Saturday, September 5, 2009

Your Fourth?? some cultural musings...

This was first drafted in May and I haven't touched it. Any day I will meet my 4th child so it is time to wrap this up and post it....

I have to admit, I have a little game I'm playing with the world right now. A little anthro project... on how we Americans view "large" families.

When I am out and about, usually I am with all three of my boys ages: 6 , 4 and 2. Sometimes I am out with only my 2 year old and sometimes (rarely) I am out with no children at all. But I am always watching and enjoying the little study I am doing. I take a very active interest in how other people look at me and my children because I realize every day how more and more I defy cultural norms.

Sometimes I think 4+ children is "the new only-child" the way I often hear that "three is the new two." I am sure parents with only-children have a ready answer of why they have only one child. But I wonder if they don't have to use it as often as I feel I have to justify being pregnant again. Women in America are willing to start families later in life. Fertility problems, post-partum depression, frozen eggs, PCOS, adoption, population growth, the economy...all are commonly found in the news today. Maybe the only-child moms have a growing community that make their choices more understood by our culture as a whole.

But those of us who dare go past the "new two"...what are we? First of all, before I even start laying out details about my life I want to make clear that I am not bashing other choices. I am just making it clear who I am. Really, I want this piece to simply alert us to the tiny stereotypes we carry with us every day. The big ones get plenty of attention, but I think we often allow less-discussed stereotypes to creep into our brains and don't give them credit as such and then they quickly pass away as we get on with our lives.

Some people when they meet me for the first time and find out that this pregnancy is my fourth are left speechless. Often I wonder if their minds are racing with one or more of the following questions:
1. Does she believe in birth control?
2. Does she know how to use birth control?
3. Is she pro-life (or anti-choice)?
4. Is she Catholic? (red hair + many children? = Irish CATHOLIC! fun combo but sorry...neither)
5. Is her husband oppressive?
6. What is wrong with her?????? Doesn't she have a life of her own?

Why do I think they have these thoughts? Well, first off people (usually men) will ask things like those above in jest when they do not know what to say ("congratulations" works, for those still unsure). I also heard this kind of talk from both sexes before I became a mother. I can even imagine my brain going through "the logical reasons" a woman would do this to herself if I could have seen me plus 3 young boys (running into and wrestling with each other, being slow, being fast, climbing things, being loud, you have a visual) 10 years ago. That is why I started opening my eyes a little more to how I look to others lately. Now I want to get more people expanding their list of "reasons" for any family situation. This includes the people who see the benefits of having 4 (or more) children, and that to be the main reason, plain and simple.

So that is some background on me, but it is true, I am no mind reader--most of the above is speculation that experiences of years past were swirling around in the minds of people today. Here IS what I have experienced over the last few months:

When I am out with all of my boys people cannot resist asking (now that I am quite obviously pregnant), "do you know what you're having?" Especially in larger cities I have noticed people will ask me before even saying anything to get my attention first.

Now, for the record, ALL pregnant women get asked this question and I won't get into my feelings about this being the knee-jerk response to the "I'm pregnant!" announcement. However, it is different when you are pregnant with other children. You don't get the "congratulations!" or "aren't you glowing..." before the question gets asked. And when you have many boys with you, the question is asked with a sort of twinge of expectation that makes me very uncomfortable.

I do know that some people to try to conceive a certain sex child or hope for one of the other. I am not sure we should assume everybody is this way and I, for one, am not "trying for a girl." It bothers me that there is some universal hope that this baby might be a girl when I will be perfectly thrilled with a 4th boy. And it is this, besides having a stock answer for (yes) planning a fourth pregnancy, is another thing I find myself saying again and again. "No, we are planning on another boy" and if I have to go further "it feels the same and I make great boys" or something like that. I try to spice it up but usually I just want to let the interrogator simmer on what "planning" might mean in that sentence. No, I don't really know and yes, we do like to be surprised. But it is funny how many people have heard word of mouth that I am "having another boy". I never said that...officially.

There is another group of women who ask about my fourth and it is such a pleasure to talk to this group. Often, women in this group will ask "but, do you mind, may I ask how old you are?" They don't really even need to know because they usually follow this with "I would've had more too if I had been younger..." This group makes me feel sane and supported and that our American culture does support larger families. I also feel like these women have buried something that they don't tell many people but it makes me feel like I am supporting them too--that thinking of having "many" children as a nice thing doesn't make you nuts at all. I usually find that yes, I am fairly young to be on my 4th child. This group tends to make me feel like I am very wise for my years. Thanks to you ladies for being out there. Like encouraging women to breastfeed in simple ways, I plan to say positive things to women on their 3rd and beyond pregnancies in a similar way.

And because I am ready to post this and have this baby I am not going to try to remember anymore musings that I had 4 months ago. When I first drafted this I had more to say but had to leave it. What I really feel now is the need to put even these few thoughts out there, see if any moms have felt the same way and then give a shout to my wonderful village.

Thank you to everyone who does know me well--who has seen me on grumpy days and on days I feel glorious. For letting me be a listener to you and for sitting there as I rant away on the same handful of topics. Keeping me close to your lives affirms that you still want to be in mine, despite distance, family struggles, illnesses or simply different nap/bedtime schedules. My beautiful friends, I feel so lucky to have you. You provide more support to me than you know. I had no idea how much I would need you as I began my motherhood journey and, if anything, that is what being pregnant a 4th time has really driven home. You really have to have your girls by then and keep your world connected to theirs. How grateful I am for all the technology at my fingertips, how in the world could I have done this 50 years ago? Ah but that was a different time too.....another day, another post.

1 comment:

Naticia said...

I LOVE your boys. You do make GREAT boys. I wouldn't give/get so much love if they weren't in my life.

As a mom who "thinks" about more kids, I know I respond funny to people who have more than two because I know my own energy level, and my own abilities...this in psych is called "transference" and it isn't nice to do to others. Also I know I have responded weird (not bad just slow) to my friends 3rd, because I was operating under the "two and done" misconception. And the misconception was undermined further by that irritating "transference."

That being said, when/if I get my next two, they would most likely be adopted and significantly different visually, so I wonder how that would fly with other parents/community.

I have a caucasian friend married to a man from the philipines and she gets asked how her adoption went. We do make an awful lot of assumptions in this culture in particular, and the way to get around it I think is to have a very diverse group of mother friends--race, age, # of children, source of children (the list in your post) etc.

When a 35 yr old has an 18 yr old, a 9 yr old and a 4 yr old there are questions and raised eyebrows. When a family has multiple ethnicities there are more raised eyebrows.

Your statement about being open to a wider range of what constitutes family is the point that supports being aware of our assumptions.

I WANT to be the strong powerful woman who can *think*, have a healthy relationship with her husband and (adult) family, AND pull off so freakinly amazingly FOUR Children (he he and cats)...and you are so graceful (?successful?calm puppet master but they aren't puppets....) You are amazing and everyone should be so lucky to have a YOU in their life...not to mention your boys and #4 ;)

I look up to you for helping redefine "success in homemaking" "success" "woman" "elegance" "openness" and for giving such concrete examples of how to live the very important part of life: people, namely your very own miracles, and the care with which you and K raise them.

and my little men and tiny woman :)
Um, is a blog an appropriate place to put hugs and kisses? If not, maybe you can sensor stuff out. I miss you!