babies are particular and demanding, etc.), but I know this isn’t a unique problem. Everybody is busy and everybody wants more time with family and everybody is a little bit lazy. What’s more, if I want more or closer friends, I am a grown adult fully capable of picking up the phone and getting out of the house once in a while. But damn if it isn’t hard.

A few months ago Robert and I were sorting mountains of baby clothes into smaller mountains, keep for us, keep for family, give away, and I realized that if we have another baby, there probably won’t be a baby shower. This is a relief, frankly. Occasions marked by the gathering of one’s nearest and dearest stress me out to no end. I’m talking birthday parties, graduations, bridal showers, bachelorette parties, weddings, baby showers. They make me starkly aware that I’m missing something everyone else seems to have: a community of close-knit friends and family. The people I do have are not local. The people who are local are few and would probably be surprised to realize that they are my closest friends, because the relationships are not reciprocal. So when I realized that the next major event that’s all about me will likely be my funeral, I was relieved. No more gifts. No more showers. No more guest lists. No massive social pressures on the immediate horizon. I could breathe and enjoy the little life we are building out here on our own.

And then I looked at a calendar and photos on Facebook of my friend’s kid’s first birthday party and it dawned on me: my social obligations may be at an end, but my daughter’s are just beginning. When she was born, a family member asked if any friends were coming to see us at the hospital and I couldn’t fathom having friends close enough for such a visit. When she was blessed at our church, I cried because Robert couldn’t lay his hands on her head and I couldn’t stand in the circle and I didn’t know who I could ask to be part of the ceremony. Now, I know that a baby doesn’t need a crowd to feel special on her first birthday, but what about her second birthday, and her third? What about her baptism? What about recitals and school plays?

Parenting is breaking your heart and stitching it back together, scarred but somehow bigger, every single day. Right now, it breaks my heart that I can’t give my daughter a community of people who love her and will be around to help her grow.

I wish that mine and Robert’s families weren’t so scattered.

I wish that Phoenix didn’t push all my “get out now!” buttons.

I wish I didn’t know the unique pain that is living in a homogeneous town as a kid that wants something more, or at least different.

I wish that I could shake the feeling that my daughter will be one of those kids who will benefit from something more, or at least different.

I wish my family never moved to Ohio and made me fall in love with lakes and rivers and trees.

I wish that driving desert highways didn’t still my troubled soul.

I wish I could give my daughter the desert and the lakes.

I wish that I didn’t know for a certainty that we’d run into the exact same problems with building community in any other city, because the problem isn’t Chicago, it’s us.

Posted in Parenting | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Unconscious Bias: I Am Not A Paralegal

I don’t have a lot of feminist gripes about my job. The legal profession is not necessarily woman- or family-friendly on a structural level, but my firm is pretty progressive and flexible. In part, this is a blessing of working in a large urban area. Working women and working mothers are typical in Chicago. Law firms offer generous (by US standards) parental leave policies to remain competitive. Employees are educated about women’s issues. I am also fortunate to work at a relatively small firm with great people. When I ran into some insurance-related bumps while preparing for maternity leave, a female partner and the one-woman HR department helped find a solution that was beneficial to my family and the firm. After a single day of watching me fret over the possibility of somebody walking in on me while pumping, my secretary called the facilities guys up to install a lock on my door.  A senior partner makes an effort to call me at 4:50 instead of 5:15 after he got my voice mail a few days in a row. I’m pretty sure it bugs the heck out of him, but I appreciate the accommodation.

I want to make it really clear that I recognize the many ways that American women are treated extraordinarily well in professional settings. Thank you, second wave feminists! Thank you for making my life possible!

In fact, it’s the way that women are treated in the professional and academic worlds that made it impossible for me to ignore inequality in the LDS church (but that’s a bunch of other posts for another time). Where inequality in the church is so blatant an outsider could spot it in a minute (as one friend who visited my congregation to witness my daughter’s blessing ceremony put it, “Where are all the women?”), the impact that gender has in my work life is subtle and generally stems from a lifetime of being socialized to act a certain way, rather than from sexist assumptions about women.

