From From the Editors

The Facts of Life: an Interview with Paula Knight

Editors’ note: Dr. Elizabeth Starr recently interviewed graphic memoirist Paula Knight about her new book. Read on to learn more!

Paula Knight’s graphic memoir The Facts of Life is a powerful example of women’s work in autobiographical comics.  Recounting her childhood in Northeast England, The Facts of Life explores how we form expectations about fertility that then shape our adult lives.  Knight’s work illustrates the experience of miscarriage and living with ME/CFS/Fibromyalgia and offers alternative ways of valuing women’s lives beyond motherhood.  We’re grateful that she took the time to talk with MotherShould?.

ES: You studied Graphic Design and Illustration in college and have been writing and drawing professionally for many years. Did applying those skills to a graphic memoir about fertility and womanhood seem like a natural step—how did that come about?

PK: It was perhaps an odd step to go from illustrating children’s books to writing a book about not having children. Of course, some of those skills were transferable – certainly in terms of being able to structure and craft a cohesive narrative with so much information to juggle. My growing interest in graphic novels just so happened to coincide with the time in my life when I was trying for children (and ensuing problems), and it soon became the medium I wanted to use to tell my story, especially when I realised that other women my age were creating autobiographical comics. I began to read many more graphic novels about tricky autobiographical subject matter, especially health-related, and this made me feel that there might be an audience for my work in this medium. I also entered Myriad Editions’ (my UK publisher) First Graphic Novel Competition in 2011, and an extract from my book reached the shortlist the following year. This gave me the confidence to get on with the job after many years of ‘starting’ my book!

from “The Facts of Life” by Paula Knight, 2017

ES: There is so much silence surrounding the experiences both of dealing with miscarriage and living with a chronic illness, and there seems to be a lot of blame assigned to bodies when they aren’t working perfectly.  Your comics, for example, draw our attention to the language of carelessness or failure that is often used to describe miscarriage.  Chronic illness can also bring on feelings of self-condemnation or doubt, especially when there’s a delay in getting a clear diagnosis.  Do you think we tend to treat miscarriage and chronic illness in similar ways?  What was difficult or liberating in trying to break these silences?

PK: Yes, there appears to be just as much stigma surrounding the illness ME/CFS as there is around miscarriage, although the roots of the stigma are different. ME is a highly misunderstood invisible illness and miscarriage suffers its shroud of silence – possibly connected to shame around women’s bodily functions, and our fear of blood and death. There are also similarities such as feeling desperate to know the cause, and wanting a cure, when medicine can’t tell you what’s wrong or provide treatment, for example. Then, in absence of a satisfactory answer, the next step is to blame oneself. That vacuum also serves as a gaping receptacle for ignorant unsolicited opinions of others, unfortunately – if there is any room left in there alongside all the self-blame: Everyone gets tired; You can always try again, etc. It’s safe to say that neither miscarriage nor ME/CFS are patients’ fault – they are health issues that medicine doesn’t (yet) know how to treat fully. I try to fill some of that vacuum with comics, which, with its unique interplay of words, pictures and panels, is a medium well-placed to tackle subject matter that has traditionally been unspoken. I felt tentative about sharing the work online at first, but ultimately it was very connecting, and it encouraged conversations I would never have had otherwise. It felt very gratifying to receive emails telling me that my work has expressed something on behalf of people who was unable to.

ES: The Facts of Life makes such a persuasive argument that we could all benefit from getting out from under the sway of pronatalism: what are the things that help you do that?

PK: I’m interested in wildlife and the natural world. Environmental issues and the idea of the Anthropocene (the point in time at which human existence on earth is said to have caused ecological damage beyond repair) go a long way to comfort me over the fact that I didn’t have children. Human population growth is the greatest threat to the wellbeing of our planet and to our very own existence on it. I have a growing interest in organisations such as Population Matters and Eradicating Ecocide. Having said that, I’m not anti-natal either – I think extreme policies either way are a threat to reproductive rights (extreme pronatal policy might involve limiting access to abortion and contraception, for example). Of course I still have times of grief over not having children, and no doubt my child would surely have been a brilliant scientist who discovered new ways to feed everyone without harming ecosystems…. I also planted some trees as a memorial to the child I didn’t have. It seemed like a positive thing to do – trees last longer than people and are far more beneficial to the environment. The ritual of doing this helped immensely in our grief, too, so win-win!

ES: Some of the most powerful visual scenes in this graphic memoir depict how the ability or the inability to have children shapes the way people talk to you at parties or at work.  These casual encounters can happen so quickly, but can be so traumatic.  What do you want to say about how to talk to people who don’t or can’t have children?

EK: Perhaps we could try to steer clear of the more direct and intrusive questions. I understand that for people with children these conversations can be very connecting, but you don’t need a degree in psychology to read between the lines. Perhaps try more open-ended ice-breakers, such as: How are you?; What have you been up to recently?; Did you see Game of Thrones this week?; Where do you come from?; or How do you know *person*? This gives more scope to steer a conversation away from talk about children and avoid the risk of opening up raw wounds for someone who is hoping to have a nice relaxing evening out. Never ask why someone didn’t have children, or offer unsolicited advice. I wouldn’t ask someone why they didn’t ever do X job; or why they don’t own a bigger house, or have a partner, for example. Why didn’t you ever succeed in becoming an astronaut – whatever went wrong there? Why don’t you try buying a space suit and jumping up and down on a trampoline instead? Having said that, there was a very clever lad at my school who wanted to be an astronomer, and I would really like to know if he made it. It’s natural to be curious, but you don’t have the right to know personal details about someone’s fertility problems – and that’s what you might find yourself inadvertently poking around in when you ask someone if they have children.

