Realistic Expectations and Victory Babies

Something horrible has happened to me, little darlings.    Today I went to a meditation class.  There were chakras and energies and colors and a diamond grid with a spirit guide.  I’ve become the person who owns a relaxation fountain.

Figure 1: Putting this fucker together was the most unrelaxing thing I’ve ever done. I think the only person feeling relaxed is my cat and that’s only because she drinks out of it and the fountain has abated her stress that I am going to forget to give her water. I do that pretty frequently. My dog just farted in the bed next to me and I cursed him for it. I should not be a pet owner.

Earlier today I texted Hathor, “I can’t do four more weeks of this. I’m going nuts. I used to deal with my insecurities by drinking shiraz and vomiting in front of your house. Now what do I have?  Nothing.”

But, I suppose that’s not really true.  There is one important thing that I have – realistic expectations.  I realize that this might not sound like much, but I think it may be the key to happiness.

I have a few friends from high school that I keep up with on Facebook.  They are the tried-and true, crunchy Earth mother types.  They smell like patchouli and  diaper their babies in hemp and probably have breast milk that smells like granola.  I wouldn’t know for sure about the last part, but it’s what I imagine.  And let’s not discuss why I would be imagining such things. 

Yesterday they were all discussing a post from some mommy bloggers called “Do you need a victory baby?” Another blogger discusses the concept of the victory baby thusly:

A victory baby, for those (like me) who are not in the know, is a follow-up child—a mulligan, do-over, or second chance to make right all the wrongs that came with your first kid. For the majority of women who commented, this can be a birth experience—natural childbirth instead of the emergency c-section—or a health condition, medical problem, or even trouble with PPD. For others, the reasons were much more frivolous—Keep trying for a girl/boy, and the like. (Frivolous to me, but I have heard that some women take this very seriously.)

The concept of a victory baby seems rooted in the notion that to achieve happiness, they must have another baby on the terms they dictate in order to achieve some sacred “victory.”  This allows them to correct some prior disappointment or win out over Teh Man.  Or something like that.  This is the most ridiculous bundle of shenanigans I have ever heard in my life.

Indeed I say, “What the shark?”

These days, when I tuck myself in at night, I find myself simply saying, “Thank God I survived that.”    The food in the hair, the toys crammed into assorted orifices all over my home, the exploding emergencies at work, the piles of laundry that have taken over the first floor of my house.  There’s no victory in motherhood.  There’s only, “Oh, for fuck’s sake please don’t let this kill me.”  And the little vacations we get from our children when we walk around the car.

Video 1:  Evidence begins at 01:00.

When you expect perfection, you set yourself up for failure.

This seems relevent because there have been talks around the interwebz about happiness, and the number of children women academics should have, and some PLoS study that says academics wish they had more children.

I wonder why the people in the PLoS study felt they couldn’t or shouldn’t have more children.  Is it because they were worried that they would have to give up some “victory” in some sphere of their lives?  I think it all depends on your expectations.  I read a recent paper from the American Sociological Society meeting called “Even Supermoms Get the Blues: Employment, Gender Attitudes and Depression” (email for a copy).  The author of the study assessed young women’s expectations of work and family life before they had children.  Then, when the women were 40, she evaluated them for depressive symptoms.   She found that women who had lower or, dare I say “more realistic”, expectations were less likely to be experiencing depressive symptoms.  The young women who had a “Supermom” attitude, expecting to be able to perfectly and seamlessly blend home and career, were more likely to experience major depression later in life.  The women more willing to make trade-offs fared better.

Even more interesting, but irrelevant to the topic of this post, stay at home moms  were the most likely to be depressed at age 40.


The moral of the story?  Go to work,  have your babies, drink shiraz, and be willing to sacrifice the non-essential.  The greatest victory is that this shit doesn’t kill us.

13 responses to “Realistic Expectations and Victory Babies

  1. My oldest just moved out yesterday. How did he go from playing with cars on a fabric mat to playing bass in three hardcore metal bands, working for the USGS (a proper internship–yes!) and majoring in Atmospheric Sciences? I must’ve missed him growing up while trying to wash spaghetti out of my hair (the floor was “clean”, thanks to the dog-best investment ever for the kids– and the lack of cheerios to step on).