So, for example, I apologize more than my male colleagues, I speak up less and nod more at meetings, I am more deferential to partners, particularly male partners, and I am too modest about my accomplishments. On the positive side, I am willing to ask copious questions to clarify assignment parameters, I provide exposition and detail when I give a presentation or write a memo, I am very good at managing teams of people, and am able to establish an easy rapport with difficult witnesses and opposing counsel. These are things to be aware of, to break down and understand, to correct or use to my advantage. They impact my day-to-day and may even impact my advancement, but they’re within my control. They don’t keep me up at night because I am confident that in the minds of judges, partners, clients, other associates, and staff, gender does not matter. I can’t tell you what a relief this is, in comparison to Mormonism, where gender issues are so fraught.

In this environment, it’s jarring when somebody does or says something that’s overtly sexist. It throws off my whole day. It’s like a slap in the face for being naive enough to think that there are places where I exist as a person on the same terms as men.

Here’s an example. Frequently, I work on projects that require correspondence with external witnesses. At every turn, in every email and phone call, I introduced myself as “counsel for [client].” Sometimes I talk to folks for over an hour over the course of several calls and emails, discussing legal and factual issues. Occasionally, several months will lapse, and then new questions will come up that require going back to an old witnesses. More than once, I’ve reconnected with somebody, only to be brushed off because that person “already spoke to a paralegal from my firm.”

Hold the phone. Just because you spoke to me once doesn’t mean you don’t have to answer fresh questions. Also, I’m not a paralegal!

I’m not insulted because I think paralegals are less important than lawyers. To the contrary, paralegals are indispensable to the work that goes on at my firm and to my own practice.

Nor am I bothered by the inaccuracy. I get it, we talked awhile ago, people make mistakes. They probably didn’t take notes during our conversation or convert those notes into a memo and then discuss that memo with multiple partners for several months. I don’t expect their memory of our conversations to be as fresh as mine.

What I do find troubling is that the assumption that women are paralegals, not attorneys, is so deeply ingrained that it causes people familiar with the legal system to dismiss basic information that I provided directly to them or that they already knew about how litigation works. I always identify myself as a lawyer, usually multiple times. (I’m ethically required to disclose this and find that it’s often necessary to get people to agree to talk to me, so I go overboard with it.) Generally, the people I’m talking to have had no contact with a paralegal or other support staff from my firm. Also, the work I do is clearly legal in nature. (I don’t know how other shops do it, but paralegals generally don’t conduct large-scale investigations or draft pleadings.)

Why would somebody discard true information from the most knowledgeable source in favor of untrue information founded on nothing? Why would somebody discard basic knowledge about legal versus paralegal tasks in attempting to recall the identity of a professional woman? Because they couldn’t remember and let an unfiltered sexist assumption fill in the blanks.

That’s how unconscious bias works, folks.

This might not seem like a big deal, but let me assure you this isn’t about my bruised ego. Rather, this is a crack in the progressive facade of the legal profession that exposes structural inequality and deep-seated prejudice.

Nearly half of all law school graduates are women, but relatively few advance to the highest levels of private practice, and those that do are compensated less and command lower billing rates. There are lots of reasons for this, but a big one is that women aren’t perceived as rainmakers, even when they helped bring in or retain a client. Women are often shut out  of rainmaking opportunities (say, on the golf course) and inherit business from institutional clients at lower rates than men. It is possible that women don’t pursue these opportunities? Absolutely. Is it possible that clients give their business to attorneys they prefer? Sure. But my experiences with people automatically assuming that I am support staff rather than an attorney, despite strong evidence to the contrary, suggests that there is something more pernicious at work. Namely, decision-makers — clients, bosses, management committees, etc. — don’t see women as lawyers even when they know perfectly well that women are lawyers.

