Of hopes, dreams, and women.

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Here on this election day, I find myself thinking nearly constantly of my Aunt Marie*.

Aunt Marie was a woman with flaws. Our relationship was at times wonderful, difficult, and eventually, non-existent.

Aunt Marie was staunchly feminist. She offered no apologies. She was abrasive and impenetrable. She pushed people away with her harsh, unveiled opinions. She was judgemental.

She also cared deeply. For people of all colors and backgrounds. To her, that a child should be hungry was simply unacceptable. She fought against injustices that left children without clothing, shelter, and education.

She lived her life true to herself, even when it was impolite. Even when it was offensive.

Aunt Marie supported Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primaries. I supported Barack Obama. She did not try to hide her frustration with me. To her, it was time for a woman. It seemed to me that she was voting on that one issue – gender. I was 27. One of those young people who came out in force, inspired by the man who could be our Nation’s first black President.

I proudly voted for Obama in that primary and general election and have proudly supported him since. Aunt Marie proudly voted for Hillary Clinton in that primary and when her candidate did not win, she graciously put country before person and voted her conscience – for Obama.

Aunt Marie died unexpectedly in June of 2014. She was 66.

When Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders announced their candidacy what seems like a million years ago, I was adamantly against Clinton. I did not want to continue the Clinton/Bush oligarchy we’ve seen for so long. I was inspired by Sanders and his far left policies that spoke – and still speak – to me.

The eternal election season went on and over time I learned about Hillary Clinton – and Bernie Sanders. I learned, or maybe finally allowed myself to see, that Hillary Clinton truly is the most qualified candidate we have ever seen. Finally, at 35, I read more and thought more about the suffragist movement. I watched my daughter learn and grow and mimic things she has clearly learned from me. I watched her take in the world around her.

I listened. To Donald Trump and his supporters. To Hillary Clinton and her supporters. To Bernie Sanders and his supporters. I wrestled. When my state’s caucus finally rolled around, I cast my (absentee) vote for Hillary Clinton.

And I thought of my Aunt Marie.

I can’t stop thinking of Aunt Marie. I can’t stop thinking of my little girl. I can’t stop thinking of the little girl I used to be and the older woman I will be before long.

My feminism has grown with me. It is stronger now than it was when I was 27, though thinking back I know that it has always been a part of me. My parents raised me a feminist. My Aunt Marie, from 500 miles away, raised me a feminist. I am raising my daughter a feminist.

I feel my feminism so deeply now. It is visceral.

Make no mistake – I voted for Hillary Clinton because she is a woman. Proudly. I also voted for Hillary Clinton because she stands for every single one of us. Like my Aunt Marie, she will not accept a hungry child. A child whose basic needs are not met. It matters not to her whether that child was born in the United States. She doesn’t care about the color of the child’s skin or the choices the parents did or did not make. She fights for women. She feels her feminism deeply.

She is the President we need. One who will fight for all of us. Even if we didn’t support her. She will come back stronger and more powerful every single time she is knocked down, as she has always done.

She is the kind of person I want to be. The role model I want to be for my daughter.

And in her strength, her unwavering care and concern for others, her willingness to continually fight and not to blame, she is the role model my Aunt Marie wasn’t for me.

What would Aunt Marie say today, I wonder? Would Hillary Clinton and our feminism unite us again?

Today I voted for the women who couldn’t, the children who can’t, and for all of us. And I voted for my Aunt Marie.

 

*not her real name

 

 

Another Post on Work/Life Balance

It’s the last night of spring break. Two weeks before the break my therapist strongly suggested I take the week entirely off work. Between ramped up research (with intensive data collection requiring my presence), a faculty search, increased service expectations in my third year, and…oh yeah…teaching, I haven’t taken much time for myself this semester and the stress has really been wearing on me. Usually I like having the break to catch up on writing with shorter days in the office, I decided to try taking the whole thing off.

I’m not sure it helped.

Today I spent some time weeding in the front yard while my toddler napped. My thoughts wandered to this concept of work/life balance again. Since starting my TT job I’ve prided myself on leaving work at the office – and leaving the office at a reasonable hour. I don’t go in on weekends unless I absolutely cannot avoid it. It helps that I was experiencing first trimester exhaustion when I started the job and couldn’t work at home in the evenings even if I wanted to.

