Saturday, December 23, 2006

Celebrity mothers and privacy

Supadiscomama blogged about celebrity mothers a few weeks ago, and I've been thinking about her views in terms of my own interests of public and private. Supa argues that celebrity mothers should come clean about their ability to instantaneously recover their figures after childbirth. Like Supa, I find myself a bit annoyed by women like Heidi Klum who are able to don lingerie and walk down the catwalk in front of thousands a mere few weeks after giving birth. I am fully aware that such women pay lots and lots of money to regain their figures quickly--and I can only imagine sacrifice lots of time with their newborn children to do so. While I applaud women like Patricia Heaton and Sarah Jessica Parker who have publicly explained how they were able to regain their figures, I don't think I have any right to know that. For me, it is a privacy issue--and part of the reason why I've tried to stop reading E news and watching E! I'm not claiming any sort of moral superiority here either. But I've complained about the tabloid nature of our culture enough that I feel like I need to stop contributing to it. So while I will still feel bitter about Heidi Klum's abs while I struggle to even find the time to do a single sit-up, I pledge to try to not care about her abs or any other celebrity's abs. After all, I darn sure don't want anyone looking in my bathroom and discovering what few "beauty secrets" I have.

Will they use it?

I am thrilled at the prospect of a male birth control pill, but I wonder if men will really use it. . .

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Public vs. Private

The more I blog (and admittedly, I haven't been blogging that much lately) the more C & I discuss the public nature of blogging, something he is increasingly uncomfortable with. We've discussed setting up a family blog, so that our families and friends (most of whom live far away) could get more regular updates and see pictures of S, who is changing every day. C is really uncomfortable with this idea. He dislikes the idea of anyone being able to see pictures of all of us, especially S. I'm not sure why it bothers him so much, but he is genuinely concerned about posting pictures of S on the web. For him, it blends the public and private too much, whereas I'm largely unconcerned. I do try to maintain anonymity, although several people do know my "true" identity--but these are all the people I consider to be close friends. So we will continue this debate. . .

Is anyone really surprised?

Considering the state of women's equality in the world, are we really surprised that the UN failed to elect a woman Secretary General?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Proposal Approved!

My proposal has officially been approved by all committee members! Now I just have to get everyone's signatures on the official form (a feat in itself), and I will officially be ABD. That is a load off of my mind.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Things about motherhood no one can prepare you for #3

As C, S, and I slowly establish a routine (notice I didn't say schedule!), these things aren't coming to me as quickly. My latest revelation is that no one can prepare you for how fast your child grows and changes. S is now almost 7 weeks old, and he is a completely different baby. He has gained 4-plus pounds, grown at least 3 inches, and changed so fast. He can hold his head up and is kicking his legs like crazy. He is also sleeping better, nursing more efficiently, and cooing all the time. While I'm so thrilled to get to know his emerging personality (he is both stubborn and demanding, as things must happen on his time table!), I do miss the little guy we brought home from the hospital. I am enjoying be able to put him down more often as I can get things done, but I am a little sad that he no longer feels the need to be held constantly. I'm learning that motherhood is about love, acceptance, and moving on. I don't have much time to dwell on how fast he is changing since I have to be on my toes to keep up with him.

Motherhood, Fatherhood

Mommy, Ph.D. and Supadiscomama have an interesting and insightful discussion of motherhood and fatherhood on their blogs, which I've commented on. I would like to add that I find it equally interesting and ironic that in a society where we tend to value motherhood over fatherhood (as Ms. Reads pointed out in her comment on Supadiscomama's post, people rarely ask a father how much time he is taking off after the birth of a child) we also emphasize the importance of the two-parent household. Stay at home mothers with husbands who work full-time jobs often feel like single mothers (I have a good friend who has this complaint. Her husband owns his own business and often works 70-plus hours a week.). They have a happy, healthy marriage, but she does everything at home, not by choice but by necessity. So their 2-parent household is effectively a 1-parent household much of the time. The people over at Focus on Family don't seem to address that issue. . .

As if new moms didn't have enough to worry about. . .

I found an article on mental health and new mothers that is interesting, but it certainly isn't reassuring.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Focus on Family

Sarah over at Mommy, Ph.D. has introduced me to the Focus on Family website, especially its discussion of working mothers. I'm so flabbergasted that I can't even speak, let alone write a coherent response. James Dobson (who has a Ph.D. in child psychology) writes "The issue, then, is not whether a woman should choose a career and be a mother, too. Of course she has that right, and it is nobody's business but hers and her husband's. I would simply plead that you not allow your family to get sucked into that black hole of exhaustion. However you choose to divide the responsibilities of working and family management, reserve some time and energy for yourselves -- and for each other. Your children deserve the best that you can give them, too."

I always want to throttle anyone who makes statments like this. He assumes it is a choice. We couldn't survive if only one of us worked, even if we weren't both working on advanced degrees. I know very, very few families that could. And his statement regarding fathers is antiquated and offensive. Most fathers I know, including C, work just as hard as I do to give their children the best while trying to fulfill their own needs.


The holidays are upon us, and as usual, I anticipate them with mixed emotions. I actually really enjoy the holidays. C & I have our own traditions that we like to follow, and we're both very excited to experience our first holiday season with S. That said, our families can make the holiday season much more stressful. We live across the country from our families, so every year (in July or August) the inevitable questions begin: are you coming "home" for Christmas? I've yet to figure out how to answer that question. I'm not being cryptic or sarcastic--for a change. It is simply that as a married adult who has not lived in the same city as her parents for over 8 years, I don't necessarily think of the city where I grew up as "home" anymore. I also have a hard time thinking of my parents' house as "home." I really like visiting our families, for the most part, but I have to be honest--I prefer my own space. I dont necessarily think of TX as home either, but it is where C, S, & I live together. It is our space, with our things and our habits. This year's travel is going to be doubly stressful. We haven't been "home" during Christmas for 2 years, we have S, and C's dad died in October (the day after S was born). I have so many mixed emotions about this trip that I feel compelled to write about it, and since this blog has become my journal of sorts, it seemed like the best place.

We've been married for over 6 years, and we've yet to figure out how to have a stress-free holiday with our families. One would think that since they live in the same city it would be easier. Nope, nope, nope. We are still expected to divide our time precisely, and we're constantly concerned about not hurting anyone's feelings. Our parents also conveniently forget that we both still have friends in town we'd like to see, but that becomes almost impossible with all the things planned for us. And that is what stresses me out the most. I HATE to have things planned for me; actually, I just really dislike being told I HAVE to do something. Like attending an extended family dinner with people I don't know, have nothing in common with, and who barely acknowledge my presence while I'm attending said dinner. Being with C's extended family stresses me out a great deal. I'm not who they expected C to marry, and I feel like many of them blame me for "taking" him out of the family circle. In their minds, I'm somewhat unconventional. My family, in all honesty, isn't much better. My parents take a very laid back approach, telling me "do what you need to do," which actually only works to add more stress. So it will be interesting, needless to say. I plan to use a very convenient excuse my good friend Sarah has suggested: I'm going to spend a lot of time breastfeeding S in my old bedroom to get away from all the excitement. . .

Saturday, November 25, 2006


I've been doing some reading about the FDA's recent decision to lift the ban on silicone breast implants, and I have to admit I'm conflicted about this decision. Personally, I think implants are a bit silly--I think it is important to be satisfied with one's body. That said, I don't think I have the right to tell another woman that she shouldn't get implants. So when I read FDA Approval of Dangerous Implants During Lame Duck Session Follows FDA Pattern of Favoring Money and Politics Over Science, I was somewhat conflicted. First of all, I've done some research on the science--there isn't any real scientific evidence linking silicone to any illnesses suffered by the women who experienced leaks in the past. Second, and here is where my real conflict comes in, it is a woman's choice to get implants as much as it is her choice to have an abortion, have a child, or use birth control. It seems to me that the FDA has made women aware of the potential risks, and many, many women (about 300,000 a year if I remember the stat correctly) choose to get implants, and many women prefer silicone to saline. The NOW article annoys me for the same reason that articles about the "Mommy Wars" irritate me. Many feminists (and I proudly call myself a feminist and plan to raise my son to be one as well) seem to forget that the purpose of feminism was to give women more choices, not to limit their choices or, worse, castigate them for their choices that some see as anti-feminist.

Sack Kerouack!

NOW has an electronic petition to keep Eric Kerouack, who advocates an abstinence only birth control policy, from being appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary for Populations Affairs. Check out and sign the Sack Kerouack! petition.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


Here is what I'm thankful for . . .

