"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Motherhood From The Virgin Mary To Feminism

Priscilla Durbin wanted a baby.  Or to be fair, today she wanted a baby; but yesterday she did not and the day before she wasn’t sure at all.

Priscilla belong to a generation of young women caught in the middle. Women who feel an instinctive urge to have children and to care for them; but have also been brought up to value work, profession, and career as important as motherhood if not more.  They are tempted by those successful women who ‘have it all’, but still wonder if they can or should split their time so indifferently.  Bearing and raising a child, after all, is not a job.

On Christmas Eve a close friend of Priscilla’s came over to wish the family Merry Christmas and spend some time with her and her brother, both of whom he had not seen him in a year.  They had all been close friends through high school and college, but career choices and distance made it hard to keep up.

David and Petra had recently had a son, Ivan, who was now eighteen months old.  David put out the tin cups, pots, serving spoons, measuring spoons, whisks, wine corks, and basting brushes he had brought from their kitchen, and sat Ivan down in front of them to play.

Priscilla could not take her eyes off him. He put one cup inside another, whisked and brushed, set corks up and knocked them down, banged the pots and pans, and studied each and every piece.  “Only eighteen months old”, Priscilla said to herself.  “How can that be? Eighteen months ago is nothing.  It is yesterday. Insignificant.”

She recalled how when David and Petra had come around to the back yard and let Ivan explore, he picked up a stick and tested everything with it.  He poked the dead leaves, found a patch of soft dirt, and switched the stick across the low-lying branches of the cherry tree.  He walked down the garden path, carefully and accurately measuring the distance between each flagstone and stretching to step on each one.

“Eighteen months ago I was in New Orleans”, thought Priscilla, “eating oysters and going antique shopping in the Garden District.  Between now and then, this…this thing…” (she pointed to an imaginary Ivan) was being created and born.”

It was not quite an epiphany, but almost.  “How could it be?”, she wondered out loud. “Have I missed something?”

She had indeed missed something; or rather had been taught ignore or dismiss it.  Women had for so long been chained to Kinder, Küche, Kirche in an autocratic paternalistic hierarchy obsessed with progeny, lineage, and inheritance that it was about time for them to throw off the trusses and traces that had kept them unwilling prisoners to biology and reproduction.  A woman was far, far more than a set of ovaries, feminists had convinced her, and motherhood should be optional, and a third- or fourth-round pick at that.

Priscilla had been brought up Catholic and was taught to venerate the Virgin Mary.  She believed that Mary was born without sin, immaculately conceived the Savior, and then ascended into heaven – in a a miraculous and holy celebration of motherhood.

Priscilla had long left the Church; but realized now that she was considering motherhood that her religious upbringing had far more than what she supposed was only a residual effect. Whether or not the Angel Gabriel had actually descended from heaven to inform her of her coming virgin birth or not;  and whether or not Christ was indeed God, the arguments paled in comparison to the motherhood of Mary, and on Christmas Eve with Ivan, she began her acceptance of fertility.  Priscilla had given Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wide berth when it came to the virgin birth; but she wondered if she had been too secular and agnostic.  The authors of the Bible venerated and adored Mary, and she now for the first time understood.

Priscilla, then, had a tougher time than most in sorting out her options.  The Church and its teachings had had more of a lasting influence on her than she had thought.  At the same time she could not summarily reject the logic of her feminist friends.  Women were created with ovaries and a uterus for a reason.  To ignore biological destiny was presumptuous, vain, and ignorant.

But this was 2014, she reasoned.  Women could have it all.  Even single women she knew managed child-rearing and career with little difficulty. “Don’t believe it”, said a colleague and friend. “Something’s got to give.  There is no way…absolutely no possible way… that a nanny or daycare can replace a mother.  They are paid caretakers, hired hands who work for a daily wage to keep your child out of harm’s way. Period.”

Priscilla’s mother had been a 50s housewife who confided that she had been born too early. Althea Durbin suffered through 40 years of marriage, frustrated and driven to drink, drugs, and depression.  With her brains, enterprise, and charm, she could have had the job of any man in New Brighton and then some.  Harnessed like a dray horse, she baked pies for the Hospital Women’s Auxiliary, volunteered at the library, and was an active member of the Vance School PTA.  She was bored stiff, despondent, and at the end of her rope.  It was only Xanax which saved her life but, as Priscilla remembered, turned her into a complaisant zombie.

Priscilla never resented her mother for wishing that she had led the life of Gatsby and Daisy instead of changing diapers and making meatloaf for her husband.  What else could one expect from a brilliant woman born into the lower middle class and doomed to die there?

Priscilla became more and more confused; and so it was no surprise that she changed her mind daily when it came to reproduction.  Her husband was no help whatsoever.  He, like all men who have spent twenty years trying to avoid pregnancy, was ill-equipped to shunt the train onto wider tracks.  He was scared shitless of fatherhood, but again like all men, did not have the same biological imperative that defined women.  Despite his latter-day concern about illegitimacy, he had been programmed to spread his seed as widely as possible without any concern  for consequences.

In the least feminist corners of her mind she thought it would have been far better to have lived in an age where motherhood was not an option but a given – an inevitable eventuality.  In the most feminist rooms she hated her husband and all men for their indifference.  They neither understood the imperatives of female biology, nor reflected on the mystery of childbirth.  How in all their ignorance and dogged self-interest did they ever get to be on top?

Many women in their 30s dither their way into a childless marriage, unable to sort out the positions of the Church and feminism, ignoring the loudly-ticking biological clock, and most important of all, procrastinating.  Why compromise the known – a remunerative and challenging job, a serious sexual relationship, and all the time in the world – for the frightening and implausible unknown?

At this writing Priscilla is 36, certainly young enough to have children; but old enough to begin to worry about genetic misalignments and elder parentage.  She is leaning towards pregnancy.  It would be so easy to simply relax, enjoy it, and become a woman; but she is still doubtful and losing sleep.

My guess is that she will become pregnant ‘by accident’ – a convenient compromise of ‘forgetting’ to take the pill or inserting her IUD.  I suspect that she will accommodate to her new condition, be enthralled by her new baby, and cross the next bridge when she comes to it.  Nanny or no Nanny seems too far off to even consider. 

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