    I wish I had taken photos each time there was a messy handprint on the glass patio door, because those kept getting higher and higher as time passed.

    And I am gradually growing out of the exhaustion I would feel at the sight of a toddler needing juice, a shoe tied, a coat zipped, or a face wiped. I might fully be recovered by the time one of my kids announces I will be a grandma. (Please wait!).

    It has been worth every exhausting minute! I didn’t do amazing research (my trade-off) but I was still teaching cutting edge science day in and day out. Pursuing my passion was the best thing I ever did for my kids and myself. :)

  2. cackleofradness

    I hear you. My thought: many things come together for a person to be highly successful, and these things might be out of my control–if I ended up a mediocre scientist, I will be much more happy being mediocre but with happy children.

  3. I will be content as a mediocre scientist with children that are within 2 SD of fuckeduppedness.

    Louis CK’s walk around the car is absolute TRUTH.

  4. Yes to all you say Isis, Amen and all that.

    It all concurs with something I heard some time ago that said we should NOT talk about the ‘work-life balance’, but embrace whatever level of IMBALANCE we need to survive day by day, as you so aptly put it.


  5. People get steadily unhappier until the 40s, after which they start getting happy again. It’s, I think, due to expectations.

    When we’re young we expect to conquer the world. And our family and friends expect that of you as well. As we age our real life falls more and more short of those expectations, making us more and more miserable.

    Until that magical moment in our 40s when we give up. This is it, and it’s not going to be any better. We – and our loved ones – realize we’re never going to climb that corporate ladder. We’re not going to receive those research awards. We won’t have wonderful, beautiful kids with a clean arrest record that aren’t still working the fryer station into their 30s. Nobody is going to hold a ticker tape in your honour. No chalet in the Swiss alps, and no millions in the bank.

    When expectations disappear we can relax, live life on its own terms, and enjoy what we got, not get crushed by expectations we can’t fulfil.

  6. Isis, you may be about to follow the (Great) Ernst Rutherford. Years ago, I read that (certainly as he got older) his presence was not appreciated in the lab – although his analysis of results and design of experiments were wonders to behold; and he has the reputation of being one of 20th century’s greatest experimentalists. Anyway, I was so certain I had heard these anecdotes that I just did a little research and found this interview with one of his most trusted technicians. It partly backs up my recollection of whatever I read as a youngster.

    So, it seems, you can plan a career like his!!!!!!! (Nobel prize and all, we hope).


  7. I very much appreciated the honesty of the “victory baby” discussion. I try to have realistic expectations, but I expect that perfectionism is something I’ll always struggle with. So in the first weeks of motherhood I did find myself wishing for a do-over, and thinking things like, “Oh, this will go better with the next one.” Will I actually have another baby just for that reason? No, that’s completely crazy. It’s a terrible reason to have a baby. (We have one now, and plan to have two, because we both agree that having siblings enriched our lives, but three seems too many.) Even the original blogger who came up with the idea says it’s a terrible reason to have a baby. Doesn’t stop people from having the thought.

    So, I’m glad that it’s not something you identify with, because it probably makes you saner than the rest of us. But for those of us who’ve had those thoughts, it’s better to get it out in the open where we can help each other deal with the crazy.

    (BTW, glad you decided to keep blogging apart over here!)

  8. This post just totally made my morning. I laughed a lot, and that tight feeling in my chest that started with changing baby clothes 3 times, got worse after leaving him at day care (only the second week), and then buckled down during the first day of class (graduate school), just loosened like a miracle. Thanks.

  9. When we’re young we expect to conquer the world. And our family and friends expect that of you as well. As we age our real life falls more and more short of those expectations, making us more and more miserable.

    I was always told I could be and do anything I wanted, how brilliant I was, how lucky I was, yada, yada, yada. I took this to heart, and still do. Maybe I’ll finally give in when I turn 40? Who knows, but I do want to avoid an epidural next time I give birth, because I hated the way the drugs made me itch the few hours between “giving in” and pushing Monkey out. And I’d like to avoid the worst of PPD, so I plan to start taking Zoloft the moment Monkey #2 escapes the asylum. I’m not planning to have a 2nd Monkey so that I can correct these issues, I just would like to learn from my past experiences.

