During my last year of school, I managed to take classes, work, and have a baby. (Wow, putting it in a concise list like that makes it sound so simple.) I had numerous people tell me through smiles and awed tones, “You really are doing it all!” I guess it looked like that. The one thing I wasn’t doing was sleeping.
I’ve been called Super Woman and Wonder Woman by quite a few people. It’s both flattering and disheartening, to be honest. I live in a world where women have equal rights and more opportunities than ever before. But in some very glaring ways women can’t be men (or vice versa, but that’s a discussion for another day), and in so many ways our society has been set up only for men to be successful in the workplace. Even though I can go to school and study whatever I want, work my way up to any position within a company, and live whatever lifestyle appeals most to me, men still have advantages over me.
I don’t mean the gender pay gap (don’t get me on that soapbox right now) or how strong female leaders are unfairly perceived in the workplace (or that soapbox either). What is annoying me right now is the general fact that the working world is designed for men because, physiologically, men don’t get pregnant or breastfeed.
A typical night:
At 8pm my husband and I get our 6-year-old and 2-year-old in bed. I breastfeed the 3-month-old and lay him down to sleep. Then we wind down watching Superstore or CHiPs or the Great British Bake Off whatever streaming show fits our mood, we plan the following day, we talk, and just spend some time together because that’s about as romantic as our energy levels allow lately
At 10pm the baby wakes up. I feed him and lay him back down to sleep. My husband and I finally go to bed around 11pm, knowing we should have gone to bed an hour earlier, but I couldn’t because the baby woke up and wouldn’t go back to sleep until this point. Bob stays up with me because he wants to be helpful with the baby too because after having the infant attached to me all day I’m kind of tired of him, even if he is really cute. We fall asleep instantly because we’re so tired.
At 1:30am the baby wakes up and cries. I wake up, sit up in bed, feed him, burp him, and lay him and myself back down to sleep at 2am.
At 3:30am the baby wakes up and cries. I sort of wake up, too tired to sit up and actively feed him so I remain laying down, pull him over to me and plop my boob in his mouth and we both promptly fall asleep while he’s supposed to fully eat and get a diaper change.
At 5 am he’s fussy because his diaper is completely saturated. But I’ve only really been dozing since the last time he woke up because my paranoid brain is terrified that I might roll over on top of him and suffocate him, so I never really sank into deep sleep. But I’m so exhausted and sleepy that my brain isn’t thinking clearly and I just shove my other boob into his mouth to get him to quiet down so I can get a little more rest.
At 6:30am he’s fussy again. I wake up because I feel an unusual warm sensation on my abdomen and realize that the baby has peed out of his urine-saturated diaper and his urine has soaked through my clothes and there’s a big wet spot on the bed, right where I sleep. I get up and change the baby’s clothes and diaper while he screams and cries the whole time, feed him, settle him back to sleep, and then change my own clothes. I don’t want to wake Bob up because he needs whatever sleep he can get, so instead of changing the sheets I sandwich the wet spot on my side between towels and lay back down to try and get just a few more minutes.
At 7:15am our 6-year-old bounds into our room and loudly says, “Mommy, Daddy! It’s time to get up!” and he can’t understand why we’re angry and don’t want to move. Bob hasn’t slept soundly because of the busy night I’ve had, and I feel like I haven’t slept because I’ve essentially gotten about 6 hours (or less) of on and off napping each night for the past 3 months. And this was a “good” night when the baby easily went back to sleep after each of the times he woke up.
After all of that, I go to work and I’m expected to work like my male colleagues who don’t experience the luxury of breastfeeding their babies. But somehow I do the work because I’m the sole breadwinner with marketable skills and big career dreams since childhood.
We don’t want our kids in daycare because we’re the ones who want to parent our children and the cost of daycare would completely negate Bob working anyway. So he stays home with them, getting to nap when the 2-year-old naps while the 6-year-old is at school and I get to wear the baby to work in my Moby wrap. I have been lucky to work where I’m welcome to bring the baby with me (until he becomes a distraction, anyway). I can only imagine what it must be like to be away from the baby and several times a day finding somewhere private to set up my own small dairy factory and plug my breasts into one of the most useful and yet most demeaning products known to moms everywhere (because it hasn’t changed or become any more convenient to use for 50+ years). The only time I get to nap is on Sundays after church unless my husband falls asleep first, because someone needs to make sure the kids don’t burn the house down. (And Saturdays are spent together as a family because my 6-year-old adores me and doesn’t get t see me much during the week.)
Men and women are definitely different. I don’t want to be treated like a man and I don’t necessarily want to do all the things men do. But the norms of the work environment are made for men, and I think that should change. I don’t know what it might look like if it were equally designed for women, but I think we should start figuring it out because if women can manage this level of sleep deprivation and still work effectively, just imagine what we could do if we were at the top of our game.