I am a mother

I don't mean to state the obvious, especially as this blog has become more a discussion of motherhood than academia, but I'm still processing the recent changes in my life. Motherhood sort of snuck up on me, which is odd considering that C and I planned for S for quite some time. In the grand scheme of things, it didn't take us a long time to get pregnant (7 months, but only 4 cycles), but it did take us a while to feel prepared to have a family. I have since learned that there is no way I could have been really prepared for motherhood. At least once a day, I suddenly realize that I am a mother. It is a wonderful, glorious, scary, daunting, and beautiful feeling. As intimidating as that realization is, I wouldn't change anything about our lives now. Even though S is only a month old (only! I already feel like my little boy is growing up too fast!), I feel like I've known him forever. He is definitely the best of both C and I--and I even feel that way when he keeps us up in the middle of the night, as he did last night.


Allow me to introduce you all to one of my good friends, Supadiscomama. She is also an academic mother; her son is 17 weeks old, and she's currently studying for her prelim exams. And she has some really interesting things to say.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Things about motherhood no one can prepare you for #2

Breastfeeding is messy, particularly when S hasn't nursed in a few hours. During the day, we manage to stay pretty clean, as he is eating every few hours (if not every hour), but at night, we both get soaked at least once. When he comes off the breast, he doesn't give much warning, so often, he ends up with breast milk all over his face, and I end up with it all over whatever I'm wearing. I've done more laundry and gone through more stain remover in the past week than I thought possible.

So all potential new mothers, wear old clothes to bed, buy really good breast pads (I recommend Lansinoh pads), and invest in some stain remover!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Things about motherhood no one can prepare you for . . .

My friend Supadiscomama has commented on my posts "Things no one tells you about motherhood." She pointed out that even if she had told me all of these things I likely wouldn't have understood or even believed her until S was born. I think she may be right, so I'm changing the title of these posts (and I have no idea how many more I'll write about--I think this could go on forever).

So the #1 thing about motherhood that no one can prepare you for . . . falling in love with your husband/partner all over again. C and I have a wonderful relationship. He really is everything I could ask for in a partner, although I do wish he would learn to put his shoes away! That said, he has been so great with S. Watching the two of them together, I've gotten to know a whole new side of my husband, a side I suspected existed but had no real proof of. He is a wonderful father. When C has S, I know I should be taking advantage of those precious moments to myself to get something done--even if it is just a shower! But I'd rather watch the two of them together. Watching C sing silly songs to S while he is changing a diaper, seeing C rub S's feet on his goatee, and especially watching them sleep together--these are the things that make me smile lately.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Breastfeeding icons

A friend of mine sent me a link to an article on Breastfeeding Icons. Very cool!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Things no one tells childless friends of mothers

My friend, Ms. Reads (who blogs at Arrogant Self-Reliance), has posted several comments in response to my on-going "Things no one tells you about motherhood" posts. This post is in her honor.

As a one-time childless friend to several friends with children, I know the feeling of "I have nothing to contribute" to the conversation on parenting, pregnancy, etc. quite well. A good friend of mine who had children well before I did once told me that I do have opinions and experiences with children; she encouraged me to share those views, to ask questions, and even just to listen, which as a mother of an almost 4-week old I've learned is so, so important. I've posted once about friends who now suddenly seem uninterested in me now that S has arrived. To be fair, this is probably a bit harsh on my part. They are probably just as overwhelmed at the fact that I am a mother as I am. As I posted previously, most of my friends have been wonderful, and I am so appreciative of them.

The thing no one tells childless friends of mothers is that we, the mothers, want them in our lives--we want to talk to them, to have them give us feedback about life beyond babies and motherhood, and to have them in our lives. They still matter to us.

Breastfeeding on planes

C & I will be traveling with S over the holidays, so this article (sent to me by Supadiscomama) is disturbing to me on many, many levels: Woman Kicked off plane for breastfeeding . I still have mixed emotions about nursing my own child for so long, but it is every woman's right to nurse her child for as long as she desires.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Never again. . .

I will never again think to myself: why can't that person talk about anything else except his/her child? I have to admit that I have thought that about people in the past, usually people I don't know very well who assume that I want to know the intimate details of their child's life. I will also admit that I've occasionally thought that about close friends. I now regret thinking that, and over the past few weeks, I've mentally apologized for thinking that a thousand times. I feel like I need to make a more public apology. I now understand how all consuming parenthood is--especially new parenthood. It is impossible for me to have a conversation now without talking about S. I know that at some point I will be able to do that, but right now (and I feel certain for some time to come) whenever anyone asks me how I'm doing, I automatically tell them how S is doing. If he's having a good day, I'm having a good day; if he's having a bad day, I'm having a worse one. I also now understand the need and the desire to talk to someone about him. Luckily I haven't had many days alone with him (that starts next week!), but I have had a few. I know how happy I was when C got home to have someone to talk to--even to tell him how S didn't pee on either one of us today or that I got a shower before 2. So please feel free to tell me all about your children; I'm sure I'll tell you all about mine.

Things no one tells you about motherhood #4

The fourth thing I've been thinking of is both positive and negative. The negative part: friends who don't have children are no longer interested in me. I was somewhat prepared for this as many friends without children began to withdraw during the last months of my pregnancy. That said, it is still upsetting and frustrating, especially since I have managed to maintain several close friendships with friends who do have children prior to having a child myself.

The positive part: my really close friends, those with and without children, have been wonderful. I get a phone call almost every day from someone checking on me. My friends have cooked us meals and even driven over 90 miles to pick family members up at the airport. I knew I had good friends, but I didn't know they were this wonderful. I am thankful to have all of them in my life, and I certainly hope I have been as good to them as they have been to us.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Things no one tells you about motherhood #2 & #3

Here's my second shocking discovery.

Breastfeeding can make you feel like a failure, even if you're successful at it.

To be honest, this one wasn't as shocking as some of the other things I experienced b/c I've done some reading on the politics of breastfeeding (I recommend any articles by Joan Wolf on this subject). I have seen friends struggle to breastfeed, so I knew it wouldn't be easy--at least, from an intellectual perspective. That said, I wasn't prepared for how difficult it was (and still is). Breastfeeding is an overwhelming thing. For the first three weeks, I feel like I've done nothing but breastfeed, and essentially that is all I have done. Even on the days I've managed to get out of the house to go to the grocery store or go to lunch with C, I've had to nurse in the car or in the restaurant. I've been to school twice, both times with S, and both times I spent an hour of what should have only been an hour trip nursing him in my office.

And breastfeeding has been relatively easy for me. S had some initial latch problems which were quickly remedied by a visit to the lactation consultant. But when he screams and can't be soothed by anything, including my breast, I feel like a failure. I weigh him constantly on my bathroom scale (not so reliable, I know), and I agonize over every ounce. I ask myself: did I nurse enough today? did I nurse too much? Every time he coughs or sneezes, I ask myself: did I make him sick? did my milk make him sick? Intellectually I know that yes, I fed him enough, and no, my milk has not made him sick. Emotionally, breastfeeding has rendered me a basket case more than a few times.

Ultimately, I think my expectations were too high rather than other mothers hadn't told the whole truth. Which leads me to #3: no one tells you to lower your expectations.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Things no one tells you about motherhood #1

I'm going to have to write this post in sections, so here is #1. Please keep the previous post in mind--I'm not pulling any punches on these posts, and I'm also not worried about my intrest in boundaries.

1. No one tells you how swollen your labia, vulva, and vagina are after childbirth.

Several friends told me that these areas would be painful and that ice packs were useful and felt wonderful, but I was not prepared for how that part of my body looked! I was totally and completely shocked. After 9 months of pregnancy, I expected my body to feel more like my own after I gave birth. It felt even less like mine than it did in the last few weeks of pregnancy.

Separate Spheres

In the first few weeks of motherhood, I've quickly discovered there is not such thing as separate spheres, at least not in my life. I generally consider myself a fairly private person, this blog aside. I don't share personal things with people I don't consider good friends. In short, I'm very fond of boundaries; that said, once I consider a person a good friend, I have very few boundaries. In the past few weeks, the boundaries I typically value, especially when I'm around colleagues or strangers, have largely disappeared. I've done things I never thought I would do--including almost crying in front of faculty members and breastfeeding in front of faculty members. I also almost told a faculty member whom I'm on a search committee with off. Said faculty member mentioned it was difficult for him to make it to campus for a 9:00 am meeting. FM said this as I had S strapped to my chest, while I was wearing my glasses in an attempt to hide the horrific circles under my eyes. I came close to detailing just how difficult it was for us to make it to the 9:00 am meeting. I refrained.

