“The work of motherhood starts far before you give birth.”
Someone posted this one liner on Instagram, and somehow, that really resonated with me. Even if you put aside how grueling fertility diagnostics, treatment, and IVF are and are fortunate enough to never have to go through all that, the work of motherhood really does start far, far before you give birth. It’s on women to track their ovulation cycles, whether that’s through tracking cervical fluid, basal body temperature (BBT) every morning, and the opening of their cervix. It’s on us as women to understand when we’re about to ovulate to then alert our partners to the fact that, yes, it’s time to have sex in order to procreate! And then once you get pregnant, it’s your job to make sure you’re getting yourself good prenatal care, going to all your appointments, taking your prenatal vitamins, watching out and caring for pregnancy symptoms, watching what you eat and drink. You have to decide on your birth plan. Will you go medicated or unmedicated? You’re probably more likely than your partner to figure out who the hell is going to be your future child’s pediatrician, as well, as that needs to be decided in advance of the day you give birth. It’s never ending. And then, once you give birth, which is like a mini Olympics on its own, you will inevitably as the mother have the lion’s share of all the child-rearing responsibilities! It really is never ending labor!
I thought about all this and realized that it’s no wonder women have so much resentment against their male partners, even the ones who don’t really want to admit it. There’s always the inevitable “mom guilt” that most dads for whatever reason cannot seem to relate to. I thought about this a lot particularly because one of my friends, who recently gave birth to her second child and is now on maternity leave, was texting me nonstop yesterday, telling me how pissed off she is that her husband, who recently started a new job, still hadn’t taken off a single day of family leave since the birth of their newborn about two months ago, and was insisting that she “sleep when the baby sleeps” and has no understanding of the guilt she feels spending more time nursing her newborn versus spending time with their 3-year-old daughter.
“Why are men so stupid?!” she messaged me. “He just does not get it AT ALL. He’s sitting there, working all day at his computer and on meetings while I have to constantly feed and change diapers and basically be a human feeding machine! And then he tells me to sleep when the baby sleeps, but I can’t sleep because there’s all this shit that has to be done around the house that he can’t seem to do himself because he’s WORKING! How does he not see what is wrong?! My work is work, too — raising this new baby!!”
It was infuriating for me to read these messages from her; I just felt so bad. And then I fear that my situation could easily become that. We all know that couples tend to fight more once a huge change like a baby comes into their life, and it takes a long time to adjust and find your groove. And even if you try to delineate responsibilities ahead of the baby arriving and say who will do what, in the moment, you rarely follow your “plan.”
It’s a lot of hard work not to fall into the traditional gender roles. But that work is necessary, otherwise our kids will learn it and no progress will ever happen in future generations.