In 2002 my wife and I decided having children might not be the worst possible decision we could make in life (turns out we got two amazing, intelligent, engaged daughters). I pushed pretty hard for us to at least try, especially because we were relatively young and I had at least an inkling that parenting (not sleeping) couldn’t get easier as you aged. (I was almost 26 so I didn’t know that much mind you.)
What I really didn’t know, and probably didn’t really understand at all until this year with my mom’s own life hanging in the balance, is that I was pushing for an impossible sacrifice. Asking a woman to have a child seems almost natural until you actually think about it. Beyond the basic What To Expect When Your Expecting fluff the sacrifice is a total self-exchange of the woman for the child. She will not only dramatically give her body over to the child for 10 months, she does so forever. She gives over her career, spiritual life, social status, friends and pretty much everything else. And we ask her to do in some sort of manifest destiny “of course this is what you always wanted” way.
In the end, it turns out ok. For the most part. If she’s fortunate enough that the pregnancy and birth don’t kill her or diminish her. And if her economic situation can afford it. And if she has tremendous support around her, in her family in her community and her work. And if her hormones and nervous system keep up to the task. And if her body can withstand the adjustment to post-birth life. And if the media and pop culture don’t twist her into self-loathing for failing to be good at everything AND have a kid. I might turn out ok.
I have a tattoo on my left arm. It’s a phrase in cuneiform, “Redeeming Sacrifice.” I got it a couple of years ago with the idea that in life I could only possibly ever hope to scrape the surface of such a sacrifice by trying my best to do whatever it took to not only provide for my family and my community but actually help them thrive. I fail most days, in my opinion. The sacrifice made by my mom and my wife and countless other women around me to give me life, give my children life, support me, somehow get themselves to an ok place is of a magnitude greater than anything I’ve ever done. The tattoo isn’t meant as a signal of a one time event but instead as a life long, infinite commitment to try to even approach the impossible sacrifice that is being a mom and being a woman.
My wife is an amazing mother. Whatever the criteria you have for that distinction I’m pretty sure you’ll rank pretty highly. She has given everything to these children and to me. And as far as I know her mom did the same for her kids and I know my mom did for her kids.
What have we given them, really, in return? A life long wondering whether they’ve done enough. Whether they are doing enough. Whether there’s someone else they have left behind. Whether they deserve the vacation or money they get. Whether they’ve earned out respect and love. I’m as guilty as anyone on that front too. I want to blame our culture, which is pretty blame-worthy, but I cannot. Maybe blame or responsibility isn’t the right phrasing, but again I do feel all of us, especially males, need to think really hard about our own existence and decide to sacrifice more to make the pressures of being a female go away. Pushed to my most honest position we need to relinquish our patriarchy totally because we have not even come close to this impossible sacrifice. We’ll never make up for the past but we certainly can leave the future with a slightly better chance that if you’re a female you can be just as much of Homer Simpson as I am or a leading Dr. or cheating football player or a president or whatever you damn well please. As long as you’re taking on the burden of existence of ALL OF HUMANKIND you can and should do whatever you damn well please.
Happy mother’s day. And really happy women’s everyday. I don’t deserve it but I hope all of you will keep letting me try to redeem the existence you give me through my own self-sacrifice.
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