What does this mean in my practice? It means that I can wear the suit and do the work and get favorable results for my clients, but I will always be fighting to convince someone that I am as competent, capable, and professional as men are presumed to be just for showing up.

What does this mean for people who can’t shake preconceived notions about women in traditionally male workplaces? If they’re an employer, it means they’re wasting talent. If they’re a client, it means they’re missing out on quality representation.

Talk about a lose-lose situation.

Posted in Gender, Work | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Mormon, Interrupted

I wrote this post months ago, before the church excommunicated Kate Kelly, and I never published it because I felt prompted to take a step back from religiously-motivated gender activism. Not because it was wrong, but because it was too painful and I wasn’t strong enough. I was marinating in my own hurt, and writing about it was like turning up the heat.

I don’t feel crippled any more, even in the wake of watching the body of Christ self-amputate, draining good women like so much lost blood. I feel spiritually grounded. Autonomous. I can write without stewing.

I am posting this, even though it doesn’t accurately reflect my feelings at this precise moment in time, because it was true when I wrote it. It is hard for me to write here, to say anything really, without succumbing to the temptation to wrap every story up in a tidy package. But my Mormon story is too big, too messy for that. I’ve lost the plot, I’m abandoning the narrative arc, and am giving you the only thing I’ve got: snapshots of experience. They may be all over the map, unprocessed and unfiltered, but they are true, and if they were true for me in 2013, then they are true for other Mormon women right now. They will continue to be true until members of the church start taking seriously their Zion-building responsibilities and work to make the church a refuge for all women.

The LDS church’s teachings about gender are crippling me. I usually rely on euphemisms when I talk about this, for fear of being perceived as faithless. I “chafe” against my prescribed role. I “struggle” to fit in. I “agitate” for miniscule changes, to wear pants without causing a Facebook firestorm or hear a woman pray at General Conference. I pray myself, for courage and understanding. I wait patiently for the church to see me or, better, hear me when I speak. I celebrate when the church recognizes other women, women who want to serve missions, women who live in other countries, single women, even if those women aren’t me. I maintain an image of unflagging optimism whenever I’m publicly mediating my conflicting identities of mormon and feminist, whether I’m writing here, teaching Relief Society, or sharing my beliefs with somebody who isn’t a member of the church. I do this because it feels like the safest way to exist as a Mormon dissident. If I speak too freely about my doubts — how could God let this happen? — or about my fears — maybe God doesn’t value me as much as he does my brothers, or my dad, or my husband — I will lose whatever shred of credibility I might have that allows me to participate in my religious community. I will set back the Mormon feminist cause by confirming everybody’s suspicions: I’m a feminist because I’m a sinner and I’m a sinner because I’m a feminist.

There’s a lot to be said for playing the part of the happy, hopeful saint. Without it, I don’t know if I would be permitted to serve as a Relief Society teacher, a calling spiritually nourishes me and, I hope, the sisters in my ward. I don’t know if the lovely woman I visit teach would trust me with her sincere and thought-provoking questions about how to connect with her atheist brother, her gay neighbors, or her mainstream Christian book club. The happy, hopeful saint lets me talk about feminism in faithful settings and support causes like Ordain Women. It allows me to fulfill the mandate “every member a missionary” by showing modern women that there is a place for them in the LDS church. The happy, hopeful saint reassures my family that I am still true to the faith, even if I have a funny way of showing it.

I don’t mean to suggest that I’m being insincere when I project a faithful image. The happy, hopeful saint is part of me. She is the person I was raised to be. She is the reason I came back to belief after all those wandering years. She is who I am when I am at my best. She is the reason I stay.

But she is not all of me. I’m sure this is no surprise. Everybody, even the most orthodox of believers, the Molliest of Mormons, has doubts and demons. This is human. I do not think that it is dishonest to protect parts of ourselves from the world or the church. I do not think that I need permission from my bishop to believe the way I do. I do not think that my family needs to live through every crisis of my faith. I’ve been through enough to know most of them pass, or at least fade in intensity. I do not believe I need to spill every angsty gut under the guise of honesty, or authenticity, or integrity, because there is value and power in privacy.

