Monday, June 20, 2005

New York is for Moms

Does the editorial staff at the New Yorker have a completely objectivist opinion of New York mothers or do these articles really represent the maternal psyche of (a significant population of) New York moms?

The two times I was compelled to pick up a New York magazine were two covers that I identified with -- the first, I was very pregnant and the second I had just given birth – thinking I would gather some “urban smart” information on New Yorkers and pregnancy and New Yorker moms with careers. Not quite.

As I read each article, I felt like I went through the five stages of new motherhood psychosis -- shock, disappointment, empathy, amusement, vindication, guilt.

I think most pregnant women go through a bipolar reaction to their changing bodies. Like most pregnant women, I both marveled at and stared in horror at how my body was changing. Arto growing inside me was my body at its most beautiful, most womanly, most glorious. That is unequivocal. But nonexclusive. Non-mom Leah also wondered if her body would ever be “normal” again. I wasn’t alone in such thoughts but I also wasn’t in the most horrified lot apparently. While I bought seasick wrist bands to ward off intermittent sprints to the bathroom and endless fighting with my gag reflex…“The pressure to stay thin has some pregnant New Yorkers actually hoping for morning sickness.” And while I struggled to squeeze in a perfunctory pregnancy yoga session in between secretly eating Spam with rice… “Many of the city’s mothers-to-be are counting every carb and pushing their heart-rate monitors to the limit to stay skinny and sexy while pregnant.” Women actually diet to lose weight prior to getting pregnant so that when they gain weight while pregnant, its all a wash!

But I think the more interesting and more sensationalist article is the most recent one on the Alpha Mom. Now, I could not have seen this article at a more opportune time. Bill and I have just been talking about my own internal struggle between being an ace mom and getting back to my own career. I love working with Bill and sharing the same goals and being a team. In fact, I enjoy it exponentially more than what I did in my old job. But there is still that part of me that wants just a “me.” So, I took on a project with a biotech company when Arto was just 4 weeks old. I figured, my mom would be here and I would have time. That is the overstatement of the year. I finished the project but it was harrowing. I wanted to be everything to Arto and still be able to do my work – Bill work and project work, not to mention just household maintenance stuff. I didn’t trust anyone else with Arto so I was with him during the day and I worked as soon as he tucked in at night. That translated to no time for sleep and no time for Leah. Which further derived, in the maternal calculus, to no fun, no patience, and a breakdown of the last vestiges of the rationality that didn’t go out with the placenta.

Which brings me back to the article. I had all the baby books but I was ravenous for information on “How to Have It All.” So I took my magazine, waited for Arto to sleep and, plopped down the sofa ready for enlightenment. But instead, the sentences were retro late-90s, internet-era…“A lot of it is very intellectually thought-out and very scheduled, almost like they have a business plan for their children…where “mothers seeking excellence,” according to press releases, would be able to find “the latest, best-of-breed information.” Business plan? Best of breed? Am I raising a child or the next IBM blade server?

But then the shock gave way to some empathy, amusement, hope. “The latest model of mother is not different from Betty but better, stronger, faster. If she seems frightening, perhaps it’s because she’s so unlike our own mothers and operates so counter to both instinct and emerging wisdom. To all the best-selling scolds who say that Mother should slow down, that we expect too much of her, the new, improved Mama says, if anything, the goalposts have been set too low. With the right planning, resources, and work ethic, you can, too, be a perfect and fulfilled woman, raising a perfect and happy child.”Really? Tell me more, please!

But like all quick fixes, the “solution” is ridiculous at best – hire a night nurse when your baby is two weeks old, a nanny and a babysitter (the difference, I do not know), work 100 hours a week but leave the office door open so that Jr. can come whenever he wants too (of course), and do not sleep more than 4 hours a night so as not to lose “business productivity.”

There is no magic pill. It’s a constant negotiation with yourself. And your partner. The experience was good. Now I know (I think.)

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