Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Raising a girl

That feminism post from last week got me thinking a little bit about raising a daughter.

When I told Brian about the "America's next top model" comment* and mentioned the NOW t-shirts to him, he wanted to know exactly what made someone a feminist. "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people," I spouted. Because really, isn't a bumper stick definition enough? Not for Brian. So then I babbled something about equal pay for equal work and voting rights and...

And I wasn't sure what exactly it meant. I wanted to say that it means that I am not defined by my gender, but knew that wasn't entirely true. I have long hair and I wear dresses (sometimes I even get around to shaving my legs). I am proud of my ability to grow and nurse a baby. But I like to think that my preference in school for subjects other than science and my distaste for spiders are just a fact of who I am and don't just reflect my lack of a Y chromosome. (I concede that the way I've been socialized has something to do with the former. But I like to point out that I was socialized not to like it, not to bad at it.)

I met a woman a couple of years ago who refuses to call herself a feminist. She says that if it were about equal rights and equal pay, she certainly would, but the main fight she sees feminists fighting now is abortion, which goes against her religious beliefs. I was surprised by this idea, but as I talked with her about my view on the matter (that it's really about making decisions about one's own body, which is why the feminist movement has embraced the issue), I could see where she was coming from. She believes that a human life begins at conception and that any action to end that life is murder. How could she accept the label of feminist in that case? She still believed in comprehensive sex education and the use of contraception, so I think she could label herself a feminist and disagree with some elements of the movement, but I guess that's not my call to make.

I don't think that woman is less of a feminist that I am because she doesn't believe in abortion. Maybe I would have thought that if I hadn't talked about it with her. But talking about it made me realize that I don't think there is a feminism scale. Don't laugh: some of my friends seem to think there is one. I was somewhat offended by someone commenting that another friend was the only one she knew who is as much as a feminist as she is. I wasn't sure it was something that could be quantified (and I certainly didn't like the implication that I was not as much as a feminist). In fact, I was pretty certain it was a yes or no question. But I also don't think about feminism all that often. It's just something I take for granted most of the time. But I think I know why my friend would measure my feminism as something less than hers: I made the decision to stay home with Adriana beyond a standard maternity leave before she was even born, leaving the world of paid employment. Does being a housewife (a housewife with a master's degree!) make me less of a feminist? There are a lot of people who probably think that's so. I prefer to think that the feminist movement is what gave me the opportunity to choose between staying home with Adriana and continuing in the professional world. I think the movement still has work to do--that our culture has work to do--to allow more people make the decision I made (if they want to), so that they don't have to worry so much about the financial effects of having one parent stay home and of how that break in their resume looks when they want to go back to work.

Except I wasn't talking about public policy here. Feminism. I can stay on topic. Really.

Brian asked if he could be a feminist. I told him yes, he could, and remembered that in college, I heard a guy in one of my classes say, "As a feminist, I think..." I don't know what the discussion was about or how he finished that sentence. I just thought it was awesome to hear a guy say that and I wanted to make out with him. So I did. (Hey dude!)

I find myself trying to work out not only my definition of feminism (since I hadn't thought of that, really, until Brian brought it up), but on whether my ideas about gender are affecting how I raise Adriana and how I interact with her. I tell her she's pretty an awful lot. Is that bad? I remember reading somewhere, probably in a psychology or sociology class, that we hold our baby girls facing toward us and our baby boys facing out toward the world. I do carry Adriana tummy-to-tummy in a sling most of the time, but she doesn't completely have control of her head yet and tends to fall asleep when we're out walking around. But sometimes I become self-conscious and I am sure to sit her on my lap facing out toward the room when we are visiting with other people and she is awake.

I'd like to think that if I had a son instead of a daughter, I would raise him the exact same way that I'll choose to raise Adriana. I know that's not possible: even if I could overcome my own prejudices, I would still want to raise a child who wouldn't be a complete outcast in our society. Before I knew whether I was having a boy or a girl--before I was pregnant, even--I thought it would be easier to raise a boy, actually. That wasn't necessarily about feminism though, but about some of the things women have to deal with: I thought it would be easier to teach a boy to respect women than it would be to teach a girl that women have to be a lot more careful than men, in some respects.

