Even though I’m supposed to be reading baby books, I keep finding myself attracted to reading memoirs and non-fiction explorations into the difficulties of being a woman. I suppose that part of the reason I’m having a hard time reading baby books is that they are all conjecture to me at this point. I’m not in the moment of having a baby to take care of. And though the reality is coming (10 more weeks, theoretically speaking), I’m having a hard time motivating myself to be in the moment of learning about what to do with a newborn.
Instead I’ve read about working towards becoming happier in The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin to see what I can do to become a happier person for my baby. I’ve read about the history of childbirth, in Get Me Out by Randi Hutter Epstein to understand what has shaped the decisions that I am making when I go to the hospital on the day(s) of labor and delivery. I’ve read about coming to terms with marriage in Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert to explore my notions about and deepen my appreciation of my marriage as the time of having the baby approaches, and marriage will look different.
Right now, I’m still wrestling with being unemployed, with my newly minted degree sitting in a file somewhere in one of my drawers or boxes and with the idea that my husband keeps encouraging: to get a job once the baby is four months old. I appreciate where J is coming from. He sees the agony that I face day to day with not quite knowing what to do with myself, new house settling aside. I know that other women have felt as unsettled as I do about what to do and where to go in life. I also know that there is no simple solution regarding what to do after baby.
A couple of years ago, when a friend of mine was pregnant, I read Mommy Wars: Stay-at-Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families by Leslie Morgan Steiner. Recent history is full of stories of women who thought they were sure about what they wanted to do when they had their babies and then found that they really wanted something else once the babe was in their arms. I expect the unexpected (a book I didn’t read) after the birth of my child.
With all that in mind, I’m reading Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Love, Kids & Life in a Half Changed World by Peggy Orenstein in hopes of finding some peace in the knowledge that I am not alone in my uncertainty about what to do with myself. At the time Orenstein wrote this book, she was 34 (my age) and trying to decide whether to have a child or not. For that reason she interviewed hundreds of women in their 20s, 30s and 40s about how they “navigate the opportunities and constraints of their personal and professional lives,” to help her and others make critical decisions.
So far, in my less than 60 pages of reading, I have had one major epiphany: I am like so many other women of the times. According to sociologist Anne Machung, when it comes to thinking about careers, men generally tend to think about work as a means to make money whereas women think of work in terms of finding personal satisfaction. Not only that, but women have “assumed that they would move in and out of the workforce and that family responsibilities would limit both their advancement and earning potential—but not their husbands’,” cites Orenstein. Men have a much more matter-of-fact and practical view of careers while women are factoring in all of life’s possibilities.
To be honest, I chose to teach partly because I was considering the fact that I wanted to have kids. A teaching career seemed ideal to avoid potential scheduling conflicts in the future. If I had not considered children, my life might have looked very different. My realization about needing to make a career shift came at an awkward time: interrupted by economic downturn and pregnancy.
On the other hand, my husband J chose to work in computer engineering, a line of work with high economic potential for growth, and then pursued a PhD in it to expand his horizons even further, like a man of the times.
In some ways, it is disappointing to me that I fit the bill so well. We are all products of our time in one way or another, though. The nice thing is that I know I’m not alone. I will keep reading, trying to find solace and solidarity with the women that Orenstein profiles in her book. And I know I’ll eventually get to reading about sleep, breastfeeding, and being a calm mom.