ES: Do you have any advice for women who “can’t draw” but might want to after reading your book?

PK: I don’t believe in ‘can’t draw’ – anyone can! You don’t have to be a trained artist to draw – you weren’t when you were a child, after all. You didn’t care if it looked right then, so why now? It’s still possible to communicate an idea or emotion using stick figures or very simple drawings. Don’t let draughtsmanship, and not being able to represent subject matter accurately, put you off. It’s good to carry a small sketchbook and pen/pencil around at all times and that way you can fit in some drawing whenever the opportunity arises – in a café, work canteen, or on the train etc. Drawing from observation in this way is great practice, and you’ll never forget an idea if you always have a sketchbook or notebook with you.

Learn more about Paula’s work at her website, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

 

 

Elizabeth Starr teaches writing and literary study at Westfield State University. Her academic work brings nineteenth-century narrative techniques into conversation with contemporary literature, specifically in terms of how we tell stories about illness. She is especially interested in writers who open up new ways of thinking about illness and health in their creative work.

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Fearmongering on the Couch: Things My Therapist Told Me About Motherhood (That Maybe Weren’t So Helpful)

I’m sitting on a couch the color of hot dog mustard, three floors up in West Hollywood, glaring at my therapist’s toe cleavage. I’m trying to keep myself from storming out of the office. I’m not a bailer; I’m not a quitter; I haven’t ditched anything since senior year of high school. Well, false—that’s why I’m fighting the impulse to flee my session. I’m toying with bailing on a belief I’ve held my entire life: the ardent belief that I-don’t-want-kids, that I’ll never be a mother.

Like much ardency, my ambivalence about children was nurtured by example. My mother had put a career as a court reporter on hold to raise me and my siblings. “I never saw myself as someone with kids,” she told me recently. But she had had them, three of them. She’d attempted to give us everything and, since everything is unattainable, of course she’d fallen short.

I didn’t want to set myself up for failure, I thought subconsciously, and, consciously I thought I didn’t want to sacrifice my body, and aspirationally I thought I didn’t want to compromise my career and finally I thought I just didn’t really care. Soon, having kids was like deciding what to make for dinner: alternately of monumental importance or so pesky I’d just as well eat popcorn.

Still, I know others—especially medical professionals—aren’t so cavalier about the conception question. That’s why I’m surprised my therapist is so instantly down on the prospect when I broach it in our latest session. Somehow, this topic is so anathema, she’s stringing together more words than she has in any of our previous conversations.

“People don’t think about the possibilities,” she says. “They think it’s going to be this sweet, healthy baby, and you have to prepare yourself. What if you have a baby with autism? What if you have a blind baby?”

I nod, mouth tight. I revisit what I’ve told her so far:

  • My husband for-sure wants a kid; I think I could be happy with a kid.
  • My husband and I believe our lives would be conducive to raising a kid. We’re lucky. We have flexible schedules. Zero debt. A nearby campus where either of us could escape to write.
  • My husband and I do wonder, though, how anyone knows when the time is right. How to study the tea leaves of life and decide to decide …

That’s what I asked her, I think, as she shakes her head: how do people know?

“Would you have child care?” she drills. “Live in or drop off? Would you be able to afford it? Who would take care of the kid if they got sick?”

“We’ve talked about a lot of these things,” I say, frustrated—and concerned. Her business card says she does marriage counseling. What kind of blazes is this woman dragging couples into and how irreversibly burnt do they come out?

I try another tack: optimism and blunt honesty. “I’m afraid about losing my time to write, but I think, realistically, that wouldn’t happen.”

“Well you have to spend some time with the kid,” my therapist says, perhaps operating under the misconception that people without kids don’t think through that hypothetical alternate reality. (I’m sure there are people who’ve never imagined a crib in their living room, but that’s not me.) “Even if it’s with a nanny all day, you’ll see that kid every day, every night, and they’re going to know if you resent them. They’ll be able to tell. And then they’re going to grow up and hate your guts. And your husband’s going to resent you for ruining your relationship with your child.”

Of course I don’t want that, I tell her, but inside I begin to worry. Maybe I’m too demanding a patient, I consider. I want to be furnished with advice, not doomsaying. There’s a worse possibility, too, one that terrifies me: maybe I’m so unfit to be a parent that this scree is my therapist’s not-subtle attempt to communicate BAD IDEA TURN AROUND ABORT MISSION.

“I mean, of course,” I say, when she asks if this is an issue I want to work on. I hear myself flail. “I could see having a family being really nice when the kid is an adult. When we’re older and, you know, we want a connection to youth.”

The noise-machine in the next office burbles quiet.

“What do you think?” I say, finally. “Am I wrong to be considering this?”

“You sound very selfish and cold,” she says flatly. “I don’t think these are reasons to start a family, so yes, I would say you’re wrong. It doesn’t sound like you want to start a family out of love. This just sounds like a cold, calculated decision. We’ve got one more minute.”

I leave the office and postpone my usual call to my husband, the one where I ask if he wants me to bring anything home. I feel riled up and slightly haunted, like I’m dragging around—and selfishly neglecting—the ghost of the baby I could potentially bring into this world. As I head to my car, I glance in the Thai nail salon, where a pregnant woman roosts in a leather pedicure throne. I see two men pushing a stroller. There’s the rest of life, too, shop windows for a marijuana dispensary and an adult bookshop and an oyster bar, but I keep expecting to see my reflection augmented, me plus that ignored ghost infant.

I drive home, very carefully, very slowly, as though there’s human cargo and not dry cleaning in the backseat.

It takes me two hours to tell my husband what I’ve heard from my therapist. We’re at the kitchen table.

