TIME motherhood

Egyptian Woman Who Lived as a Man to Find Work Honored with Motherhood Award

Sisa Abu Daooh, a woman who passed for a man for decades while working as a shoeshine, in Luxor, Egypt, on March 25, 2015.
Bryan Denton–The New York Times/Redux Sisa Abu Daooh, a woman who passed for a man for decades while working as a shoeshine, in Luxor, Egypt, on March 25, 2015.

Sisa Abu Daooh dressed as a man for 42 years

An Egyptian woman who was forced to live as a man in order to support her daughter was recently awarded the country’s highest award for motherhood.

Sisa Abu Daooh has been dressing as a man for 42 years in order to find work after her husband died. “I worked in Aswan wearing pants and a galabeya,” she told the New York Times. “If I hadn’t, no one would have let me work.”

Daooh was forced to dress as a man not as an expression of gender identity, but because otherwise she would have been unable to find work. In the early 1970s, when her husband’s death left Daooh and her daughter destitute, it was extremely difficult for women to find paid work. For seven years, she worked as a manual laborer making less than a dollar a day before finding less physically demanding work. She now works as a shoe-shiner.

When Daooh’s husband died, it was almost unheard of for Egyptian women to work, but even today, very few Egyptian women participate in the labor force—only 26%, compared to 79% of men, according to the World Economic Forum. If women and men participated equally, Egypt’s GDP would increase by 34%, according to an analysis conducted by the Clinton Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Between the lack of economic opportunity, the prevalence of female genital mutilation, and the near-universal experience sexual harassment (over 99% of women say they’ve been harassed,) Thompson-Reuters voted Egypt the worst place in the Arab world to be a woman.

[h/t New York Times]

TIME

Sheryl Sandberg Wants Men to Lean In, Too

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Emely—Getty Images/Cultura RF Young girl dangling from her fathers arm

The new #LeanInTogether initiative promotes equality at work and at home

The latest Lean In initiative isn’t about women at work — it’s about men.

In the spirit of #HeForShe, Sheryl Sandberg and her team launched Lean In Together, a new campaign designed to help men promote gender equality at home and at work. It involves a partnership with NBA and WNBA stars, and includes specific tips for how men can Lean In, too.

They’ve also produced a short video with Makers, about how famous women like Hillary Clinton and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were able to achieve partly because of support from the men in their lives. As Sandberg puts it, “being a parent’s not a full-time job for a woman and a part-time job for a man.”

Here are the #LeanInTogether tips for how men can Lean In at home:

1) Be a 50/50 partner, by equally sharing household duties.

2) Be an active father, even if you’re not perfect — kids with active dads have better self esteem.

3) Close the wage gap at home, by not valuing chores done by boys (like taking out the trash) more than chores done by girls.

4) Challenge gender stereotypes, by making sure your kids play with diverse toys and see diverse characters in books and movies

5) Help your daughter lead. Not calling her “bossy” is a start — also encourage her to be assertive in other ways, like introducing herself to people.

6) Don’t tell your son to “man up,” which can be just as damaging as calling a girl “bossy.”

There are also some tips for Leaning In at work in a way that supports your female colleagues — check them out here.

Read next: More Sex—and 7 Other Benefits for Men who Help Out at Home

 

TIME Careers & Workplace

Why We Need More Mothers at Work

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I wish I had known five years ago, as a young, childless manager, that mothers are the people you need on your team

I still am embarrassed by this memory. Five years ago I walked into an office on the twenty-fifth floor of the Manhattan headquarters of Time Inc. (which owns Fortune.) I was there to meet with Time.com’s then-managing editor and pitch a partnership idea, but once I took a seat and surveyed the endless photos of her small children spread across the airy space, I decided this editor was too much of a mother to follow up on the idea.

I still went through with my proposal, but I walked out sure I would never talk to her again. She wasn’t the first and only mother whose work ethic I silently slandered. As a manager at The Huffington Post and then The Washington Post in my mid-twenties, I committed a long list of infractions against mothers or said nothing while I saw others do the same.

