“It’ll be Fine.” Invalidation, Dismissal, and Lifeguards.

One of my dear friends is pregnant with her first baby. During the time of Covid-19, it’s already uncertain and strange. Baby showers, classes, and tours are all either non-existent, online, or reduced. Add the insecurity of the job market, balancing safety with not being too overly paranoid, and the weird limbo that everyone lives in currently with growing a human being inside of one’s body…it’s a pretty crazy time.

For her, it’s beginning to feel more and more overwhelming, since this first pregnancy for her means adding a sibling to her blended family. Covid-19, of course, complicates this even further, as her postpartum period will be balancing healing with a newborn with older children with school with keeping her sanity intact.

Where is her partner in all of this? Mostly working. Which is the setup that everyone (mostly) enjoys. Financially, he’s the heavyweight in that household. Which works well until one matches a demanding job with demanding hours with family. In that case, work doesn’t accommodate. And so, being the one that will be just staying home, the household and parental duties land on her.

The only advice I could offer (that I recommend to everyone, EVERYONE) was to get a postpartum doula.

“Seriously,” I gushed. “I didn’t even know about postpartum doulas until kid number 3. And even with older kids and my partner to help, they were amazing.”

My friend laughed and said she had tried explaining that to her fiancee, but he shrugged it off.

“It’ll be fine. We have my mom down the street, the girls can help, and when I’m home, I’ll help, too! It’ll be great.”

My own partner did the same thing, somewhat offended. “What? Why? I’ll be home for two weeks. And then we have the older two. And my mom would happily come over all the time. She loves to see her grandbabies. And my friends would gladly come and help.”

It’s not the same. It’s not the same. It’s not the same.

Everyone reading this blog post who is currently or will be pregnant: Hire. A. Postpartum. Doula. And if you cannot afford one, reach out anyway, because 1) payment plans and 2) sometimes there are doulas who can offer free services.

Note: Doulas are worth all the monies. And there will be a future blog post exploring why the privilege of having a doula means they deserve money for their emotional and physical labor, but also the barriers that exist for those who would benefit the most from doula work. Yes, it’s a bit complicated.

And still. A lot of people will be met by that simple refrain: “It’ll be fine.” A wave of the hand. A shrug of the shoulders. A (seemingly condescending) smile.

“It’ll be fine.”

And then a feeling will sprout beneath the ribs, a worry, a flutter, a weight. And then people will wonder, Will it be fine? Am I being too overly dramatic? Maybe I’m just being paranoid. Or Why don’t they understand? I don’t know how to express this.

It’s very reminiscent and I believe it’s very related to the sexist beliefs that women tend to be emotional. And emotions are illogical. Emotions are easy to wave away. And then add pregnancy hormones to the mix and partners are more likely to think of any worries (especially extreme ones) as a hormonal fluctuation that will dissipate with quick reassurance.

But it’s not reassurance.

It’s a dismissal of valid, legitimate worries. It’s invalidation of someone’s experience. This dismissal discourages any ability to talk it out. It is the opposite of what needs to occur. Maybe the worries could be easily addressed. But at this point, there hasn’t even been any acknowledgement.

This sexist belief permeates everything. Women are less likely to be believed at the doctor’s office. There is a reason that the root word of “hysteria” mean uterus. Long ago, the uterus was blamed for all disease. And while that may seem absurd today, the biased belief that women are more likely to be “dramatic” or “hysterical” or “emotional” means that many times, women are misdiagnosed or told, “You’re fine.

Complicate the matter further by having the audacity to be overweight, a person of color, gender nonconforming, etc…well, you get the idea.

And what does a doctor’s biases have to do with a relationship? Well, kind of everything in the sense that this belief is sexist and sexism is systemic. That is why a partner in a loving relationship is more likely to wave away fears and anxieties. Yes, pregnancy hormones can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety or depression in prenatal or postpartum time periods. However, this doesn’t mean that symptoms should be overlooked, ignored, or dismissed. These are the time periods where people are the most vulnerable and less likely to explain how and why they need help. And, thus, it is imperative that partners challenge themselves to push past the “It’ll be fine” refrain that society and our culture has conditioned them to respond with.

