• The Present Moment

    You wish you could complete a sleep cycle but embedded in your dreams is the certain knowledge that she will be awake at any moment.
    You hear her cry and pull her in to the bed hoping she’ll mimic your still body and closed eyes. You know your attempts are futile though.
    You bundle her up and try to race out of the dark house to prevent waking up her siblings – more futility.
    You push her along the sidewalk and over bridges and start chatting to her like the baby books say to do, telling her about what you are seeing.
    But even though you only met her a few months ago, you know her and are aware that, like you, companionable silence is preferable to her at this time of day.

    This is it. The present moment. And you are there.

    Simple wonders of the world that have always been there unnoticed become a part of your day.
    The half moon sets over the hillside while the dawn breaks in the east and bathes the craggy peaks in rose as it always does.
    But today you think about how different your life was even just one week ago when you watched the full moon set another beautiful and sleepless morning.
    You remember how you felt excited and nervous about something this week and now today, you look back courageous and confident and nervous and excited about a new thing next week.
    You think about how, like the moon, you experience everything from new and empty to full and bright within a month and yet nothing about it has ever changed, just your vantage point.

    You arrive at the beach and think about how last time you were here you were pregnant – a solstice and a lifetime ago.
    You park the baby with the sun rising behind her over the Pacific Ocean and pull out your phone to take a picture.
    Your phone unexpectedly powers off, maybe due to the cold morning. You are momentarily upset you couldn’t capture the moment and then you realize that you are thankful.

    Because the moment you are experiencing cannot be captured with a shitty phone photo.

    The photo couldn’t capture the smell of woodburning fires in the salty sea air or the smell of your creamy new baby that forever fills your nostrils.

    The photo couldn’t capture the feel of nutrient dense food consumed with family and made with love during this holiday that fills your belly and soothes your nerves.

    The photo couldn’t capture the sound of the ocean waves and the happy gulls.

    The feeling cannot be summarized with a hashtag.

    You have all these thoughts and worry you won’t be able to remember them because of your “mommy brain,” a term you’ve always disliked because it implies a loss of intelligence, something that you have always prized.

    But you have come to realize that all that forgetfullness provides is amplification of the present moment and the rest of the world falls away in to the background. And you’re more than OK with that.

    You realize that a lack of sleep has brought you the gift of experiencing something you normally would have snoozed right through.

    She has drifted back to sleep in her stroller and so you gun for the coffee shop, eager to record your thoughts.

    Once again, you know in your heart that when the wheels stop and you step in to the warmth, she will wake up.

    So you sit down with your cappucino and a pen and as soon as you scribble the first word, she awakens and begins to stir and fuss.

    And so you write and you jiggle her on your knee and you burn your tongue as you drink quickly, thankful for another day to experience life and exercise your creativity. Because create you did.

  • Celebrating a Mother’s Love

    In a few days, I will celebrate my first Mother’s Day. Because I became a mother 5 weeks ago, this one will be different for me. I expected motherhood would bring me feelings of deep love for my baby, but I didn’t expect to reflect so much on how much my mother must have loved me. I have come to realize this ferocious collective love for our children is what makes this world go round.

    Someone cared immensely for each and every one of us in these early days. Without that love and surrender, none of us would have survived, let alone thrived. So this week I celebrate not really what it means to be a mother, but what it means to have been someone’s infant. No matter the state of your relationship today or your perceived shortcomings, once upon a time your mother cried happy tears because of the miracle you represented.

    Pregnancy has its well-known aches and pains but when I was carrying my child, it didn’t feel like a sacrifice. It simply seemed like a long voyage to a promised land. Until I experienced it, though, I never appreciated the fact that my mother went through the very same things I did when she was pregnant with me.

    She decided she wanted me. She asked my dad about having another baby. She tried to get pregnant and spent days or weeks wondering “Am I?”. She analyzed herself physically, trying to determine if she felt different. It’s likely she had constant heartburn and nausea and uncomfortable sleepless nights and cramping and hip pain and peed at least two times every waking hour. She wondered if everything she was feeling was normal and worried about miscarriage. She wondered if I would be healthy. She wondered if I would be a boy or girl. She wondered if I would be like her or my dad or neither.

