So recently, I got a new gig as a PAID blogger. And no, I won’t go telling you what I make or who I work for or any of that stuff, because none of those things matter. It’s an opportunity that just sort of fell in my lap (through the wonders of Facebook, no less), and I’m so happy to have it. When we decided that the best thing for our family was for me to leave work and stay home with our kids, I had always hoped that maybe something like this would pop up. I didn’t expect to bring home massive amounts of bacon blogging from home a couple times a week – it was more about staying engaged in something outside the home, something that didn’t have to do with babies and pregnancy and all that. So this new opportunity is wonderful for me and is exactly the kind of thing I was looking for.
My first assignment, as luck would have it, was to compose a blog article of sorts that addressed the topic of breastfeeding and the workplace. Now here was a putt that even I could sink – a topic that really resonated with me, maybe because it was at the forefront of my mind and my life just recently.
Montana State University researchers recently conducted a study that found that both men and women admitted to perceiving breastfeeding mothers as dumber and less competent. These results would probably be surprising to a lot of people (as even one of the researchers noted), since breastfeeding is repeatedly shown to have a variety of health benefits for both mom and baby and uh…well, hell, it’s also free. I mean, not to hate on formula, but that stuff is expensive. Free vs. expensive…oh geez, I can’t decide. Hmm. I should add that the subjects in the study were all college students – who are known for being some of the most tolerant folks out there, but also for being some of the stupidest (and I can say that, because I was one of ’em). So there ya have it.
I came across this study while researching my article, and though I felt like the subjects interviewed for the study were so far beyond brain dead that they didn’t even deserve to be mentioned in my article, I somehow still found myself angered, maybe even hurt by the findings of this study. What really pissed me off was that in the study, a jogger was shown as being perceived as most intelligent and capable, while the breastfeeding mom was perceived as least intelligent. Um…I’m a RUNNER and I BREASTFEED. I wonder how many peoples’ pathetically limited world views actually slice the pie this way. It frightens me. But it sure as hell won’t stop me from nursing every one of my children.
It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago, but it has been over seven months since my last day at my former workplace. And despite the insinuation by some former cohorts that I might feel different about my decision to leave one day (when pregnancy hormones had flushed out of my system and I was once again “competent to stand trial,” so to speak), I do not regret it. Not one iota of hesitation remains now, months after the last little bit of “gestational irrationality” left my body. In fact, I feel assured more than ever that I made the right decision. But let me tell you…it wasn’t an easy choice.
And you know, it wasn’t like I attended four years of college with the plan to be a stay-at-home mom. But to be honest, I didn’t attend four years of college – English and Politics courses, mostly – to work in marketing. So you know how that goes…”the best laid plans.” I’ve always been flexible to what “the Dude Upstairs” was leading me toward, and this was just another case of trusting that God was going to take care of it.
I’m not an inherent people-pleaser, but I think I speak for most of us when I say that life is certainly easier when you’re liked and you feel as if you make other people satisfied in whatever avenue that you might touch their lives. So when I quietly began letting people know that I was, in fact, expecting a baby – well, let’s just say I knew to brace myself for the reactions of the “select few” (henceforth abbreviated simply as “the SF”). Now I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of women are born equipped with a uterus, and a majority of those, a fully functioning one at that – so I always sort of felt like “WOW…a pregnant chick. That’s so original, right? Get over it.” But it was more an issue with me than my pregnancy. Me being perceived as vulnerable in some way just made the couple of work bullies feel like they could push me around further, even if that wasn’t the case.
Some folks sure acted like it was a big fuzzy deal. The minute the SF were let in on my news, I began to sense this air of expectation flapping in the breeze of my office fan. Offhand (and unsolicited) comments about how breastfeeding was “almost impossible if you’re going to come back to work,” (Um, really? Because there are laws in place that make it a much easier prospect, guys). Inappropriately direct, public probing as to whether I planned to return to work or stay home (Hmm…Oh, wait, I’m entirely sure that is none of your stinkin’ business). Being told that I would just “have to” use my breastpump in the bathroom if I returned (Right, cause there aren’t any company policies, state laws, or federal amendments to national healthcare legislation that ALL say otherwise…right, sure, whatever you say…). These were all topics that anyone with a high school education and half a raising would know weren’t appropriate to ask, bring up, or insinuate themselves into – and especially not during department meetings full of people who didn’t need to or want to hear about the status of my reproductive exploits. It just got so uncomfortable and so hostile – especially towards the end – that my decision was made for me. The vessel sank while still in the shipyard, so to speak. At least I could clean up all the poop at home with a couple of wipes…all the poop at my old job? It was going to take something a little more aggressive. And I was tired.
It was difficult at first. I spent the majority of my first day of my unexpectedly early maternity leave sitting on the couch and crying. I’m not sure if this is 100% to blame on all the crap that had gone on at work, or if it was because my pelvis felt like a watermelon was jumping up and down in it. I felt like I’d let myself down. I felt like I’d let them win – the overgrown “Mean Girls” of the corporate world (and really, there were only two of them). Where was my intestinal fortitude? Where was the ball-busting, take-no-prisoners girl that I had once been? Where was the sharp tongue that would have usually responded with a snide retort when I was told that my pregnancy (and subsequently, any plan I had to nurse my baby after I returned to work) was some inconvenience to a few losers in my midst? Was I really just going to take an early maternity leave and let a few bad apples in an otherwise nice and competitively paying barrel chase me out? You know what? Yeah. I was. Because God saw fit to stick me in a place where I was part of a family unit that could get by on one income. It wasn’t going to be cushy, but we were okay with that.
Within just a day or two, I was over feeling bad about the whole thing. I think the part of it that probably sucked the most and still sucks is that these two jerks that sort of colored the whole page on the situation really just took over that memory of the place where I spent several years of my working life. There were other, great, nice, warm, fantastic people that I was so blessed to work with. These people all got together and threw the most amazing, unexpected, generous baby shower for me – they were happy, encouraging people who knew that I was struggling with the decision about returning to work, and they didn’t rush me or make cutting remarks. They didn’t put me on the spot. They didn’t say one thing and then do another. And though the gifts were all wonderful and all helpful, they realized that the greatest gift that they could give me was to simply be a friend. Not that coworkers always are, but I had a lot of people that were wonderful friends on top of being coworkers (more than I can count, honestly). I don’t want to let the two jerks screw the whole pooch.
A workplace is nothing more than another microcosm of high school politics. There’s a reason that high school was so crappy – to prepare us for the insanity of the real world. I used to tell myself, when high school hit its lowest of lows, that “one day I’ll be in the real world and it won’t be like this.” I wish the 27 year old me could go back and write the 16 year old me a big, fat reality check. Because the workplace can be just like high school, and so can the bleachers at your kid’s soccer game, the mom’s group at the local playground, or the Bingo room at the nearby nursing home. And there will never not be someone there to tell you how stupid you are. It’s when you learn to ignore it all and focus on what’s important that you truly grow.