A Stigmatism

When my son was a little over a year old my family and friends began asking when I thought I’d have another baby. I always tried to avoid the question and often gave vague answers. "Someday," I’d say. It bothered me that people were discussing the size of my family when my husband and I had barely settled in to parenthood.

My mother was the main culprit. She loved to tell me that I shouldn’t wait too long because my kids wouldn’t be close or have anything in common. I dismissed her advice and told her, "I’m just not ready yet."

At that time in my life I wasn’t ready to bring another child into the world. I had finally caught up at work, I had managed to get our house back in order, and our parenting routine had finally been established. I couldn’t imagine unraveling the organization that had been so carefully weaved.

As the months went by and my son grew older, I began to feel that familiar tick-tock of the biological clock. I wondered if it was time to start trying for baby number two. I worried about the spacing between children and I remember someone telling me that two years was ideal, three years was okay, and four years was too many.

Every baby magazine I read gave testimonials from mothers with children a year and a half to two years apart. They believed that having children close together was best.

I thought I was missing the baby boat. Several of my friends were getting pregnant with their second, even third babies. If I had a dollar for every time one of them said, "It’s your turn!" I could afford to be a stay-at-home-mom.

The truth is, I was afraid.

The first time I got pregnant I missed several weeks of work as the result of bed rest due to pre-eclampsia. When I returned from maternity leave 10 weeks later, my job was the same, but the way I was treated by my boss and co-workers changed.

I was no longer treated like a competent Insurance Rep.; instead I was labeled as the "tired new mommy". People were friendly to my face, but behind my back words like "breeder", "mommy brain" and "breastfeeding nazi" were thrown around negatively.

I was no longer invited to office lunch dates because it was assumed I’d be pumping for an hour straight and wouldn’t be interested in eating at a nice restaurant with adults.

My boss had chosen co-workers for special projects because there was less risk the employee without children would call in sick.

My productivity goals were lowered when I returned to work because my manager believed I wouldn’t be as efficient as I was before giving birth.

It took nearly a year to prove them all wrong. I was still an excellent worker. I was still able to meet my goals and get the job done. I didn’t want to jeopardize that by having another baby.

In the end, I left that company because of the way I was treated. Promotions and advancement opportunities weren’t being offered to mothers. Moms were often penalized for having the audacity to push a baby out of their vaginas, as if we lost our intelligence during labor. Dads were slapped on the pack for "slipping one past the goalie" and given a corner office with a view.

I told myself when the timing was right I would be fortunate to have another child, but I was making excuses to avoid talking about it. I tried to convince myself I was not ready. I told everyone I had other things to tackle before getting pregnant again.

Now two years later, babies are all I can think about.

I’ve been working hard at my current job for almost a year, and I’ve become very successful. My son is three years old and it’s become a little easier to care for him. The planets have aligned! I’m confident that I’m physically and emotionally ready to bring another baby into the world.

My husband and I have been trying to conceive for a few months, but so far nothing has worked. I’m starting to wonder if a higher power is at work. Maybe we’re not supposed to have another baby yet. Maybe there are other things in store for us. Perhaps our jobs will become more demanding. Maybe we have to tackle other tasks first.
 
As disappointing as it can be to see a negative pink line on a pregnancy test, I sometimes feel relieved. I’m still afraid of damaging all that I’ve worked for in my career. I worry that my employer will change his opinion of me when I do become pregnant and have to tell him I’d be on maternity leave for 8 weeks.

In the field of Audiology we deal with the stigma associated with hearing aids. Several patients worry about the physical appearance of hearing instruments. They believe that others will think there is something wrong with them because they wear a hearing instrument to improve their hearing.

I sometimes wonder if there is a stigma associated with motherhood. I worry about the physical appearance of my "mommy tummy". I’ve witnessed the exasperated looks that childless people have given me when I mention I have a son. Nothing is worse than the eye roll I get when I say I can’t make it to "Friday Night Happy Hour" because I have to pick up my kid from daycare.

When will mothers be respected for their commitment to their career and their children? Why is it so awful to believe that a woman can be a devoted mother and a productive employee? I’ve asked myself those questions a thousand times. I realized it starts with me. If I don’t believe I’m capable of raising children and being a successful career woman, no one else will either. And perhaps once I believe it, I’ll have no trouble getting pregnant… and telling my boss the good news.