    She spent weeks wondering when labor would start. She went through childbirth. Her heart burst open when a wet baby emerged from her. I know she felt the same joy I felt when we found out our baby was a daughter. She probably felt relief at no longer being pregnant, only to then remember being a lactating mother isn’t any easier.

    She went home from the hospital, on a high from witnessing this miracle while on the brink of deliriousness from lack of sleep, sore and vulnerable and still expectant even though I had arrived. She put her ear to my mouth to make sure I was breathing many times.

    She learned how I signaled hunger. She learned how to make me stop crying. She fed me every 2-3 hours around the clock for the entire first few months of my life. She figured out how I liked to be carried. She left me for the first time for a few hours (like I have done today with my daughter, writing this from a coffee shop). Like me, she probably felt a mixture of guilt and elation at being by herself and she probably missed me intensely like I am missing my daughter right now.

    She watched my face in the middle of the night, singing silly made-up songs like I sing, and wondering when my eyes would close. She wondered if she was doing it right. She figured out how to juggle work and mothering. She wondered who I would become. And most of all, she wondered if I would always be safe. She hoped she had given me the tools to take care of myself one day.

    She never knew if I was going to sleep for 5 minutes or 5 hours and couldn’t plan anything. She wished that, more than anything, someone would come pick up the kids and give her a break so she could just chill and be alone with her thoughts for an hour or two. She wished we would just not bother her for a little bit, not to be lazy but just long enough to get some food on the table for us after a long day at work. I never knew any of this until a few weeks ago. I just always assumed it was easy for her. Loving us was easy but caring for us had its challenges.

    When a baby grows inside you, you feel like he or she is always connected to you. The umbilical cord gets cut but it feels like there is forever an invisible cord tugging on your heart. Because you sheltered this little soul, you somehow feel responsible for her fate. Nearly every person in this world has a mother that feels this way. You were that person to your mother.

    I think the best gift we can give our mothers is simply acknowledging how much they loved us. Thanks for loving me, Mom.

  • 5 Things NOT to Say to Non-Parents: To My Future Self

    There are a lot of things that people with children used to say to me before I officially began my parenthood journey by becoming pregnant and becoming a stepmother in the same year that really used to annoy me.   They annoyed not only because of their content, but because inherent in these comments was the assumption I would one day have kids.  I know for myself, who struggled with fertility issues in my past, or for those who do not or will not have kids for a medley of reasons, this assumption can be kind of upsetting.

    Chief and I have a baby arriving at the end of March and so I am writing this post as a reminder to my future self about what not to say to those who do not have kids. I hope that by recording these “pre-baby” feelings and emotions, I can help keep myself connected with how I relate to people without kids.  So, here they are…the 5 big things I want to remind myself not to say:

    1. It will change your life.  Really?  No shite, Sherlock.  When you cruise through life only worried about yourself (not in a self-indulgent way but in an independent way), doing adult things, it’s different than when you have a helpless infant or child dependent on you for survival that can’t be left alone.  It doesn’t take some magical switch to be turned on once motherhood kicks in that suddenly makes you realize that life is different when you have kids.  What really annoys me is when I try to tell my friends about something fun I’m doing – anything from a nice dinner with my husband to a spontaneous trip to Latin America to an afternoon nap.  And then I get the inevitable, “Just wait until you have kids.  You can kiss those times goodbye.”  Ya, I know…the trouble probably won’t be worth the reward, spontaneity is a lot more difficult, and the simple activity might not be possible with kids.  Each time I do one of these things now, I appreciate the simplicity of the situation and I think everyone without kids recognizes the same.  This is exactly why I’ve spent the last ten years enjoying these sorts of events.
    2. Oh, you think you’re tired now…just wait until you have kids! Yes, yes, yes, we’re all tired.  Yes, little kids don’t sleep in.  Yes, they wake up in the middle of the night.  Sometimes vomiting and pooing.  Sometimes at the same time.  They need you at all hours and keep you awake.  So I know I’ll be really, really tired but that is no reason for parents to marginalize how tired a childless person is today or this week. It’s not like up until this point I’ve been milking 9 hours of sweet surrender night after night.  I sleep an average of 6.5 hours per night and I know that if I only get 4 hours per night for a few months on end it will be exhausting but that’s the obvious.  Please just let me tell you I am tired today without one-upping it.
    3. You say you won’t [insert thing I loathe] now, but wait until you have kids.  I have heard this about everything from disposable diapers to fast food to a house in the suburbs.  OK, I relent…a house in the suburbs is a possibility someday.  The point being that I will go through some fundamental changes when I have kids (see number 1) but my values won’t change.  Living a healthy and sustainable lifestyle and keeping some order in my life are always going to be things that are really important to me.  I’m not instantly going to become a consumerist with a disposable and unhealthy lifestyle just because I have kids.  Me having kids does not mean I am going to suddenly adopt your values just because we both have kids.  I know I’ll have my days when I prepare macaroni and cheese from a box for dinner and I know there will be days when the house is a disaster because I need sleep (see #2) but I’ll still be me.  I do realize there will be some things I try that are important to me that I might deem a failure but I realize that is part of the process.  It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t even try or that I should follow society’s norm on the things that really bother me now.
    4. These are the kind of things you’ll do on weekends when you have kids.  I can’t stand how every time I go to any sort of kid-friendly function, whether it’s a birthday party or dinner at someone’s house with kids, or a festival when the parents look at me and say things like, “Remember how it used to be before we had kids?  Well, just you wait.  This is what weekends are like now that we have kids- it’s all about them.”  Obviously!  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that weekend-long benders and fine dining aren’t particularly conducive to toddlers.  These people say it like I should start preparing for my life to come to an end though.  Most people who make the leap to having kids are quite ready to mostly give up these things at this point in their life anyway.  It’s not like me being childless doesn’t allow me to see that some activities are no longer possible when spending time together as a family.  And please don’t follow it up with the “I bet this is good birth control for you.”  Kids do kid-things in kid-ways and just because I’m childless doesn’t mean I want to remain that way because sometimes they get needy or have meltdowns at places like Chuck-E-Cheese.
    5. You can’t understand the love you will have for them.  Yes, I can.  It’s very easy for me to imagine the kind of love I will feel for a child that I am raising.   What especially bothers me about this statement is when it’s used as the justification for why someone no longer cares about his or her pet. I’m not necessarily trying to say that a love for a child can be compared straight on to the love for a pet but please don’t justify your actions by patronizing me and saying it’s because I don’t understand love. I really can imagine how much I will love my children.  I know it bursts the heart wide open and it is one of the most profound emotions a person can feel but that doesn’t mean childless people are incapable of comprehending this emotion.
  • Where Do the Women Scientists Disappear To?

    “I have a great deal of work, what with the housekeeping, the children, the teaching and the laboratory, and I don’t know how I shall manage it all.” ~Dr. Marie Curie

    Obviously, Marie Curie did manage it all since she went on to become the first woman to win a Nobel Prize (in both Physics and Chemistry), but not all women seem to succeed at juggling it all.

    Women, more than ever, have the opportunity to do whatever they want career-wise.  We are being encouraged to follow math and science oriented careers and are often given great opportunities.  It seems a lot of women are taking society up on this challenge and majoring in subjects like natural science, economics, and mathematics more than ever.  I’d say at least 30% of the people I started my career with are women.  What I have lately felt compelled to explore is the reason women seem to eventually leave the career though.  Why is the top tier of my industry only about 5% women?  Is society missing out on some of the most important intellect it has ever developed for some reason that can be addressed?

    I haven’t really worked in another profession or industry, so I am curious if other women who are in technical or scientific fields tend to notice this same pattern.  I’d also be curious to know if women in more female-dominated careers have noticed anything like this?  Based on my outside observation, I would venture to say it’s not as commonplace there.  So allow me to explore the field I do know about.

    Working as a corporate scientist, I can’t help but notice when I look around during the scientific presentations that there are only about 10% of us present that are females.  When I take a closer look at the women that are present, it seems that half have not yet had children.  I’ll first explore this half without kids.