In spite of this inclination to maintain a kernel of privacy regarding my beliefs, I know it’s time to stop hiding half my heart. The other part of me, the desperate part, the despairing part, the part that is lonely and insufficient, is the answer to the question the Mormons in my life keep asking me: what’s so bad about gender roles anyway? Members who defend the status quo in the face of women’s distress need to know the way the church’s teachings impact people on a personal, practical level.

So I’ll say it again: the church’s teachings on gender are crippling me. I turn to the Bible to study the creation in preparation for Sunday School and there it is: woman was created to serve man. I turn to the Doctrine & Covenants to study eternal marriage because that’s what I’m aiming for and there it is: God will give ten virgins to a man and he does not commit adultery. I turn to Ensign to lift my day up on the train and there it is: a woman in any kind of unhappy relationship, well she got what she deserved. I turn to the modern prophets to make sense of this mess and there it is: my purpose on earth is to bear and raise children. It is not to come unto Christ or to work out my own salvation or to spread the good word. My husband will take care of those weightier matters with the aid of his priesthood power. Except that he won’t, because he doesn’t believe in this religion. I don’t know where that leaves me, but I guess I can’t complain since I was wearing a halter top the day I met the man I love.

I’d like to be able to move past these teachings, to let them roll of my back. I don’t believe that they are central gospel doctrines, and think that’s all the attention they deserve. But I can’t. The church won’t let me. I read an exciting new press release and and the church reminds me that I should not care about equality. General Conference inspires me to change my life on Saturday morning and guts me on Saturday night. I can’t feast on the word of God when so much of it taste like a roach crept into the ice cream. I can’t be the pillar my family needs me to be when the church is constantly reminding me that I’m going about it all wrong because I happen to be the one who brings home a paycheck while my husband takes care of our little girl. I can’t convince other women like me that this community is worth it when it looks and feels like the community is barely tolerating my presence.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m not going anywhere. I’m not laying this all out as some sort of threat. The church doesn’t need to change its practices and the emphasis it places on certain doctrines related to gender because it’s in danger of losing me. But the heightened rhetoric about gender and anxious policing of roles of the last few decades is crippling generations of women. It is turning strong saints into “less actives” and projects. It is turning happy saints into frustrated women, angry women, resigned women. It is losing missionaries and visiting teachers and tithe payers. It is wasting resources and potential and souls. The church is losing, period, because when it incapacitates its members, it immobilizes itself.

The church may be building temples, and thrusting young adults into the mission field in droves, and publishing shiny, transparent articles dealing with its warty past, but it’s failing me.

Posted in Religion | Leave a comment

The Weight Of The World

This is not a pregnancy announcement. When I put on a newish funky purple dress this morning, I didn’t think I would need to clarify that. I say newish because Robert gave me the dress for Christmas last year when I was 5.5 months pregnant and I only got to wear it once before my stomach expanded past the point that the decidedly non-stretchy fabric would bear. I wore it again a few months ago for a few hours before I realized that a non-stretchy dress with sleeves in decidedly not nursing friendly. I was excited to put it on this morning. I was excited to slip it over my head and find that it felt comfy and roomy. I liked the tie around the middle that emphasized my curvy waist. I liked knowing that Dylan can now go long enough without nursing that I’d be able to wear it to church without worrying that I’d have to strip down in the mother’s lounge when she got hungry.

Dylan was a little fussy at church, so the last twenty minutes of sacrament meeting found us standing in the back of the elementary school auditorium that serves as a chapel for our urban congregation. I held Dylan’s hands and helped her take wobbly steps and when her legs gave out, I hoisted her on my hip. I let her chew on a tithing envelope until I was afraid she’d choke on the wet pieces she’d torn off with her sharp little teeth and she screamed when I took it away. I stepped quickly out into the foyer where there’s no shortage of parents with kids who are also missing naptime and folks who waiting for the next meeting to start. A woman started chatting with me, asking all the right questions, how’s Dylan, how’s your husband, how are you? She told me about the trouble she had getting to church on time today because the northern red line stops are under construction. She asked me if I was expecting.