  • I secretly rolled my eyes at a mother who couldn’t make it to last minute drinks with me and my team. I questioned her “commitment” even though she arrived two hours earlier to work than me and my hungover colleagues the next day.
  • I didn’t disagree when another female editor said we should hurry up and fire another woman before she “got pregnant.”
  • I sat in a job interview where a male boss grilled a mother of three and asked her, “How in the world are you going to be able to commit to this job and all your kids at the same time?” I didn’t give her any visual encouragement when the mother – who was a top cable news producer at the time – looked at him and said, “Believe it or not, I like being away from my kids during the workday… just like you.”
  • I scheduled last minute meetings at 4:30pm all of the time. It didn’t dawn on me that parents might need to pick up their kids at daycare. I was obsessed with the idea of showing my commitment to the job by staying in the office “late” even though I wouldn’t start working until 10:30am while parents would come in at 8:30am.

For mothers in the workplace, it’s death by a thousand cuts – and sometimes it’s other women holding the knives. I didn’t realize this – or how horrible I’d been – until five years later, when I gave birth to a daughter of my own.

Within her first week, I became consumed by the idea that my career was over. It was almost as if my former self was telling me I was worthless because I wouldn’t be able to continue sitting in an office for 10 hours a day. And I certainly wouldn’t be able to get drinks at the last minute.

I was now a woman with two choices: go back to work like before and never see my baby, or pull back on my hours and give up the career I’d built over the last ten years. When I looked at my little girl, I knew I didn’t want her to feel trapped like me.

I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, thinking it would motivate me. It only depressed me more. To me, the message was clear: put up with the choices made by a male-dominated work culture if you want to succeed. I re-read Anne Marie Slaughter’s piece on “Why Women Can’t Have It All.” It just painted another reality that I had contributed to until it became my own problem.

While I was on maternity leave from NowThis News (a startup funded by members of The Huffington Post team), still wrestling with these thoughts, I was approached by my now co-founder, Milena Berry. She told me she had an idea to launch a company that would match women in technical positions they could do from home. I decided to quit my job and leave journalism, realizing this startup had enormous potential for the one billion women entering the workforce over the next ten years.

If the developer placements worked, then other fields might follow. By enabling women to work from home, women could be valued for their productivity and not time spent sitting in an office or at a bar bonding afterwards. Mothers could have a third option that would allow them to either remain in the workforce or be a part of it even from areas with few job options.

All the tools exist for remote work – Slack, Jira, Skype, Trello, Google Docs. Research shows remote workers can be more productive. Furthermore, millennials – with or without kids – want that flexibility, a Harvard study found.

With the help of an awesome team that’s 50 percent moms from around the world, Milena and I are building PowerToFly around our lives as mothers. We’ve processed over a million dollars in paychecks for women who work from home across five continents and that number is growing fast. The stories we hear are thrilling.

Before we found Nedda, our CTO, she was commuting to London from her home in Bulgaria every week. Nedda’s daughter would hide in her suitcase on Sunday nights in an attempt to be with her mother during the week. Now she gets picked up from kindergarten by her mom everyday. Nedda traded a very expensive 10-hour weekly commute (not including time on the London tube) for a 30-minute walk with her child each afternoon.

I wish I had known five years ago, as a young, childless manager, that mothers are the people you need on your team. There’s a saying that “if you want something done then ask a busy person to do it.” That’s exactly why I like working with mothers now.

Moms tell me when a project can be done and they give me very advanced notice when they have to take time off work. If they work from home, it doesn’t matter if a kid gets sick. Yes, they might not be able to Skype with me as often through that day, but they can still be productive because they can work from home while keeping an eye on their child. (And, like me, many have childcare. There’s no way you can work from home without support, usually from another woman.) Moms work hard to meet deadlines because they have a powerful motivation – they want to be sure they can make dinner, pick a child up from school, and yes, get to the gym for themselves.

