Portraits are raw and compelling. They capture someone or something in a brief moment in time, allowing us to revisit and reflect on the past. A portrait is a photograph, drawing, or even written expression that serves as a snapshot of a prior time that has shaped the present.
Two years ago, I was very pregnant and blissfully unaware of how my life was about to massively change. Vic was in Madrid for work, helping to lead a two-week training program, and the United States had just elected Donald Trump as its 45th president. Thinking back on this time, I recall the heightened anticipation I felt knowing I was about to cross a line that my friends with children already had crossed. It was like there was a big secret waiting to be discovered, and I wouldn’t “get it” until I “got it.”
Not only was I pregnant with my first child, but I was cooking up the biggest project of my career so far. I was on the verge of launching an executive membership that had been a strategic priority for my organization for decades – person after person had tried and failed to accomplish this goal. Now that it was mine, I was determined to see it through.
Fast forward 4 months. I am a shell of the person I once was. Sleep deprived and stressed, and juggling this hard and unknown thing called motherhood along with the pressures of work. And work is a whole-person experience in itself – a mentally, emotionally, and physically taxing undertaking that requires all my skills and concentration and energy. Not to mention that I’m hooked up to a breast pump six times a day. The sound of that machine haunts me…
But I did it. I loved and kept my infant alive, and I successfully birthed my company’s first executive membership. 2017 was the hardest year of my life, but it was a year when I learned the excruciating and beautiful essence of womanhood in today’s world.
And now more than ever, feminism is my heart because I believe that women are the strongest – we know a level of grit and grace all our own. Yet tough as we are, often we are feeble in our attempt to stand up for ourselves, set appropriate boundaries, and nurture our identity. Certainly, we can blame the patriarchy and systemic misogyny, but I’m weary of pointing fingers and being pissed off. Instead, I want to live necessary change.
Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion depicts this notion powerfully – that activism is less about shouting to the world your stance on a social or political issue and more about living your truth intentionally and consistently. For me, feminism is negotiating a higher salary because I know my value. Feminism is telling my son with pride when I kiss him good-bye in the morning, “Mommy’s going to work!” Feminism is deciding to spend my nights and weekends with my family instead of on the work that always will be there… because I will never regret choosing my boys.
Perhaps the best picture of feminism for me right now is the man with whom I get to walk through this life. Three months ago, Vic chose to go after his greatest dream. He made a bet on himself – his creativity, talent, discipline, and ambition – and began building his own photography and media company. After an eight-year corporate career and the twelve-hour daily grind of D.C. living, he set up shop in our home, working full-time on his business and part-time as caretaker of our son.
Leading up to this transition, I was nervous. I recoil at major change and prefer the security of a consistent paycheck and padded savings account. What would this venture mean for our future and financial well-being?
But after one week of “new life,” my anxiety was washed away by a wave of utter relief. For the first time since going back to work after Jack was born, the only person I must get out the door in the morning is me. We’re all sleeping longer and enjoying more and better quality of time. We’ve become a family that eats breakfast together…!! My favorite time of day is drinking coffee in the morning while Jack crunches away on Nutty Nuggets. No more rushing, rushing, rushing out the door and on to the next place. The space and time and flexibility that Vic’s new work has opened for our family is more than worth the semblance of financial control I craved.
I didn’t realize how burdened I was until I was free – free of having to do all the things. Can women do it all? Of course.
But should we?
I am grateful to have a partner with low ego and quiet confidence; he’s completely happy – and quite enjoys – cooking meals, keeping the house clean, and taking care of his son. It’s not a ding on his manhood to be the one pulling more weight at home while his wife “goes off to work.”
It feels archaic to even call out such dichotomies in a marriage partnership in 2018, but the reality is that traditional roles and the stigmas and weight they carry have a hold on many people I know. I feel relief, joy, and pride in our new life not only because is it healthy for our family, but because – finally – I’m showcasing the values I’ve held for years but have not lived well. No longer am I an anxious, exhausted working mom trying and failing to please everyone in my life. No longer am I neglecting consistent self-care such as exercise, sleep, and hobbies that bring me joy. No longer am I last on the list, a martyr for her family as so many women have become. And as for Vic – he’s free, too, and doing work that fills him up rather than drains him completely. (Need some family or professional portraits?)
I know very well that this journey is full of ups and downs. Right now, we’re on an upswing. I’m going to suck the life out of each moment, because these are the good old days.
Ann Rivera is a senior program manager at the Association for Talent Development and a freelance writer/editor. She provides blogging and ghostwriting services through VA Media Group.