“Your therapist hardly knows you,” my husband says, when I’m too upset to eat dinner. When I say I’m too selfish to deserve to live; that I just want to quit life.

“She’s a professional,” I say. “She’s using her objective judgment.” I don’t really believe her, but I’ve been obsessing about her judgment—YOU ARE SELFISH. Maybe this is how it would feel to truly want a child, I think, to move from minute to minute thinking BABY BABY BABY. I wonder if there will ever be a time when I brood over sweet potato fries thinking, YOU ARE A MOTHER.

“Isn’t she supposed to be supportive?” he says. “Why isn’t she pointing out all the ways that having a family could improve your life? It’s not just a chore, you know. Plenty of people will tell you that their children bring them unquantifiable joy.”

I concede. I think about how my therapist would read this situation: she’d think my husband is trying to get me to change my mind definitively about having kids. Wrong. She’s wrong, too, about what it means to critically examine all aspects of a choice as life-changing as whether or not to begin a family. It’s difficult enough to move beyond ambivalence—no one needs a megaphone for their self-doubt. But I see that the dangerous thing about an ardent belief or a conviction is how it locks you into a position; it forces you to become a quitter instead of someone who evolves.

The next day, I call my therapist’s office and cancel all future appointments. I would’ve done the same thing, my mother says when I tell her. Sure, I’m no more decided about children than I was twenty-four hours ago, but one thing is certain: I am ready to embrace the thrills and mysteries of what it might mean to be a quitter.

JoAnna Novak is the author of I Must Have You, a novel, and Noirmania, a book-length poem, forthcoming in 2018. Her creative nonfiction has appeared widely, in publications including The New York Times, Salon, Runner’s World, Lit Hub, Catapult, and The Rumpus. She is a founding editor of Tammy, an independent chapbook press and literary journal. 

 

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Misogyny is at the Heart of Our High Maternal Death Rate

A recent story by ProPublica and NPR outlines the tragic and preventable death of NICU nurse Lauren Bloomstein only 20 hours after giving birth to her first child. Despite warning signs and her physician husband voicing alarm and questioning her plan of care, Lauren died of hemorrhagic strokes resulting from untreated HELLP syndrome. HELLP syndrome is an obstetrical emergency related to very high blood pressure that accounts for nearly 8% of pregnancy and postpartum related deaths. The most ominous sign is a rapidly rising blood pressure accompanied by, epigastric pain, intense headache, and anxiety.

I have a lot of feelings when I think about this story. First I recall my experiences with preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome as a doula. In what I retrospectively call the Year of Preeclampsia, I saw first-hand how swiftly preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome can develop and progress. It was a terrible coincidence that I attended several labors in succession that were one case study after another about hypertension, preeclampsia, and actual eclampsia. Eclampsia results when untreated preeclampsia results in blood pressures so high that the woman experiences seizures. Mercifully all the mothers and babies survived, and I left these experiences with a healthy respect for clinical expertise and vigilance while also holding space for the everyday normalcy of childbirth.

A 2013 meta-analysis of data on professional labor support by the Cochrane Review concludes that all women should have access to continuous labor support because of the significant benefits to maternal health. A doula is a professional labor support person who provides, physical, emotional, and educational support to women and their families during birth. This is a non-clinical role that has grown in popularity since the release of The Business of Being Born in 2008.

As a new nurse, I read the story of the needless death of a mother with my heart in my throat. Her blood pressure was unchecked for many hours despite very high readings relative to her baseline blood pressures. As a nurse on any hospital floor, I stand between patients and peril with my blood pressure cuff; I assess and document, I reassess and document. When I get a blood pressure that seems too high or too low, I look at the patient to see if they are symptomatic; I check my equipment; I reassess how I am taking the reading; and I look at the patient’s chart to see what the trend is for this specific patient. This is standard nursing practice on every hospital floor the whole world over. It is hard to understand how such a standard assessment fell off the schedule when this woman had every alarming marker of HELLP syndrome. Yet hospitals are systems for which a tragic death cannot be blamed on one nurse or MD. Tired staff, burned-out staff, high patient to nurse ratios, experience levels, and days worked in a row are boring problems that add up to senseless errors and tragedy when good protocols and ratios are either not in place or not being followed.

As a woman, I read this story and I see a broad systemic failure that is so much bigger than a hospital, labor and delivery unit, physicians, and nurses. My mind races as I think of all the horrifying attitudes and actions by our lawmakers and leaders that openly degrade women. I think of the multitude of ways the government is stripping away health care choices for women and mothers. We are presently between Thailand and Chad in the race to have the highest increase in maternal deaths. Not only are mothers dying in our modern health care system, more of them are dying each year.

Iran, Mexico, Congo, Chad all have between 12-14 weeks of paid maternity leave in contrast to the ZERO weeks provided by the United States. We are asking women to give birth without giving them adequate postpartum support for their health or their new motherhood. The vast majority of women in the US return to work within 6 weeks of giving birth despite evidence that this is not good for women, babies, or society as a whole.

The most depressing element of this is our cultural lip service we pay to mothers, which directly influences the laws we make that can help or harm women. We elevate motherhood as the highest achievement that a woman can attain. American culture is steeped in its own variation of the Virgin/Whore dichotomy as Mother/Nothing. If you are a mother, we will give you a holiday, we will market to you, we will speak of your importance to society while we do to little to protect your life and health care as a mother, while also openly judging your post-baby body. If you have the audacity to be an adult woman and not a mother, then we will treat you as a strange other who is probably selfish, likely defective and sad given your lack of motherhood, a man-hating feminist, or too stupid to understand the beauty of motherhood.