I want to teach Adriana to be a feminist, and not just because she's female. For Adriana to respect men and women as equals even if individuals sometimes have different abilities. For her to understand that men and women face different challenges because of gender and because of our world's perspective on gender. So I dress Adriana in pink some days, blue or green or red on others. I read her The Paper Bag Princess and sing her songs from Free to Be You and Me. I speculate that someday she might be a forest ranger or a teacher or a lawyer or a mama or a poet or a mechanic. I snuggle her and kiss her and tell her she's beautiful. It may be a bit early to be worrying about teaching her feminist values, but I want to make sure I've got my bases covered.

When I was little, I subscribed to an astronomy magazine for kids. Each issue there was a question posed that readers could write a response to. One month they asked whether women should be allowed to go on a mission to Mars, or something like that. I was about twelve years old, and the question bothered me. I thought it was ridiculous to ask such a question at all. I wrote a lengthy response, citing a picture book I loved when I was small called Mothers Can Do Anything. I was surprised to see my response (well, an excerpt from it, due to my issues with brevity) printed a few months later. (I was more surprised by the responses--from kids!--that said that women had no business on a Mars mission.)

To being a feminist means that I am my own person. That Adriana will be her own person. That she can be whatever she wants to be--mother, astronaut, teacher. All of the above or none of the above. Whatever she wants.**

*Someone else commented on Adriana's height since my original post. She followed up her comment with "I bet you'll make a great volleyball player." I thought it was awesome and I wanted to make out with her. But I didn't.

**Except a Republican.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

I can't be the only one to find the acronym 'NIP' funny

I am not as uncomfortable nursing in public as I thought I would be. I knew I would do it, of course, but I thought I would be self-consious. In fact, I've found that I'm not uncomfortable at all at this point. ("I guess I'm just that kind of girl," I told Brian today as I settled down to feed the baby in the grass at Farragut Square at lunchtime.)

The first time I had to nurse in public was at Kaiser, when we took the baby in for her first visit with the pediatrician. I nursed in the exam room while we were waiting for the doctor and I thought Adriana was full, but when we went down to the lab so I could have some bloodwork done, she started fussing to be fed again. The waiting room was small and full, with no corner to hide in, and since we were only just getting the hang of latching, I wasn't sure I could be very discreet. I bounced the baby and hoped she could wait. Finally, Brian went to ask the receptionist how much longer I would be waiting, figuring that we could go find a place to nurse if we were going to be waiting much longer. We were assured it would be just a couple more minutes, but Adriana was getting more vocal about her hunger, and I decided I'd rather have people see me nurse than be the woman with the screaming baby. As I struggled to unfasten my nursing bra without lifting up my shirt (learning quickly that turtleneck sweaters are not appropriate for new nursers to wear in public), I noticed that there was a man standing beside me, looking down at me. He was just looking at the baby, I'm sure, while he was waiting his turn in line, but his presence made me fumble more. Before I could get the hook undone, my name was called, and I handed the baby to Brian, hoping he could keep her gone while I was in the back. Once I was done, we found a quiet corner near the pharmacy where I could feed the baby while facing away from everyone else.

Since then, it hasn't been a problem. In the beginning, I needed a boppy to get into a good position to nurse, but was able to improvise with the diaper bag, my jacket, or the sling. Now, I've nursed the baby in various bookstores, by the receptionist's desk at my former office, the birth center, a La Leche League meeting, a babywearing meeting (okay, perhaps those last three aren't surprising in the least), Whole Foods, a yoga studio, a restaurant at brunch with friends (holding baby with one hand, mimosa with the other), the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum (just feet from the Wright brothers' plane!), and in Farragut Square. For the most part I think I've been pretty discreet, although sometimes I see someone looking at at me and I start to wonder. One day I sat in the cafe at Barnes and Noble to feed Adriana. I got her latched on and looked up to see a man a couple of tables away staring at me. I knew that with the angle of the tables and where the baby was, he hadn't seen anything, and I don't think I would have cared if he had. I looked back down at the baby, but when I glanced up again, I saw that he was still looking my way. I made eye contact with him and smiled. He looked away. I kept checking to see if he was going to stare again, but he never even glanced in our direction. I was disappointed: I thought it would be funny to wink at him if I caught him looking again.