But, I know there are still a lot of people like my 28-year-old self – they undervalue mothers’ contributions because they count hours logged in the office and not actual work. Most mothers lose if that’s the barometer for productivity.

It’s time to break that cycle, and it starts with the people doing the hiring. The way I acted in my twenties had a lot to do with denial. If I didn’t embrace or recognize the mothers on my team, then I didn’t have to think about what my future would be like. I see the same behavior in young women I talk to who are in charge of hiring, especially in the tech space. They are hard liners – and passionate lecturers – about women being in the office so they can be part of the company’s “culture”.

They don’t realize how that “culture” pushes women out because it’s too often set up around how men bond. Many of these young women are just toe-ing the company line. I don’t begrudge them. I feel sorry for them.

They’re hurting their future selves. Just like I did.

These women can help pave the path for their future selves if they start acting like allies rather than deniers. Instead of just smiling and saying you’re sorry that a mom can’t join for office drinks, ask her if she’d rather do lunch. If there’s a comment you over hear that disparages a mother because she wasn’t at her desk at 7pm, then speak up and point out that she was their at 8:30am, or completely available on Skype of Slack at 7pm.

There are so many ways we can support each other as women, but it starts with the just recognizing that we’re all in different positions at different times in our lives.

One thing is clear. Motherhood is the future for most women. Over 80 percent of us will become mothers by the age of 44, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. So embrace your future and support it at work!

Now I know who I am. I’m a mother who can manage a large team from my home office or on a business trip, raise money, and build a culture for women to succeed. I’ve never been more productive, satisfied and excited about my future and my daughter’s. I wish I had recognized this years ago.

For that, I’m sorry to all the mothers I used to work with. Which brings me back to that managing editor I dissed at Time. Her name is Cathy and she has three kids. The deal never went through for a variety of reasons that included editorial fit, but we started talking six months ago. Cathy recently joined PowerToFly as our Executive Editor. She has taught me a lot about how to be more productive than I was before motherhood. I’m now looking for more Cathys to join PowerToFly because I know they can manage households, multiple schedules and very high business goals.

Katharine Zaleski is the Cofounder and President of PowerToFly, the first global platform matching women in highly skilled positions across tech and digital that they can do from home, or in an office, if they choose.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com.

TIME Advertising

This Ad Perfectly Captures the Horrors of New Motherhood

It's also great birth control

HelloFlo doesn’t just tackle first periods — it’s also breaking into the mom market.

The women’s health company, which scored a viral hit last year with an ad about a young girl’s “first moon party,” is back with a new campaign. In this ad, a new mom takes a break from breastfeeding and changing diapers to perform a musical about how much it sucks to have a tiny baby. “How could I let another woman walk through the terrifying abyss of motherhood without telling her the things I’d seen?” she says.

“For what it’s worth: There’s no laughter after after-birth,” she sings in a full-on Broadway style belt.

When asked if she’s worried about the success of her musical, she replies: “I have suction cups attached to my nipples, squeezing milk out of my rock-hard boobs. I fear nothing.” Once she sees HelloFlo’s new mom kit — which includes essentials like nipple cream, breast pads, lotion and Luna bars — she fears it’s so useful, it will make her musical obsolete. Until she uses it to bribe everyone to see her show.

If you’re a mom, you’ll love this. If you’re not a mom yet, it might scare you off for good.

Read next: This Video Shows Why Being a Mom Is the Hardest Job Out There

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Pregnancy

Kate Winslet on Losing Baby Weight: ‘I’d Rather Be Well-Fed and Happy’

Actress Kate Winslet attends the "A Little Chaos" premiere during the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 13, 2014.
Philip Cheung—Getty Images Actress Kate Winslet attends the "A Little Chaos" premiere during the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 13, 2014.

"I so didn't want to be one of those 'Oh, wow, she's back in shape after 12 weeks' women"

Kate Winslet isn’t looking for perfection in life – in fact, far from it.

