Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Feminism and having babies part 3: sharing the load

When I went into this whole having a baby enterprise, the idea was that my partner and I would be truly collaborative parents, but is this really possible?

I'd have to do the pregnancy and birth bit. But after that it was intended to be a shared enterprise with both of us feeding, changing and juggling work and childcare.

It didn't work out, and now I'm on my own, so I can only speculate on husbands' roles in childrearing, and look back at those plans and say what probably wouldn't have worked.

Mother-child bonds

I knew a few things about mother-child bonds, but until you've experienced it, it's difficult to quite comprehend this.

Within a couple of days of her birth, my daughter's eyes would follow me around the room - she knew that I was the person who was supposed to look after her.

When I first met my baby I somehow recognised her cry, and could never really mistake another child's wailing for my own. Other people might learn to recognise it, but as her mother, I just know it.

It is easier for me to comfort and calm her than anyone else - when she's really tired and her little head can't cope with the world, it's me she wants to snuggle into to help her shut it all out. Since she's the world's most amazing baby, this makes me feel pretty good.

A mum's gotta do what a mum's gotta do

Breastfeeding of course puts the onus for feeding on women, but we are also programmed to respond to our babies in ways that men just are not.

If you're expressing milk, your milk usually flows better when the baby's on hand.

Friends who had decided they would take turns in getting up in the night to tend to their new arrival soon abandoned that, as mums found they woke up anyway, so they would then have to wake their partner, which seemed a bit pointless - if you're awake anyway, you may as well just deal with the baby.

What this all means is that, when it comes to childrearing, men and women aren't equal. Men can do a lot to support their partners (when they choose to stick around), but in these early days women end up doing the bulk of the work. Of course after these early stages men can do a lot more.

This is my experience - I'd be interested and delighted to hear from people who can contradict me.

Feminism and being a mother

I had envisaged that my partner and I would equally share the work of childrearing. As I'm now on my own, that's not possible. But I can see now, that even if he had stuck around, I would have ended up doing most of the work.

In feminist terms, this means that women who choose to be parents end up living very different lives to men who make this choice. It's a 'men are from Mars, women are from Venus' situation which illustrates how different we are.

We might win the fight for equality at work, but we'll never get it in family life, and that's probably a good thing.

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