The silent breast pump and other lies by power mums

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I’ve got two degrees and a few certificates to my name, most notably a South African law degree (useless anywhere else) and a journalism masters (useless everywhere).

The certificates enjoying pride of place among children’s artwork and the family weekly planner on my study wall, equip me with such sought after skills as reporting on AIDS and teaching English to foreigners.

These framed accolades are all that remain of the career aspirations I once had.

They also suggest that I once must have had a fully functioning brain with eager grey cells sparking excitedly like toddlers on a sugar rush every time they got to file away new information. Little did they know…

Those once animated cells have turned into bespectacled, slippered slouches, worn-out after 11 years of helping me function as a half-decent mum of three, while desperately clinging to the coat tails of my career.

In fact, my brain cells go on strike causing me to want a lie down every time I read an article about another superhero working mum telling women they can have it all.

The last such article was a review of Lean In, a new book by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, which made me so fatigued I had to ask my husband to do his share of the domestic duties (one of Sandberg’s gems of advice). He got as far as picking up his underpants from the floor.

Mrs Sandberg, who at 43 is the same age as me but looks 10 years younger, wisely opted to study something slightly more useful than journalism – and was top of her class at Harvard Business School before filling high-powered jobs at the US Treasury, World Bank and Google.

The reason, she says, that my poor brain has all but seized up and my day is a survival struggle from when I stumble out of bed to make lunchboxes until I stumble towards my first glass of Chardonnay (in the evening I should point out), is because I didn’t LEAN into my career.

I’m really too exhausted after three bundles of washing, the weekly shop and homework duties to read her book but one of the ‘inspiring’ examples she apparently quotes, includes a super-efficient friend who puts her children to bed in school clothes to save time in the morning.

She probably also substitutes bedtime stories with a power point presentation for the next day and flosses her teeth while having sex, to squeeze in a few extra minutes.

Mrs Sandberg proudly reveals how she secretly pumped breast milk while on a teleconference, pretending the beeping of the breast milk machine was a fire engine.

I found swapping from one monstrous mastitis ridden boob to the other, attaching and reattaching the breast pump to extract a few more drops, painful, uncomfortable and stressful.

Doing this while discussing million dollar deals with Mark Zuckerberg-types on the other end of the line, inventing lies to cover unpleasant background noises sounds like a recipe for a stroke. This is progress for women?

It reminds me of a rather nasty incident when I was interviewing a male neuroscientist over the phone from home.  I was potty training my toddler at the time and he ran into the room announcing that he needed a poo and threatening to do it on the kitchen floor.

I failed womankind by ending up frazzled, with poo on the floor and a disgusted neuroscientist on the other end of the line

Sandberg’s book doesn’t inspire me to Lean In – it makes me want to Lean Away from the madness of telling women they can have it all.

It also makes me want to Lean ON something. This is not helping women – it’s making them feel even worse about not being perfect at everything.

More helpful titles from the likes of Sandberg, would be:

Trust me, you don’t want my life – it sucks

The silent breast pump and other lies by power mums

Do you think women can have it all? 

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14 thoughts on “The silent breast pump and other lies by power mums

  1. I could not agree with you more! As someone who has just made the change from working ridiculous hours and dropping balls all over the place to staying at home with my three, I think the myth that it’s possible to ‘have it all’ without enduring a level of stress that is unhealthy, or paying others to do all the ‘other stuff’ that we need to do on top of working, is quite damaging. Working is great, but not when it makes you ill and grumpy🙂 That’s no good for anyone, least of all your kids. Balance is key… Great post!

  2. Thanks Sara. I’m all for balance too. I’ve worked full time, part time, flexi-time and not at all and still struggling to find the right balance. But I don’t think successful women who pretend that we can all be like them if only we try a bit harder are helping anyone.

  3. Ok, so I read the post and I wrote a long essay to try and sound clever. Twice! But I think its simple. This is my view on having it all (from a mans’ perspective and my wife distances herself from any comments I make as she knows me to be silly at times)
    I provide for my family by doing what I love, I have the most wonderful wife to have ever walked this earth( no idea what went through God’s mind the day he decided to give me this gift), I have a close knit circle of family and friends and three dog children that love me unconditionally. So in short, I have all I want and need. You don’t have to be a super woman to have it all. That what is important to you, is what makes you super.

  4. You made me laugh!! Like you, I am 44, have great degrees, great career, kids (9 and 5)….and a brain that appears to be very functional but …well, let’s just say those grey matters need mucho fixes constantly to keep my head above water. All fun though, I still think career women can have it all…but it is about designing your life (that includes everything from growing your career to finding your kid’s lost glove the min you must be out of the door) in the best possible way for your own specific family structure, work environment etc. There is no formula hence books like Lean In (full disclosure, have not read it yet) reflects more about the author’s own situation and life experiences than being a guidance for all.

    • I agree – but I’m not sure women can have it all or should be made to believe they can. At the end of the day as you say it’s much more about your life experiences,family set-ups and beliefs, personal growth and what motivates you. There shouldn’t be one ideal. The message should be – whatever works for you is OK, you’re OK the way you are, you don’t need to Lean in to be like Sheryl Sandberg.

  5. A fascinating discussion is definitely worth comment. I do think that you should write more
    about this subject, it may not be a taboo subject but generally people don’t talk about these topics. To the next! All the best!!

  6. Pingback: Why we don’tneed more advice from Sheryl Sandberg | Why is her so stroppy?

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