A friend of mine is pregnant with her first child. She’s my age – extremely close to forty and many years behind her since she was twenty. I have been thinking about the issues that older professional women face when they have children. I wrote her a letter with some of the thoughts below.
Many of our perceptions of motherhood – what is possible and what is expected – is shaped by women closer to twenty than to forty. Traditionally, after all, women had their children closer to twenty than to forty.
When you see a woman with a baby at a ballgame, I can just about guarantee you that she’s closer to twenty than to forty. The women walking their babies around the block three days postpartum are closer to twenty than to forty. The women with four babies under four are closer to twenty than to forty.
How do I know this?
Well, it is just about impossible for women closer to forty than to twenty to do those things.
Should we fight it and try?
Should we be down when we cannot meet those expectations?
No. We should hire a twenty year old to walk the baby around the block.
I am here to say out loud that it is a whole lot different to be forty than to be twenty. For one thing, many women having babies later are in professional, stressful careers. Those careers take some toll on our health. The added decades take a toll on our health as well.
In light of these issues, here is my unsolicited advice to you as you make it through your pregnancy:
1) Reduce your work load.
2) When you have a good day, don’t work, rest instead.
3) Pay for lots of help.
4) Take anybody up on any help they offer. If you don’t like what they offer, negotiate so that you can get some help out of them that you can stand.
5) Find a postpartum doula now who will help you in the first few weeks postpartum. If your mom wants to help you, let her stay too. She can rub your feet (if you can stand that help) while the doula changes diapers.
6) If you plan to breastfeed, make sure your postpartum doula is connected with the best resources in your area. Ask her if she knows “Binky,” a legendary lactation consultant in the L.A. area. If she doesn’t, she should find her before the baby comes just in case. (I’m sure I can find her as well.)
7) Do not plan to work many hours postpartum. After the first month or so, I would plan on about ten hours of work or less. Hire an in-home sitter for twenty hours. Spend the first ten hours resting and the second ten hours working. Hire the twenty year old to do anything else that requires exertion. She has the energy.
9) You cannot work at home while the baby sleeps in the crib. It’s a great vision but it will not work. The twenty year old needs to help with that too.
You need to ask for what you need. Most of us women have problems in this regard. In my home, we have actually talked about this problem and I have required Sander to agree to this list in order to begin to think about another baby. (Of course the sheer amount of “thinking” time on this issue is reducing our options since I am a whole lot closer to forty every day). Keep in mind a big part of my problem postpartum with Frederick is that I really did try to do too much. I assumed I could continue to handle things the way I always handled them. I was wrong and thus the infamous list.
Future Baby Agreement
1) If I say I need something, the correct response is:
“I will figure out how to make that happen.”
The incorrect responses are
“Are you sure?” or
“How much will that cost?”
2) Do not expect me to earn more than $XX a month (5-8 hours of work each week). I cannot be a money machine and a baby machine at the same time. If other money needs to be made, someone else needs to do it. And if my demands from item #1 on the list exceed my own earning power, that should not be my problem.
3) If we need more funds to pay for #1 on the list, reducing retirement savings is far better than me going bananas. Retirement is still decades away. The mental institution is just a few miles away.
4) If it becomes unreasonable for me to earn even $XX a month, then revert to #1 on the list.
5) Should I earn more than $XX a month, the excess will pay for additional household staff at my discretion.
6) I will not require us to move to a deserted island during my pregnancy so that you can harvest wild seafood for my dinner while I bask in the sun. Though it is my pregnancy fantasy, I won’t make it a requirement under Item #1. It would, however, make a handsome holiday gift.
Those are the lists, ladies. Hire a team of twenty year olds. Take care of yourself first and foremost. And good luck implementing this list, so contrary to our nature.