In an interview with the U.K.’s Harper’s Bazaar, the Oscar-winning actress talks about raising her three children during emotionally difficult times.

“I think it’s very important to teach your children to struggle on some level,” Winslet, 39, says in the publication’s March cover story. “I wouldn’t change a thing. Even all the bad bits. It doesn’t matter how [bad] times have been, they all matter, because those things shape who you are.”

A busy mom to three children – daughter Mia, 14, from her first marriage to Jim Threapleton; son Joe, 11, from her second marriage to director Sam Mendes; and 15-month-old son Bear with her current husband, Ned RocknRoll – Winslet has neither the time nor inclination to indulge in body-conscious thoughts or post-baby diets.

“I so didn’t want to be one of those ‘Oh, wow, she’s back in shape after 12 weeks’ women,” said actress, now based in rural Sussex in the U.K. “When I read things like that, I just think, ‘Oh, for f—‘s sake, that’s actually impossible.'”

Winslet – who can be seen onscreen next month in Insurgent – is more likely to be found choosing new floor tiles and organizing a fundraiser for Mia’s school than she is dieting.

“I want to keep my health and my sanity and be well fed and happy,” she says. “My body will never go back to what it was and I wouldn’t expect it to after three babies.”

This article originally appeared on People.com.

TIME Family

How Workplaces Can Combat Pregnancy Discrimination

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Having a baby shouldn't put Americans' jobs at risk

As a mother of a young child today, I know much has changed for mothers in the workforce since my mother and her mother had children. But there’s one thread that ties our narratives together – a subject that’s too often fleeting in the broader discussion of working moms: the discrimination women experience during pregnancy, and after they return to work.

Every year, thousands of women file charges against employers for acts of pregnancy discrimination. In fact, charges of pregnancy discrimination filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) actually increased by 71 percent between 1992 and 2011.

What does pregnancy discrimination look like, exactly? It occurs when an employer treats a job applicant or an employee unfavorably due to her pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition. It could involve refusing to hire or promote a qualified individual because she is pregnant, firing a woman because she missed a few days of work to give birth, or forcing a pregnant employee to take unpaid leave. Sure, this behavior hurts pregnant women and their families, but it also hurts employers: In addition to breaking the law, these companies may be failing to retain some of their most highly qualified employees – losing out on their skills and productivity.

The bottom line is that women comprise a significant proportion of the nation’s talent pool, and when their contributions are constrained by patronizing and outmoded notions of what motherhood should look like (even well-intentioned ones), our workforce, our economy and our families suffer. At present, women serve as the sole or primary breadwinners in 40 percent of American households. In other words, women’s sustained participation in the labor force is critical to the economic security and stability of millions of individual families.

And yet, here we are in 2015, and some employers still view child-bearing and employment as mutually exclusive activities. Just last year, the EEOC announced a $30,000 settlement to a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit a woman brought against her former employer, Triple T Foods in Arkansas, which fired her the day she announced she was pregnant. This is only one example of the $3.5 million the EEOC recouped in damages for victims of pregnancy discrimination between 2011 and 2014.

We have a long way to go. But we’ve made progress in some ways. For example, just a generation ago, many women left the workplace when they became visibly pregnant. In the 1960s, almost half of women who worked during their first pregnancy left the workforce by the time they were about 6 months pregnant. Today, only about 12 percent do.

And we’re certainly better off than we were. In 1908, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Muller v. Oregon, upheld a state statute restricting the number of hours per day a female employee could work and thereby set a precedent for paternalistic laws intended to “protect” women from the hazards and indignities of the workplace. While the Court acknowledged that the statute treated workers differently on the basis of sex, it also found that that a woman’s “physical structure” and “maternal functions” justified such unequal treatment.

Although the precedent established in Muller had unraveled by the late twentieth century and its discriminatory assumptions are no longer formally codified in law, they still permeate the cultural expectations surrounding women—especially pregnant women—in the workplace. These expectations can affect women even before they enter the workplace. Pregnant women face discrimination at job interviews and face much greater discrimination than other workers with short-term disabilities who may need minimal accommodations. For example, in a survey funded by the W.K Kellogg Foundation, 69 percent of respondents who reported being denied a pregnancy-related accommodation felt that their employers had honored similar requests from coworkers with other limitations or disabilities.

