Yeah, yeah. I know these are two totally divergent topics, but I was inspired by a piece in the NY Times this morning discussing the realities of breastfeeding for professional women. It really struck a chord, and, despite being barren as can be, it is incredibly relevant to my life.
I wrapped up my PhD in September of 2011. We had started trying to have a baby in January of 2011. I already had my PCOS diagnosis, so we knew that getting pregnant wasn’t going to be a walk in the woods. However, I do ovulate on my own, albeit irregularly. I thought that while it may take us a bit longer, it wouldn’t be an impossible feat.
We started trying in January with the expectation that if I magically got pregnant on the first try then I would be due right around my tentatively planned defense. Not too shabby! In fact, I had two friends in my program that actually managed to pull this off. Lucky, lucky, ladies. Worst case scenario, I would have some downtime after the defense to decompress, and I would give birth six to twelve months later.
I loved this scenario. That PhD was a bitch, and I needed time to release, redirect, and relax. I wanted to avoid the situation where I got a job, worked at that job for six months, then had a baby. Because of my lack of time on the job, I would then be extremely limited in my ability to take time off, unpaid or paid, to bond and nurture the new addition to our family. I envisioned caring for my baby for a year, which would allow me to breastfeed through the first year, then moving into paid employment. After that, I would work for several years, get pregnant again, and either quit or take leave for a year to do the same with my next child.
God is laughing and pointing Her finger at me right now. “Silly woman!” She says.
I really, really wanted this to work out in order to give myself time to bond and breastfeed my child. I wanted to do this without pumping milk in the stalls of a public restroom, in my office, or in some random corner of an unused room. I wanted to be able to snuggle and nurture that baby, to develop a bond that would support their growth and development. I really, really wanted to do this.
Why? Because in the US, the reality of being both a professional and a mother is difficult. CAN women have it all? We have been inundated with news lately of Marissa Mayer’s ascendancy to CEO of Yahoo! in conjunction with her pregnancy. She claims she will work through a three week leave. I say anything is possible when you are going to make 70 million dollars over the next five years. Hell, you could hire a nursemaid to breastfeed for you.
I, on the other hand, wanted to avoid the pressure of handling both a new career and a new baby. I recognize that breastfeeding is difficult in the best of circumstances, and that to attempt both is extremely hard. In fact, the US ranks at the very bottom of economically advanced countries when it comes to supporting breastfeeding – or parenthood, for that matter. A recent report by Save The Children, an advocacy organization, reports:
The United States ranks last on the Breastfeeding Policy Scorecard. It is the only economically advanced country – and one of just a handful of countries worldwide – where employers are not required to provide any paid maternity leave after a woman gives birth. There is also no paid parental leave required by U.S. law. Mothers may take breaks from work to nurse, but employers are not required to pay them for this time. Only 2 percent of hospitals in the United States have been certified as “baby-friendly” and none of the provisions of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes has been enacted into law. While 75 percent of American babies are initially breast-fed, only 35 percent are being breast-fed exclusively at 3 months.
I wanted to beat the odds. I wanted to avoid the guilt and self-blame. And I just wanted to have a baby.
However, the dream scenario didn’t happen. What a pipe dream! Now, as I realize just how efficiently I have educated myself out of the job market, any job would be amazing. Job outside my discipline? No biggie! Job as an administrative assistant? Uh, okay! Unpaid fellowship? Sure! Why not?! Also, pregnancy at any moment in time will suit me just fine. The sooner the better, but, really, whenever.
Please do recognize these thoughts as the musings and lamentations of a privileged individual. I’m extraordinarily lucky to have these choices. In addition to letting go of what might have been, I also work to reconcile my yearnings with my privilege. Shouldn’t I be happy with what I have? This has become an equally challenging struggle through the past nineteen months.
In reality, I need to let go of what I once wanted. It will not be my reality. In fact, I would just like to start either my career or my family, or both. As time continues to unspool behind me without either, all of this just becomes increasingly painful. I am my biggest disappointment. Now, I will take anything the universe gives me, while working to recognize that I already have so much.