Can I Be a Stay-at-Home Mom Feminist?

Grunting. Straining. Pushing. Gasping. With passion and blood, panting and weeping. That’s how I brought my daughter, Tillie Pepper, into the world.

When you’re pregnant, you often focus on the physical. Your growing stomach. Your rounder breasts. The ache in your back. Your skin bulges as little limbs punch and push out.

You prepare for labor, the most physical experience there is. I practiced bouncing on fitness balls and making low, deep sounds with each contraction. I thought about trusting my body, it’s strength. I drew strength from the idea of joining a lineage of women across the world and across time, who had labored powerfully.

After Tillie arrived, still my body was front and centre. Milk suddenly spurts. I couldn’t sit without a plastic cushion; I wore ice packs in my undies. For the first time in six months, I could spoon my boyfriend in bed.

Yet as the months pass, the physical settles into the background. You get used to feeding. Your tummy retreats. You get your old shell back.

Far more than the physical changes of being a mom are the changes in my identity as a woman. Yet I hadn’t prepared at all for this. There aren’t any ‘How the hell to be a modern mom’ classes, to sit alongside the many birthing workshops or the ‘Pelvic floor Mom’s and Bub’s Pilates.’

Far more than any change in bra cup size, what I have found confronting is the clash between my values as a woman and how I feel now that Tillie is here.

Prior to being Tillie’s mom, I enjoyed being a woman who made all my own calls. I hand crafted my life, especially when it came to work. I took jobs I was passionate about, wherever they took me, and adored working. I did two Masters degrees and hunted down work I loved—from northern tropical Australia to San Francisco.

When I was pregnant, I talked about returning to work when Tillie was a few months old like it was a done deal. My boyfriend and I would share the care of the baby, along with some family support. Tillie would be a huge part of our lives, but I’d keep my independent professional identity. I’d love being at work and relish the break from home. My own mom went back to work when I was three months old. I was raised believing in equal parenting, in working women, in women having the freedom to do what they want. And these were the values on which I would base my parenting.

But what took me by surprise was a gut feeling, this want to be with Tillie. An ache for her if I am away for more than three or four hours. A desire not to be at work but to be near her, and therefore, to be at home.

What does is mean to be a feminist in the face of such a want? Because a lot of being a stay-at-home mom feels like a teleportation back to the 1950s. Blending baby food, chatting at the market with other moms and talking about your partner’s work, sorting the whites from the colors, waiting for your partner (and his paycheck) to come through the door. Deflecting the question, “What are you up to?”  because you don’t want to be one of those women who go on about their kids. Shrinking because of my own confusion about this pull to be at home, and feeling the need to justify the choice I’ve made. It also can feel uncomfortably privileged—I sometimes feel like a kept woman, fortunate enough to focus all my energy on bub.

The answer I come to at this point is that my body and self have changed. I still subscribe to the values of women working, powerful, equal. I just also have this gut feeling at the moment—the gut that tells me to be with my daughter. More than any of the passing physical changes of pregnancy and birth, this feeling is at different level. Perhaps being at home is feminism with a different slant—me, making choices, for and with my family.

Perhaps the feminist in me just needs to own it.


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