Knowing that this culture exists can and often does discourage women from requesting accommodations from or disclosing her pregnancy to her supervisor. In the same survey, more than half of respondents reported needing scheduling accommodations for prenatal visits and the like, but more than a quarter reported failing to request such an accommodation. That’s a shame, because the truth is that employers should be able to accommodate these requests with minimal expense and inconvenience.

How do we ensure that women who work during pregnancy are treated equitably, and begin to break down this discriminatory culture? That requires a combination of more progressive employer policies coupled with a set of robust legal and regulatory protections. At the federal level, women are protected by laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), but there is more we can do.

In June, at the White House Summit on Working Families, President Obama called for federal legislation that supports pregnant workers. Some states like Delaware and Illinois have taken the lead and passed their own versions of the proposed federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

The EEOC has stepped up, too, releasing new enforcement guidance last year to clarify the applications of the PDA and the ADA, as they apply to pregnant workers. This guidance “requires that employers treat women affected by pregnancy or related medical conditions the same way they treat non-pregnant applicants or employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.” This means that employers have to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers if they also make such accommodations for other employees who have a temporary disability. The EEOC’s notice also includes women who undergo fertility treatments, are nursing mothers, or are discriminated against based on stereotypes and assumptions about motherhood.

Outside of government, workplaces across the nation are already teeming with examples of managers and employees alike who are dismantling outdated assumptions about the needs and abilities of pregnant workers, as well as the responsibilities of the employers who hire them. Combining statutory and regulatory protections with voluntary actions by employers can amplify this groundswell of progress. From the classroom to the board room to the factory floor, we see daily evidence of the powerful alignment of workplace policy, statutory protections and individual determination in ensuring that women can, in fact, do and be just about anything.

Building a workplace culture that aligns with the demographic realities of today’s labor force allows employers not only to stay on the right side of the law, but, as a growing body of evidence suggests, shows that employers can still do well with their bottom line by treating all of their workers fairly. After all, support for pregnant workers doesn’t simply benefit this generation of workers; it’s an investment in generations to come.

Latifa Lyles is the Director of the Women’s Bureau at the Department of Labor. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Family

‘I’m Afraid My Baby’s Head Will Fall Off’

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

I'm afraid to write this, but I'm more afraid stigma will prevent other women from getting help

xojane

“I’m afraid my baby’s head will fall off,” I tell my psychiatrist.

She nods, normally, sympathetically, as if mothers everywhere suffer visions of their baby’s heads coming off their necks. “Can you explain that?” she asks.

And I tell her how, when I was 10, my father took me dove hunting. Most of the time, his shot didn’t kill the dove. So to end its suffering, my father would casually twist its head off. I watched in sick fascination, over and over, as his big hands almost gently wrenched the birds’ heads from their small gray bodies. I had no idea heads could be so precariously attached, no idea that one small twist could decapitate.

When I had my third son, I couldn’t stop thinking how delicately his head attached, how strong hands could twist and pull. It terrified me, this thin neck, this precarious joining of flesh and bone. I remembered the birds. I had seen their heads lie wide-eyed on the ground.

“That’s horrible,” my doctor said. She upped both my medications and added Xanax. “We need to get that under control,” she told me. “You can’t live like this.”

But I could. I did. And so do millions of other women.

I’ve been down the dark alleys of depression before. But it didn’t become utterly unlivable until I got pregnant. At eight weeks, we thought we were losing our baby. I sobbed for six straight hours, through the emergency room, the ultrasound, all the way home. I cried because I was still pregnant. I couldn’t possibly cope with this very wanted baby. How could I have made such a terrible mistake?