Brian asked me at one point whether there were laws in Virginia and the District to protect breastfeeding. I remembered that a year or two ago there was a bit of a stir when a woman was asked not to nurse her baby in a Starbucks in Maryland, which violated both Maryland law and Starbucks corporate policy. La Leche League has a good list of breastfeeding laws on their website. I was happy to see that Virginia does protect women's right to breastfeed in public, and that they even exempt breastfeeding women from jury duty. The District isn't so great: there are no breastfeeding laws in DC. But federal law does protect women breastfeeding on federal property--including museums, so we were totally cool at Air and Space last weekend.

I complained about the lack of laws in DC to a friend, who pointed out that there may not be any laws on the books because it hadn't been necessary: women breastfeeding in public generally aren't asked not to do it. I thought he had a point. And I don't know if he was just unobservant, or if I am really becoming more discreet, but he had no idea I was feeding the baby at the table at brunch that day.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Feminism, baby

Adriana is the only baby girl in our mom-and-baby yoga class, and last week she was also the only baby who was pretty quiet. I held her in my lap as she gazed around at the other people in the room. She would smile when people would smile at her, but she wasn't kicking and waving and cooing as much as the other babies. One of the other moms commented that girls are so much quieter and sweeter than boys. The other women agreed. Baffled--she's only two months old!--I explained that Adriana had been up for a couple of hours already and was just sleepy.

At the end of the class, someone else looked at Adriana stretched out on the blanket in front of me and asked how long she was. Twenty-four inches, I told her.

"Aw, what a tall girl! Are you going to be America's next top model sweetheart?" she cooed at my baby.

"Or a basketball player," I responded without stopping to think.

I'm thinking about getting one of these shirts for Adriana to wear to class soon.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Two months

People have been telling me since Adriana was born that I should appreciate this time because "it all goes so fast." I already know they are right. I will her to slow down, to stop growing so fast. But then I am eager for a chance to weigh her the next time we visit the pediatrician* to see how much she has grown and get excited thinking about the things we will be able to do as she gets older.

*Actually, we were just there today. She's up to 12 pounds, 6 ounces, and is 24 inches long. No wonder she's outgrowing her clothes so quickly.

It's only been two months. It seems like forever, and it seems like only a minute. She seems so grown up compared to just a few weeks ago, but I know in another couple of months I will look back and laugh at the very idea. She is so small and delicate, but so much bigger and stronger than she was in January. I am still a clueless new mother, but I am feeling more confident and happier every day.

It feels like ages since I emailed my best friend, begging her, "Please tell me this gets easier." She promised me it would, and she was right. I no longer look helplessly at this little baby, wondering what I ought to do with her, or if she's crying, what on earth is the matter. Okay, that's not entirely true. There are days when Brian comes home to find us both in tears, because Adriana has been fussing all day and I have no idea what to do for her anymore. But those days are the exception rather than the rule. We are developing a routine (but not a schedule), and I am beginning to recognize her cries, and to anticipate her needs (not that she has a great many needs to choose from--food, clean diaper, nap, snuggle--one of those will usually work).

Every day Adriana is more of a real person, her own personality, not just a blank slate of a baby. Her smiles are getting more and more frequent, and longer lasting, so they can actually be captured on camera. They also seem to be truly directed at us, not just random twitches of her facial muscles: one night I was sitting in bed trying to nurse her to sleep, while Brian read to me. She kept pulling away from my breast to give him big gummy grins. When he stopped talking, I could get her to latch again, but whenever she heard his voice she would be happily distracted.

She doesn't cry when we bathe her anymore, and even seems to enjoy the time in the tub. She usually still shrieks when we take her out of the nice warm water, though. And she would really rather I didn't dress her in anything that had to be pulled over her head. Unfortunately for her, the footy pajamas that don't require any over-the-head action don't last very long around here, as they are less forgiving of her rapidly increasing length.

She stays awake for longer periods of time, and we can even manage to play a bit. But she (thankfully) is learning not to stay awake for long periods of time at night. Instead of walking with her and rocking her for an hour or more after she eats, with most night wakings I can snuggle her back down to sleep after we nurse.