Wait, what? No, but thank you for asking.

She asked me if I lost all the weight from my pregnancy with Dylan. No, but really, thank you for asking.

This particular woman lacks some of the social graces that many people possess, so I knew I could get away with asking a follow-up question and maybe even get an honest answer.

Do I look pregnant?

A little, she said.

The service had ended, so I made movements to go back into the auditorium where I’d left my coat, tears welling up in my eyes. This wasn’t the first time that somebody thought I was pregnant since I gave birth, but the other times had been in the first few months after Dylan was born, and Dylan wasn’t with me. I felt like a fool. I felt like a fool for daring to think that my dress, which suddenly felt very much like a maternity dress, was flattering. I felt like a fool for daring to be so comfortable with my body that I was in no rush to start my old workout routine or cut out dessert. I felt like a fool for daring to think that I’d transcended post-pregnancy body image issues when all it took was a single thoughtless comment to undo all my confidence.

Last fall, during a phone call, my mother asked me if I thought my stomach would go back to how it was before. I didn’t know how to answer the question. It boggled me for a few reasons. One, my mom hadn’t seen my stomach, hadn’t even seen me in person for months, so I wasn’t sure why she thought there was something wrong with it. Two, I haven’t had a flat stomach since I was 15. This used to bother me, but it hasn’t for a long time. I didn’t understand why a few extra pounds in the region should bother me. Three, some of the changes were permanent. I knew as soon as the stretch marks appeared white and shiny to the left of my belly button, just above my right hip, that although they would fade, they were there to stay, just like the lines that appeared on my thighs when I hit puberty and shut up like a tree. Four, I felt good. No, I felt amazing. I wasn’t pregnant anymore. I could run without the weight of the world pressing down on my bladder. I could laugh and sneeze without searing pain, which is more than I could manage for weeks after my Cesarean. I still did a double take when I look at pictures other people took, with my face just a little too big, but I looked good. I liked my rounded stomach and my wide hips. I kept wearing t-shirts just a little too short for my long torso. I stopped sucking in.

I’m not saying I’m immune to body image issues. I still cringe when I see myself at a weird angle with all that extra skin underneath my chin. I wish my arms were more toned. I’m not saying that other women need to be like me. I know that I’m lucky, that it’s easy to take extra weight in stride, when you’re still technically thin, that stretch marks don’t seem like a such a big deal when they’re few and far between. I’m just saying that I want a little space to look the way I do and be okay with it. I want our fertility-obsessed culture to make room for a rounded stomach without it heralding inquiries, unspoken or not, about family planning. I want room for wide hips without the attendant remarks about childbirthing. I want our culture that is obsessed with thinness, and willowiness, athletic builds, and pixie waifs (pick your favorite descriptor, just as long as it’s a synonym for thin) culture to make room me to be not quite as thin as I used to be without being strongarmed into conversations about brownies and bread and working out. I want room for women who aren’t even close to thin and never will be.

I don’t want this post to be about how a woman was rude to me and gosh don’t people realize you can’t ask a woman if she’s pregnant. I know this woman and I care about her and I know she did not mean to offend me. I know that if she said it, then other people were thinking it. I know, because she confided in me just last week that people occasionally ask her of she is pregnant, that she was just reflecting a societal sickness onto me. I know that I’ve thought as much about other women, which means that I’m afflicted, too.

