The last trimester of my last pregnancy was rough. There were no serious medical problems, but everything hurt, I was constantly fatigued, and Fetus-Adi kept kicking me hard in the ribs. I stopped working. I stopped doing any kind of physical labor whatsoever. I hired a cleaning lady.
Whenever I see pregnant women working I feel bad. I tip pregnant waitresses extra well. I also admire working pregnant women. I wouldn’t have been able to do it. My zero-symptom first and second trimesters were made up for by a miserable third. Luckily, my wonderful husband was totally supportive of my staying in bed. It was probably better than listening to me complain all day. Being on my feet for more than an hour literally made me cry. Even working at a desk made me cry because computer screens gave me a headache. Moving out of bed so my cleaning lady could clean was a chore. I was in bad shape.
Speaking of cleaning ladies, mine is pregnant. She’s as far along as I was when I hired a cleaning lady. Except instead of turning into a weeping puddle of bed-ridden non-productivity, she’s mopping my floors.
It’s making me uncomfortable. She must think I’m some spoiled housewife. In her defense, I am (at the moment anyway) in fact a spoiled housewife. Right now my biggest problem is that I feel inadequate compared to my pregnant cleaning lady. I want to tell her to stop working and go home and rest but if she could do that she probably would.
It’s easy to forget people who have it harder than you until they’re in your apartment every week doing your laundry and cleaning your bathroom. So what do I do? Offer Adi’s hand-me-downs to her? I have a lot – but I’m worried that might come off as mean. I’ll of course buy her a gift. Giving her a raise might also be awkward – she belongs to a cleaning-lady-owned co-op with set (fair wage) rates so I know that she keeps all the money I pay her. Said co-op also automatically sends a replacement if she needs to take the day off so I can’t even really offer her more schedule flexibility. Aside from buying her a baby gift and giving her a big fat Christmas bonus, I’m not sure what else I should do.
I taught Adi to always be nice and respectful to the cleaning lady. I know she understands the concept of pregnant but I don’t know that she’s caught on that our lady is pregnant. I want my daughter to see and admire our cleaner’s work ethic and someday emulate it. I know there are some families that see their cleaning ladies as lower than they are but mine is definitely better than me.
After my cleaning lady has the baby and a short maternity leave, I’m sure she’ll go right back to work. My daughter is almost 3 and I’m still on maternity leave. (When do I stop calling it that?)
Everyone debates whether or not being a stay-at-home mom is easier than being a working mom. Being a stay-at-home mom is easier. Mind you, I’ve never been a working mom in the traditional sense of the word (and I don’t plan on being one until Adi is in kindergarten) but I see my working-mom friends, and I remember my own mom working and I definitely have it easier. Even if I did all the cleaning myself, I would still have it easier. Sure, I often wish I could trade places with my husband and work at a mentally stimulating marketing agency and talk to adults about things other than what my daughter’s poop looked like that day, but I could get a job whenever I want.
My mom didn’t take all maternity leave she was technically entitled to with me (even though I was a preemie) because if she did she would miss some exam and be passed up for a promotion/raise (before you run off to boycott the awful company that doesn’t offer exam flexibility to new moms you should know that she worked for a New York State government agency. Think about that for a minute). When my mom retired she told me that she wished she could have stayed home with my brother and I.
“Opting out” is a conversation that only privileged women can afford to have.
My cleaning lady can’t opt out and my mom couldn’t opt out. My mother’s mother worked a full-time job while my grandfather ran a chicken farm because even during a time when most women stayed home, even she couldn’t opt out. I can opt out. But instead of whining about my choice to the New York Times, I’ll just be thankful that I have the option.
If you’re like me and are in opted-out mode, instead of sitting around with your thumb up your behind, do some volunteer work. Create a side business. Do something, anything, to fill the gaps in your résumé so that when you opt back in you don’t have to subject everyone to your spoiled housewife whining about how things aren’t going exactly how you want them to go. Recognize your privilege because us and our spoiled housewife problems have it pretty good.
Rachel Figueroa-Levin is a soapmaker, cofounder and educator at Urban Babywearing, a hyperlocal Inwood blogger and organizer, a political/life/religion/parenting satirist, and all around trouble maker. She is also the creator of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Spanish-speaking alter ego @elbloombito. You can reach her via twitter @Jewyorican.