Snuggling with her while we sleep may be my favorite part of this whole thing. I was always in favor of cosleeping in theory, but in practice it made me nervous at first. We got the Arm's Reach Cosleeper, so we could have her near us at night, without the worries of cosleeping (blankets accidentally pulled over her face, me rolling on top of her). But I kept falling asleep holding her after night feedings, and after Brian got up in the morning, I would often let her sleep beside me in bed after nursing. Then one morning, before Brian and I were ready to wake up, she started to squirm and fuss in her cosleeper. I pulled her into the bed beside me, pushing the blankets down to my waist, and figured I would feed her in a just a couple of minutes. Instead, I dozed back off with her in the crook of my arm, and woke an hour later to discover her still sound asleep beside me. And really, who's going to argue with a snuggly baby who will sleep for five hours at a time? (Well, I would have the first week or two of her life, since I was sure she wasn't getting enough to eat.) She starts out each night in the cosleeper, but after she wakes up to eat (and sometimes before, if she just gets noisy and squirmy on her own), I keep her close against me in bed.

And that's really what I want to remember from this time: how perfect it feels to lie in bed with Adriana's head tucked under my chin, Brian warm against my back, and Cecilia nestled against our legs--my cozy, happy family.




Friday, March 09, 2007

Baby's first nature walk

We took advantage of the nice weather last week to get out to Great Falls. I'm feeling pretty out of shape still, so we walked the flat tow path, rather than trying to do the Billy Goat trail. Plus, hiking over those rocks with the baby in a sling doesn't seem like a great idea. The river was quite full, I suppose due to melting snow and recent rains. I had never seen the falls and surrounding area so wild. Unfortunately, I hadn't charged the camera batteries, so we only got a few pictures, and none of the actual falls. Still, the river on the bridge out to the viewing area was pretty impressive.

muddy potomac

Elizabeth and Adriana on the bridge over the Potomac

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Part 6

Oh no! Is she still talking about this?

One last thing about the birth story, and then I'm done with it, honest.

Last night was the reunion of our Bradley class. Our teacher always has her previous students come in to share their birth stories with her current students. I thought it was great to hear birth stories when I was a student, but I liked last night's class even more, because I got to hear the stories of people I'd gotten to know over the course of the twelve-week class. It was wonderful to hear from the women who had had relatively short labor and got to experience natural childbirth. I had wondered how hearing their stories would make me feel. To my surprise, I was only a little bit envious and not at all angry or bitter. I was afraid I would be horribly jealous. Mostly I just felt happy for them. It was amazing to hear how everyone--those with relatively simple births and those who had faced more complications--told their stories with such humor and grace. I loved hearing the stories of other women who would characterize their labors or births as fun or enjoyable, because I did love the experience of laboring at the birth center and it's nice to know that others had similar experiences.

I hadn't planned out what I would say when it was my turn. I just started talking. And talking. And talking. I maybe told too much, but perhaps the expectant couples learned something from my experience that could help them. But I think I learned something from telling the story. Writing it all out had definitely helped me process everything that happened. Then there was the time between when I wrote that and now, and something happened in that time: I began to accept things. There are still things that I will always wonder about--just last week I was saying to Brian that I was disappointed that I'd gone for the epidural when I had, as there were so many relaxation techniques that I hadn't tried. I was wondering yet again whether I gave up too soon. Last night I realized, by telling my story and listening to others', that I hadn't given up too soon. I did what I needed to do. Things happened that were beyond my control, but I think I did have an unusual amount of control over the birth compared to some people, because we had prepared so well. I did what I could, and not everything went as planned, and I'm (mostly) okay with that.

Besides, I'm sure it's not the first time things with this girl won't go the way I expect.

Could somebody please send some hair product?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Does PETA have a stance on wearing the fur of obnoxious little monsters?

Walking around Washington Circle on Tuesday morning, I noticed a woman with a bright red, fuzzy handbag. I considered screaming out, "Oh my God! You killed Elmo and turned him into a purse!" I didn't know whether I ought to have followed that up with and angry "You bastard!" or grateful "Thank you!" but I was inclined toward the latter.

When I told Brian he said he was glad I was too shy to act like a complete freak in public. But I still think it would have been funny.