I spent the drive home from church trying to figure out what I would say to Dylan if she were old enough to understand. I don’t want to be the one who distorts her unadulterated view of what a body should be by inadvertently indicating that it is an insult to be mistaken for pregnant, that a little fat is something to cry about. I also don’t want to keep my mouth shut and let someone else pass along a more pernicious message. I settled on telling her, as often as I can, that I love my body. I do. I don’t love it because it gave birth or because it runs marathons, or because it recovers from injury again and again, although I am grateful it does those things. I love my body because it is mine. I loved my body when it was hard and skinny and I love it now that it is soft. I love it when I am wasted in bed with a TMJ flare-up and food poisoning and a mouthful of stress-induced ulcers wanting to chop my own head off, like I was last week. I love it when it lets me down by cutting its milk production almost in half mere days after I post a breastfeeding manifesto worthy of La Leche League. Motherhood is not the hallmark of womanhood and health is not the hallmark of humanity. Every body is a miracle.

When I got home from church I looked in the mirror and thought, yeah, I guess I do look a little pregnant. But also pretty hot. I scrapped the plans I’d made to go running, swapped the dress out for sweats, and got on with my life.

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

And Now For A Post On The Thing That’s Consumed My Life For The Past Year

Don’t worry, it’s not Mormon Feminism. It’s breastfeeding! Is that worse? Probably. Oh well.

As my pregnancy progressed,  I planned to breastfeed. I spent $300 on a double electric pump and somewhere in the $40 to $60 range on a c-shaped pillow and extra cover. I signed up for a 3-hour class at the hospital and watched Robert fumble with a plastic baby doll in the football position. I packed my hospital bag with lanolin and gel packs and nursing bras. I collected bottles with nipples that look like, well, nipples, and I told my firm I was taking a five-month maternity leave in large part because I knew that making it to six months of breastfeeding would be a lot easier if I could put off pumping until well after my supply regulated. I worried about the possibility of a c-section because I’d read that allowing the baby to latch immediately would improve our odds of establishing a successful breastfeeding relationship. I made sure Robert knew he would be an essential component of the breastfeeding machine, bringing me icy water and pulling back grabby baby arms and burping and changing diapers because if I was handling input, he could certainly deal with output.

So I planned to breastfeed and I prepared for it. But I did not look forward to it, nor did I really expect it to work. Based on everything I’d heard and read, it sounded painful and limiting. I had no longstanding or deeply ingrained desire to do it. I knew I’d be upset if I couldn’t, but also knew that I wouldn’t be too distressed if we had to use bottles and formula. I knew for sure that I had no interest in extended breastfeeding.

I did deliver via c-section, so Robert held Dylan before I did and the first thing I remember noticing from my spot on the operating table was that she was so big and fat and babyish. Like a three-month old instead of a wrinkled little infant. I marveled at her perfect fat face for a few minutes? seconds? and then, I remember this part in slow motion, she stretched her mouth wide open and started rooting around for something to eat. The burden overwhelmed me: I had to feed that baby. It was on me. She was hungry and I needed to fix it. I couldn’t, of course, because my insides were still on the outside and I was practically seizing on the table from the epidural medicine, and I wondered if the doctors realized that they needed to hurry up because the baby was surely going to start crying at any moment. Like OBs have never heard a crying baby before. More than knowing I needed to feed the baby right now, I knew with an immediate and distressing certainty, that I’d be carrying that burden of keeping this baby alive for a very long time. I still don’t have the words to describe this feeling, but I’ve become somewhat more accustomed to it.

Dylan is almost eleven months old and sometimes it feels like thinking and worrying about her sustenance has preoccupied most of the last year. And truly it has, even more so now that we are balancing adult human food, pureed baby food, and breastmilk. I wash so many bottles, every day. I can’t drink my favorite tea because it is highly caffeinated. I’ve left meetings early and endured uncomfortable conversations to pump at work. Today I faced the wrath of a grumpy opposing counsel who didn’t understand why I needed more than 45 minutes for lunch in the middle of a deposition. If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I spent an hour sitting on my suitcase on the floor of an assisted care restroom in the Hartford airport this evening. When Dylan sprouted top teeth, she forgot how to latch and started doing this stupid painful scraping thing. I spent hours online “researching” issues with supply, poop, sickness, whatever, as they came up.

