For Better or Worse / An Excerpt

I was confident that Bill would be great at parenting. His father died before Bill was born; he knew how lucky he was to have this chance that his own father never had. Still, a lot of men are thrilled to be dads but not so thrilled about all the work that a child requires. The writer Katha Pollitt has observed how even the most egalitarian relationships can contort under the strain of child rearing, and all of a sudden the mom is expected to do everything, while the dad pitches in here and there. She calls it becoming “gender Republicans”—a nifty phrase, if perhaps a little unfair to all the feminist Republicans out there, who really do exist.

I knew that I had enough energy and devotion for two, if it turned out that Bill wasn’t a co-equal in the child-raising department. But I really hoped that wouldn’t happen. Our marriage had always been a true partnership. Though he was governor and then president—jobs that would seem to “beat” a lot of others, if you were the kind of person who ranked jobs like that—my career was important to me, too. So was my time and, more broadly, my identity. I couldn’t wait to become a mother, but I didn’t want to lose everything else about myself in the becoming. I was counting on my husband not just to respect that but also to join me in guarding against it.

So it was a wonderful thing when Chelsea arrived, and Bill dove into parenting with characteristic gusto. We went to the hospital with Bill clutching the materials from the Lamaze classes we had attended together. When it turned out that Chelsea was breech, he fought to be in the operating room with me and hold my hand during the C-section. Being governor came in handy when he asked to be the first father ever permitted by that hospital to do so. After we brought her home, he handled countless midnight feedings and diaper changes. We took turns making sure the parade of family and friends who wanted to spend time with Chelsea were looked after. As our daughter grew up, we both read her good-night stories. We both got to know her teachers and coaches. Even when Bill became president, he rearranged his schedule as much as he could to have dinner with us nearly every night that he was in Washington. And when he was somewhere else in the world, he’d call Chelsea to talk about her day and go over her homework with her.

Our daughter adored her father more and more. As she entered adolescence, I wondered if that would change at all. I remembered how my own dad and I grew somewhat distant from each other once I became a teenager. I provoked him with a lot of fiery political arguments. He was at a loss to navigate the occasionally stormy seas of teenage girlhood. Would that happen with Chelsea and Bill? As it turned out, no. He lived for their debates; the fiercer the better. He didn’t leave me to deal with the “girl stuff”: heartache, self-esteem, safety. He was right there with us.

Did I handle more of the family responsibilities, especially while Bill was president? Of course. This was something we’d talked through before he ran, and I was more than up for it. But I never felt like I was alone in the work of raising our wonderful daughter. And I know a lot of wives of busy men who would say otherwise. Bill wanted to be a great president, but that wouldn’t have mattered to him if he wasn’t also a great dad.

Every time I see the two of them laugh over some private joke that only they know . . . every time I overhear a conversation between them, two lightning-quick minds testing each other . . . every time I see him look at her with love and devotion . . . I’m reminded again that I chose exactly the right person to have a family with.

My marriage to Bill Clinton was the most consequential decision of my life. I said no the first two times he asked me. But the third time, I said yes. And I’d do it again.

I hesitated because I wasn’t quite prepared for marriage. I hadn’t figured out what I wanted my future to be yet. And I knew that by marrying Bill, I would be running straight into a future far more momentous than any other I’d likely know. He was the most intense, brilliant, charismatic person I had ever met. He dreamed big. I, on the other hand, was practical and cautious. I knew that marrying him would be like hitching a ride on a comet. It took me a little while to get brave enough to take the leap.

We’ve been married since 1975. We’ve had many, many more happy days than sad or angry ones. I know some people wonder why we’re still together. I heard it again in the 2016 campaign: that “we must have an arrangement” (we do; it’s called a marriage); that I helped him become president and then stayed so he could help me become president (no); that we lead completely separate lives, and it’s just a marriage on paper now (he is reading this over my shoulder in our kitchen with our dogs underfoot, and in a minute he will reorganize our bookshelves for the millionth time, which means I will not be able to find any of my books, and once I learn the new system, he’ll just redo it again, but I don’t mind because he really loves to organize those bookshelves).

I don’t believe our marriage is anyone’s business. Public people should be allowed to have private lives, too. But I know that a lot of people are genuinely interested. Maybe you’re flat-out perplexed. Maybe you want to know how this works because you are married and would like it to last 40 years or longer, and you’re looking for perspective. I certainly can’t fault you on that.