Privacy has taken on a whole new meaning for C & me since S's arrival. We've both discussed my breasts with people we barely know and with our respective advisors and the heads of our departments. Our friends know more about my breasts and S's bowel movements than I am sure they care to. The public and private aspects of our life have blurred--a change that was so sudden I didn't even notice it, until I found myself baring my breast in front of a faculty member yesterday. Luckily, this faculty member didn't care and even gave me some helpful nursing tips.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Chasing Perfection

I'm still planning my post on what I'm going to refer to as "The Secrets of New Motherhood," but I've been thinking a lot about something else recently--perfection. First, as a good friend recently reminded me, I know I wasn't perfect before becoming a mother, but I have always had very high expectations of myself. As many academics, I am an overachiever, and I naively assumed that I would be able to bounce back from labor and having a new baby in a relatively short amount of time. The truth is, S will be three weeks old tomorrow, and I've only been able to get out of my pjs before noon three times. My sister, who stayed with us the first few days S was home, told me I'd be lucky to get a shower before 3 some days. Well, frankly I've given up on the whole showering in the morning thing! Now, I shower before bed, and I feel brilliant for having figured that one out. Of course, by 3, I want another shower as I'm hot and sweaty from nuring all day, and usually covered in breastmilk--but that is another issue altogether.

My need to be an overachiever made for a few difficult days. I thought I could still do it all, and quite honestly, I couldn't, and I still can't. Being a mother is equally wonderful and exhausting, but motherhood and perfection are not ideas that belong in the same sentence. C and I have talked about this a lot, and we've both come to the conclusion that motherhood is still something that is seen as natural and intuitive. And as a new mother, I can honestly say that it isn't necessarily either of those things. Just because S and I share DNA doesn't mean I automatically know what to do when he cries or fusses or won't sleep. I thought it would. I felt like (and to a certain extent still feel like) I should know how to fix things when something was wrong. But what I'm slowly realizing, after a few sleepless nights, a fair amount of tears, and lots of conversations with a very hands-on husband and father, is S doesn't even know what is wrong with him most of the time. I should expect myself to automatically know either. The reality of new motherhood (and perhaps of motherhood in general) is that it is as hard as it is wonderful. I'm thankful it only took me 3 weeks to figure that one out.

Friday, November 03, 2006


As typing isn't as easy as it once was (not with S attached to the breast), I wanted to post a reminder to myself to blog about some things when I have more time--although I'm beginning to wonder when that will be. First, I want to talk about the things women don't tell other women about labor and child birth, and then I want to write about what I will call the academic/over-achieving woman's overly high expectations of herself after child birth. I'm still mulling these things over, but I hope to be able to write about them soon.

On a different note, we're doing well, despite the lack of sleep. It is amazing how quickly your brain adjusts to only 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night--with 1 or 2 much needed naps throughout the day.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Blog postponed

Our much anticipated baby made an appearance a few days ago--S was born on Oct. 20th. C & I are equally elated and exhausted, but we are very, very much in love with our little guy. Needless to say, I won't be blogging for a while, but I hope to be back at it in a few weeks.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Frustrated and Saddened

It frustrates and saddens me that C and I are able to rely on certain things simply because we are a heterosexual couple. News like that of Gerry Studds death and the federal government's refusal to pay his spouse of 2 years (who was his partner for much, much longer) death and retirement benefits frustrates and saddens me. I have no other words to describe my emotions on this issue. Why is our relationship more valid in the eyes of the government (and most of society) than that of a same-sex couple?

I'm currently teaching Frances E.W. Harper's Iola Leroy; or, Shadows Uplifted, and with this reading, I'm struck by how many of the references to racial passing, the illegalization of miscegenation, and the stigma associated with being a biracial child are so similar issues in the gay community right now. Several of my students also noticed this and correctly, I think, pointed out that as much progress as we, as Americans, seem to have made regarding discrimination, we still have a long, long way to go. Perhaps my use of the term "gay community" is part of the problem. These are American and human issues, not issues of a specific community. Will we ever be able to embrace that as truth?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Something to celebrate

90 years ago yesterday, Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the U.S. NOW has an interesting article on Sanger and the clinic. I find it interesting and troubling that we're still debating this and similar issues.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The First Gentleman?

I'm working on a conference paper on Elizabeth Keckley's Behind the Scenes; or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House (1868). I've been reading an article by Katherine Adams entitled "Freedom and Ballgowns: Elizabeth Keckley and the Work of Domesticity" for the paper, and I ran across a quotation that made me question the position of the "First Gentleman." Adams writes "The First Lady, and the home life for which she metonymically stands, enable the president perfectly to resemble (without himself being of) the ordinary citizenry. In total, the domestic spectacle of the White House provides a topological referent of those utopian values of freedom and equality invested in the head of the state." Although Adams is ostensibly writing about the presidency in the 19th century and specifically about Keckley's representation of Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln, I believe her statements are relevant to today's political situation.

If the First Lady is a symbol of normalcy for the president and a symbol of domesticity, what would the "First Gentleman" represent? If we need to see the president with a "normal" home life, does this begin to explain why we have yet to see a woman run for president? Does it also begin to explain why Hillary Rodham Clinton was so demonized while she was First Lady? Is our need to see the nuclear family represented in the White House so great that we cannot accept that the best candidate may be a woman? I would argue that we're largely unprepared to see a woman ordering military leaders to go to war. We're equally unprepared to see a man on television explaining the theme behind the White House's decorations for the 2006 holiday season (which the First Lady's do every year). We may have made progress in our individual homes, evidenced by the fact that about 10 to 15% of husbands now stay at home while their wives bring home the bacon. But it seems as though we're still following a 19th--and perhaps even 18th--century construct: the President runs the country while the First Lady is in charge of domestic responsibilities, such as redecorating the White House and planning receptions.

And what would we call the husband of the first female president, assuming she had a husband?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Favorite things

I've been feeling particularly cranky recently, so I decided to make a conscious effort to improve my mood today. C and I had breakfast at our favorite place, we spent the afternoon outside, and I've been visiting some of my favorite places in the world via the web. I found myself drawn to the Met's website this evening. Since I can't get to New York to see one of my favorite paintings, I decided this viewing it online was the next best thing. Vermeer's paintings always make me feel better.

Love Your Body Day--Oct. 18th

Make sure to celebrate yourself on "Love Your Body Day," this coming Wednesday.

Why are breasts so fascinating?

I ran across a story entitled "Court Upholds Woman's Right for Topless Protest", and I immediately thought: why are breasts so fascinating? Let me qualify that: why are women's breasts so fascinating? For my entire life, I've wondered why it is acceptable for men to wander around town topless but not for women? Why is it ok for C to take his shirt off at the beach and not for me? I don't know that I agree that going topless is a viable means of protest, but if it is legal to burn the flag as a form of protest, why can't women take their tops off?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

One more thing

Here's one more annoying thing: people (generally family or close friends) who refer to the baby as "our baby" or, even worse, "my baby." How does one respond to that? My mother-in-law constantly asks, "How is my baby doing?" To which I generally reply, "C's doing just fine, working away on his dissertation; thanks for asking." She laughs and says "No, I mean my other baby." Then I say something to the effect of "My baby is doing well." I then try to change the subject. Another good friend constantly refers to the baby as "our baby," which annoys C as much as it does me. He recently asked me if this friend (who truly is one of our best friends in the world) played some part in the conception that he didn't know about.

I understand that people are happy and excited and anticipating the birth almost as much as we are, but come on! This person hasn't shared your body for the past 9 months! You had no part in creating this life form, unless you have some power over my body I know nothing about.

Obviously, I'm getting a bit cranky. Things that ordinarily wouldn't bother me are really annoying me this week. I would really love to write a thoughtful, intellectual post on the public nature of pregnancy and the intimate relationships that people already believe they have with our child, but I just don't have it in me.

Don't ask me these annoying questions

I have 2 weeks until my due date, and I am more than ready to be done with pregnancy for a while. For the most part, I've enjoyed being pregnant, until recently. I've been having contractions regularly for over a week now, and twice they've become so regular that we've gotten all ready to go to the hospital, and then, as if our unborn child were saying "Na-na-a-boo-boo" to us, the contractions stop. What hasn't stopped, however, are the inane questions from people, generally acquaintances and relative strangers. So I've decided to make a list of questions that no pregnant woman in her 9th month of pregnancy wants to be asked.

1. Are you ready to pop yet? Um, no, I'm not ready to pop, but I am ready to give birth. And thanks so much for taking the opportunity to remind me I look like a house.
2. How are you feeling? I'm 9 months pregnant--my hands and feet are swollen, my back hurts, my hips hurt, and I now waddle; how do you think I feel?
3. Are you prepared for labor? Based on my decision to go unmedicated, I can't even acknowledge this question without having to answer a whole bunch more annoying questions.
4. Are you ready for the baby? I have no idea what the appropriate response is to this question. I know it's just meant to be conversational, but for some reason I find it very invasive. I mean, are you every fully prepared for a life-changing event?
5. Isn't this just the happiest time in your life? Well, yes and no. Having a child isn't the only thing that's going on in our lives right now, but I've generally found that people don't want to hear about dissertation dilemmas, dying fathers-in-law, mentally ill mothers, or job searches when we could be talking about the baby.
6. When are you due? Again, I know this is a simple question meant to generate conversation, but after answering it about a billion times, I'm ready to have a t-shirt printed up with my due date on it. I will, of course, wear the t-shirt 24-7 so that I no longer have to answer this question.
7. Can you do (fill in the blank)? Well, I'm pregnant, not helpless, so chances are, yes, I can do whatever needs to be done. It may take me longer and I may look awkward doing it, but I probably can get it done.
8. How are you sleeping? Again, I'm 9 months pregnant. Turning over in bed is a production, and I have to pee every 2 hours. How do you think I'm sleeping?
9. Have you had that baby yet? This particular question typically comes from family and friends who do not see me regularly. I generally try to laugh or express some humor, but I really want to say, no, damn it! I haven't had the baby yet, and because of that incredibly stupid question, you just got moved down to the bottom of the list of people to be notified when I do have the baby.