The purpose of thid post is twofold. First, I want to make clear that even though I like to complain when things are terrible to the point of absurdity that these moments stand out because they are rare. I know that every mom is different and every kid is different and that I am both extraordinarily lucky and privileged in this (and so many other) regards, but I want other women who will potentially be in the same position as me — going back to work with a baby — to know that it won’t necessarily be terrible. With some luck and planning it might even be awesome! At this point, I don’t want to stop when it’s socially appropriate. I know there is no shortage of breastfeeding stories out there on in the blogosphere and the positive and negative ones are equally liable to make women feel like crap about their circumstances, but when it comes to working and breastfeeding, the narrative often starts and ends with the soul sucking (get it?!) misery of pumping. I don’t hate pumping, though. I am happy and relieved that it’s worked for me as long as it has, and proud that I’ve stuck with it, and it makes me feel close to my kid when I’m at work. I never imagined that I’d be able to make it to a year with my intense work schedule and travel, but here we almost are.

Second, I want to make clear that we are here thanks in no small part to the fact that I live in a progressive city where I’ve never once felt uncomfortable feeding my baby, that my employer has been beyond supportive, and that I have a job with lots of flexibility and amenities (like a door that locks and the ability to pump whenever I need to) that make pumping feasible. It doesn’t matter how much you love breastfeeding, it’s going to be a massive and unsustainable chore if you have to do it in a bathroom stall every day. This is why I will never embrace any form of lactivism (stupid word, I promise never to use it again) that is focused on women and what they should or can do instead of on policies that make breastfeeding possible in the first place. This will never be a major cause for me, but I do think it’s possible to encourage small changes. For example, I try to never hide the fact that I need to pump at work. It doesn’t need to be embarrassing and people in the corporate world (and all worlds!) need to know that there are nursing women among them. I ask for accomodations even if I don’t expect to get them. Sometimes people are surprised,  but more often than not they are understanding. My hope is that going forward this makes breastfeeding just a little bit easier for other law moms.

This post has been brought to you by flight delays and the particular form of zombie mom brain that makes me think that the fact that something takes up a lot of space means other people want to hear it. Just be glad there are no gratuitous baby photos (or, worse, breastfeeding photos–they can be gorgeous, mine are not, and I’ve got a professional reputation to think about).

Posted in Parenting | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Don’t Let Me Into This Year With An Empty Heart”

For years now, as long as I can remember, I’ve rung in the new year with a pen in hand. Not at midnight. At midnight I’m wielding the requisite fondue stick or glass of fake champagne. The real shift comes later, when I’m sitting at my parents kitchen table scribbling in a notebook with the lights off or huddled up on an air mattress in tapping notes into my phone in a cabin with my in-laws or sprawled out on the couch with my laptop listening to Long December while my own little family snoozes around me. Words usher in the new year. Words escort the old one out. I usually end up with a long list of things I want to do better, or at least differently, and this year’s no different. 

I want to speak up more at work. I want to speak more carefully at home. I want to serve unthinkingly and love unceasingly. 

It’s a cliche to write self-consciously about cliches. I saw that quote you pinned about reaching for the stars and dancing like nobody’s watching. I know women my age are caged birds breaking free. I like metaphors with a little more weight. This year I will drop an anchor. I will tie myself off. I will nurture the tender, stretching roots I’ve set down in this city, in this job that I’ve already worked longer than any other, even though it feels like I just started. I will revive the sprawling, stretched-too-thin system that’s sapping every last bit of what Mormonism has to offer to nourish my flourishing faith. I will hack off the wild branches until all the fruit is good. I will sit still with my family. 

It’s coming down hard in Chicago tonight and my neighborhood is new with snow, except for the trail of footprints Robert and I left outside the front door when we dashed with bare feet to the tree across the street and back again because what else are you going to do for kicks at 12:00 a.m. when you are new parents and accidentally threw out all the sparklers left over from your wedding because they stink like sulfur? Robert convinced me to take my shoes off and I hated every second of it until I got back inside. Here’s to more of that in 2014. 

Image

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments