Mother's First Year
This is the third in a Breakthrough
series on motherhood. In the January
1978 issue, Breakthrough talked with
Nancy Kern about home birth, midwifery, and her own imminent birthing
experience. In March 1978, Nancy
shared the birth of her son with Breakthrough 's readers. Baby Nate has now
celebrated his first birthday and Breakthrough has talked with Nancy about
her feelings and experiences during
Nate's first year.
The past year has been one of growth
for both Nancy and her son. Nate's
growth has been the more obvious, that
of a young child exploring a new world
and learning to assert himself in that
world. Nancy's growth, while more
subtle, has been just as intense.
During her pregnancy Nancy was
very intent upon the changes in her
body and upon maintaining the purity
of her birthing experience. Now, she is
noticeably more relaxed, less adamant
about childbirth and childrearing, and
more willing to bend to things she once
viewed as costly concessions to conservatism. (Below) Nancy talks with
Marianne Kostakis about her first year
Nancy Kern and Jim Asker and their son Nate
"I must seem like a completely different person now. Having a baby forces
you to grow. It changes your ideas of
order and makes you more flexible. If
anything, this has been a lesson in adaptability."
"The most difficult thing about a
baby is the 24-hour-a-day, constant
demands. It has been a surrender. Sometimes I fight it, and then I surrender to
the demands Nate places on me. I didn't
want to hear about sacrifice when I was
"There is a lot of pressure on you
when you are pregnant. And there can be
some guilt-tripping on women for the
effect what they do in pregnancy will
have on the unborn baby. At first nutrition was freaking me out. Now I'm slowly
becoming more relaxed about eating. As
Nate gets older, it's easier to be more
relaxed about nutrition, especially now
that he is getting less dependent on me.
Now I feel it's even okay for him to eat
"There's a push to make parents more
conservative. I'm willing to make some of
those conservative concessions now, if it
will help Na^te. I no longer see it as 'selling
out' the wayH used to. I believe you have
to choose your battles. Before Nate was
born, we didn't want to buy much equipment. I didn't want to admit to the
changes this pregnancy was going to
force. Now it's wonderful to find out that
we can be as Bohemian as we want and
still have a baby stroller.
"We guilt-trip parents. There is that
myth of the parents having so much
control . . . that the child's early experiences are indelible. But a child is
also a person himself. It's all a learning
experience. I know I'll make mistakes.
"When Nate used to cry, it would
freeze my whole body. Until he got to
be about seven months old, my attention span was so fragmented. I was always
afraid he might need me for something.
Now it's just getting more relaxed.
"Discipline is difficult. I don't want
to say 'no.' At first I sort of wanted to
be his playmate. I wanted to be the 'fun
aunt.' Some people fall into the role of
disciplinarian more easily than others.
It's hard to be consistent. I gave up on
that a long time ago. Sometimes I really
feel like it is okay for him to bang on
"At first it was hard to be patient. I
expected instantaneous understanding
from Nate. When I'd first tell him 'no,'
he wouldn't respond at all. Then he began
to learn. It's hard work for him to learn,
and I understand that now.
"I have been breastfeeding Nate and
am trying to wean him in a gradual and
mutual way. I have to deal with him, with
our own personalities, rather than setting
some arbitrary time. It's so subtle. For a
while I was anxious to wean him. We go
back and forth—sometimes he becomes
more independent, other times it's me.
It's give and take . . . communication.
"I was not very realistic about parenthood. Now I have a new respect for how
difficult it is. I was never very tolerant of
women who seemed so attached to their
babies. On the other side, it's different.
Sometimes I just want to go out to dinner
with Jim. Jim has been so good about not
pushing me to go out and leave Nate before I was ready. Jim once said that one
of his main roles as a father was to keep
me from going crazy. Women who are
home all the time are a depressed group.
"I haven't done too much research on
day care in Houston. I went to one and
it was not at all appealing. So far they
don't seem that good, although I am sure
there are good ones. For me, I think the
solution is to find someone in the neighborhood to care for Nate in the afternoons. I think little babies need to have
'one on one.' But if a woman wants
to use day care, she should do it. Women
shouldn't feel guilt-tripped about it.
"Sometimes I resent not being able to
devote all my time to my painting when I
see friends who are painters who can
spend all day concentrating on their
work. But it's amazing how much I've
changed to meet the circumstances.
"I have to paint for my mental health.
Right after the baby was born, my attention span was so short that I could only
paint 10 or 20 minutes. Now I think my
work has gotten better. It's more intense—my time is more concentrated
when I do have time to paint. My work is
more focused, maturing, and growing
"Before Nate was born, my painting
was about bodies, women's bodies.
My last painting before giving birth was
a big belly, a vagina opening up. I'm still
doing pregnant women. I want to portray
nursing women from a woman's viewpoint. I'm sick of men's romanticized
version of nursing mothers.
"Right now I'm working on a series
of 12 drawings about modern times and
technology versus spirituality. Response
to the first five has been good. Also, I'm
trying to concentrate on selling my work
and I'm taking slides around when I can.
"Having Nate has put a big stress on
my relationship with Jim. It would have
been easier if we'd been prepared for it.
The popular mythology doesn't prepare
you for the huge change that takes place
in a relationship. On the one hand, having
this baby makes you so attracted to one
another. But on the other hand, you're so
exhausted all the time. For a while one or
the other of us went out and we never
got to be together. At times, I felt that
Nate was all I needed at that particular
time. And you have to plan when to
make love . . . you have to be creative.
And you have to accept that many of
these changes in a relationship are permanent. It takes 11 or 12 months to accept
the fact that there's now a third person
living with you.
"Jim is not jealous of Nate. Jim and
Nate bathe together, and we all sleep
together. This sort of offsets the close,
sexual relationship that exists between
a mother and a young baby.
"Nate is really a lucky baby. Jim is a
good nurturer. Fathers can also mother.
Men can choose how involved they will
be with their babies. Jim assumes as much
'mothering' as he can.
"Jim is a good role model for a son. I
had wanted a girl, because I had serious
doubts about being able to mother a boy.
But I had an instantaneous acceptance of
Nate's being a boy-I had a feeling that he
was in charge of his life. It may be easier
to raise a boy—I don't have to be the role
model. And there is the challenge of raising a feminist son.
Still, there is a special link between
women, and I would like to experience
that with a daughter. Having a baby is a
hard thing to do. One minute I really
want another baby . . . the next minute
I think I'll get my tubes tied.
Even though it's so difficult, I love
being a mother. The kind of love you
feel is beautiful. When I thought about
having a baby before I got pregnant with
Nate, I wanted an emotional intimacy
with another being that friends and my
husband couldn't offer. If I have another
baby, it will be for that same reason.
"I urge all women to get together
with other women. We feminists don't
have our act together about mothering.
I'd like to see more discussion on the subject. Other pregnant women and mothers
can be a tremendous help in confronting
some of the problems with pregnancy
and mothering. I also urge all women to
go to La Leche League. It's a conservative
group, but I think they're invaluable for
women getting together and sharing . . .
a forum for pregnant women to meet
"I feel that it has all been worth it. Being a mother has stretched my emotions
in so many ways. There is an analogy in
pregnancy and motherhood of the uterus
stretching in pregnancy, then the vagina
stretching in childbirth, and now the
"I feel like a mother now because I
have cracker crumbs all over my blouse
and no telling what else."