I grew up on a farm where a pair of hands was a pair of hands regardless of gender. Throughout my university studies, there was little if any differential treatment of the men and women in my field of study. There were often more woman who stayed in karate throughout the years until the black belt level. I feel lucky to have grown up in a relatively gender neutral environment.
Still there were a few differences. I never learned to use a chainsaw even though my brother did. While there were a lot of women in my undergraduate classes, the numbers dropped off beyond graduate school. There were far more men with black belts than women in most of the clubs I studied in.
Since becoming a mother, I've given serious thought to division of labor and its influence on gender roles.
It started when I got pregnant. I was tired and nauseated so much in the first trimester that I didn't have the energy to do anything but hold down the couch after work. By the time I crossed into the third trimester, picking up cut wood for 15 minutes in the sun was my limit. As I could no longer help my husband in a meaningful fashion with the outdoors work around the house, I took on more of the cooking and indoor cleaning.
Then the little Bean came along and my primary role became big milk machine. It was a job uniquely tailored to me. My husband helped bottle feed the Bean for the 2 months I exclusively pump and when I am away.
I am among the frugal mother who thought the free cost of breastfeeding - along with the health benefits - made it the obvious choice over formula. But breastfeeding does have a cost. It limits how much I can be away from my Bean and still maintain my supply. By default, I tend to take on most of the diaper changing and entertaining the Bean. My husband does those things as well, but on balance I am just there more. Even though I returned to work at 12 weeks postpartum, I still get up 2-3 times a night to feed the Bean.
With home improvements on the horizon, I'm looking at my ability to participate in a whole new light. I don't know how to install cedar singles. I've never re-routed plumbing. From a practical view, my former carpenter husband is better suited for accomplishing these jobs. Since someone needs to be watching the Bean, I have become the default babysitter.
It's not a role I begrudge. There are benefits. I see so many smiles and giggles as well as firsts. I also see a lot of poopy diapers, crying fits and struggle to make the most of my time while providing my daughter the interaction she needs. As long as I am breastfeeding, my place will be near her.
I try to remember it won't be for long and that I have other roles - scientific curator, author, outdoor enthusiast. I knew motherhood would change how I defined myself, I just didn't realize it would include roles that I don't want to be defined by.