In America, a good woman is a mother, and a mother will sacrifice even her life for her baby. The shameful thing is that this isn’t hyperbole and yet somehow it is still is a shocking surprise to us all.

Sarah Thayer lives in Simsbury, CT with her two kids, aged 11 and 13, husband Joshua, and rescue pitbull. She is a licensed massage therapist and retired birth doula. She has a degree in sociology from Central Connecticut State University and is a new graduate nurse from Capital Community College in Hartford, CT. She teaches Comfort Measures for Labor to expectant families for Hartford Hospital and plans to pursue a degree in nurse midwifery.  In her free time, she enjoys knitting, hiking with her dog, playing piano, and spending time with her friends and family. Her twitter handle @LMTDoulaSarah.

 

 

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A Millennial Interviews Her Mother About Having Kids

From the editors: MotherShould? is interested in how millennials weigh the decision whether or not to have children and/or when to have children. This interview by a 21-year-old college junior reveals how one millennial’s mother has shaped her thinking on having children. The interview also highlights the challenges of being part of the sandwich generation and the silence that shrouded miscarriage twenty years ago and tends to persist today. The interviewee and the interviewer have decided to use pseudonyms here to protect their privacy.

From the interviewer: I’m a 21  year old college student and I chose to interview my mother, Tiffany, 59 year old mom of two. She worked as a dietitian for over 25 years and chose to leave her job. I chose to interview my mother because I feel as though she was different from other moms. Instead of pushing me to find a boyfriend and raising me to be a wife and mother, she taught my sister and I that we have to figure out who we are first as individuals. My mom is one of the many people who inspired me to go after my dreams and never settle for anything less. She is a strong woman with a big heart who worked hard to get to where she is today, and to have my sister and I be the people we are now.

Hannah: You had Erica (my sister) at age 32 and me at age 37. Were the pregnancies different in any way?

Tiffany: I would say being pregnant at 32 was probably a little easier because I could sleep eight hours a night uninterrupted. I was working full time, but I could still sleep; you need extra sleep when you are pregnant. But, that was probably the only difference. See, with you I had a four-year old, I was working full time, and I was pregnant. I was five years older and sleep deprived.  

Hannah: Did the doctors say you were “high risk” at age 37 to have a child?

Tiffany: Every time I went to the doctor, they made a determination whether I was high risk or not depending on my blood pressure and my blood value. Fortunately I was never considered “high risk.”  But at my age, being after 35, I had a  harder chance of getting pregnant. So when I was 35 years old, I went back to my doctor who delivered Erica, and I said that I wanted to have another child, but I am not sure if I want one right now. He said, “You have to get pregnant right away because you are 35. If you wait any longer your fertility rate goes down rapidly.” That was something I did not know. I think women should know that when they are planning on having a family after they’re 35 your fertility rate drops every year and markedly after age 40. So we started to get pregnant right away. Then it took a couple of years because I had a miscarriage.

Hannah: Let’s talk about that. I know you had a miscarriage before I was born. What was the experience like for you? How did you decide to have another child after that experience?

Tiffany: Well, I was 36 when I had the miscarriage.  I was 35 when we started to try for another child and then 6 months later, I was pregnant. During the pregnancy, I felt like my body wasn’t reacting well to the pregnancy from the very beginning. I was only 2 months pregnant, first of all. So it wasn’t a long pregnancy. The whole time I was pregnant I didn’t feel good. I felt like there was something wrong.

What they don’t tell you is you can’t see your  doctor until your 2.5 to 3 months pregnant. You don’t even see your doctor until you are almost into your second trimester. So I hadn’t even seen my doctor. But I knew I was pregnant because I took those blood tests at the hospital, I got what felt like a heavy period two months later. But it was almost like a relief for me because sometimes you just know to listen to your body; like what’s right and what’s wrong. That pregnancy felt really really wrong.

After the miscarriage, I went to work and took care of my four year old like normal. I don’t know if that is a normal response that other women have. I mean I never really talked about it with other women. So my reaction to the miscarriage was kind of like a relief I felt so much better physically. I kind of mentally prepared for it. I would say things like “I’ll be fine.” There was a lot of denial. I would be so busy that I never really sat down and thought about it. I just said “Oh I’m pregnant. I’ll be seeing the doctor in another four weeks. So I’ll just save all my questions for then.” So I just went about it like it was a normal pregnancy.

But when I look back on it, that’s when I have the wisdom that it  wasn’t right from the beginning. Because it felt so different than my first pregnancy and my body felt not right. So I don’t know if that prepared me for the impending miscarriage on a subconscious level; most of this was subconscious. Because I have never really spoken out loud about this before. Not even to Derek [my dad]. I never really talked about something being wrong with my baby. But when I started bleeding after two months I was like “Oh yeah.”

When I had my miscarriage, at 8 weeks, it felt like having a really heavy period. I remember the cramps. It was not as painful as going through a birth, but they were really painful. I remember talking to my doctor on the phone and he said, “You’re fine.You don’t need to come in.” So my primary concern was: Is everything okay? My doctor said to wait to get pregnant for 30 days and then try again. That’s what we did, and I got pregnant right away.

Hannah: Where were my dad and Erica when all this happened?

Tiffany: Your father and your sister were not at home. It was interesting because it was February, and it was after we got this huge snowstorm and your father went off to California and took Erica with him because he was visiting his family. I was alone in the house. 

Hannah: What do you think caused the miscarriage?

