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Mansplaining motherhood

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OCTOBER 08, 2018

A month after I gave birth, my husband and I took our son to the pediatrician for a checkup. After waiting for what seemed like eternity with a cranky baby, a nurse led us to an examination room filled with toys. Soon after, a middle-aged, Korean-American male pediatrician came in with pursed lips and immediately started to ask general health questions concerning my son. The inquiries were standard, such as how much milk the baby was drinking, the frequency of his wet diapers and his sleep patterns.

Now, I know the drill. I try to be mindful of these statistics when visiting the doctor. But back then, I was a newbie mom, only one month into motherhood. It didn’t even cross my mind that I should record the minutes my baby latched on each nipple while breastfeeding, let alone convert that time to estimate how many ounces of breast milk he was consuming. Jesus Christ — when feeding him at 3 a.m., I barely pulled myself out of bed. There was no way I could provide an accurate answer. So, in a tiny voice, I repeated the phrase “I’m not sure.”

The doctor’s reaction was traumatizing. I can still remember his repulsed expression when he put the clipboard down, looked at me and said: “How do you not know this? You’re supposed to be the mom.”

At first, I felt so ashamed. I felt so sorry for my son who had a young, thoughtless mother, and thinking of this made my eyes instantly fill with tears. I was trying so hard to be a good mother, and I was well aware that I wasn’t sufficiently trained for this task. I was already discouraged, and the doctor’s harsh and hurtful remarks made me have a five-minute mental breakdown in the examination room.

The sense of shame soon turned into irritation, however. Our pediatrician did not have the right to make those remarks. I was new to this gig, in the process of learning how to become a mom. On top of that, my parents live in a different country, and none of my 20-year-old friends had tips on how to raise a baby. So, yes, for some moms, it may be obvious to keep a tab every time her baby poops from the get-go, but this wasn’t the case for me. I was also angry that he didn’t even think to ask my husband about my son’s progress, to comment on his inattentiveness. And he apologized only when my husband defended me.

I was itching to convey the discomfort I had felt but didn’t have the ability to verbalize. I couldn’t stand up for myself, and on the car ride home, I asked myself, why? Why couldn’t I say a single criticizing word to the pediatrician who had completely underestimated and dismissed my hard work and value as a mom? I thought it was my Asian manners, which taught me to respect adults no matter what — maybe this had restrained me from expressing displeasure toward the much older pediatrician.

As time passed, I realized this wasn’t true. I couldn’t speak up and defend myself in front of him because I was a woman. And, as a woman, I struggled to confront the authoritative man — even though I was the mom, and I was the one raising my child.

This timidity, anxiousness, guilt and apprehension that I felt when trying to express discomfort toward my pediatrician is an everyday experience, especially after becoming a mom. This is why I believe sexism is transparent and ongoing, why I believe gender roles are still prevalent and why I’m still nervous to speak up when I see prejudice happening against myself and against women.

Last Thursday, however, I watched a powerful woman speak up, even at the risk of stigma and backlash. She was just an ordinary woman, just an ordinary mom like myself. And though her voice was shaking and her eyes were flitting across the room, she courageously carried on with her testimony against the man who had hurt her. She called it her “civic duty” and raised her voice not only for herself but for the many other women who were hurt just like her. I was amazed at her integrity, her honesty, her courage, and I couldn’t stay silent anymore — I needed to raise my voice to support this woman.

So, even though Dr. Ford will probably not read this column, I want to let her know, despite the outcome, that I support her, that I believe her. That her bravery is the reason why I promised myself to speak up the next time I experience discrimination as a woman or as a mom. That though it will be challenging, I will speak up. And while I realize my voice alone will not be significant, I will still speak up in the hopes that, one day, my voice will also encourage another woman to confidently raise her voice.

May Choi writes the Monday column on being a transfer student parent. Contact her at [email protected] .

OCTOBER 08, 2018