Having a young child at home means I’m very focused on her in the evenings. It’s distressing to me if I miss dinner too often (let’s say, more than once a week) or if I have to miss bedtime. Some of this comes from my childhood – I remember my dad missing dinner a lot, or having dinner at 9 PM so that he would be home for it. He was always gone when I woke up in the morning and often had just arrived home when I went to bed. He didn’t make sporting events. He was department chair from my middle school years until after I started college, and worked extremely long hours during that time. When he was home, he was grouchy. That isn’t what I want for my child.

So, I don’t bring work home. I’m home by dinner (almost) all of the time. I try not to leave before she wakes up. More often than not, I do the daycare drop off and pick up. I’m home on weekends (while my husband works).

But today while I was weeding I wondered if my insistence on leaving work at work is helping – making me more efficient – or hurting. Would I feel the pressure less if I went back to the office after my toddler went to bed, or worked from home in the evenings?

Realistically, I don’t think so. First and foremost, I think my marriage would suffer. Evenings are the only time we get together, just the two of us. Second…damn I’m tired. I don’t really think the work I did at home in the evenings would be as good as what I do during the day.

Should I get up at 4:30 and work? I don’t know. Maybe.

Clearly I’m still on the steep part of the TT learning curve. Any tips for keeping work within “business hours” but being sufficiently productive and not losing your mind? I’m all ears over here.

Thoughts on Hopes and Gender Roles

The last few weeks have presented serious challenges in terms of balancing child care and work. Teaching a night class threw a monkey wrench into our fairly fine-tuned evening routine – a change made even worse by the fact that my husband’s work schedule conflicts with mine on that day, and daycare closes before he’d be able to get there. We hired a sitter – daughter of another faculty member in my department – to watch the baby from 4:30 until my husband gets home from work. It was great…until it wasn’t. The sitter is in class til 4:00, so when I have to be on campus before 3:00 (as has happened the last 3 weeks!), we don’t have child care. Each of the three weeks this has happened we’ve dealt with it in a different way. Yesterday my guilt over not seeing my baby won out and I decided that rather than scrambling for someone else to watch her, she would come to campus with me for a few hours. When the sitter got out of class, she came to my office and took the baby to the park then hung out with her in the building until I was free again.

Earlier in the day, I was venting my frustrations to friends and telling them that I’d decided to bring the baby to work. Their responses were very interesting:

My daddy’s office had that green and white stripe printer paper and highlighters. I loved those Saturdays.

My dad’s office had dry erase boards.  Then, when I got older, I did my science fair in his lab, using helium and graduated cylinders and his scale that weighs to some ridiculously exact number!

My dad’s office had powdered creamer for coffee and those sugar cubes that came in a box.  As a kid that was the height of decadence.

My dad’s office had chalk boards!

My dad’s office had classrooms, powdered soap in the bathroom, and smelled like books. My brothers and I would draw on the boards, pretend to be teachers….and use ridiculously large amounts of that soap.

But what stood out to me most about all those responses? “My dad’s office…” Now, based on the ages of these women, these anecdotes would have happened over a pretty extensive time-period – probably early-70s to mid-90s. Most of us probably did have stay at home moms (I know at least 3 of the 4 quotes provided did) but plenty of women were in the work force at that time. One response had to do with “mom’s office” – her own:

Nothing my little one loves more than coming to mommy’s office where the analysts fuss over her, she has a coffee machine that makes hot-chocolate, a super-fast computer to play her games on, and an unlimited supply of post-it notes and highlighters.

I thought about the women I was speaking with – we are professors, attorneys, insurance executives, and financial analysts. Where did we learn that these options were open to us? My parents always supported me in anything I tried and always made it clear how many opportunities I had. But the first time I remember wanting to be anything other than a stay at home mom was college. I only went to college because it was the next logical step, not because I particularly wanted to be a professional woman.