A case of borderline hyperemesis worsened my depression and anxiety. My husband left town for three days, which I spent consumed with thoughts of his imminent death. The panic attacks began: clutching bouts of heart-pounding terror that left me gasping for air, convinced every wheeze was hurting the baby.

When I admitted to my husband that I kept myself from suicide because I didn’t want to kill my baby, I finally got help: medication, and a real psychiatrist.

I was suffering from prenatal depression, which is experienced by 10 to 20 percent of pregnant women. Everyone talks about postpartum depression. No one mentions that the same hormones can trigger prenatal depression as well. Babies born to depressed women suffer higher rates of stress hormones, less coordination and motor control, and more sleep disturbances. Up to 14 percent of women take antidepressants during pregnancy, and their efficacy — and effects on the baby — is debatable. But for some women whose depression is severe enough that they can’t care for themselves or a child, their use is necessary. I was one of those women.

But my SSRIs weren’t enough after Sunny’s birth. Coming off a high-risk, debilitating pregnancy, I began to have obsessive thoughts. I would lay down with my son during nap time and think, This is how we will curl up after the apocalypse, when the nuclear bombs fall and we scrabble to live through nuclear winter. How would I feed us? Would people try to cannibalize each other? I was haunted by Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Stephen King’s The Stand. The end felt nigh.

I had other symptoms. Constantly stressed, I snapped at my older sons. Depression doesn’t always look sad: It can look like mean instead. Normal kid behavior left me enraged; a simple lost shoe could ruin the day. I yelled. I stomped off to the bedroom. I couldn’t understand why my children had suddenly become so bad.

And I began, again, to worry my husband would die. I started crying in the bathroom. My baby, who I loved so much, felt like a terrible mistake. I was a mistake. I thought about killing myself, but knew he wouldn’t have anything to eat. I worried his head would fall off.

I needed more medication.

We had to tweak and tinker. But a year later, I’m on an even keel again. I needed a good deal of medication to get here, but the dangers of a depressed mother outweigh the medication passed through my breast milk (and for health reasons related to severe food intolerances, weaning was not an option). And other things helped, of course: I spend time outside; I eat well. I make sure to get enough sleep, and I cuddle my son as much as possible. I am happy and healthy. I am productive.

But I wasn’t always this way. I got help.

Millions of women do not.

And the first step toward helping women with depression is to take away its stigma. I’m afraid to write this. I worry about its implications for my relationships, for my life. We’ve been taught that depression means you’re weak or crazy. We worry it makes us less of a mother. We have been shamed for the vagaries of brain chemistry, for the feelings we can’t fix.

Millions of women suffer. They need us to come out of the dark and to say: I’ve been there. I am there. I hear you.

Depression doesn’t mean you hate your baby.

It doesn’t mean you hate yourself.

It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, a weak person, or a selfish person.

It doesn’t make you less than other mothers.

It shouldn’t make you ashamed.

It shouldn’t make you alone.

Elizabeth Broadbent is a writer and mother. This article originally appeared on xoJane.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME

Why Having Kids Won’t Fulfill You

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Jennifer Aniston, take note. You haven't failed as a woman if you don't have kids.

I was struck by the comments Jennifer Aniston made to Allure magazine this week about the badgering she gets on a topic that she finds painful: her lack of children. She tells the magazine: “I don’t like [the pressure] that people put on me, on women – that you’ve failed yourself as a female because you haven’t procreated. I don’t think it’s fair. You may not have a child come out of your vagina, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t mothering — dogs, friends, friends’ children.” For Aniston, 45, the topic is fraught with emotion. “Even saying it gets me a little tight in my throat,” she said.

I thought about Aniston’s comments—what many women in their early 40s without children are forced to feel—and then I thought about my own life. In some respects I’m Aniston’s exact opposite: I’m a 41-year-old mother of two who spent my entire adult life telling myself that children were my destiny. I did what society and my family expected, never questioning the choice. But sometimes I wonder how much of the blueprint of my life was drawn by me, and how much was sketched by experiences I had when I was way too young to be the architect of my own destiny.

