2.10.2009

Secrets

Just before I started back to work, Maybelle decided she didn't drink from a bottle anymore. We're working on changing her mind, but until that happens, I'm biking back from school every three hours to feed her. This is pretty inconvenient, as you might imagine, and it makes scheduling a day at work really challenging. But that's not what I want to talk about here. What I want to talk about here is the fact that I'm not telling people that this is what's going on.

I'm not telling my colleagues at the College, or even colleagues elsewhere. Today, for instance, I was emailing some Women's Studies colleagues at other schools, and I ended the message with, "Well, I'm off to meet with a candidate for the History Department." What I deliberately didn't say was that, before I met the History Department candidate, I was going to go feed Maybelle.

I'm not entirely sure why I'm being secretive about this. Of course, many of the people I interact with on a daily basis have no need to know anything about Maybelle's eating habits or anything else about her, so sharing would just be too much information. But that's not all that's going on. I think part of why I'm not talking much about this part of my life, and the challenges it poses, is that I practice projecting the image of success. I think one of the reasons I've been so successful in my career is because I present a successful face. "Everything is going great! Enrollments are booming! The WGS Program is vibrant!"

And not only does biking away from campus to feed my baby not seem to fit with this narrative of success, it doesn't seem professional. It seems like I'm less professional. Even if I get the same amount of work done as I did before I had Maybelle, I seem less profesionnally functional. At some level I fear that my experience could be used to buttress some horrible argument about why women shouldn't be hired because they'll just go and have kids and then they're no good to you in the workplace anymore.

The irony here is that I'm an advocate for changing the workplace so that the professional realm actually provides more room and support for people with families and lives. I want us to change what it means to be professional so that people don't have to feel quite so torn all the time between jobs and families. Along these lines, think what it might mean for my experience of my work life and my family life if my employer had childcare on site, so that I could stroll down the street to feed Maybelle in between classes rather than tearing uptown on my bike as fast as I possibly can.

The other irony is that I recognize that I have the opportunity here to broaden my students' perceptions of what it means to be a feminist and to provide them with a model for how a person might be passionate about their work and their kid.

But I still want to keep this part of my life under wraps.

9 comments:

Cate Bush said...

Bravo Baby. What great insights for your self and for those around you. I was moved by your honesty and willingness to delve into your projections.

hugs and love,
C

Carol McCullough said...

Alison,
You said it better than I could, but I definitely know what you are going through. Hang in there!

Cindy said...

I have absolutely nothing profound to tell you except, Bravo! Thank you for your honesty and for not fitting into my stereotypes of feminists. Your thinking is such a breath of fresh air.

Heather said...

I applaud you for making the effort. I wonder though if your struggle to make it seem easy may be misleading to others who are trying to establish the balance on their own. Working and parenting is hard.
Breastfeeding and working is hard.
I just wanted to add another perspective. Perhaps appearing as though you are some uber-person who can handle anything when truly it is a struggle may be frustrating to someone who isn't quite making it.

Rebekah said...

Heather's comment rings very true for me. I am wondering if you are being honest with yourself, and others who are important to you, if you feel you must present yourself as this "uber-person." Isn't it okay to just be who you are even if that means, for now, that you have to bike home to feed your little one? In my eyes this does not reflect badly on you as a mom or as a professional - it just means that you have a lot to juggle.

Anonymous said...

Hi! I enjoy your blog and think you already sound like such a good mom. I am a professor, too, but one perk of the job for me is how "untogether" I get to be on a daily basis. I've dated people in business who just crack up at what I wear at the house and how honest I am about any struggles or failures "the talk was terrible, I didn't know what I was after in that paper"... anyway, I wonder if my subfield is just the one where this is tolerated (we have a lot of Brits, which I think is a wonderful corrective to USA-style faux office confidence.) Anyway, I wish your department were the same as mine, so that biking home to breastfeed was just one more thing to add to the "something always goes wrong, and don't we get to admit it" list.

Amanda R. said...

Alison, I have to leave every 4 hours or so to make sure Lena (7 months) is nursed as she will not take a bottle. This is very hard for me as the interruption really breaks up my day into little chunks instead of the seamless stretch best for my working/thinking. However, I do enjoy those breaks that force me to relax--although now it is more--cram the baby on the boob, hurryhurryhurry, drive back to the office and hope that she is not starving.
I think it also says something about the artificial separation of mind/body that people try so hard ascribe to women in academia (and elsewhere), i.e. you've passed the "body" stage (after that stupid Western post-partum period) if you are back in the "mind" realm. I shy away from mentioning it because somehow I feel that breastfeeding is too messy for people to deal with. I'm not sure why that is--no one has ever made me feel it. It just seems to come with the territory. I don't think the university is immune to the general societal horror surrounding women's bodies and the (unbelievable) unfriendliness to breastfeeding mothers.

Alison said...

Amanda, how interesting that our situations are so similar right now! I'm at least lucky that I live close enough to school that I can bike rather than having to drive back and forth to feed Maybelle. I particularly enjoyed your description of the experience of nursing: "cram the baby on the boob, hurryhurryhurry, drive back to the office and hope that she is not starving." Yup. I'm a big fan of breastfeeding for lots of reasons, but these mid-workday feedings make it hard to tap into the enjoyment. Plus, everytime I leave it's hard for me.

And I hear what you're saying, Heather and Rebekah, and am thinking about a separate post addressing those comments.

Susan and Jon said...

Just because a person refrains from providing co-workers with all of the details and/or struggles of her personal life does not mean that one is necessarily hiding anything or trying to make oneself out to be an "uber person."
Rather than focusing on the individual, I think we could look at this situation that Alison describes as an example of how complicated things become when a woman's family and her work collide, or at least come into close quarters with one another. Maybe "complicated" is not the right word... perhaps "come into sharp focus" or "scrutinized" would be a better term.
As a mom who has both stayed at home (for almost 4 years) and has been working (for more than 2), I have always felt this pull back and forth between the two worlds of home and work. Maybe by refraining from providing too much information is simply a way of saying "I don't want to be on one end or the other of the this tug-of-war, I'll just hang on to the rope for now, thanks."