I belong to the May 2014 BabyCenter Birth Club. Every morning, I receive a daily digest of questions and laments from mothers who gave birth almost a year ago, when I did. My baby isn’t talking yet… at all. My son almost choked on a pear skin. Should I call the doctor now, or now? Consumed by details and premonitions, we repeat ourselves, asking about the same illnesses, the same car seats, the same milestones, over and over again. We’re tired, eager, enthralled, sick and connected. Mostly, we’re busy and awake.
Every few days someone titles her post “Dh,” the acronym by which “dear husbands” go in this mommy club, and the responses multiply. He’s a great dad don’t get me wrong… But he doesn’t listen. He works a lot. But he never does a thing at home. He criticizes everything. But offers nothing. Does this make any sense to anyone? Yes. And always, What do I do?
When I was in college, I resolved to be a feminist. Forever. I spent most days irate, enlivened to the injustice I studied and scrutinized. My friend Chrissy started an empowerment club. I joined. We filled the filthy sinks of our Catholic university’s single-sex bathrooms with condoms. We Took Back the Night. We wrote op-eds for the college paper about reproductive rights and equal pay. We rallied. My family waited out the storm, comforting each other that this, too, shall pass. And it did, over time, when I put it down to pick up something else.
I forgot a lot. So much so, I was blind to the ways sexism visited me in all its oblivious violence. The most egregious example of which being a two-year relationship punctuated by verbal abuse of a kind I find it hard to repeat even now, years later. A relationship I not only stayed in but tried to transform into, of all things, a marriage. Suffice to say, I forgot. A lot. And feminism became an instrument I abandoned way back, as a kid. All skilled memory absent from mind and practice.
When I became a mother, forgetting, like most things, became luxurious. I had an “incompetent” cervix for one. I was repeatedly stunned, still am, by the fact I was expected to recount intimate details of my past—pregnancies, abortions, miscarriages—to every nurse, intern, or doctor who cared to ask, for apparent or no apparent reason. I read and re-read Emily Oster’s book Expecting Better, troubled by the fear instilled in pregnant women, myself included, based on half-baked, pre-packaged “data,” issued to us as health facts.
More than this, the world reminded me. When Robin was four months old, I walked from our apartment to a coffee shop a few blocks away. It was warm, I was alone, I wasn’t paying any attention. Others were. Outside the shop, a few folks watched a woman pushing a toddler in an umbrella stroller. A man followed her, inches from her face, shouting so loud we could hear the spit leave his teeth. Her neck stayed straight. We waited until the stroller disappeared and he had quit, at least for now, to catch his bus.
I watched her face, the woman’s, but I remember the kid’s. He craned his neck to behold the scene, and inimitably, looked confused, fearful, shocked. He had a hat on. Finally, he turned around and nestled his nylon jacket into the recline of the seat. I wondered whether he kept picturing the two heads as he was pushed, fast, into another sunny morning.
Some of us tell the May mom, the one with the “dh,” we’re sorry. Maybe he’s just tired from work? Maybe it’s just a phase? Some of us tell her to leave. What makes you think it’s ever gonna change? But most of us, me included, say nothing at all. We read the post and the replies and we picture her kid’s face, craned neck, nonplussed expression. We remove the pear skin before we hand over the fruit to our own. We listen harder, convincing ourselves the sounds are really words. And what we say to ourselves is that, My kid talks. My Dh listens. I know what to do. And on the next sunny morning, another daily digest arrives, full of the same questions as yesterday.