Tiffany: It wasn’t my fault. When I look back at it I realized that there was something wrong with the pregnancy from the FIRST DAY I was pregnant. It felt like it wasn’t going to work. I don’t know if other women have that kind of “internal wisdom” but I tried to push those feelings away. Of course because you don’t want to think that. So for 8 weeks, I tried not to think about it. I tried to tell myself, “Oh it’s just a different pregnancy. You could be having a boy.” Like I said I hadn’t even been to the doctors, so I didn’t really talk about it much to anybody.

I feel like since it was my first experience having a miscarriage, and I already had a child, my feelings are different from the vast majority of women who have this experience. It would be very different for a woman to go through this if  they had been trying to get pregnant for so long or they found out they were having troubles with their fertility. It would have made the miscarriage so much worse.

When I got pregnant with you the difference between the pregnancies were that with you I felt queasy, and my sense of smell was heightened. This pregnancy felt similar to when I was pregnant with Erica. But with the miscarriage pregnancy, it didn’t feel this way.

Hannah: What was it like to work and take care of an infant?

Tiffany: I had three-month maternity leave. I had to use my vacation time and sick time. So I had to save them. Most of the time I got a paycheck, which really helped. We really needed two paychecks to get by. Erica was in daycare since she was 3 months old. Same as I did with you. Going back to work was difficult because I was really tired. Erica wasn’t  sleeping through the night, and I was breastfeeding. I tried to breastfeed and work but I couldn’t do both. I don’t know if other women can, but I could not. Breastfeeding took a lot of energy out of me. The fact that I wasn’t sleeping all the way through the night, and I was working full time, I came to the decision that something had to give. So what I did was I gave up the breastfeeding, and I wish I didn’t have to do that.

When I had you it was really different. Erica was now a toddler. I had to keep her life as predictable and stable as possible. So she went to the same daycare, went for the exact same hours; her life had to stay the same. We kept my husband’s schedule the same. Then I had you at home with me for three months. It was just the two of us. I breastfed you then for three months and just remember it being a very happy time. I was very very happy being at home with you. That was the first time I thought that I didn’t want to go back to work. But I had to go back to work because we needed one and a half incomes to pay the mortgage.  

Hannah: You finally decided to leave your career when Erica was 17 and I was 12. Why did you decide to leave your career?

Tiffany: Well my mom got sick, and she didn’t want to go into a nursing home. She didn’t want to go into an assisted living. She also was a widower and lived on her own. I started helping her. I am in what is called “the sandwich generation.” That is when you have kids to take care of and then you are taking care of your sick parent as well. But the thing is, you can’t do everything. I had a senior in high school, I had a 7th grader, I had a sick mom. Derek’s mom had just passed. He was, you know, grieving. It was all just too much. I don’t know how other women deal with that kind of stress, but for me, personally, it was my point where I just needed to take a step back.

So I started to drop back hours. I was doing a consulting job and working a full time job so I was working more than full time. So I cut the consulting job back, and then I cut some of the days back. So I did it gradually. I felt as though I had responsibility for taking care of my mother because she took care of me. So my mom was one of the reasons I left my career.

Another reason was because of you. Erica was going off to college. So I knew the stress I was feeling about Erica was going to be temporary because senior year is a very stressful time. She was applying to colleges, and we had to visit all the colleges she was applying to. So she was going to leave for school soon. That was also my regret because I knew I wasn’t home for Jenna much after school. With you growing out of the YMCA after school program in middle school, I knew it wasn’t working for you anymore [I was bullied by the mean girls a lot.] I wanted to give you more attention. I wanted to be home for you because my mom always worked when I was growing up. There are two roads you can take: One being the happy road to college and being taught your full potential. The other road you can take is not achieving your dreams. I needed to keep you on the right path. I started to feel like this when you were in elementary school. But I couldn’t figure out how to do it because we still needed the money. Whether you are male or female, we still have the financial responsibility to our children. I felt that financial responsibility 100%. My husband and I are the same when it comes to that sort of thing. We both contribute to the family financially as equals. I wanted to do the right thing by you, and I wanted to do the right thing for my mom.

Hannah: When you were at home, did you ever have a moment where you regretted your decision to leave your career?

Tiffany: Now, I know I complain about having a black hole in my resume, however I do not regret leaving my career. It was the best decision I ever made. I know it was the right thing to do.

Hannah: You always told Erica and me to never marry your highschool sweetheart and to wait until we were in our 30s to have children; to follow our career goals and make a name for ourselves first. Why did you teach us that?

Tiffany: That was the wisdom my mom taught me. So I pass it down because it was very helpful to me. I think that when you are 18 you don’t know who you really want to be with. You don’t really know who a good partner would be because you don’t really know yourself. In your 30s, if you worked in your career and are earning good money, you have the confidence to pick the right partner. You also change so much from 20 to 30. What you want and need are different. Marrying the right person is one of the most important choices in your life.You really have to marry the right person for you. It takes maturity to know what that looks like, what that feels like. In your 20s is a great time to date other people and build a career for yourself that you actually love/like.    

Hannah: What are you doing now that your children are all grownup and out of the house?

Tiffany: Well I am working on my business and I’m doing a lot of things art related.

Hannah: If Erica and I eventually do get married and have children, what advice would you give us about balancing our careers and spending time with our children?

Tiffany: Everybody is different. You have to have an “internal dialogue” with yourself every day. Make sure you’re happy. Don’t sacrifice your own happiness because there is always a way to figure it out. You can change things. It’s like having two full time jobs. You have a full time job at work and the stresses of getting up early everyday to go to work everyday working 8 hours everyday. Another full time job is taking care of the baby. So it is basically like working two full time jobs. So it’s tough. You are going to have many sleepless nights. But just try to be as happy as you can doing that. Know that every stage that you go through with the children changes. It’s never the same. First they are teething and crying and then it changes. They start walking and talking. It always changes. If you also are with the right person you’ll always be 100%. Your kid will have two 100% parents being there for them. You can’t be 50/50 with your partner parenting. You both have to be 100%. So if one of you gets sick, your child still has a parent that is there for them. Derek is such a great partner because he was taught from his mom to view his partner as his equal. I am his equal, and he can pass that onto you guys as well.