I don’t want to delve into all the details, because I really do want to hold on to what’s left of my privacy as much as I can. But I will say this: Bill has been an extraordinary father to our beloved daughter and an exuberant, hands-on grandfather to our two grandchildren. I look at Chelsea and Charlotte and Aidan and I think, We did this. That’s a big deal.

He has been my partner in life and my greatest champion. He never once asked me to put my career on hold for his. He never once suggested that maybe I shouldn’t compete for anything—in work or politics—because it would interfere with his life or ambitions. There were stretches of time in which my husband’s job was unquestionably more important than mine, and he still didn’t play that card. I have never felt like anything but an equal. Bill is completely unbothered by having an ambitious, opinionated, occasionally pushy wife. In fact, he loves me for it.

Long before I thought of running for public office, he was saying, “You should do it. You’d be great at it. I’d love to vote for you.” He helped me believe in this bigger version of myself. Bill was a devoted son-in-law and always made my parents feel welcome in our home. Toward the end of my mother’s life, when I wanted her to move into our house in Washington, he said yes without hesitation. Though I expected nothing less, this meant the world to me. I know so many women who are married to men who—though they have their good qualities—can be sullen, moody, irritated at small requests, and generally disappointed with everyone and everything. Bill Clinton is the opposite. He has a temper, but he’s never mean. And he’s funny, friendly, unflappable in the face of mishaps and inconveniences, and easily delighted by the world—remember those balloons at the convention? He is fabulous company.

We’ve certainly had dark days in our marriage. You know all about them—and please consider for a moment what it would be like for the whole world to know about the worst moments in your relationship. There were times that I was deeply unsure about whether our marriage could or should survive. But on those days, I asked myself the questions that mattered most to me: Do I still love him? And can I still be in this marriage without becoming unrecognizable to myself— twisted by anger, resentment, or remoteness? The answers were always yes. So I kept going.

On our first date, we went to the Yale University Art Gallery to see a Mark Rothko exhibit. The building was closed, but Bill talked our way in. When I think about that afternoon—seeing the art, hearing the stillness all around us, giddy about this person whom I had just met but somehow knew would change my life—it still feels magical, and I feel happy and lucky all over again.

I still think he’s one of the most handsome men I’ve ever known. I’m proud of him: proud of his vast intellect, his big heart, the contributions he has made to the world. I love him with my whole heart. That’s more than enough to build a life on.

The morning after the election, Bill and I both wore purple. It was a nod to bipartisanship (blue plus red equals purple). The night before, I had hoped to thank the country wearing white—the color of the suffragettes—while standing on a stage cut into the shape of the United States under a vast glass ceiling. Instead, the white suit stayed in the garment bag.

After I delivered my concession speech, I hugged as many people in the ballroom as possible—lots of old friends and devoted campaign staffers, many of their faces wet with tears. I was dry-eyed and felt calm and clear. My job was to smile, be strong for everyone, and show America that life went on and our republic would endure. A life spent in the public eye has given me lots of practice at that. I wear my composure like a suit of armor, for better or worse. In some ways, it felt like I had been training for this latest feat of self-control for decades.

After delivering hugs and smiling so long and hard that my face ached, I asked my senior team to go back to our headquarters in Brooklyn and make sure everyone was OK. One final wave to the crowd, and Bill and I got into the backseat of a Secret Service van and were driven away.

I could finally let my smile drain away. We were mostly quiet. Every few minutes, Bill would repeat what he had been saying all morning: “I’m so proud of you.” To that he now added, “That was a great speech. History will remember it.”

I loved him for saying it, but I didn’t have much to say in return. I felt completely and totally depleted. And I knew things would feel worse before they started feeling better.

It takes about an hour to drive from Manhattan to our home in Chappaqua. I absolutely love our old house. It’s cozy, colorful, full of art, and every surface is covered with photos of the people I love best in the world. That day, the sight of our front gate was pure relief to me. All I wanted to do was get inside, change into comfy clothes, and maybe not answer the phone ever again.

I’ll confess that I don’t remember much about the rest of that day. I put on yoga pants and a fleece. Our two sweet dogs followed me from room to room, and at one point, I took them outside and just breathed the cold, rainy air. The question blaring in my head was “How did this happen?” Fortunately, I had the good sense to realize that diving into a campaign postmortem right then would be about the worst thing I could do to myself.

