Do you ever get the feeling from other women that you are just not a good mother? I did! When I had my first child thirty years ago now, I went to work when she was only 3 months old and, I was still breast-feeding her! I didn’t plan to do it, I was in a situation where I didn’t have a lot of choice. I had to move cities to work and when I got there I had to leave my beautiful little baby girl in the care of someone else that I didn’t know. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the luxury of having relatives to look after her, so I had to pay for someone to look after her while I was at work. I got a day care mum and whilst she was fantastic, it just wasn’t what I had planned for my first child. I had planned this pregnancy for over a year before I feel pregnant, so working in the first 3 months was just not what I had thought was going to happen.
Both my husband and I had been out of work for a couple of months by this time (another story) and we needed to take the first job that we got: and I got the first job, so I was the one that had to take it. I remember the first day I left my baby with the day care mum. It was very upsetting, after I dropped her off, I got in the car and I cried all the way to work! I was still breast-feeding and had to go off to a new job having expressed enough milk for her to have during the day whilst I was at work. Trouble was, I was like a dairy cow and the more I expressed, of course the more I made two-fold! I was going to work at the front reception counter of a five-star hotel so the whole time I worried that I was going to have one of those leakage accidents that you tend to have as a new mum. By about lunch time my breasts were so sore and swollen I had to express again so by the time I got home I was sore and swollen again. You know the story….
Well, things finally got better, but what always amazed and saddened me at the same time, was that most of the women that I spoke to just looked at me like I was the worst sort of criminal that they could imagine for leaving my baby and going off to work. I was only twenty-four myself and had no experience of having a baby and with little family support I was completely in the dark, so the last thing I needed was judgement by women who surely must have had some idea of what it was like being a new mum! I didn’t find any support in most of the women that I met, instead I got frozen stares accompanied by a sharp intake of disapproving breath from the older women who would just throw their permed heads in the air and turn on their heels and walk off, and snippy statements from women my age. They were the worst. They would say things like “oh I’m not going to work when I have my baby”, and “what about your husband?” This was the early 80’s remember and up until then most women still left work when to have their babies and then generally didn’t come back to work until the babies were around two years old. With increasing pressure on families to keep up any lifestyle at that time and in order to save for a home there were many two income families in the work force. More and more women were going back to work after they had their children, but it was still frowned upon and not seen as the ideal. Never mind if you had thoughts of a career! You really were seen as some sort of freak women then.
I remember that most of the men that I worked with seemed fine about me working and I don’t remember any disapproving looks, well not about having a baby at home anyway. At the time women in the workforce still had to deal with a lot of inequality anyway so we already had challenges to deal with. It was expected that you would not bring your personal problems into the work environment, so mostly it just wasn’t mentioned and you just had to get on with things as best as you could. Other women mentioned it in that snide sort of way. Even my sister would look at me with a disapproving tisk tisk in her voice and would proceed to tell me how “she was going to stay at home with her babies”, thank you very much!
It’s funny how women are described in the media in ways like “Joy Brown 32, mother of two” regardless of what else she is. She might also be a person, a wife, a fantastic organiser, a CEO – oh well, not mentioned. On the other hand we have “John Brown, CEO of XYZ Company, keen sportsman”. He might be a father of 16 for all we know and happily married for the past 20 years, but we don’t hear that information. Have you ever wondered why these descriptions are different for men and for women?
I think that it has more to do with the way women judge women than it has to do with the way that men judge women? What do you think? Did you have an experience like me? If you did it would be great to hear it.