At the end of the day when you are trying to balance your career and raising children, there should be no regrets. Usually people don’t regret working more, but they regret not spending enough time with the people they love.

 

 

45 Makes Me Regret Not Having Kids

On January 21, I looked around me at the Hartford, CT Women’s March Rally, and I felt regret, deep like a splinter from an un-planed board. I was there with my friend Sarah and her 12-year-old daughter Ella. It occurred to me that by not having children, I deprived myself of the opportunity to raise humans who would be thoughtful, critical, committed citizens. Of course, the beliefs of parents do not always become the beliefs of their children, yet I was struck by the lost opportunity of passing on values that I believe are the very ones that make America great: tolerance, questioning authority, willingness to stand up for not only one’s own rights, but more importantly, the rights of the marginalized. Despite my regret, the number of children at the rally heartened me.

After the rally, Sarah and I exchanged emails about how and why she included Ella that day. Sarah wrote about bringing her daughter and son with her every time she votes, as well as family discussions about current events, politics and community. For her, it is vital that her kids understand the responsibility that goes along with their privilege.

While Sarah’s husband and son decided to forgo the rally, in part to avoid the overstimulation of the event, Ella decided, after much conversation, that she wanted to participate. Sarah did encourage her, sharing with me, “I told her that this would be a significant day for American women. I didn’t want her to miss out on the chance to be a part of such a special day. Ultimately, I hope that my daughter saw that there are things that we can not sit idle and accept.”

As we drove to Hartford, I got to see Sarah’s strategies for raising an active citizen. Ella, pussyhat proudly perched on her head, encouraged me as I knit as fast as I could to finish one for myself. Sarah made a point of reminding us that we should be prepared in case the media asked to interview us. She encouraged Ella to practice what she would say about why she was at the rally. I was impressed by her enthusiastic, smart answers about human rights and immigration issues. Clearly, making posters with her family, hanging out as her mom churned out pussyhats, and months of post-election conversations impacted Ella’s views. I could see that Ella had a sense of the rally being more than a new experience; she understood the protest she was about to voice.

About a month later, I asked Sarah what affect she felt the rally had on her daughter. She wrote, “It certainly normalized protest as a reasonable reaction to policy we find objectionable. She is also thoughtful about articulating the ideas that upset her and why. Ella got to see you, me, her grandparents, her ballet teacher, a friend and her mom among many other people in our community at the rally because there are ideologies that need protesting. Long term it remains to be seen if this creates an inner sense of civic responsibility, but I think it will.”

In the weeks since 45 has taken office–weeks that feel like decades–I’ve vacillated between relief that I don’t have children who will inherit this mess, and the same regret I felt at the rally. I feel encouraged, though, that there are legions of parents who are woke, and even more young people positioned to stay woke. And I see that my role in the lives of the young people I know is to be yet another adult who is unafraid to use her privilege and raise her voice in protest.

But what about my sisters who are on the fence about having kids? How is this administration shaping their decisions?

MotherShould? writer Ada Kenney weighed in, saying, “45 and the current Congress haven’t necessarily changed my plans about motherhood. Rather, they’ve heightened my ambivalence. I didn’t want to get an IUD before the inauguration as so many women did because I only have so many (if any) fertile years left, and seems like a waste to get it for just a year or so. But I also don’t want to raise a child alone with less of a social safety net than we currently have, and unless I meet The One really soon, that may be my only path toward motherhood.

“I have considered fostering or adoption before, and I fear those systems will be weakened in the next few years, so maybe I will do that. It would be a better move than having a baby in the face of the threat of nuclear war.”

In a recent episode of The Longest Shortest Time, Hillary Frank hosts a roundtable during which, among other topics, two lesbian couples examine the question of how 45’s administration affects their thinking about having children. Even within one couple, the partners’ views cover a wide range: eager to raise radical children vs. afraid to bring a child into the world where the parents (Black, queer) feel hatred around them.

How about you? Has the new administration muddied or clarified the decision for you?

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Why We’re Striking on March 8

This Wednesday, March 8, is International Women’s Day. As a show of solidarity for women’s rights and the rights of all gender-oppressed people, MotherShould? is joining the general strike. The right to choose whether or not to have children and to get the appropriate care that supports that choice is all-too-often unavailable to women around the world. This is just one reason MotherShould? is going dark on Wednesday.

We editors won’t be idle, however. At the university where we both teach, we’ll be wearing red and discussing Asao Inoue’s Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies, leading a Write-In to encourage students to write postcards to their elected officials, participating in a suicide prevention workshop, and limiting our shopping to women and minority-owned businesses.

We recognize that we are privileged to be able to strike and to have the opportunity to learn and teach about topics that feed our passion for social justice. We will not lose our jobs because we are striking. We won’t put our families at risk. We hope that you will participate in any way that keeps you safe: wearing red, refusing to work, writing letters and making phone calls.

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Should I? I Could I?

Still in pain and bleeding from a traumatic miscarriage, still trying to understand what had happened, I had the overwhelming need to be a mother, to be pregnant. Something I’d never felt before. I put it down to hormones but the feeling, the need, lasted for months. My life revolved around it.