I feel quite certain I could come up many more equally annoying questions, but these top my list right now.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Finally, some news about men, childbirth, and age

Let me start off by saying that I do not see what I'm about to write about as good news by any means. It's troubling and upsetting, especially for couples seeking to have children later in life. That said, I must admit that I find it reassuring to know that the media actually publishes articles about men, childbirth, and age: "Miscarriage risk may rise with men's age." After reading countless studies discussing women's increased infertility and the increased risk of miscarriage or having a child with birth defects as they age, I am glad to know that the medical community decided to research the affects of men's age on having children. Dare I dream that at some point in the future someone will write a book or even a long article about how men need to hurry up and have babies while they are still young rather than pursuing their careers first?

Breastfeeding as a lifestyle

My good friend, Sarah, who blogs at Mommy, Ph.D., and I have had several conversations regarding the benefits of breastfeeding. Sarah has frequently argued that many of the benefits associated with breastfeeding are more than likely due at least in part to the lifestyle choices typically made by breastfeeding mothers. I happen to agree. On average breastfeeding mothers are more health and exercise conscious, more concerned about the environment, and more likely to lead healthy lifestyles. Until now, a lot of this was simply speculation on our parts. I just read an article titled "Breast-feeding won't make your baby smarter" that seems to validate our argument.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Stupid, Stupid People

As an about-to-be-nursing mother, I feel compelled to respond (albeit belatedly) to the controversy surrounding a recent issue of BabyTalk magazine. A recent cover featuring a baby nursing, raised the ire of many, mainly, it seems, women. While I haven't begun nursing and, therefore, don't know how I'll feel about nursing in public myself, I am astounded by the number of people who continue to view breastfeeding as a sexual act. What is remotely sexual about feeding your child?

I have lots of friends who have nursed their children; some of them are comfortable nursing in public, some of them aren't. But I don't care whether they nurse in public or not, and I can't believe anyone else would either. In fact, it makes me more uncomfortable when a nursing friend leaves the room or goes to the car to nurse than it does to have the friend nurse in front of me. I don't want my friends to feel they can't feed their children in my presence; I'm much more concerned with their comfort than my own. The people who describe a breast that has a nursing baby attached to it as a sexual object seem to be missing the point of breastfeeding. It isn't erotic or sensual; it's necessary. I'm not bothered by C potentially seeing the breast of a nursing mother, and he's not bothered by another man potentially seeing my breast when I'm nursing.

The editor responded to the controversy by saying that "There's a huge Puritanical streak in Americans." Do we have to blame the Puritans for everything? As a scholar of 19th-century American literature, I know how influential the Puritans were (and continue to be) on American society, but we can't hold them accountable for all of our phobias. What about the Victorians? the politicians? the people who want to cover up nude statues? What about our own idiotic phobias about the human body? I feel certain (although I have no proof to back it up) the Puritans were more concerned with killing off the Quakers and Native Americans than they were with women breastfeeding in public.

Down with Shame

I ran across an article titled "Ms. to name women who had abortions" on MSNBC. I commend these brave, audacious women for publicly acknowledging a very private decision. I think if we could eliminate some of the stigma associated with abortion while realizing that women who choose to have abortions are not the heartless, callous monsters the Pro-lifers would have us believe we could make a lot strides for women. I have yet to understand how so many pro-lifers are also against gun control, claiming they have a constitutional right to bear arms but refusing to recognize that I have a constitutional right to control my body. There is a logical fallacy in arguing that abortions takes lives but guns don't.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Women and War

As I reading through my daily news sites, I came across an interesting article in Newsweek. Titled "Top of Her Class", the article focuses on the death of Emily Perez, a West Point graduate who was deployed to Iraq shortly after graduation. She was killed last month by a roadside bomb while serving in Iraq. For the most part, this is a well written article, memorializing Perez, who seems to have been a wonderful young person, and praising the military's new willingness to accept women in combat roles.

As the daughter of a retired military man, I have always been interested in women's inclusion and participation in the military. My father and I have often debated to what extent women should be included in the military. I've always been clear on my position: women should be included as fully as men, including being drafted if the draft were ever to be reinstated. My father disagrees; he views women as important in support positions, but he sees them as a potential liability on the battlefield. Recently, I've begun to wonder why military women have been largely excluded from media coverage of the war. Aside from Jessica Lynch, General Janis Karpiniski (who was in charge of Abu Ghraib prison), and Lyndie Englund, we've heard very little about women's military roles in Iraq or Afghanistan. Then I come across this article.

On one level, the article is, as I already noted, a great tribute to a good soldier and a wonderful human being. On another level, it is also dismissive of women's roles in our society and the war. One sentence in particular bothers me: "Although in some circles the unprecedented role women are playing in combat zones is still contentious, the real surprise is how easily we've come to accept women's fighting and dying in war--and, with an overstretchedd military, how indispensable they've become." This sentence bothers me not because I question its validity; rather it bothers me because of the way the author uses the word indispensable. I don't think we've come to view women as indispensable to the war in Iraq. I think we've begun to view all life as dispensable--and by "we" I mean our government. What bothers me about this article (and the reality of the war itself) is that women are becoming indispensable to the fight because we haven't been able to control the violence. By and large, women aren't viewed as essential because they are good soldiers or because they are proving themselves in tougher roles and under impossible circumstances. To be blunt, women are needed because men continue to die. More than three years after the start of the war, we are still fighting on a daily basis, and we're fighting an enemy we can neither fully identify nor fully understand. American soldiers continue to die at the rate of 10 or more a week, and countless Iraqis have lost their lives. I'm troubled by the implication that women are achieving equality when in reality all life, regardless of sex or gender, is being viewed as expendable in the name of winning "the war on terror." I don't think that is what our foremothers had in mind when they began fighting for women's rights as early as the 18th century.

I applaud soldiers like Emily Perez, who clearly believed in what she was doing, but I question our government's willingness to sacrifice its brightest young people simply our prove a point. I am also angry at our media for implying that Perez's death is a sign of women's growing equality when it is little more than a sign that we still don't know what we're doing over there.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Mama(e) in Translation

The more I blog (and admittedly I don't blog all that much), the more I've started wondering around in the blogging world. Here is a blog of another academic mother that I particularly enjoy: Mama(e) in Translation. She reminds me that I can manage to have a baby, a relationship, and an academic career.

Proposal Complete!

I have sent a complete draft of my proposal to my advisor! Now I must wait for her comments, and then, make the changes she suggests. I hope to send it to the rest of my committee by the end of the week. I also hope that I can come up with a decent title for my dissertation during that time.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Gendered Spaces

I'm almost finished with my proposal, so I've been thinking a lot about the notion of gendered spaces, especially in my own home. Are there any gendered spaces in my home or in homes in general? I can only think of 2 in my home: the "laundry room" is completely my domain and the "shed" is totally C's domain. That said, I use the shed, and he uses the laundry room. I tend to not think of those spaces as gendered, as much as locations where gendered activities are performed. It is a simple fact of our household that I do the laundry. The shed simply contains all his tools and gadgets (most of which I use too); it is also a storage space for recycling, boxes, etc. So I hesitate to call either space specifically gendered. Do gendered spaces continue to exist in most American homes? In the mid-19th century, for example, studies were considered masculine spaces, as kitchens and parlors were deemed feminine spaces. But I'm not sure such spaces continue to exist, at least not in most households.

I do believe there are gendered public spaces: the spa, the hair salon, the automotive store, etc. But even these spaces are increasingly difficult to identify. I do not believe that our society is becoming less gendered; in fact, in light of 6 years under a conservative administration, I would argue our society is becoming more gendered. But I think the separation is more subtle, more difficult to pinpoint. And for some reason, I can't help be feel this subtle gender separation is equally, if not more dangerous than the more clearly delineated separate spheres of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Parenting through fear

On one of the message boards about pregnancy that I often go to, several of the women are in an uproar regarding Cindy Crawford decision to allow her 5-year-old daughter to pose in a "provocative" way for a children's line of swimsuits. Here is a link to the photo.