All of this made me wonder – how will my daughter look back on this? Will visiting mommy’s office help her to know she can be whatever she wants to be? My husband stays home with her 2 days per week and we divide the household work pretty evenly, most of the time. We hope this will teach her that there aren’t “mommy jobs” and “daddy jobs” – there are parent jobs.

I hope she knows she can be whomever she wants to be. Do I hope she’ll be a scientist? A little. If she wants to be a stay at home mom, and can make it work, I will be immensely proud of her. How will I teach her these things?

Is Breast Best? Does it Matter?

Before I get into this post, let me say I am pro-breastfeeding. The literature regarding health outcomes, for both mom and baby, has seemed fairly convincing, and I generally lean toward believing that our bodies know what to do to best provide for our children (assuming adequate nutrition and maternal health, that is).

Unfortunately, when I was 28 I felt I had to choose between breastfeeding and my own longevity, and I chose longevity. So while I long to nurse my daughter, I can’t. And many other women can’t either, for a variety of reasons. According to a 2013 CDC report, about 44% of infants born in 2008 were breastfed for at least 6 months and about 23% were breastfed for 12 months; that’s up from ~34% and 16%, respectively, in 2000. Conversely, that means that 56% of infants born in 2008 were not breastfed for 6 months. Aside from bilateral mastectomy, which probably does not account for all that many formula-fed babies, reasons cited for formula-feeding include difficulty with feeding (pain, latching, supply), support from medical professionals and family/peers, and a variety of other practical and medical reasons. Women of color are less likely than white women to initiate breastfeeding and less likely to continue if they do try at first (CDC report).

In general, the literature suggests that breastfeeding confers many health benefits for both mom and baby. Women who do not breastfeed tend to retain more weight post-partum and are at increased risk for chronic diseases including breast and ovarian cancer, obesity, and diabetes. For babies, formula-feeding has been shown to be one of many dietary factors associated with increased risk of obesity and has also been linked to reduced risk of infection, asthma, and improved cognitive performance, though a recent systematic review by the Cochrane collaboration supports only the link to reduced infections (not, notably, to obesity at 6.5 years).

Before I had a child I looked at this as purely an academic issue. Now it’s also an emotional issue and I’d be lying if I said I could be objective. If a paper comes out that suggests I’m giving my daughter as good of a chance, even almost as good of a chance, as breastfeeding would I have to admit it lifts me up a little.

Last week, a new study by Cynthia Colen and David Ramey came out stating that, essentially, the benefits of breastfeeding have been overstated. In a novel approach, the researchers compared not only children from different families who have been breast- and formula-fed, but also non-multiple siblings who were discordant for breastfeeding. This should theoretically control for many of the differing family factors that may also influence long-term health and cognitive outcomes. After adjusting for a number of covariates including respondent age, race, and a number of socioeconomic indicators, siblings who were discordant for breastfeeding did not differ on any of the outcome variables assessed, and the only variable that differed between families was hyperactivity. There are, of course, a number of weaknesses in this paper. Notably, though duration of breastfeeding was apparently included as a covariate in at least some of the analyses, mean duration of breastfeeding was not reported in the paper (see BabyAttachMode for a great discussion of this and other weaknesses). At the very least, dichotomous classification of feeding practices is likely to introduce appreciable error to the analyses and should be discussed in the paper. I’m disappointed that the reviewers apparently didn’t request it.

All of this brings me to the point of this post (which is not to pick apart research) and the reason for my potentially inflammatory title. Of course it matters that we provide the best start we can. But what if – what if – neither is better? What if formula-feeding is just as good as breastfeeding in terms of child health outcomes? As previously stated, approximately 56% of babies in the US aren’t breastfed for 6 months (and approximately 1/4 are never breastfed). Scientists involved with manufacturing infant formulas are trying to come up with the best formulation they can, trying to get as close as they can to breast milk. No, they’ll never be able to capture the variations in hormones and antibodies passed through breast milk – science can only do so much – but if the nutrition is good enough to give babies a really good start that is essentially the same as breastfeeding then HALLELUJAH.

We’ll never ensure that every baby born in this country, or in the world, is breastfed. But maybe we can give them just as good of a start with formula and that’s a good thing. Let’s try focusing on that for a while.