One of the ongoing topics at my mother's group is the reinventing of ourselves after having a baby. One of the moms said she thought it would be her plus a baby. It's not really like that. The baby is intrinsically part of you and affects your identity. When Mister and I became engaged, I was someone who was getting married. When Mister and I married, I was a wife, his wife, a woman who was married, but also the person I was before we met. Someone a little insecure, sometimes overconfident, quiet, too loud, silent, chatty, funny.
When I had Lentil, I realized the club I'd been in changed. I wasn't in the pregnant woman club anymore. People didn't smile at me the way they do when they see a pregnant woman. They smile at Lentil. She's the focus while I am the bystander.
The question for many of us is who are we when the baby isn't around. When you sneak off to the movies (I have not managed this though others have) and are alone in the dark, are you a mother? a wife? solo you?
Stay home, feel guilty. Work, feel guilty.
Now add work into the equation. As Westerners, especially Americans, we tend to define ourselves by our jobs. Californians often ask new acquaintances, "What do you do for a living?" When we spend 40+ hours a week physically at our job, it's difficult to separate the job from the individual. Several years ago, I stopped asking people what they did for a living. I tried to find out what they did to live, instead. Inevitably I came back to that question as it is, for many, the only way to get a picture of the individual: through the work.
I teach high school English. I used to be a technology reporter. I managed a couple of very large websites. For a while I was a manager at a night club in New York. I was a web consultant. I waited tables when I went back to get my teaching credential (and here I always told people I was in school so that they wouldn't think I was "just a waiter." Silly me.) I am a wife, a knitter, a reader, a runner, a writer, a cook, and, now, I am a mother.
What does it mean to be a mother? To mother? Guilt spreads through my group as we talk about wanting time off from the baby. This week, I went out for a wild night of knitting at a local coffee shop. I did not feel guilty for being away from Lentil. I was happy to get home.
As the other women return to work, the question becomes how does one balance the demands of career with the demands of homes. And, where is the individual I was before the baby fit? Who am I?
I'm taking a different path. Mister and I have agreed that I'll stay home at least another year. A friend who did the same used to say she was a social worker who was staying home. Now, four years later, she says she is a stay at home mom. I worry about becoming extraneous to my friends. Dull. When people look at the jobs I've had, there is a picture for each. Mothers seem to find themselves in the bucket of frumpy and boring. It is as though the stay at homes have to apologize for staying at home. I have the same question as the women returning to work have: How does the individual I was before the baby fit in? Who am I?
We effectively lost $36,000 a year and my health insurance. Mister has to absorb these losses, plus cover our mad money expenses. (I have a budget of $300 a month which covers my car insurance ($75), gas, snacks, clothes, anything I do.) We've kept the twice-monthly housekeeper. Luxury! My job is taking care of Lentil. Come over, it's a big job. But I feel a little guilty, or ashamed because I'm staying home. Maybe I shouldn't, but sometimes I do.