By Lisa Nuss
I've watched the new phenomenon of Mommy Wars with intrigue the last few years. I always figured that women who are happy with their choices (whether to marry, their career, their life) wouldn't need to be taking shots at women who make different choices. And I've marveled at women who assume that child-rearing is exclusively a female responsibility; they completely absolve men, including their chosen husbands, and then go after other women a la Cruella de Ville.
I wondered how long it would be until I officially weighed into the debate. I'm barely into my 2nd trimester and now I receive the first lob from a stay-at-home Mom. I haven't even had the baby yet! Just when I thought I'd recovered from the 1st trimester nausea, now I have a mother trying to make me dizzy.
I joined a couple of parenting internet groups and a woman posted a question about nausea and what drugs to take for it. I responded that I'd felt like I'd been at sea for the last 5 weeks, but knowing that drugs prescribed in the past for pregnancy symptoms have caused defects in babies, I tried to be supportive by suggesting indirectly that if I could handle it, maybe she could too. I added that I've been able to continue working more than full-time. Again, I thought if she had the kind of encouragement my mother has always provided for me, it might help her buck up a little. (My Mom worked through the last four of her seven pregnancies and she tells me, "You just get through it.")
So the woman replies back, telling me how "impressed" she is with "women like you" who can keep working. She added condescendingly that she realizes some women have no choice but to work (as if working when you're 3 months' pregnant is some kind of sacrifice). Then she said she "could never" work full-time while pregnant.
A day later I couldn't get her response out of my mind. First the suggestion that women might work only because they "have to," and any woman with a choice would want to stay home. And her condescension suggests that somehow she is privileged and I am not. I don't consider staying home a privilege and don't care for the assumptions she flung my way. Why did she need to trot all of that out?
I wrote to her that I was equally intrigued with women who could stay home, since it's something "I could never do."
I have to admit that she apparently picked up on the "Just buck up" undertone in my email and took offense to it. She wanted commiserating, not tough talk. Where do these women come from? Washington Post writer Lonnae O'Neal Parker makes a similar point in her book I'm Every Woman. Parker writes that black women are proud of a centuries-old tradition of providing strength and financial support for their families. Parker notes that many of those lobbers in the Mommy Wars are upper class white women who were raised with the odd notion that women can be educated now but it's still "unfeminine" to have the kind of demanding careers that the men they marry do. I laugh at my local Bay Area upper class women (who by the way have married status husbands to provide for them) moan they could never work through their pregnancy nausea, meanwhile women in the Third world are out working the fields until their delivery.
Parker's book resonated with me because I also come from a long line of strong women, who crossed the country in wagons on the Oregon Trail and took up farming in the rugged Oregon Country. The women in my family are not only strong, but fertile. My Grandma raised five children while running a farm and a store, and my mother raised seven while working. If I whined to them "I just can't work" at only three months' pregnant, they'd laugh out loud. Not out of cruelty, but out of the knowledge that after the fourth or fifth child comes along you gain a little perspective. I'm grateful for the perspective they've handed down to me. If they could handle that many, I think I can handle one, and hopefully two.
My mother's thriving career in government forged a large part of my self-confidence and personality and I can't wait to provide that same mentoring for my baby. I know that's the right choice for me- it's the way my Mom did it and I've never seen it done better.