Most of the women are concerned about the number of pedophiles viewing this picture and the negative affect it will have on their children. They are also questioning Crawford's ability to parent a daughter, arguing that her modeling career has influenced her ability to make safe decisions for her daughter. I have to say I don't get the controversy. It is, in my mind, a fairly innocent picture. I will concede that the fake tattoo on her lower back is a bit odd, but beyond that, I don't see it as provocative or as a sign that Crawford is a bad parent. The child is not coquettish, flirtatious, or sexualized. When did it stop being ok for a 5-year-old girl to be topless? I remember running around topless at the beach and in my backyard until is was about 6 or so. I'd much rather have see a 5-year-old girl at the beach in a pair of shorts without a top on than see her in some of the horrifically skimpy string bikinis for girls the same age I've come across. Can the naked body, especially the naked body of a child, be presented in a way that isn't sexual? I don't see this as sexual. I do see the outcry to remove it from the internet and the backlash against Crawford as close-minded censorship. I also find it interesting that in all the posts regarding this picture that I've seen no one has mentioned the girl's father. I'm certain the modeling contract required the signatures of both parents, as such contracts typically do. Yet only Crawford is being held accountable; only her parenting skills are being questioned. Obviously, as a mother, she should have known better. She should have refused to allow the photograph to be taken; she should have "protected" her daughter. But from what? A photograph that is actually quite pretty? I find it amazing that rather than seeing the artistic merit in something (and I would argue there is some artistic merit to this photograph), we immediately jump to the conclusion that something is inappropriate, distasteful, and pornographic.

I've been thinking a lot about the fear associated with being a parent lately. I think parents, particularly mothers, are being told to fear everything from germs to premature labor to rebellious teens to pedophiles. That is a big leap, I realize, but it seems to me that there are more and more outlets encouraging us to parent according to fear. Don't do this, don't do that, do eat this, don't feed the baby that, avoid these places, if you do this then this horrific, tragic event will surely occur. I definitely believe in being prepared for the worst, but I'd much spend my time hoping for the best.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

New Motivation

Well, I now have new motivation to get my butt in gear and get my proposal finished in the next 2 weeks: I've been asked to serve as the graduate student rep on my department's search committee. My new goal is to have the proposal finished and approved by my chair by Sept. 30; I hope to have all signatures and revisions by Oct. 10. It's in writing, so I have to stick to it!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Does parenthood equal adulthood?

Based on numerous conversations I've had with my own mother recently, I am beginning to conclude that parenthood does not equal adulthood, neither my own nor my mother's. My relationship with my mother has changed in recent years; she had begun to see me as an adult, and in several instances, I've felt more like the parent than the child. Recently though my mother has made several pointed comments that lead me to conclude that since I have become pregnant she sees me more as a child than an adult. I had thought that my impending parenthood would force her to see me as an adult--not so! She has begun treating me like a teenager again, constantly questioning my decisions, voicing concern about our plans, and repeatedly questioning C's abilities. I expected all but the last. To be quite honest, my mother's love for C has always disturbed me somewhat. From the moment I introduced them, she thought he was perfect. He was the perfect boyfriend who became the son-in-law who could do no wrong. She repeatedly compared him to my sister's husband, always finding C to be exemplary in everything while expressing disgust with my brother-in-law (a bit odd, I know).

But since I've been pregnant, my mother has vocally questioned everyone of C's personality traits, from his relatively laid back style to his anal-ness about certain things. She even suggested I have someone else with me in the delivery room to ensure I wouldn't be alone when C "freaks out." Suddenly the one thing I thought she felt I did completely right--picking out the "perfect mate/son-in-law"--she is unhappy with. Her need to question my decisions and to question C has left me feeling as though I'm suddenly 14 all over again--incapable of doing anything to please her. I've been pondering the ultimately unanswerable questions: will my mother ever see me as an adult? And why does it bother me so much that she still sees me as a child? And how do I avoid treating my child in this way?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Expectations of Myself and of My Child

I am an overachiever. I was the sort of child who would cry when I did poorly on a test. In fact, my parents never felt they could punish me when I did poorly in school (usually in math classes) because I'd come home sobbing uncontrollably, convinced they no longer loved me. It goes without saying that, as an academic, I have high expectations of myself. I've been advised, by people whose opinions I value and trust, that I will need to lower my expectations of myself in the coming months; I've also been advised by a very good friend and my very smart advisor that I may be able to accomplish more than I think. I realize I have to set smaller goals for myself in the months following the birth of our little one.

All of this has me thinking about my expectations of my child. Will I be a go-with-the-flow kind of mom who lets my child go at his or her own pace? I know myself well enough to know that I am not a go-with-the-flow kind of person. I like to be informed, and like most academics, I go out of my way to keep myself informed. But I'm still not altogether sure what that will mean for me. In the past 8 months, I've read 4 books on pregnancy, 5 books on unmedicated childbirth, and 2 books on breastfeeding. I have read nothing on childrearing, except what is mentioned in these other books. I know from my niece and nephews as well as friends' children about when babies should teeth, roll over, sit up, walk, etc. I've spent enough time with children to know what sorts of discipline techniques I will and will not use.

But I don't know what I expect out of my child. I've been so focused on getting the baby here safely and on getting through my proposal, C's dissertation, multiple family dramas, nursery planning, and countless other things that I haven't really stopped to consider what I expect from the baby. I mean, I don't really expect anything at first, other than lots of sleeping, eating, and pooping. But after that? Will I be one of those mothers who enrolls her child in "Mommy and Me" immediately? Will I try to teach the baby French before s/he can speak English? Will my high expectations of myself extend to my child, and could that make me a bad mother? As I type that I think immediately no. After all, if my child comes home from school crying over the Pythagorean theorem (I never could get that in high school despite countless hours of help from my 9th grade math teacher), I will know what to do--I will calmly inform my child that I have never once had to use it, that not understanding it has not made me a bad person, and that despite my distress over it at 14 I have gone on to lead a productive life. My parents just hugged me and told me it wasn't the end of the world, when, to me, it most certainly was. But what happens if my kid is a math whiz but hates to read or hates art? What if my kid despises literature, thinks art is meaningless, has no interest in learning about the world, and grows up to be a Republican? I certainly don't expect that, but then again, my parents didn't expect me to pursue a Ph.D., join N.O.W., and vote Democrat, and C's parents definitely didn't expect him to become an Art Historian, marry a feminist, and become a raging liberal. I am suddenly realizing that I do have some fairly high expectations for our child: I expect him/her to think somewhat like C and I do.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Supermom, Superdad

In my class today, my teaching partner and I asked our class about the inequalities experienced by 19th-century American women and 21st-century American women. It was an interesting moment in my teaching career: for the first time in almost 8 years of teaching, I heard female students state that feminism has a purpose and that women are still struggling for equality, although at a much different level than in the 19th-century. I was equally thrilled and floored, since in my experience, most young women (i.e., 18-22) want nothing to do with feminism and are more than happy to believe that we've achieved equality. Several students pointed out that while women have achieved a great deal, most mothers still haven't achieved equality in parenting. As the discussion moved on to the day's reading, I continued contemplating that in the back of my mind.

When I got home later, I asked C about his feelings on equal parenting, which in all honesty is not something I have really contemplated before. We have, I believe, one of the most equal relationships I've seen, especially in terms of household chores. While I do cook more, he cleans more. In fact, I can't remember the last time I ran the vacuum cleaner or the last time I had to ask him to do it. With the pregnancy, our roles have shifted somewhat; there are things I just can't do right now, things that I typically do. We've also discussed how I won't be able to do much in the first few weeks after the baby's birth as I will be putting in 24 hours a day breastfeeding (I may be exaggerating, but I am also preparing myself for the worst-case scenario). I had no worries until we started talking, and C expressed a few worries of his own.

C has a particularly difficult academic year ahead of him; he's teaching full-time, defending his dissertation in January, and going on the job market. In the middle of all of that, we're having a baby. He is beginning to feel the stress, which I hadn't realized. He is genuinely concerned that he won't be able to be involved as much as he'd like to be and as much as he knows I'm expecting him to be (the guy, who folds my underwear and puts them away unasked, has set up some pretty high expectations). I think he is mostly concerned that he won't have enough time to bond with the baby and with us as a family. How do I assuage those fears? How do I express to my slightly anal husband that if we end up eating off of paper plates for a month that won't be the end of the world? How do I let him know that it is ok to forego office hours for the end of the semester, if doing so helps him maintain some sanity? How do I get him to understand that I don't expect every aspect of parenting to be equal? I don't expect to be Supermom--most days I'm convinced I'm going to irreparably harm our child in some way--and I don't expect him to be Superdad. I just want us to figure this out together.