Postpartum doulas are amazing. And I will advocate for them forever, even if my own partner still doesn’t understand the impact that they had on me during the postpartum periods. It’s why I recommend them to friends, family, and strangers alike. And that’s why I try to be an advocate on the behalf of others. Sometimes when you’re in the midst of the worry, anxiety, or depression, it’s difficult to ask for help.

I always hate (and I have unfortunately said it myself when I didn’t know better) the suggestion, “Let me know if you need anything!” Because that places the emotional labor on the person. It’s like telling people, “Have fun swimming! Let me know if you start drowning!” Lifeguards don’t wait to hear a clear call for help, because if you’re already drowning, how can you open your mouth and yell with water pouring in?

But then how do I know when someone is struggling? Well, that is a blog post for another day, which I promise to post and link very soon.

Lifeguards are trained. As a partner, friend, or family member, it’s good to train to be a lifeguard for the important people in your own life. And remember that a lifeguard doesn’t work alone. It’s impossible to be someone’s everything.

Zoom Meetings, Not Enough Coffee, and Sexism

It’s about twenty minutes to 8 o’clock. I’ve slept about 6 hours last night, not necessarily in a row, and I’m already craving a second cup of strong coffee. I’m not sure it’ll make a dent in the fatigue I’m carrying, but it’s worth a shot.

Right now I’m working remotely. Right now my children are learning remotely. Help.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Pexels.com

The toddlers have been shuttled off to daycare by their father. (Breakfast, diapers, potty, teeth, clothes, where are her shoes??, wait is this yours, don’t forget the check for our sitter, bye, kiss, kiss, hug, bye.) My oldest two, the teen and almost teen have been forced into the shower (just barely) and are now scrunched up behind their personal school tablets, working some Google docs (I hope) until their first Zoom meeting of the morning. My own work day starts at 9 am and I’m pretty sure my own Zoom meetings cross over school Zoom meetings. Which means I’ll have to disable video and microphone periodically to run out and fix technical glitches on the kids’ computers. I’m sure my job is thrilled. But they probably don’t mind too much as I make up for lost work by starting my day earlier than ever and ending later than ever.

Article after article after article explains how difficult this juggling is and how it impacts the careers of working moms. The literature seems to go on forever about it. Ultimately, it boils down to the sexism that exists within both parenting, relationships, and the workforce.

Complain about having to juggle everything and you’re told that it is what it is. You chose to have children and now you have to deal with having children. It’s a little infuriating.

Also, even if the response of, “Well, you wanted to have children…now you have to parent…” wasn’t soaked in sexism and judgement, I don’t know anyone who imagined this scenario. Raise of hands to show who dreamed of orchestrating a bastardized version of “homeschool” via public school during a mismanaged pandemic, while also handling everything else. Yeah, me neither.

“You’re not the only one struggling.”

“Some people are worse off.”

Also just as insulting a response. Clearly we’re all struggling. Obviously everyone’s situation is different. But other people’s struggles do not diminish the very real physical, mental, and emotional impact the current state of affairs has on parents, and especially mothers. There is no Personal Problems Olympics where people compete and the winner gets to take home the prize of Guilt-free Venting.

Throughout my years as a mother who has mostly worked out of the home, I’ve been told (especially by other mothers), “I don’t know how you do it! You make it seem so easy! You’re always so calm and collected.”

It kind of feels like being complimented on how strong of a swimmer I am while barely treading water or borderline drowning.

The truth is, and I try to explain this every time, that I’m as overwhelmed as any other mother. I don’t do anything more or less than other people in my same situation. And I also don’t know where the requirement of being the perfect picture of calm and control came from. Why is that part of the Mom’s Code of Conduct? Can leadership get together and strike through that part?

Maybe we should also stop judging ourselves so harshly. Most of the time when we see a mom who seems to have it all together, we covet her grace and multi-tasking abilities. At least, that’s what it seems like to me when people compliment my mothering. And, frankly, that’s what it is like when I see women I wish I could model myself after.

And after all that, when I pay them the same compliments, they tend to respond the way I do sometimes. “Girl, I am a mess. But thank you. I’m trying.”

And that’s it in a nutshell, isn’t it? We’re all trying. We all need help. And there’s some weird unspoken rule that we’re supposed to look like we got it.

Mothering is labeled “team lift” but someone taped over it.