Holiday Blues: Women and babies

I made several resolutions this holiday season and the first was to start writing in this space again. As you see it is a few days late for a January 1 start, but maybe I will modify the “Daily Post” to Weekly Post” or “Monthly Post”.

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In December, I visited with my niece and her new baby in their new home in Portland, Oregon, on the opposite coast from where she was born, in Portland, Maine. Memories of my niece as an infant, of myself as a young woman (and a very inept babysitter), and of myself as a new mother have been surrounding me since.

We are a bit alike, my niece and I, and there are many photographs in the family that bear this out. At her house, there was a photo of her  standing on the rocks with her dog on an island in Maine that is nearly identical to one that my husband has on his desk of me and my dogs at a similar age, foggy background, craggy cliffs and all.

I was there during her last week at home alone with her infant before returning to work. The freedom to stay in sweatpants and spend every waking moment gazing at her beloved child would be soon coming to an end. Anger at the unsympathetic employer and fear at leaving her precious daughter in an infant daycare were prime topics of conversation.

Women in the workplace is a big topic these days as always. Why aren’t there more female CEOs and Members of the Board? Why are women still paid less than their male counterparts? What keeps women from advancing in Academia? Why are there so few female Heads of Departments in Medical Schools and major hospitals?

Returning to work for most new mothers is not just a matter of finding childcare. There are, of course, the division of labor issues such as who gets up in the night with the baby and who stays home with the children when they are sick. There are also, and perhaps more difficult to manage emotionally, the issues around the all-encompassing love that new mothers feel for their newborn.

I could not describe in words how much love I felt for my baby and how little everything else meant in comparison to that love. Returning to work was inevitable for me in my situation but I often wonder what life might have been like for our family had I bucked convention and stayed home. I am sure that my niece had conflicting feelings on this topic as well although she did not voice them. While working is actually easier than motherhood, many would choose the harder path if they thought they could.

Women will thrive outside the home when our society supports the needs of the entire family. We cannot “have it all” even though we continue to try. Both parents should take extended family leave after a new child joins the family and safe childcare at the work place should be the norm and not just for the richest of the rich.

This is not a “new” topic and as a product of the women’s lib and civil rights era I wonder why we have not come further in this journey towards inclusion and equality for all.

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