Monday, September 11, 2006


I've finally rewritten the introduction to my proposal! It isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I have what I think is a solid draft. Here's hoping I can have it done by the end of the week.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

I love teaching!

I often have what I consider an ambiguous relationship with teaching. I love to teach; I love experiencing the moment when a single student suddenly understands something about writing or literature--and, on rare occasions, both. But I'm often frustrated by teaching. As a graduate student, I typically end up teaching introductory courses, which students often have to take to fulfill general education requirements. For the past two semesters I've been lucky enough to teach upper level lit classes in my area. This semester I'm team-teaching a class with my advisor, and it is going so well. Now, my advisor is currently in an administrative position, which means she doesn't have a lot of prep time, so I am doing most of the prep. We primarily communicate through email and plan classes that way; or as she so graciously informed our class today, I plan classes that way. She wants to make sure I'm getting credit for all the work I'm doing, which is really nice.

I'm really enjoying this semester because I'm working with an experienced teacher. While she isn't prepping quite like I am, she can walk into class and start talking about the day's reading without a moment's hesitation. Today she gave the class excellent definitions of passing, the tragic mulatto/a, and republican motherhood without really thinking about it. I am in awe. Part of the reason I love teaching so much is that I often feel I learn more from my students than they do from me. I am definitely learning more than I'm teaching this semester.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Just Work!

So I've decided starting tomorrow morning, bright and early, I will be taking the advice of my good friend Ms. Reads, over at Arrogant Self-Reliance and just force myself to work. After all, if she can overcome difficulties writing about The Victorian Novel just by forcing herself to work, surely I can get through this proposal by doing the same.

Trying to Work

I've been working on revising my dissertation proposal for the last month or so, and it isn't going as well as I'd like. I've completely reworked my topic and rewritten the chapter descriptions, which I think, and my advisor agrees, are quite good. To complete it, I have to revise my introduction (which has nothing to do with my actual dissertation) and write a brief literature review. By starting backwards (the chapter descriptions will be at the end), I've lost all interest in completing the other 2 sections: I want to get the rest of my committee's feedback on the chapter descriptions and start writing. I'm feeling very frustrated by the requirements of the proposal, which neither I nor my committee has any control over. I believe I have a great topic, and I want to spend the next 8 weeks researching and writing my first chapter, not revising the proposal.

As the list of things that I need to get done before the baby arrives gets longer and longer, I'm not very motivated to finish this proposal. My goal this week is to bite the bullet and just get it finished, especially since I have to write a conference paper next week. On top of my desire to actually get into the dissertation rather than work on the proposal, I'm getting increasingly uncomfortable sitting at my desk for more than an hour or so at a time. And since I can't write/type standing up, I'm having to take lots and lots of breaks just to maintain some sense of comfort. I'm beginning to wish I had magical powers and could wiggle my nose and have the proposal written precisely as I want it. . .

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Value of Message Boards

Several of my good friends and I frequent a few message boards, mostly dealing ones dealing with pregnancy and motherhood. While I was a bit skeptical of message boards when I began visiting them, I have since found them to be a great resource for information about all kinds of issues of pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood. That said, I've been contemplating message boards from an academic standpoint as of late. What I find most fascinating about message boards is the relationship that women who've never met and most likely will never meet cultivate with other women. I, for example, have frequently chatted with a much younger soon-to-be single mother who lives in another part of the world. We literally nothing in common except that our children are due the same week. Our conversations center primarily on pregnancy, but we've also discussed more personal things. I've found it really helpful to be able to talk to other women who are experiencing or have experienced what I am experiencing. I'm fascinated by two other things: the gendered nature of these message boards (almost entirely women) and the way women can be almost immediately ostracize for expressing a slightly unconventional opinion.

I think the gendered nature is easy enough to explain: these particular message boards are sponsored by a site that is designed by and for women, dealing with topics ranging from pregnancy, weight loss, motherhood, and make-overs. The ostracization of certain women is more intriguing to me. First I want to say that in most cases I've found these boards to be incredibly supportive. I also want to say that as someone who teaches writing, I am always acutely aware of my audience, so I consciously take care to ask questions or post responses in the least offensive way possible. I see the boards as a resource, not as a place for me to express my political or religious views. Not all women, however, feel that way. I'm amazed at the way some women are treated when searching for information about circumcision, adoption, genetic testing, unplanned pregnancies, and unmedicated births, for example. In these threads the boards almost always become hostile, with women, who couldn't identify one another in a police line-up but have developed "virtual" relationships none-the-less, saying the most hurtful and negative things to one another.

Does the virtual community allow our sense of what is and what isn't appropriate to say to one another to break down somewhat? Do we think that it is ok to say exactly what we think to people we have no risk of running into? I'm a big advocate of speaking one's mind, but not at the risk of hurting someone's feelings. Is the message board message (like email) so easy to post that we are less likely to consider tone and audience? What is it about the message board that enables (or perhaps empowers) us to share our opinions with no holds barred, in ways that we might not even share with our closest friends? I'm beginning to wonder if the anonymity of the message board is the answer to all of my questions. Why is it ok to express my dislike of someone who is ostensibly a perfect stranger when I must make polite small talk with perfect strangers I see every day? Even as I continue to visit my favorite board, I wonder if the advent of the message board is one more thing eroding the always tenuous barriers between what is and what isn't appropriate to say to one another.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Getting Back into the Groove

I've determined that this week will be about getting back into the groove of things. I've been out of the groove of working, reading, and writing for about 3 weeks now, give or take. I made lots of progress at the beginning of the month, and then we visited family for a week and a half. I spent last week trying to get organized to teach, filing articles, and rearranging our office/nursery in anticipation of the baby's impending arrival. I now need to get some serious work done. I'm trying to figure out how to rework the introduction to my proposal, and that isn't going so well. My biggest problem with revising is introductions; I know this about myself, but I don't necessarily know how to correct it. Despite what I tell my own students about not getting too invested in their work in its early stages, I do that very thing. I become attached to things, and revising becomes more about completely starting over than making any sort of changes to the original text. I'm hoping I can make enough sense of my committee's comments to actually revise rather than rewrite, but I have serious misgivings about that.

I am also establishing a new groove for myself. I've been thinking about my most recent entries, and I feel like I wrote about myself, motherhood, and my work as someone who was experiencing an "identity crisis." While I don't think I am experiencing an identity crisis, I am curious and even a bit nervous about how motherhood will change me. I believe most of the changes will be for the good. But I don't want to fall into the trap of viewing myself as someone who loses herself because she's become a mother--I'm familiar with that mentality, having witnessed several friends and family members go through it. I've never understood how one loses one's self, nor do I comprehend the need to "find one's self." How precisely does one lose one's self? I mean, I would have to know absolutely nothing about myself to lose myself. And if I lost myself, where would I begin looking for myself? I already have a firm grasp on who I am, and I believe that motherhood will help me become a better version of my current self.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Teaching, Writing, Memory Loss, and Motherhood

After nearly 6 weeks of freedom, I get back to teaching next week. While I'm really happy about the course I'm teaching, I'm feeling a bit nervous about trying to finish my proposal (I still need to rework the intro) and teaching full-time while 7 months pregnant. Luckily I'm team-teaching a course with my advisor, which I'm very excited about. It's a senior-level course, which we designed together. I will be teaching some of my favorite works with one of my favorite people. In terms of timing this couldn't have worked out better! She has lots of other responsibilities during the first part of the semester, so I'll be able to cover for her. And she'll be able to cover for me during the second part of the semester. But pregnancy seems to be affecting my brain. The other night I literally could not remember which way to turn the hot water knob to adjust the temperature in the shower. How ridiculous is that! And of course, I started crying because I had to call C in to help me. I wailed something to the effect of "I'm a doctoral student and I can't remember how to work the water!" I know I'm blessed with a great partner because he fixed it without laughing or saying anything. Days later, I find the episode somewhat amusing, but I'm still a bit disconcerted.

So now on top of everything else, I find myself worrying about how I'm going to manage to keep it together intellectually for the next 2 months. I have a lot I want to get done before our little one makes an appearance. When I sit down with a book or at my computer, I know find myself staring off into space wondering "Where should we hang the mobile?" Or "What should the baby wear home from the hospital?" Suddenly I realize that I'm going to be a mother. Obviously I've known that, but now as all things baby slowly seem to absorb my thoughts, I realize I AM GOING TO BE A MOM. I'm equally thrilled and wary. I wanted this for so long--we planned for over two years before we started trying. We are at the best point in our lives to date to have a child. We have a great relationship, we have supportive friends, and we are emotionally ready. I know all that. I'm not worried about what kind of mother I'll be or what kind of father C will be. I'm not worried about our life changing drastically. I am so excited to meet this brand new little person and to help him/her grow and learn. I am, however, a bit worried about what kind of person I'll be after the birth. How will I change? Will I still know me? My advisor recently said that at some point when she was pregnant (coincidentally, she was at the same point in her graduate work that I am) something in her brain clicked and she felt like she started thinking like a mom. That surprised her. She gave voice to a lot of the anxiety I am feeling now. I feel as though I've been accepted into some highly exclusive sisterhood that I don't necessarily merit belonging to and that I didn't know I was asked to join. Other moms now talk to me as though I know what they are saying. And I have to say, despite all the research I've done, I don't really know the difference between attachment parenting and regular parenting. I can't recite the differences between this or that brand of bottles. I find myself wondering when will that "something" click in my brain.