Losing is hard for everyone, but losing a race you thought you would win is devastating. I remember when Bill lost his reelection as governor of Arkansas in 1980. He was so distraught at the outcome that I had to go to the hotel where the election-night party was held to speak to his supporters on his behalf. For a good while afterward, he was so depressed that he practically couldn’t get off the floor. That’s not me. I keep going. I also stew and ruminate. I run through the tape over and over, identifying every mistake—especially those made by me. When I feel wronged, I get mad, and then I think about how to fight back.

On that first day, I just felt tired and empty. The reckoning was still to come.

At some point, we ate dinner. We FaceTimed with our grandchildren, two-year-old Charlotte and her baby brother, Aidan, born in June 2016. I was reassured to see their mom. I knew Chelsea was hurting for me, which in turn hurt to think about, but those kids are an instant mood boost for all of us. We quietly drank them in, that day and every day after. After sleeping hardly at all the night before, I climbed into our bed at midday for a nice, long nap. I also went to bed early that night and slept in the next morning. I could finally do that.

I avoided the phone and email that first day. I suspected, correctly, that I was receiving a virtual avalanche of messages, and I couldn’t quite handle it—couldn’t handle everyone’s kindness and sorrow, their bewilderment and their theories for where and why we had fallen short. Eventually, I’d dive in. But for now, Bill and I kept the rest of the world out. I was grateful for the one billionth time that I had a husband who was good company not just in happy times but sad ones as well.

 

Originally published on VOGUE.com

An Excerpt

Ani Difranco Via an interview on NPR, June 27, 2017

 

I think basically, women, being the agents of creation (the ones with the reproductive systems that actually do give birth and create the next generation of human beings) we are hand in hand with God- you know, the concept. That is, like, we actually live the act of creation. So in that sense we are the embodiment of that thing. And before patriarchy usurped all of human society the oldest images and carvings of deities were females. And not only were they female goddesses, they were big boobed, big bellied, pregnant women in the act of creation. You know, this was our first concept, our first relationship with God, with the miracle of life being created… that’s what it really is… And the song Play God tries to put it in a modern context. Like, I actually (as a woman) I pay dividends every month, you know. I have paid in many ways to have a reproductive system that got turned on way before I was prepared for it… I‘ve had several abortions when I was very young. I have had more periods than I could ever remember. I’ve given birth to several children. These are all… experiences which took a lot out of me. You know, I think including just menstruation, you know, this sort of reality of being a woman. I believe that PMS, this thing that we sort laugh at and think of as the unexplainable emotionalism of women, you know, this is women experiencing death every single month. I think that when an egg dies… an egg is the biggest human cell. It’s by far the largest cell. It’s a seed. It’s a seed of a human being. And whether it’s fertilized or not, the act of it dying which occurs every month… all of these seeds that a woman is born with, that a baby girl is born with, they all want to come alive. They all want to have their chance. But most of them don’t. And the woman has to let go. Has to feel that part of herself… that part of creation give up. And it’s dark. And it’s hard. And it makes you look upon the whole world pessimistically. You live that emotional pain with that death. So I think this sort of rollercoaster, and this kind of sacrifice that women do just by the mere fact of their biology should be respected. Should be understood as such. And that there are rights and privileges that go along with that sacrifice… that if you don’t live it, you just simply can’t understand and you shouldn’t try to dictate.

The Necessary Dangers

My mother
was a prolific baker and
a terrible housekeeper.
She taught us to caramelize onions, to
light fires in our wood stove, to
throw our bodies upside-down against the walls
as we worked toward headstands of our own.
She taught us to count to ten in
French and Latin and Hungarian.
She taught us to revere the record player.

My mother, I think, was
never certain as to whether or not
she was suited
to motherhood,
but that didn’t stop her from
reading to us each time we asked,
endlessly reminding us of proper manners, and
knitting us mittens, scarves, and socks to protect agains the New England winters.

It was she, and not my father, who was
more likely to say,
“Oh, let them go.
They’ll have to learn some time,”
when we ran off toward
the necessary dangers of youth
while my father chuckled or grumbled or
furrowed his brow.

My Body Is A Symptom

 

Yesterday, I loved my body. I meant it when I said I didn’t care about its’ shape. I believed him when he told me I was beautiful. But today I am plotting ways to contain it: lotions to bring back smoothness, squats to lift and firm, green smoothies for everything else. Tomorrow I will eat a pint of ice cream and maybe love myself again. The next day, who knows?