    Of those that end up leaving the profession before they have children, why did they go and where did they go?  Most of these women seem to leave this field to pursue professions or a lifestyle that somehow helps people and/or encounters less male-dominated ego posturing. This could be interpreted to suggest that women find other careers or ways of life more satisfying than science.  Or perhaps there is some undermining that goes on subconsciously in the minds of both males and females that creates a hostile work environment for women in this profession.  I wonder if there is some lack of satisfaction women encounter because of their job as a scientist and if they are able to find it elsewhere (as a teacher, stay-at-home mother, healthcare, etc.).  I don’t know the answer.

    Of the half of the women I work with that do have children, a significant proportion of them have husbands who are the primary caregiver. The women in my profession who take care of the “traditional” domestic obligations as well as the more tradtionally masculine role of being the “breadwinner” are a very small proportion.   I could interpret this to mean that being a mother and being a top scientist aren’t particularly compatible (unless someone has family or a father/partner and/or nanny to be the primary caregiver for their child).

    Many women do leave the profession around the time they start a family.  So if the timing of their exit is coincident with child-rearing I would venture to say, based on observations, that for a woman to be top-performing among her male peers and to be a happy and satisfied scientist, she feels she can not also be all the parent she wants to be.

    Does child-rearing cause a woman to suddenly lose the energy, interest, and commitment to invest the brain power in performing good science and working in a competitive environment because biology requires her attention is somewhere else?  Do repeated failings (usually accompanied with snarky comments) in this competition eventually wear down her spirit so that she finally decides to screw it all?

    Every stop toward starting a family might cause a woman to fall a little further back.   Perhaps I shouldn’t admit this publically, but I can’t tell you how many hours of work I’ve lost wondering if I was pregnant (15 of 30 days every month), being pregnant, miscarrying, and feeling shitty and hormonal.  And that’s months before real motherhood duties appear! Then mothers go on to go through the exhausting ordeal of labor.  They spend the next year physically and mentally wiped out from lack of sleep and adjusting to motherhood or a new member to the family, and possibly pumping or breasfeeding numerous times throughout the day. Their relationships with their spouses change, their relationships with their parents change, and their relationships with other women change. So I understand how commitment to work and important facts slip away; these same facts that the male counterparts always have at the ready to use as speaking points in meetings and in debates.

    Is there something that can be done about this?  Do women want something done about it or do they find happiness when they move on and stop caring? Is our system failing because women who invested so much time and passion in to a profession suddenly realize their needs as women/mothers cannot be accommodated?  Are our companies and professions missing out because women are leaving positions that could have been great ways to bring something different to a male-dominated environment just as they are getting started?

    I am not meaning to put down the hours men spend worrying about these same things or attending to starting a family.  I know a lot of men invest a lot of time and help with these things.  Biologically speaking, though, it is the woman that is responsible for the lion’s share of having a child.  And it is more often a woman whose self -esteem might suffer if her job doesn’t somehow involve helping people.

    I worry about what will happen for me professionally when I have a baby.  Did I make a mistake pursuing something that isn’t very accommodating for women who want to do both?  Is there something inherent in femaleness that make the vast majority of women want to pursue careers that are somehow related to caregiving or provide flexible hours?  Have I screwed myself?  Is that the only reason for the lack of women in my work environment?

    Sometimes I feel a frustration too that many of the highly successful men at work have someone devoted to taking care of their home and their children and, frankly, of them.  I have very seldom known a high performing man that didn’t have someone else taking care of him.  These guys are able to focus only on earning during the day while the woman takes care of the matters of the home.  He is throwing his energy in to performing well at work.  He has his role.  It makes me wish I had a stay-at-home wife!  How can I compete with this?

    So I’m confused.  I feel pride and excitement about my career because I’m doing what I’m good at.  But is it sustainable if I were to be blessed with pregnancy?  How do I reconcile my feminism with feelings that are, I hope not misogynistic, but steeped in what society has considered to be typical roles for males and females.  Are my chances of me being ultra successful and respected in my career limited if being a devoted mother with a working spouse is also in the cards?

    I don’t know the answers to these questions but I think about it a lot, mull it around and try and sample the people I know.  I would be very thankful for any comments or insights on this  – whether through life experiences in parallel but different fields or to learn about personal decisions (or forced situations) and how they did or didn’t work.  What was sacrificed, what was gained, and what might you have done differently knowing what you know now?