I have to confess that in true academic fashion I've never believed that motherhood was instinctual--at least not for most people. I also don't believe motherhood is the most fulfilling experience I will have in my life. I believe that I will have many fulfilling experiences and that being a mother will likely be among the most fulfilling. I also don't believe that being a mother makes me anymore of a "woman" or a better person or more understanding, empathic, sensitive, etc. I believe that I will have to work at being a good mother. But after talking to many moms, both academic and non-academic, I find myself wondering if I've over-intellectualized motherhood. Will it, in fact, come naturally? And if it does, what will that say about me? Will I still be me after it is all said and done? Or will I only be someone's mom?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Family, Space, and Privacy--or the Lack Thereof

As usual issues of space and privacy are never very far from my mind, especially after returning from a 9 day visit to our families. C and I are in an unusual position regarding our families; our parents, my brother, his brother and his family, and his sister all live in the same town, while we live about 1200 miles away. Needless to say this makes trips "home" difficult. (On a side note, I put "home" in quotations because while ostensibly that wonderful east coast city is where we both grew up and ideally where we'd like to return some day, after living away for 8 plus years, it feels less and less like "home." If I were, however, to express that feeling to our families I would have a lot of explaining to do.)

Last summer, after 5 years of marriage, we thought we solved the problem of going back and forth between families almost every day by planning a trip that was long enough for us to spend 5 consecutive days with each family. It worked surprisingly well, although it did have a few hitches. This trip we tried the same approach, but since C's dad is battling lung cancer, there were added complications. C was expected to be with his family everyday, even days we had arranged to stay with my family. In the end, I felt we didn't spend enough time with my family together--and we spent a lot of time traveling back and forth between families. So while I could vent about this, I would rather write about the lack of space and privacy that comes with a family visit.

In the typical 19th-century home, several generations lived under one roof, and each generation/family was afforded their own space, to some degree. Generations shared communal spaces such as the kitchen, dining room, and parlor--incidentally, it only now occurs to me that communal spaces are also typically seen as feminine spaces. Married daughters living with their parents had their own private spaces within their parents home, and the same was true for married sons living with their parents. Of course, my generalizations apply primarily to middle and upper-class families. I can rattle off a list of novels where this model applies--Iola Leroy, Contending Forces, and Little Women all come to mind. In The American Woman's Home (c. 1869), Catharine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe even discuss the importance of the guest quarters in the typical American home, going so far as to diagram them and to discuss precisely how far they should be from the family rooms to ensure everyone's privacy and health.

This respect or relative respect of privacy fascinates me, especially in light of my own familial circumstances. When C and I go to visit family, we are afforded no such privacy. With his family, we have to displace someone else in order to have a place to sleep, and with my family, we sleep in the office, which grants us a bit more privacy at night but not during the day. I'm not sure where I'm going with this, especially in light of sociological and architectural differences between the 19th and 21st centuries. I could just chalk it all up to the advent of the nuclear family and the suburban home, but I think there is more to it than that. I've been pondering the changes in how people view privacy for a long time, and I believe key things have happened in the last 100 years or so that have dramatically changed our perceptions of privacy. Privacy, at least in my experience, is highly valued, but not often given or respected. I have often theorized that the tabloid nature of our culture makes privacy difficult to come by, but then, that doesn't explain why privacy is no longer valued among family members. Perhaps the architectural divisions that typically exist between families does have something do to with it. Since we rarely live with our parents beyond our college years, do they feel they have a right to know things about us that previous generations would never have known? Is therapy and the need to discuss everything ad nauseum to blame? Or are our families just particularly nosy? And here's the question that has been bothering me the most: will I be like our mothers and demand to know everything about my child?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Almost home

Just a quick post to remind myself that I haven't fallen off the face of the earth--visiting family for a week and a half often makes me feel as though I have. Thankfully I will be in my own space tomorrow. Space is very important to me; I don't function well when I'm out of my own environment too long or when I can't dictate daily goings-on. That seems odd considering how much I like to travel, but then, when C and I travel, we're in charge of things. Even as an adult, I'm not in charge of things when we visit our parents. That said, I'm ready to be home so I can get back to work or at least get back to contemplating work.

Monday, August 07, 2006


My meeting went with my advisor went really, really well. She offered some constructive comments on my chapter descriptions, but overall, she was pleased with my ideas. She told me I have a very workable and original dissertation. Now I just need to finish the proposal so I can get some work done before the baby arrives. Her theory (as a once dissertating new mother) is that if I have something done before I am forced to take a baby hiatus from work that I will be able to return to work fairly quickly (as in 2 to 3 months!) since I will be able to remember what I was thinking. I agree with her, and I have to say that right now I am very past the proposal. I've already written one complete draft which no one on my committee was happy with--heck I wasn't even happy with it. I viewed as part of the process though, and it got me to my current idea.

And now my productive mood will be interrupted by a 9 day visit to see family. I am, of course, taking work with me, but I am not fooling myself. I'll be lucky to get the three books I'm taking read let alone any actual writing done. C will be much more successful when it comes to working. He can work anywhere because he has this uncanny ability to completely shut out the outside world. He forgets to eat, to drink, even to sleep when he's working; he even forgets about me occasionally, which is a topic for another post. But I am easily distracted. I may just lock myself in a room to read and tell our families that I have to get my proposal finished!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Tired, but still writing

So I've entered the phase of writing when I am so interested in what I'm doing that I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about my work. It happens rarely, I admit, and when it does happen, it is equally exciting and annoying. To be honest, I'd rather sleep and have brilliant epiphanies when I'm meant to be working. I haven't been sleeping all that well recently, so I've actually been able to work out quite a few problems with my proposal in the middle of the night. In fact, I worked out so many that I am finally able to present a complete (although rough) chapter outline, with descriptions, to my advisor later today. I'm feeling particularly proud of how much work I've gotten done this week. I'd feel prouder if my productive mood wasn't going to be interrupted by a week and a half long visit to see family. . .

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Shout out

I also want to give a shout out to a few of my good friends who are collaborating on a blog--expect odd, compelling things from these strange, beautiful men. Check out their blog, The Rhetorical Situation,

Essentialized Womanhood

I woke up this morning and miraculously had the fifth chapter of my diss figured out, so this will be a short post. The wonderful Megs (check out her blog at observed that it is most often women who openly offer their opinions on other women's bodies and pregnancy. I have to say that I agree with that. I do thing pregnancy is clearly gendered (although C is as involved as a man could be, down to experiencing pyschosomatic morning sickness and cravings) and most of the troubling comments I've received have been made by women who have children. So are we (and yep, I'm including myself in this since I have no idea how I will behave post-pregnancy) essentializing womanhood, not just as a sex but as a culture? Do women with children believe the way they experienced pregnancy, childbirth, etc. is the only way to experience it? If that is true, I find that really troubling, not only from a theoretical standpoint (hey, I am an academic!), but also from an individual standpoint.

I also feel compelled to differentiate between my ideas of public and private and the concepts as they relate to my research, but that's for another post.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Public and Private

After reading several of the comments to this post, I want to add a preface. I don't mean the following post to suggest that I resent being asked questions about my pregnancy. I typically enjoy questions and I am generally welcoming of advice--after all, I haven't done this before. That said, what I do find troublesome is the judgment that often comes after I answer a question or respond to advice.

No surprise, I've been thinking a lot about the public and the private and the intersections of the two. As a pregnant woman, I am beginning to feel like I exist in the interstitial spaces I write about. In the past 6 months, I've never been asked so many personal questions by friends, family, acquaintances, and complete strangers in my life.

Aside from my stint in the blogging world, most people know me as a fairly private person. I prefer to keep things to myself. When C & I discovered I was pregnant, we agreed only to tell our closest friends and family for at least the first trimester. By the time I was well into the 2nd trimester, I had discovered there is no casual way to tell people I ostensibly work with but rarely see that I was pregnant; in fact, quite a few people in my department still don't know I'm pregnant. I finally just decided to let it filter through the grapevine, which moves surprisingly fast in an academic setting. I was on campus for a meeting last week, and as it is summer and I'm working primarily from home, I had not been on campus in several weeks. Since I had last made regular appearances on campus, I have, well, blossomed, you could say. Several people--and not just anyone mind you, but the heads of the department--stopped and outright stared. One person, whom I respect immensely, essentially cornered me in the bathroom and asked me if I knew I looked so pregnant. Had it been anyone else, I would have been offended, but as I know this person to have an irreverent sense of humor, I laughed and answered that tends to happen at 6 months along. I digress. . .