For all intents and purposes, my mother was a single parent. My father left when I was twelve, but long before then my mother had taken over the head of the household role. She worked full-time as a waitress while my father flitted between different construction jobs. There always seemed to be an injury or a reason he wasn’t able to work. The image of him lying on our living room floor in front of our television is burned on my brain. He was there so much — diagonally and on his side with his head perched upon on his hand–I actually thought it was odd when I went to friends’ houses and their fathers weren’t in that prone position. I also found it odd that my friends’ parents shared a bedroom. My dad had taken up residence on the couch for so long, it seemed normal.

It was the obviously unhappy marriage that birthed the mantra my mother would repeat to me throughout my young life: “Do not depend on a man for anything.” That was followed closely by: “You and your sister are the best things I’ve ever done.” My mother made it clear that we were her reason for living. There was never a time I didn’t feel loved by my mother. But there was also a latent message that became clear after my father left: I am not alone because I have children. If it weren’t for you two I would be falling apart.

Before I hit adolescence, I decided that children were the only things that could fulfill me when I grew older.

“I’ve always wanted kids.” I don’t think I could possibly count the number of times in my life I have uttered those words. But, the same enthusiasm never escaped my lips when talking about marriage. I was never that girl who fantasized about her wedding day. So I skipped the marriage part, feeling like a renegade who was bucking the patriarchal confines of society.

It took five years for my partner and me to have a pregnancy that didn’t end in loss. After the third miscarriage, I began to panic: what if I really couldn’t have children? What would my life become? I was a bartender at the time that we were trying and my partner was a musician — we were in no way financially prepared for children. But the panic and fear that the narrative I had chosen for myself so many years earlier was not going to play out made me a woman consumed.

For five years we spent month after month trying for a child. The obsession I had with ovulation calendars and pregnancy tests only paused when a test came back positive, then the obsession switched to worrying about whether the pregnancy was going to last. I gave birth to a healthy baby boy in 2010, when I was thirty-eight. I was finally a mom.

My life changed — but only the daily tasks. I was still working full-time. Once we added a baby, the only difference was we now had no downtime. I was not a new person. I was the woman I had always been, I just added another label to my list of identifiers: friend, photographer, bartender, girlfriend, writer, mother. I reached the endgame, and nothing about myself had changed — save my ability to multitask.

My assumption that I was destined to be maternal made me never consider the idea that maybe I wasn’t. The possibility that I wasn’t actually hard-wired to mother never occurred to me until I looked into my child’s eyes for the first time and didn’t feel that thunderbolt everyone talks so much about. Those overwhelming feelings of love arrived eventually, but they certainly weren’t automatic.

Had we continued having infertility issues and not been able to conceive, I am certain that I would have felt that there was something “missing” from my life. But only because I believed the narrative my mother sold that children bring fulfillment. Since I’ve become a mother and seen that the essence of what makes me who I am has not changed, I’ve learned that nothing outside of you can fulfill you. Fulfillment is all about how you perceive the fullness or emptiness of your life. But how can a woman feel fulfilled if she’s constantly being told her life is empty without children? How can she ever feel certain she’s made the right decision if society is second-guessing her constantly?

There is nothing wrong or incomplete about building a life with a partner or alone, unburdened by the added stress of keeping another human being alive. This is something that men have always been allowed – women, not so much. A woman is constantly reminded of the ticking time bomb that is her biological clock. We don’t believe that a life without children is something a woman could possibly want. It’s why successful, wealthy women like Aniston are still asked the baby question every single time they sit down for an interview. Everyone is always looking for the latent sadness, the regret. What if it’s not there?

It’s been 40 years since the women’s liberation movement told us that just because we have a uterus, doesn’t mean we have to use it. We still don’t believe it. Whether we realize it or not, the necessity to tap into our maternal side is so wired into our being that we can’t escape it. If we could, there wouldn’t be debates about whether women could “have it all” or whether we were turning against our nature if we decide not to procreate.

