Breast Feeding Killed My Focus on Work. I Don’t Miss It.

Motherlode of the NYT is one of my favorite blogs– along with The Atlantic’s “The Sexes.”
After the Paul Tudor Jones fracas, I wrote an essay as a reaction. To my delight, they published it today.
The headline is more extreme than my view, but I don’t write the headlines.
I also realize that by focusing on one thing– nursing– I am alienating parents who adopt, which too wasn’t my intent but goes with the polemic op-ed territory, so I’ll cop to that.
As always, I won’t read the comments– for a while anyway.

June 4, 2013, 4:39 pm 5 Comments

Years ago, when I lived on the Upper West Side, I used to have coffee with a bunch of mothers from my daughter’s school — the Philosophy Day School, “opposite Mayor Bloomberg’s house,” as we used to tell the taxi drivers. We would drop our children off in the morning and walk around the corner to drink mediocre brew and forge connections at Nectar Cafe.

Over weeks and months, we got to know one another. Selena used to work in Spain for the fashion brand Loewe. Charlotte had quit her job as a commodities trader when her third daughter was born. Megan had given up immigration law and worked as a docent part-time. I had graduated from the Columbia Journalism School and worked as a freelancer for… well, anyone who would take me. We were, in other words, the archetypal women whom the billionaire trader Paul Tudor Jones mocked last month in his speech at the University of Virginia: women whose laserlike focus on work was “overwhelmed” by motherhood. We were women with babies to bosoms, reminiscing about the hard-charging past lives we had traded to stay home and raise our children.

We were loud of laugh and brash of opinion. Sometimes, we marveled at how firebrands like us had ended up as traditional wives and mothers, holding the fort while our husbands traveled. It was our choice, we told ourselves. Most days, we believed it. We were smart, fiercely independent feminists who had compromised for the sake of the greater good: our families, our children. It was temporary, this exile of ours — until the kids grew up a bit; until our spouses traveled less; until we got that dual degree; until we found our calling; until I got my green card.

A funny thing happened on the way to my citizenship. Years passed. None of us “soccer moms” went back to work — a situation I would encounter again and again when I moved to Singapore, and then to India. Women who had met their husbands while earning their M.B.A. at Wharton, women who had graduated at the top of their law school, women who were smarter than their husbands and had made more money while dating, turned it all in to stay home and raise babies. We lost that killer instinct — that ruthlessness Mr. Jones alluded to when he said that mothers would never make good traders.

As a feminist who believes herself to be equal to any man, it is easy for me to take umbrage at Mr. Jones’s remarks. As a mother who enjoyed having babies to bosom, it is difficult for me not to nod in agreement. When you are caught up with a baby — your baby — the world does fall away. Petty competitions do not make sense any more. Trading does seem like small change relative to the rich rewards of motherhood.

I find myself drawn to a small phrase in Mr. Jones’s diatribe that nobody seems to have noticed or remarked on. Forget the female body references that got everyone’s goat. (“As soon as that baby’s lips touched that girl’s bosom, forget it.”) Forgive the finality with which he dismissed women’s futures as traders — “never,” “period.” Focus instead on the relationship that Jones described in poetic terms: “the most beautiful experience, which a man will never share, about the connection between that mother and that baby.” Do you hear the envy in that phrase? Do you hear the longing of a parent who wants to experience that “connection”? I do.

I realize that my happy experience with breast-feeding (I nursed both my daughters for two years) will not apply to everyone. I have friends who hated nursing their children, and I have other friends to whom the notion of having babies, let alone being stuck at home with them, was torture. But I do believe that this connection mothers share with their children gives them intangible, immeasurable fulfillment. I suspect that sensitive men recognize this bond and envy it, that they feel what Viktor Frankl called “the existential vacuum.”

O.K., maybe I am exaggerating. Or maybe I am gloating.

By feeling insulted, we are allowing Mr. Jones and his world to dictate the parameters of the debate. Why not change the paradigm? Why not celebrate the connection that he describes instead of bristling at it?

In our race to keep up with men, we women have forgotten the joys that are given only to us. We should revel in motherhood instead of discounting it. Instead of rapping Mr. Jones on the knuckles, we should smile serenely at the glories that are denied him. Instead of saying, “Sexist son of a dog,” we should say, “Suck on that, baby — no pun intended.”

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