The public nature of pregnancy has interested me since long before I got pregnant, but I'm really intrigued by it now that I am pregnant. Everyone from close friends and family to perfect strangers in the grocery store seem to think it is acceptable to offer me unsolicited advice on every topic. Now, I have to confess that I have been known to offer a fair amount of unsolicited advice myself, but I try to limit it to those I know well and to topics I know they aren't especially sensitive about. So the question I've been pondering of late and the one leaving me feeling as though all pregnant women exist in interstitality is why do people feel compelled to comment on every aspect of pregnancy? I am all for helpful advice and kind words, but I feel like the moment I became pregnant people began to believe that my brain stopped working. My mother constantly tells me not to do certain things: "Don't lift anything too heavy; make sure C does that for you!" Because I am unable to determine on my own what is too heavy for me to lift. C's mother says "Why are you planning to do it that way? This way worked for us, and all my children turned out fine." Because we are incapable of making our own decisions regarding childcare. Once a lovely woman in the grocery story adamantly reminded me not to eat unpasturized cheeses. Because I am unable to read a package of feta cheese to determine if it was made with pasturized milk. Most recently people have begun offering their advice on our decision to have an unmedicated birth. It seems like everyone I know has an opinion on this, and most of them aren't particularly supportive. In fact, some of the responses have been so unsupportive that I have decided not to talk about it with anyone--and here I go and blog about it. See, I'm constantly breaking my own division between public and private.

So what is it about being pregnant that makes a woman fair game for a certain amount of criticism and scorn, as well as a healthy dose of good wishes and happy thoughts, both from those she love and those she has never seen before in her life? Is it because, for the first ever, I'm physically displaying my personal life? I mean there's no denying I'm pregnant unless I want to try to convince people I've been eating too much ice cream, which I'm tempted to do. Now let me say I am enjoying pregnancy; I actually like the changes my body is going through, and I am reveling in the personality of this little one (heck I already know that s/he rocks out to Sarah Maclachlan and Sheryl Crow and relaxes when read Goodnight Moon.) But I'm less fond of everyone sharing their thoughts on my body and C's and my decisions about everything from childbirth to childrearing. I find myself negotiating the public realm that pregnancy seems to be with a great deal of trepidation, hesitation, and wariness. I'm no longer excited when people ask me questions about my health or my decisions because I've come to learn that most people are more than just politely interested; they see my pregnancy as a time to share their views about pregnancy in general. As someone who is usually all about exchanging ideas and learning from others, I'm beginning to wish everyone would keep their views about my body to themselves.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

3 pages and counting!

I finally forced myself to sit down today and just write. Much to my surprise I wrote 3 pages (handwritten--I'm still old school when it comes to first drafts) in about an hour. I am now well on my way to having my second chapter mapped out. With any luck I will actually have something to show my advisor when we meet on Friday. After a long summer of writer's block, I am finally making progress!

Monday, July 31, 2006

Naming continued. . .

My name on the shower invitations is listed as MB rather than MGB. I am finding the whole thing rather amusing, but C is very, very irritated. . .

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Hyphenation and other naming issues

I am a hyphenator. Let me just put that out there. I know there are lots of mixed feelings about "hyphenating," especially in the academic world, but when I married C (my husband) I chose to hyphenate my last name for a variety of reasons. I primarily chose to hyphenate b/c at that time I thought any children we'd have would just take C's last name--I've since changed my mind about that and we're STILL trying to decide what our child's last name will be. My reasoning for this was that my mom (who divorced my biological father and married my dad, taking his last name) had a different name from me the entire time I was growing up. Despite being a feminist and having a strong desire to keep my own name, I remembered what it was like to constantly have to explain to teachers, friends' parents, etc. Why my parents had a different name than I did. Despite being an educator, I don't think it is a child's responsibility to educate the world as to why s/he might have a different name from his/her mother or father. I reasoned that if I hyphenated, keeping my own name and adding my husband's name to it, my child could avoid some of this confusion. I was and still am very happy with my decision to hyphenate.

But my decision to hyphenate offended C's family from the beginning. His mother even went so far as to ask me if I thought I was too good to take his name. I ignored most of it, letting C field the most offensive and irritating inquiries. Now, my mil and I are very different (obviously, right?). She is very traditional and very Southern, so I resigned myself to receiving mail from her addressed to "Mrs. C-- B---" for the rest of my life. After all, if it makes her happy, what do I care? But about 2 years ago, I received a gift from her; it was a huge canvas purse monogramed with my initials. After I got over the shock of its size (HUGE) and feigning how much I loved it (we are VERY different), I noticed that she'd had it monogramed in my initials--MGB--recognizing for the first time that I'd hyphenated. I was ecstatic and even carried the bag a few times to express my happiness at her recognition of my name.

Fast forward 2 years to our pregnancy. All recognition of my name by C's family is gone. C received a phone call yesterday from his sister; she was at a store trying to access our baby registry (she is very kindly throwing us a shower in a few weeks). She was frantic; she couldn't find the registry. Had something happened to it, she asked? C calmly asked what name she was searching under; she said yours. He said that we had been told that at this particular store you had to search under the primary registrant, and we had listed me as the primary. He reminded her to look under my full name. She did so and quickly found it without incident. She then informed him that very few of the people invited to our shower would know that I had hyphenated and most wouldn't think to look under my name; they were after all his family and friends. She then asked that we change it to which he very smartly responded "No," explaining that was my name and since we'd been married for 6 years most people should know my last name.

So now, after thinking my in-laws were comfortable with finally comfortable with my decision, I am left feeling alienated again and reminded that they still view me as somewhat of an oddity. And I will be reminded of this fact at the shower (which we're traveling 1500 miles to attend) when every gift I open is addressed to MB rather than MGB or even just plain old M. Of course all of this brought our inability to reach an agreement on the baby's last name to the center again!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Day 2

As I sit here still in my pajamas at 1:45 in the afternoon (convincing myself, as I often do, that I am more productive in comfortable clothes), I contemplate the nature of procrastination. So this week has been better than others. I've finished 2 books, including 1 today (see, staying in the pjs works), but I still haven't done any real work revising my dissertation proposal. I know why--I am completely intimidated by my topic, which, if I can praise myself for a moment, is quite good.

As I wrote yesterday (sorry, can't bring myself to use any "blog" terminology), my dissertation deals with the separation of spheres and lack thereof in 19th-century American women's lit. For decades, or I suppose I could say centuries since the notion of separate spheres originated in the late-18th century, scholars and authors alike have argued that women were relegated to the private sphere. But in the 1960s and 1970s scholars began reevaluating thier opinions, as they were wont to do in those decades. Since then the notion of separate spheres has been basically thrown out the window, and rightfully so as the very 19th-century women who advocated the separation of spheres violated that separation by writing, publishing, and lecturing. My dissertation deals specifically with the division of space and the notion that some spaces were public and others were private. Despite the fact that the separation of spheres has been proven to be less pervasive than originally thought, the actual separation of physical spaces still holds true in many instances. I am looking specifically at what I call interstitial spaces, spaces which are neither wholly public nor wholly private but somewhere in between. I am interested in how women writers' manipulate these spaces both in their fictional works and in the narratives. It seems to me that women writers use the spaces to argue that women so want to transgress the spheres and rolles that have been enforced upon them. In most instances, I see these spaces as positive, but in some cases the spaces are negative. I am in the process of sketching out chapters and trying to determine how much I want to discuss actual architecture, i.e. porches, stages, gardens, public parks, attics, etc.

My procrastination stems from my inability to articulate in a paragraph or less what I want to write on, but since I seem to have done just that, I think I'll make better use of my time and actually go write something to show my advisor. . .

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

My first post

So most of my friends seem to have started a blog, and since I'm technologically inept, I thought I'd embrace technology for a change and give this thing a try. My primary reason for starting this is a recurring need to journal. While the public nature of a blog does bother me a bit, I also think it will be easier to journal at my computer.

The title of my blog comes straight out my dissertation research. Much of the scholarship on 19th-century American women's writing deals with the notion of separate spheres--public for men, private for women. The scholarship of the past 20 years or so has been focused on the idea that these spheres aren't as separate as scholars once thought. In my dissertation, I am focusing specifically on the separation of spaces, architectural and otherwise, arguing that women often manipulated spaces in order to traverse the divide between public and private spheres. As an expectant mother, I'm interested in the divide of public and private in my own life. I anticipate that I won't be able to keep the "spheres" separate, and I don't know that I want to keep them separate.

So we'll see where this blog goes, where my research goes, and where my life goes.