On being a dairy queen

From the end of March to the end of July I’ll be on maternity leave, and after that I am Going Back To Work. This wasn’t ever really a decision for me – I enjoy my job, get on with my colleagues, and am really happy with where I am in my career, and I can’t imagine giving that up. Even if I wasn’t *that* happy at work, I’m sure that after four months at home with the bundle, I’d be really looking forward to putting on nice clothes and going somewhere to have lovely conversations about things that are not related to poo or burping or rashes.

Basically, I’ve never considered being a stay-at-home mother, even for a year or two. Ever. But now suddenly I’m starting to get these little niggling doubt-y thoughts that feel a lot like … well, guilt.

Especially when I think about breast-feeding. My plan is to breast-feed for three months, and to spend the last month of my maternity leave weaning the baby so that by the time I’m back at work, she’s 100% on the bottle. This seems like an excellent plan to me: give the baby the physical advantages of breast-feeding, and myself the emotional advantages of bonding with the baby that apparently comes with breast-feeding when she’s all new and tiny, and when she’s three months old, getting her onto formula so that I can be leak-free at work and not have to sit in my car (our offices do not have a ‘milk’ room – do *any* South African offices?) every lunchtime to express milk.

But then, everyone who’s ever breast-fed tells you to keep doing it for as long as you can. Books tell you to try to do it until your baby ‘gives you up’. To these mothers and authors and advocates of Breast is Best, having your boobs leak during a meeting, or having ache-y boobs if something comes up at the office and you can’t pop out to express at your usual time, or having to spend however long it takes in your car in the 1st floor parking lot manually pumping your boobs every day, or not being able to have any caffeine in the morning or any medicine other than Panado (the restrictions from pregnancy prevail during breast-feeding, but are even *more* stringent, if you can believe that) and not being able to have a sandwich for lunch because you’ve had to cut down on wheat and dairy because they don’t agree with your baby – these are all teeny tiny sacrifices that you should make for the health of your baby, which is, of course, the most important thing. (Never mind the fact that feeling pressured to breast-feed if you don’t really want to will only make you resent the whole process, and even the baby, which would, frankly, be detrimental to your *and* her health).

My issue is this – if I were going to stay at home and be nothing but a full-time mother, these are sacrifices that I would absolutely make, because that would be my job. I also wouldn’t have to deal with office stresses or timetables or traditions, so I’d probably manage these sacrifices a lot better; and some of them would be non-existent, like the sitting-in-the-car-to-pump problem. But as it stands, I cannot reconcile my roles as income-earner and office-worker with the sole-source-of-food-for-my-baby role. I know people that manage this with relative ease, but I’m afraid I don’t think I can be one of them.

To me, it seems like the perfect example of the modern woman’s quandary – yes, here it comes, the common gripe – we’re so empowered that we can work full-time on a par with men with no one batting an eyelid, but at the same time, we have to keep fulfilling our traditional roles of mother, provider, nurturer, care-giver. To my mind, if I’m going to be bringing home the free-range, ethically-reared bacon together with my husband, then while I’m doing that, my body gets to be mine again, to be used for my own purposes (like having a cup of tea when I get to work in the morning, and wearing regular-woman lacy bras instead of feeding bras stuffed with disposable breast pads), just as his is his. Because we’ll be equal in our roles – we’ll both be full-time working parents.

So, in short, my choice to go back to work means stopping breast-feeding relatively early. My head understands this perfectly, so why do I feel so guilty admitting it?

I had a bit of a wobbly thinking about all of this over the weekend. But now I’m just going to stop worrying about it until the baby’s actually here. Whatever happens, whether it’s on the boob or on formula (with which amazing advances have been made – it might not be breast, but modern formula is a wondrous thing), I know that our baby will be loved and provided for and kept healthy, and I’m hanging onto that.

[Note: I asked Dylan if he would consider being a stay-at-home father if I made as much money as he does, and he didn’t even need to think about it before saying that he absolutely wouldn’t. And he doesn’t feel guilty about it at all, because, in not being a stay-at-home father, he’s obviously not denying his baby (what is considered to be) the best source of food for a growing baby. Dylan’s at least as much of a feminist as I am, and, until now, everything in our household has been shared equally, and this is the first thing I can think of that we can’t divide between us. Other than mowing the lawn – that’s a man’s job, obviously.]

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