From the age of fourteen, I’ve struggled with depression, anxiety, panic attacks and joint problems. My whole life has been ruled by them, although at the time, I wasn’t fully aware of it. Growing up, when my parents took my brother and I out to the cinema or on holiday, I would always be ill in someway. A strange fear of crowds meant that at secondary school I did my best to escape assemblies. I never wanted to go out anywhere and when I did I was constantly nervous to the point where I thought I was going to be sick. As I got older, my life became restricted compared to that of my friends. I rarely went out, even with my closest friends and I never went to night clubs. Going out on my own didn’t seem to be an option, my head constantly filled with a stream of what seemed like a million “what ifs” and going to university certainly wasn’t. My mood seemed to get lower with every year that passed. I wasn’t happy and there didn’t seem to be much I could do about it.

My body contributed towards my depression; finding that my knees were usually painful and more often than not swollen. I dreaded P.E lessons at school, I could never keep up with everyone else and I would easily injure myself. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties I was diagnosed with hypermobility, a condition that affects the joints. By this time I was fairly certain that having children wasn’t going to be the right thing for me. How could I bring a child into the world and have it end up like me? In pain, depressed and too afraid to do anything or go anywhere. I couldn’t bring that sort of thing on someone.

By my mid  twenties, my viewpoint changed. Motherhood wasn’t something I was set against but nor was it something I was desperate for. I felt I would be happy whether I became a mother or not. I had also realised that if were to become a mother, I would be able to see any signs or symptoms if my child had any problems. However, I was certain that I did not want to actively try for a baby. If it happened, it happened, if it didn’t, it didn’t.

At twenty-nine, I met my husband. Early in the relationship we discussed our thoughts on having children, something he wanted. He respected my thoughts on not wanting to try to conceive, understanding the effect that stress had on my health and he was happy, when the time was right, just see if it happened for us. Within a year of meeting we were engaged, eight months later married and five months after that we were surprised to discover I was pregnant. I can safely say that I was happy but also terrified. Flooded with anxiety over the fact that I was now responsible for a life, I looked at changing my lifestyle. Fortunately, all I needed to do was to improve my diet slightly. I rarely drank alcohol, have never smoked and exercised regularly.

The pregnancy lasted eight weeks. I wasn’t going to be a mother. What was going to be my first born was ripped from me. The heartbreak and grief was on a level that I had never experienced before. My depression returned as I simply did not know how to deal with the emotions the miscarriage had created, my anxiety and panic attacks intensified. Feeling empty and lost, I became convinced that the only way to fill the void generated from my loss was to become pregnant, to be a mother. Not only had I been deprived of my baby, the miscarriage had changed me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. It defined me as a woman who, now, desperately wanted motherhood.

After a few months, my husband and I decided to actually try to conceive. Trying to get pregnant was something I never wanted to do but was now something I had to do as all I wanted was to be pregnant again. Becoming obsessed, I charted my basal body temperature in a bid to help determine when I was ovulating alongside using ovulation tests. Each and every month, my body convinced me that I was pregnant. Following what my body was telling me, I was filled with hope only to be in floods of tears at the end of every cycle. Being ruled by intense desire to become pregnant, I didn’t know who I was anymore.

It took almost a year until I fell pregnant for the second time. It lasted six weeks. Still grieving for my first loss, I was devastated that it had happened again.

After my first miscarriage, all I wanted, needed, was to become a mother, for that life inside of me to thrive, make it to full term and to hold my son or daughter in my arms. But since my second miscarriage, I have no idea what I want. I’m lost. I’ve been told that if I want children bad enough, I will keep on trying for however long it takes. I think, like many things, that’s easier said than done. If I had grown up knowing I wanted children, it would be more straightforward. But I didn’t. I’m convinced, even though there’s no reason to be, that any other pregnancy I have, is going to end the same. So what’s the point of trying? Although, the next time I fall pregnant, it could be the one. I need to decide what I want but I have no idea what I want anymore. The intense need to be pregnant, to be a mother isn’t there anymore even though that void is still there only bigger, deeper. I need to decide what I want but I don’t want to make that decision, I’d rather it was taken out my hands but it can’t be. I’m too scared, too anxious and I’m not sure I can cope with going through another miscarriage. It makes me wonder if I do want to be a mother, is it something I can actually handle? Am I strong enough?

A Yorkshire lass born and bred, Kady Jo now lives in Somerset with her husband and their small menagerie. If she isn’t writing, Kady can usually be found with one of three musical instruments in her hands, or a book. Visit her website, Dive in My Dreams.

Mourning a Miscarriage After an Unwanted Pregnancy

There was something about my period that wasn’t right. Having an IUD, it was usually much lighter than this. My womb felt emptier than usual. It didn’t take long to realize what was happening. After a few moments of denial, I finally allowed myself to accept that I was having a miscarriage.

I was in my senior year of college, two weeks away from my 22nd birthday, and I was alone. Having suffered from depression since childhood, I struggled with what was happening. I was glad to not be pregnant, but realizing what I had lost hurt. I cried for my unborn child. I wasn’t certain if I ever wanted a child, and I certainly didn’t want one my senior year , but I still grieved for this unborn child.

Something in me decided it was a boy, and I was sorry for the life he would never live. I told him it was probably best, as I wouldn’t be able to provide a good life for a child. I was young, still in school, and only working seasonally. Even if I had given him up for adoption, I worried that he have a poor quality of life: I had read that the mother’s emotions during pregnancy have an affect on the child’s personality, and I probably would have spent those 9 months feeling extremely depressed. That coupled with the high chance he would inherit my depression made me fear he would feel miserable for much of his life.

I skipped the rest of my classes that day, barely able to leave my bed, arguing with myself that I shouldn’t be so distraught about this. I wasn’t even sure I wanted children. But there was something in that emptiness that made me yearn to be a mother.