    Maybe this comes from unrealistic expectations. Maybe I am still suffering from PPD. Maybe the two are interlinked, or maybe I just haven’t gotten enough sleep in the past 9 months. But I don’t think I can just let it all go. For now, I’m working on the smaller stuff – like not freaking out when Monkey sticks his hands in his poopie diaper, or when he spoons a soggy mixture of ice cream, cheerios, and pizza onto himself, his highchair, the carpet and walls, and yours truly.

  10. DrLizzyMoore

    I don’t get it. I went through the obligatory guilt and not ‘feeling tough’ enough after needing a C-section with my little Bean. Nevermind the fact that I had raging preeclampsia and he was stucker than stuck AND face up. Good times. Of course, the local crunchy moms said the C-section wouldn’t have been necessary had I just had the baby at home. So over that! Baby #2 (when there is such a thing) will likely be delivered by C-section as well. Crunchy moms, if it makes you feel better, I will lobby for the C-section to happen on my dining room table so that new baby is delivered at home in a ‘peaceful’ environment……

    Oh and Science, I will have as many children as I wanna. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it!

  11. I have lots of thoughts on this, but not a lot of structure to them. Perhaps I will write a post about this later, when I can form a coherent series of thoughts. Or maybe I’ll just do my usual stream of consciousness BS. Who knows.

    Anyway, I have three short points for here:

    1. @MicroDrO- I had all sorts of plans for having a “better” birth the second time around. I read up on things. I had a list of how I wanted to respond to various situations. I had coached my husband on the help I needed from him. And then, at the first exam once I showed up at the hospital in labor, the doctor said “I feel a butt”, and I discovered I had a breech baby and I had a C-section. We are only partially in control of our birth experiences.

    But I definitely had an easier time getting breastfeeding established the second time around!

    2. On “having it all”- I haven’t read the study, so maybe they try to address this, but I think there is a strong and underappreciated correlation between the happiness of working mothers and the non-doucheness of their husbands. If you marry someone who was expecting June Cleaver and you expect to have a demanding career, then someone is going to be unhappy. And if you’ve internalized a homemaking ideal that is not suited for a two-career family, chances are, the unhappy one will be you, particularly if your husband doesn’t see the problem. (To be clear, I’m using “you” in the global sense here- not to imply that this is how Dr. Isis rolls. From all indications, it is not.)

    Anyway, that’s how I rationalize the fact that I am happily combining motherhood and career while so many other people are hating a life that looks a lot like mine. I don’t think I’m unusually good at either motherhood or career, but perhaps I got lucky in my spouse.

    But I also have low expectations of myself in the homemaking department, so as you say, realistic expectations are key.

    3. The Economist had a feature a few months back about the U-shape of happiness. It bottoms out in midlife and then goes back up. So according to them, I’ll be even happier soon!

  12. My female post-doc mentor used to drill into our heads that all the “most successful” scientists had only one child. Therefore, she only had one child, that she referred to as an “experiment” that she did not have to repeat (seriously). Anyway, one of the examples she mentioned was David Baltimore (one child=Nobel prize). Interestingly, I once heard Dr. Baltimore’s scientist wife Alice Huang speak on a panel about work-life balance, and she expressed that one of her few regrets was that they didn’t have more children. Funny how you never hear people say that they regret having too many children.

    These things weigh heavily on my mind these days, as I recently found out I am expecting twins (our 2nd & 3rd children). I have no idea how we’re going to handle all of this, but I know we’ll look back in a few years and be thankful that we did it. It has also made me wonder: when did we start thinking of children more as a burden than a blessing?

    Glad to see you’re continuing the blog here. Oh, and victory babies? That is some fucked up shit right there. The biggest lesson I’ve learned as a mom is that things will not always go as planned. Planning a “victory baby” seems like setting yourself up for disappointment…again.

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