The year I got pregnant began with a lot of crying -- none of which was related to the pregnancy itself. I had always considered myself a strong, confident and independent woman and suddenly, for reasons primarily precipitated by a juncture in my career, I had to admit that I often felt insecure, anxious and intimidated. I was scared to make decisions I knew were healthier for me because they would cause conflict. On paper, the possibility of conflict didn't seem to merit the turmoil it caused me, but I was paralyzed nonetheless. I cried about all of this and doing so annoyed me because I hate to cry. I don't like doing it in public or in private. It's messy and uncontrollable.
All of this threw my self-concept into crisis; had I been deluding myself? Was I not the confident person I thought I was? I worried, obsessed, analyzed and occasionally drove to a gravesite so I could cry in public. Of course, realizing that I apparently needed a socially sanctioned location in which to cry seemed sad and pathetically repressed to me and made me cry even harder.
As my belly grew and my professional life began to roll down the other side of crisis, I slowly admitted many things to myself. One of which is that I am a crier. I'd never allowed for this possibility before because I'd always equated crying with shmoopy sentimentality. I'll defend to the death other people's right to a good cry, but I'd told myself and others that I was an analyst, certainly not a crier. The truth, however, is that I routinely cry my way through good songs. I can't deliver a heartfelt sentiment without crying. I can hardly write about this epoch of my life without crying my way through the memory of it. I'm a crier. There. I said it.
The other, bigger realization I allowed myself, was that I am complicated enough to be both confident and insecure -- sometimes at the same time. I am a bad-ass analyst with a penchant for crying. Growing life within me was a slow, organic process and I couldn't help but see the correlation between pregnancy and the messy, sometimes nauseating, often uncomfortable and irritatingly slow process of self-development. How uncomfortable yet ultimately productive it all is.
When I got my 20-week ultrasound and learned that my child was a girl, my first reaction was…to cry. I hadn't been hoping for a boy and I wasn't unhappy that she was a girl; I was just overwhelmed at what would surely be my job as her parent. Girls, it seemed to me and my hormonal self, were much harder to raise than boys. I knew how hard it was; I was still in the throes of navigating the process of living fully and happily within my womanly skin and I was thirty-two!
My husband and I started trying to think of a "strong" girl name as the petal pink baby gifts began to pour in from friends, family and people I hardly knew. Despite the fact that I'd been an anti-pink, neutral-tone person for a long time I decided to make an effort to make different choices and celebrated my personal discoveries and the life of my tiny girl by buying a pair of pink earrings and journal with pink in the cover. Most of the pages of that journal are filled with my fears and the conflicted sense that I -- the mother-to-be -- didn't feel as I "ought" about my pregnancy.
It's been nearly three years since then and I still really don't know what I'm doing, but I think I can recognize complicated courage in action. This is why, when I watched the Dixie Chicks newly released documentary "Shut up and sing," my first and strongest reaction was "Fuck yeah." Whatever may be said of their music or their political views, this is a movie for women raising girls…or at least it's a film for me raising my girl.
The film chronicles the Dixie Chicks' lives from the moment of the controversial comment that lead singer Natalie Maines made about President George Bush, to their response to the backlash and through the development of what would become their multiple Grammy-winning album Taking the Long Road. What struck me most was that when Ms. Maines made her comment about the President, she didn't know how things would turn out; she simply spoke her mind and stuck to her guns (anti-Iraq-war as her "guns" were at the time).
When airtime of their songs dropped, radio stations boycotted them and the death threat came in, they had no idea that the President's approval ratings would also eventually drop, the U.S. would fail to find the weapons of mass destruction and public support for the war would falter. They didn't know any of this, not before she made her hapless comment, not during the fallout afterward. Still, they didn't waver -- not because they knew it would eventually pay off in a bunch of Grammies and certainly not because they weren't scared. They were determined AND scared and it's a beautiful thing to behold complicated strength like that. So as I watched, I cheered, I cried and I admired the "Chicks" because it's become my emerging goal to exemplify that complex blend of strength and honesty -- power of conviction and truth about my fears or pain. I want to be that complicated woman for myself and for my daughter.
It's this conviction that now has me diverting conversations so I can make indignant speeches. Just the other day, someone with whom I was eating dinner referred to another person as being a "pussy." I knew what he meant. I also knew he didn't intend his comment to be a slam on womanhood. Still, after observing men squirm at the mere suggestion of being kicked (or even flicked) in the groin, I had to point out that anyone who's ever participated in a birth must surely know that there is nothing wimpy about the pussy. It bleeds, it swells, it tears, sometimes it demands to know whose stupid idea childbirth was in the first place, but it does not, cannot, let go until it has done what it must. Pussies don't run screaming at the suggestion of hardship. They don't pretend that the pain isn't painful and they don't back down.
I still don't have a firm game-plan for raising my daughter. I want her childhood and its conditioning to be enough to get her through the rest of her life with authentic -- sometimes scared courage. Every night I give her the best blessing I can think of: "You are strong. And you are brave. Your mama loves you and your daddy loves you. And I'm so glad I got to be your mama for one more day." I tell her that "strong" is good, but "brave" is better. I encourage her to cry when she needs to. I want her to someday have the ovaries (as a man is said to have the "balls") to take that deep breath and stand up and speak her truth when others would be more comfortable if she sat and smiled.
For now, stories like that of the Dixie Chicks will become part of our family oral tradition. I will continue to look for solid role models. However, given that parenting seems to defy analysis, I still feel like my efforts will be patched together, well-intended and probably disjointed. I'm certain I'll cry my way through it -- because I'm scared, because I'm touched and because I'm so goddamn proud. It's hard to mother girls. No harder, perhaps than raising boys, but hard. As girls, as women, we have the social opportunity to be strong and the personal responsibility to be true, true with our thoughts, true with our fears. I hope to God my girl will be a complicated woman.
MMO : june 2007