When I told my boyfriend what had happened, he apologized for my having to go through the miscarriage, but also pointed out that it didn’t feel like a loss of a child. He reminded me of his mother who, before he was born, had a miscarriage. His parents had been trying for a child, but never considered themselves parents to that child.

“My mom has always seen herself as a mother of two, not three,” he said.

We were sitting in his parked car in the driveway of his parents’ house, silent for a moment. I wondered if his mother had felt the way I was feeling now. She had wanted the child, so she must have mourned it. The miscarriage was still fresh in my mind, but his mother’s miscarriage had happened over 25 years prior and before he was born.

He stepped out of the car and I waited for a moment, wondering if it was worth pointing out that my experience of loss was still valid.

I felt petty for being as upset as I was, seeing as we didn’t want the child anyway. I thought of the women who are struggling to get pregnant and resented myself for having, if only for a moment, been pregnant despite using the most effective birth control available.

Still, I resolved that this was more my miscarriage than it was ours. He didn’t experience it or have the same attachment to our would-be child. The child hadn’t been within him.

Now, it all seems like a strange dream I had a long time ago. Though it feels as if it’s part of the distant past, I try not to completely detach from it. It was an important moment in time that taught me a lot about myself. I realized I’d be okay with having an abortion because it’d be best for all involved. I was also able to give motherhood more contemplation.

I don’t know if my yearning to be a mother was a feeling I could trust or if it was actually a case of me wanting something I couldn’t have. The yearning was strong but, I’m still not sure if I want to ever be a parent but, for a moment, I was one. I loved my child, I mourned my child, but I knew this was better for him. If I ever have a child, it will be when I can give them the happy life they deserve.

Emily Demone is the pseudonym of a New England based writer and, like so many in her peer group, social media manager. She loves nature and the outdoors, but prefers watching it through a window as she cuddles on the couch with her four dogs. She tries her best to navigate the chaos that is being a 20-something in the early 21st-century and wants to let everything happen as it may, but spends most of her time trying to guess what the future has in store.

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We Won’t Be Erased

Part of MotherShould?’s project is to value the many paths women can now take thanks to:

  • scientific advances in fertility treatments and birth control,
  • laws that protect women’s right to abortion and that allow gay couples to marry and adopt,
  • progressive social mores that make women comfortable choosing to be single moms or choosing not to have children at all, and
  • improved support structures for women dealing with disability and mental health concerns.

Our website includes diverse stories: an Indian woman who with her mom’s blessing defies cultural expectation and chooses not to have children; a lesbian couple who uses a donor to conceive and gives birth to a son with autism and bi-polar disorder; a single mom who fosters three children and manages to adopt two of them; a woman who froze her eggs and became a single mom by choice at 42 years old; a woman who chose to have an abortion and is certain she made the right choice. These stories are beautiful because they are real and complicated and also because they reflect progress. These stories show women choosing the lives they want to live in ways that they could not have 50 years ago.

The election of Donald Trump to the presidency demonstrates that a large part of the population would like to erase these stories and revert back to a single narrative: the heterosexual family with the woman at home taking care of the kids. In various radio interviews Trump paints a picture of his “family values.” In 2005 Trump explains to Howard Stern his approach to fathering: “I mean, I won’t do anything to take care of them. I’ll supply funds and she’ll [Melania] take care of the kids.” On the Opie and Anthony show in 2005 Trump reinforces outdated gender roles in the home when asked if he changes diapers: “There’s a lot of women out there that demand that the husband act like the wife, and you know, there’s a lot of husbands that listen to that.” Essentially, Trump managed to create a pre-feminist era world in his private life.

But, he needed to reach out to female voters after saying that he could grab their pussies without repercussion, so the Trump campaign made a stab at feminism with an advertisement featuring Ivanka, the daughter Donald would date. The first line of the ad has Ivanka declaring,”The most important job any woman can have is being a mother…” So, it’s okay for women to work, as long as they remember that their number one priority is motherhood? Also, women must be moms?

Trump’s election feels like a reprimand to us as women–“know your place,” but the most troubling aspect of this reprimand is that it didn’t just come from white men intent on maintaining their freedom and shoring up their power. The majority of white women (53%) voted for Donald Trump.

It is hard for us to believe that women could vote for Trump after we all heard him with our own ears brag about grabbing women’s pussies. We heard him bully and insult women calling them horse face, fat, ugly… read more here if you want to be further incensed. Not to mention, the small detail of at least 17 women who alleged he assaulted them! Yet, 42% of all women and 53% white women voted for Trump. Our immediate instinct has been to shut out the women we know who voted for Trump, to dismiss them, but where will that get us?

If we want to protect the progress that we’ve made and if we want women to be able to continue to write their own stories when it comes to motherhood, then progressive white women are going to need to understand and connect with white women who voted for Trump. As writers and editors, we believe an important way to achieve this is by sharing stories.

Donald Trump has not assumed the presidency yet so it’s difficult to know how the next four years will affect each of us. Nonetheless, his victory has already begun to change people’s behavior; are you one of those people? We are wondering if Trump’s election has impacted your choice to/not to have children? We want to share your stories of how a Trump presidency could affect your choices: choosing not to have kids, choosing to have an abortion, choosing to use birth control. We want to listen and hear you as you tell your stories about being a person of color, a single mom, an LGBTQ+ individual, a person with disability or mental health concerns, a person who may be affected by the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and/or an immigrant as you consider how a Trump presidency affects your thinking about having kids. Are you a woman who voted for Trump? Your story about choosing or not choosing motherhood–or about having the choice taken away–matters to us, too. Contact us; even if you’ve never thought of yourself as a writer, your story matters, and we’ll work with you to get it heard.

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