We are huddled together in bed, my whole family, as the sun rises up over the hills and streams into the window. I am showing the kids my lines; the lines I have from carrying them. “These ones here, are yours,” I tell my daughter, pointing to the empty rivers below my belly button, nearly nine years old. Higher, and to each side, my son’s position is etched into my skin. It delights them to see proof of their beginnings, running their fingers along the lines that run like rivers on their original map.

The marks my third baby left are pink, my belly still soft from holding her. It is a softness that billows when they touch it, as if inside, it still holds oceans. This is what it feels like to be a woman in this moment of my life: a brief celebration of vulnerability and then a return to the tedium of perfection; a perfection unattained and yet, somehow, expected?

We are blissful hostages on new-baby-island, my husband and I, only this third time we are even more at ease. We accept the things beyond our control. We have moments that feel like falling. We celebrate and sleep deeply when they are finally, all three of them, in bed. But the grace I have allowed myself with each new baby doesn’t last. Soon I am back to measuring myself in all the ways that we do: Why can I not manage to fold the laundry and make the dinner and pick up and drop off and soothe and nurse and also attend to the real emotional needs of my children–the kind that make them grow into good, healthy, content humans? Why can I not also find time for “self care”, as in a shower? And now that I’m thirty eight years old (I planned to have my children before age thirty five, but plans, hah!) I also feel the pressure of making the most of life, of finally finishing that novel, and the menacing fear that is my body, with all its potential deceptions underneath: its aging, its march towards death.

I am afraid. Not all the time, but sometimes. My body is a symptom, and I can google it.

Yesterday, I read an article in a reputable newspaper about motherhood and feminism that bothered me. The author, a mother herself, tried to make the case that motherhood is not a job, and that being a mother is not selfless, but selfish. I spent the rest of the day making counter arguments, quietly, and to myself.

True, I am grateful and humbled and overturned by love. But what am I? Am I the cook we have not hired, and the nanny that does not come, and the house cleaner that we dream of? Am I the psychologist and nutritionist and chauffeur? Am I less or am I more? I can assure you I do all these jobs with mediocrity, and that I share most jobs with a husband who folds and follows a recipe better than I ever will. So what am I? Do I matter?

A friend asks me “What do you do all day?” “Hah,” I laugh. Ha ha ha. I want to tell you how I got here: how I refused to cook when I was a girl and took up the role when I became a wife; how a wedding was not something I dreamt of and yet I was married at 25; how I felt little desire to mother until I had children of my own; how I chose to “stay home” with my children and have “accomplished” very little society would deem worthwhile. Am I less because I have chosen a small life?

On days when I find myself struggling to count; when I put on a white top and bother to wash the night away; on days when a soft boiled egg is a dangerous choice; on those days when I feel, despite chaos all around, like the loneliest person in the world; on days when the kids don’t like me; on days when I put them in the car just for the break provided by seat belts; these days like all the others are hard and yet cherished. The babies that have been born from my body–whole and alive and flesh, as they are, do not belong to me. And the only song I can sing is I am blessed, I am blessed, I am blessed.

 

The Milky Way – Vincent Ferrane’s Ode to the Art of Breast Feeding

“I tried to show in this series how breastfeeding appears as a pulse that gradually takes its part in the other cycles of life — such as those of nature, the seasons, and of days and nights,” Vincent explains. Milky Way begins with frozen landscapes and concludes in spring, portraying a systematic format with the consistent use of composition and light throughout. The aesthetic of the pictures is determined by the feeding behaviour and its geometry of bodies. These images are characterized by family cohesion of classic icons as well as modern accents. This everyday moment emerges the force of exchanges between two human beings and the milk becomes, as in the Greek legend of the Milky Way, the vector of a world under construction.”

Becoming a father inspired Vincent Ferrané to create a series celebrating the sometimes-derided act of breastfeeding

In a powerful and intimate photobook, Vincent Ferrané has photographed one of the most natural things in the world – breastfeeding. After the birth of his first child, the French photographer was struck by the strength and resilience of his wife during the nurturing process, and started a six-month project to document how she and her child connected through it. Milky Way, the resulting series, demystifies an act that is so often hidden from view.

“I was struck beyond words by the beauty of these moments,” explains Ferrané. “When I say beauty, I don’t mean that it is only pure joy – these are ambivalent times of strength and emotion on one hand, but also difficult and sometimes harsh and tiring on the other.”

