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63 weeks | We are all working mothers | no. 0057
I don’t think it’s enough to blame capitalism anymore. On a deeper, spiritual, human level, we mothers have to take responsibility for internalizing this crap. The illusion that some of us are “working,” and some of are just “staying at home” is at its core a calculated and divisive strategy to keep us from telling the truth. We have the power to cultivate a more unified existence with each other. After all, we are the ones wielding the biggest ax. In our hearts, we feed this struggle. In our private, tortured thoughts, we wrestle to justify one way or another that our choices are enough. That our children won’t be crushed under the weight of those things we are afraid to say. But the rules say that we must be strong. That we are to hold these awful burdens on our shoulders, the ones inherited with care from previous generations. This is the journey, we’ve been taught. So diligently, we search for the most possible way through, call it motherhood.
There is no such thing as a non-working mother. Yet, we fuel this myth with our language everyday. And for many years, before becoming intricately familiar with the labor required to nurse on demand for 10 to 12 hours– or more– every day of my munchkin’s life, I was misinformed too. No one can tell me that because I am not paid for what I do that I am not working. In fact, breastfeeder is just one of my many jobs. I am also educator, healer, chef, housekeeper, creativity designer, adventure captain, babywearer, director of safety, life skills guide, literacy and speech coach, song leader, all-around-magician, time traveller, and this is not even a complete list.
Sometimes I try to calm myself down, because as a writer I do entrust words with enormous powers. But then, no. I can’t let this go. It’s not a casual thing that is said without consequences. There are real implications to the terminology of “working mother.” There are real invisibilities at play here. Most people, when you present them with this phrase, the image that comes to mind will never be me. And that’s a problem.
I did not know I was going to be this type of mother. Lately I have been observing my limitations– or maybe I should say boundaries, or maybe that’s the same thing– as a mother who chooses to orient my life around the expansion of my mothering work. There are many things I can’t do, and places I can’t go, because they are not mothering friendly environments. And also because I am not willing to leave my child to go and be in these spaces. I do not believe the solution is to just get my munchkin “on a bottle” so that I can conform to society’s narrow allowances for where mothering work is welcome. I think rather there is a larger opportunity for everyone to open up that very complicated conversation about freedom, and the interdependent imperative upon all of us to create it authentically.
As committed as I am to this life path, it has been hard for me to reconcile this sometimes, especially with my intentions to become a doula. I realized recently that it will likely be several years before I can actually attend births and finish the requirements for my certification. This is largely because I don’t leave the munchkin for long periods of time, and we nurse through the night. If a mom went into labor, which would likely take more than a few hours, I couldn’t genuinely serve and be present with her.
At times I have felt guilty about this. Where do I draw the line, I wonder. I mean, I know a major part of why I choose to be extremely attached to the munchkin is because of my intense and difficult evolution through mothering. But also, I have to say that I did envision a profound and high degree of closeness with my child for many years. It’s not what was modeled for me, but intuitively it’s what always felt right. Logistically I had no idea how it would function. And honestly many days are stressful, lonely, financially-strained, and wrought with a nagging sense of being unaccomplished. Still, it’s a choice I would not undo. Everyday I wake up, opening to a prayer that as a family we can figure this out, and make today better than the last.
This work is a wilderness. Chaotic, confusing, unscripted, and constantly demanding an innovation in our thought processes, the turbulence is bearable because the mission is aligned with my calling. But how many mothers can say that about the sacrifices they endure? This question drives my passion to improve the mothering work conditions for all of us. I am asking that we engage in complex dialogue with our mothers, our sisters, our partners, our coworkers, our employers, our communities, our political strategists, our public officials. Every mother’s voice is vital to unearthing the silences we have long since buried under the guise of “having it all.”
It’s just not something we can pretend about anymore. If someone else is paid to stand in for the mothers when we do the real “work” away from our children, then how is it that the mother choosing to provide that care directly to her child is not seen as a worker? As one of those mothers “at home,” I can testify that it is frustrating, painful, and demoralizing to be questioned (with a spirit of doubt or incredulity) about “what I do all day” or “why I’m tired” because there are no reportable wages or performance reviews. This revolution won’t work if we keep erasing each other from the narrative. We’re all here. We’re all working.
We are wasting time, though. We could go back and forth, debating if my mothering is better than yours, but still we’d be missing the point. The real movement is in actualizing a tangible and livable paradigm for all our mothering needs. There are no overnight answers, obviously. Our stories are layered and tangled with multiple oppressions. It will take time to identify and explore all our parts, and even more time to imagine and implement new methodologies. But our resistance to being transparent about what really ails us, our reluctance to admit that the shift is really a labor that we must shape with our own hands, hinders the way forward. Wild and uncertain as this journey will be, I know that the same mothering genius that populated this planet can also initiate and sustain positive change for our world. This too is the work. Thankfully, there’s plenty for all of us to do.
The munchkin, my first born, was born on a Wednesday. Wednesday’s Bloom: Textual Portraits of a New Mommy is an ongoing multi-media documentary project about my process as a mother. Today’s story is a part of Volume 1, 73 consecutive weeks of posts, spanning about the first year and a half of the munchkin’s life. Each episode explores my weekly discoveries, challenges, questions, and hopes as a mother. I also facilitate the New Mommy Writers’ Workshop for all mothers and women active in their mothering work who are excited about cultivating their own writing practices.