I never questioned my desire to have children, because I didn’t have to; I took the well-traveled road. That desire is expected of me – it’s expected of all women. It took me decades to realize that the maternal drive I carried with me my entire adult life, the one that led me to try for five years to have children, may not have been a biological imperative at all. It may just have been a program that was placed into my psyche by the repeated mantras of a woman who was let down by a man and comforted by her children. That’s okay. I love my children and I’m happy about the experiences I’ve had and the paths that have led me to this place. But if this isn’t your place—whether you’re a famous movie star or not– you didn’t take a wrong turn.

 

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TIME motherhood

YouTube CEO: America Needs Paid Maternity Leave

Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit - Day 2
Kimberly White—Getty Images for Vanity Fair Youtube CEO Susan Wojcicki speak onstage during "Who Owns Your Screen?" at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit on October 9, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Kimberly White--Getty Images for Vanity Fair)

It's not just good for women, it's good for business

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Wednesday reminding everyone that paid maternity leave isn’t just good for women, it’s good for business.

She cited a 2011 survey from California’s Center for Economic and Policy Research that found that, after California implemented paid leave, 91% of businesses said the policy had either a positive effect on profitability, or no effect at all. Wojcicki, who was the first Google employee to go on maternity leave and now runs YouTube, which is owned by Google, says she’s seen this firsthand:

That last point is one we’ve seen at Google. When we increased paid maternity leave to 18 from 12 weeks in 2007, the rate at which new moms left Google fell by 50%. (We also increased paternity leave to 12 weeks from seven, as we know that also has a positive effect on families and our business.) Mothers were able to take the time they needed to bond with their babies and return to their jobs feeling confident and ready. And it’s much better for Google’s bottom line—to avoid costly turnover, and to retain the valued expertise, skills and perspective of our employees who are mothers.

Best of all, mothers come back to the workforce with new insights. I know from experience that being a mother gave me a broader sense of purpose, more compassion and a better ability to prioritize and get things done efficiently. It also helped me understand the specific needs and concerns of mothers, who make most household spending decisions and control more than $2 trillion of purchasing power in the U.S.

As Wojcicki notes, paid maternity leave can reduce risk of post-partum depression, keep babies healthy, and encourage mothers to stay in the workplace, yet only 12% of private workers and 5% of low-income workers in the U.S. have access to these benefits. Every other developed nation in the world has government-mandated paid maternity leave, and when the UN‘s International Labor Organization surveyed the maternity leave policies of 185 nations, the U.S. was one of two countries that don’t guarantee paid maternity leave. Papua New Guinea is the other.

She wants America to get cracking on paid maternity leave, stat.

[WSJ]

TIME Parenting

Jennifer Aniston: People Call Me ‘Selfish’ For Not Being a Mom

"Life Of Crime" Premiere - Arrivals - 2013 Toronto International Film Festival
J. Countess—WireImage Actress Jennifer Aniston attends the premiere for "Life Of Crime" at Roy Thomson Hall on September 14, 2013 in Toronto, Canada. ( J. Countess--WireImage)

And correctly defines "feminism"

Even after years of the prying questions and condescending sympathy, it still bothers Jennifer Aniston when people ask her why she’s not a mom.

“I don’t like [the pressure] that people put on me, on women—that you’ve failed yourself as a female because you haven’t procreated,” she told Allure for their January issue. “I don’t think it’s fair. You may not have a child come out of your vagina, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t mothering—dogs, friends, friends’ children.”

The actress, who has gotten critical praise for her role in the upcoming film Cake, explained that she finds the incessant commentary about her maternal status hurtful. “This continually is said about me: that I was so career-driven and focused on myself; that I don’t want to be a mother, and how selfish that is…Even saying it gets me a little tight in my throat.”

Aniston also seemed well-prepared to answer the now-omnipresent questions about feminism–and why it’s such a complicated issue. “Because people overcomplicate it,” she said. “It’s simply believing in equality between men and women. Pretty basic.”

[Allure]

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