Ferrané regularly took pictures of his wife before she gave birth, and says that in this sense, he didn’t originally see this as a photoseries about breastfeeding – rather, he was a father creating a personal and candid series capturing these early moments in his child’s life. In the book, this creates a diaristic effect, conveying Ferrané’s emotions with each portrait.

“Taking pictures of people and moments you truly love is the most important thing,” he says. “During breastfeeding, as a father you are emotionally involved yet already in a distant position, so taking pictures gives you a role as a kind of ‘active spectator’. But picturing your own family is a real subject, especially toward the aspect of revealed intimacy.”

As the series progressed his focus sharpened, and Ferrané took inspiration from art – paintings from the Italian Renaissance and Dutch traditions that depict breastfeeding, for example, such as the Madonna Litta by Leonardo da Vinci and the works of Gerard David and Robert Campin. The title of the series is a reference to Greek mythology, in which Hera, the goddess of women and childbirth, created the Milky Way with milk spurted from her breast. The photographs are endowed with a sense of the sublime, and yet they balance these poetic symbols with everyday reality, as breastfeeding becomes an established part of family life.

“The vernacular side of this experience was very important to me,” says Ferrané. “It shows how the baby will gradually become such a big part of your existence. So I wanted to place so-called ‘noble’ images of breastfeeding with everyday experiences that lactating women know well on the same level, like engorged breasts relieved by taking a bath, or the fact that the baby is spitting up.”

This matter-of-factness may also combat a less positive aspect of breastfeeding – the low rates of breastfeeding in Western countries, and the spats in which women are shamed for publicly breast-feeding. Ferrané didn’t have this in mind when he started the project, he says, but adds that it’s certainly something he considered when he published his book.

“Doing this series doesn’t make me a specialist of ‘breastfeeding’ as a social issue, but during my involvement with these images, I sadly realised how much women still have to fight to normalise breastfeeding,” he says. “Breastfeeding in public is complicated and when my partner returned to work, drawing her milk created delicate moments. There was no private space or provision for that [in her workplace]. You have to be really militant to breastfeed beyond 10 weeks in France I think.”

As Ferrané points out though, this lack of social awareness is nothing new – the photographer quotes the French literary canon, referencing a Molière play from the 17th century in which a character is told to cover up their bosom, which “offends” the crowd. For Ferrané, there needs to be a change in how breastfeeding is presented – both in France and around the world.

“It begins at birth, the various health professionals you meet as parents – the paediatricians, nurses, midwives – have very varied speeches on breastfeeding. After birth, in France, you are expected to leave the maternity unit quickly, within three to four days, and the baby must gain some weight before that. Therefore, artificial milk can rapidly be introduced, which can discourage mothers from breastfeeding,” he explains.

Milky Way is intended to be part of this debate, and to present an empowered woman at her strongest, and Ferrané says it’s provoked a strong reaction in its audience – both positive and negative. “Maybe mothers are not ‘allowed’ to speak freely about these experiences,” he says. “Due to self-censorship, it sometimes seems that mothers have to look perfect and say it was only a merry experience.

“But things are changing and the warm welcome that these pictures get shows that a good way to normalise breastfeeding is to look at every aspect of it – its incredible joys, its occasional pains, its constant demands.”

There are elements of nudity in the photobook, which Ferrané says are deliberately done to reclaim the breast as a natural way of nourishing and feeding, rather than solely as a sexual fetish, which has led to a prudish attitude to breastfeeding. “My wife and I agreed that elements of nudity in the series, like a lactating breast for example, were not ambiguous but were revealing one role of a mother in a meaningful, modern and strong way.

“It is obvious that to say that the body of woman is often eroticised in modern iconography. More often than not, it embodies the indirect desire for something else, a consumer good in general. In this series, the idea is not so much to try to desexualise the body but rather to render its function, to show the beauty and poetry inherent in this function – for example, to restore the breast, the nourishing and powerful function that is refused too often. In this female body, I see a woman and a mother at the same time.”

Ferrané has described the experience of having a baby as a “small revolution” and says creating the photoseries has made both husband and wife even closer. “I have simply seen breastfeeding as an act of life and love that is not always an easy task, and that therefore is deserving of encouragement in its all dimensions – psychological, physical and social,” he says.

 

 

Article Originally Published Here

Book sold HERE