It is an enormous relief to no longer have to sit quietly by while women gather in tight little groups, usually divided neatly along lines of birth choice, infant feeding choice, work-or-stay-home choice or overall reproductive choice; and listen respectfully while they endeavor to maintain their version of "right womanhood" to the exclusion and derision of anyone outside the charmed circle. It's a breath of fresh air to be able to listen to women who've made all kinds of choices about their lives speak freely, on this blog, and in person, and have the satisfaction of knowing that they won't be hammered, at least not in my hearing, for living their lives, birthing their childen, feeding and raising them on their own terms. I know that before there were so many "choices" there were women.........
Someone e mailed me a few days ago to ask me a question that she feared, literally feared, asking me by posting a comment on my blog. She is a new mother with a 5 week nursing baby, and a two year old. Her husband is in the Army and is deployed overseas; she hasn't seen him in more than 5 months. He has the opportunity to spend some time in Germany over the next 3 weeks and he wants her to fly over there for a weeks' visit and she very much wants to go. Her mother and mother in law are encouraging her to go and have both offered to take care of the little ones'; she knows she will have to put the baby on formula temporarily but, she really feels that it's important for them to have this time together but now she wonders if she is just being "selfish". She told me that she posted her question on another "message board" and was roundly criticized for even considering "abandoning" her baby and toddler and was told, in sometimes vague but often, quite stark terms, that she obviously "cares" more about having a good time with her husband than in caring for and nurturing her children! There was the usual round of "armchair psychology" with questioning why she feels she "needs" to "get away" from her babies and "doesn't her husband understand that these early weeks are crucial for attachment and bonding?" and then the statements from on high: "Nursing your baby is more important than any trip to Europe" and "The marriage will still be there when the babies are older and don't need you so much". She said she felt literally chased off the site and, when she returned to try to further explain her situation; found that, in her absence, women were coming in droves to label her everything from a "sicko" a "psycho" and of course, "selfish" and "so sad". This is followed, of course, by the several rounds of self-congratulation and group reassurance
that they are, of course, the "real mothers" of the Universe who sacrifice everything for their babies, never leave them with anyone, homebirth, homeschool, co sleep and the entire package now roundly accepted as the new "norm" for avoiding the still-feared label of "bad mother".
She crawled away into the dark and quietly e mailed me to ask me "what do you think I should do?"
I told her to buy that plane ticket and have a wonderful time!
In the beginning, there was woman.......
I wish someone could tell me how, in this post-modern, post-feminist culture; we have recreated a mosaic of Victorian and 1950's "Leave it to Beaver" blended up with a dose of Freud that catapults motherhood back into the gilded cage of "shoulds" and "oughts" and competitive, driven, neurotic and isolated Stepford Wives who live the "Feminine Mystique" of Betty Friedan but won't even dare to rediscover the "problem which has no name" because they don't even know how to ask the question!
How did the midwifery and homebirth culture of the late 60's and 70's evolve into promoting a parenting ideology that is so essentially anti woman and anti freedom? It didn't start out this way. When Ina May and Stephen Gaskin created the Farm Community, it was an egalitarian and democratic culture that placed enormous value on birth, babies, breastfeeding and bonding but had an almost diametrically opposed position on how to attain those goals than the current "natural parenting" community does. This was a commune, remember. Communitarian values were the esssential core of the Farm ethic. Everyone on the Farm had a job within the community and so they created a really viable and flexible child-care system so that everyone could work! Some of the Farm jobs were the "kid care teams"! None of those women were "staying home" with their nursing babies! They took them to work or they left them with other women in the community, sometimes utilizing a "wet nurse" model and sharing even the breastfeeding relationship amongst themselves. There was a lot more freedom and support for the women to be their own, unique, individual selves!
When I first began having children, 20 years ago, it never occured to me to try to find a group of "like minded" parents! I knew, before I even considered a pregnancy, what my birth choices would entail ( being a midwife made narrowing that down pretty easy ) and I intended to breastfeed and I also knew that I wanted to homeschool my kids, as did my husband. Even among the midwives and homebirth families I knew; there was little discussion about these things and I honestly never heard anyone criticized for doing something else. When a planned homebirth ended up in transport, there was concern for the mom and baby, hope that all was, or would be, well, but no comment, critique or wondering who was to 'blame'. When an occasional bottle of formula needed to be given, for whatever reason, well....no one ever knew, really, because no one thought anyone would care! It didn't seem like a big deal and parents hired baby sitters, usually sometime within the baby's first few months, to go out to dinner, or to a family event and there was no idea that anyone's "bonding" would be disrupted or that the woman who went "out" and "away" from her baby for whatever reason should now be the topic of some kind of psychological torture or battering. If I wanted to go do something, I did it! I took one baby to a wedding at 6 weeks. Another, I left with my mother in law to attend a funeral. I left my baby, Emma, and 3 and a half year old Stephen with my mother when I went to the Farm, actually, to do some midwifery workshops and wanted my husband to go with me; we had a fantastic time! Emma, by the way, is now nearly 17 and a completely delightful, responsible and bright beam and she and I have an unusually close relationship; she has, for the last 3 years, been my "right hand" at births and has always eagerly helped my client families with babysitting, postpartum help and encouragement! Kids' are resilient and much smarter than we give them credit for; children know when they are loved and valued and I can assure every mother reading this that it has not one thing to do with birth choice or experience, feeding or sleeping arrangements or type of baby carrier! It has to do with an authentic capacity to appreciate and value another human being and that capacity is not represented by a breast any better than with a bottle!
I breastfed all of my children into toddlerhood except for Samuel, who was never able to get beyond being gavage fed high-protein/high calorie formula. Samuel was born through a classical incision into my womb as was proper for him; he was too fragile to have survived a normal birth. I have come to love the tiny remnant of scar on my belly that reminds me that Samuel was born. I have painful adhesions throughout my pelvis that cause me considerable discomfort at times but, I choose to think of them ( along with my hot flashes! ) as "power surges" remembering the stalwart soul that came into the world with so little hope of survival and yet, brought so much love and compassion into my life. Samuel was, and is, a darling of my heart, even now, nearly 3 years after his death. We never did any kind of "bonding" of the sort that my midwifery and natural parenting community holds to be so essential yet, he remains my "sweet boy" and my muse. We were soul mates, Samuel and I. Neither birth, nor breast, nor life nor death impacted our relationship; it existed and still exists, because that is the true nature of "bonding and attachment"--two souls brought together for a purpose beyond either of their ability to comprehend. Breastfeeding my healthy children was a delight; feeding Samuel through a gavage tube was an act of will that, at some point, I realized, represented a kind of loving and devotion I had never had the opportunity to experience. It gave me the same sense of doing my best for my child as breastfeeding ever did because I knew that for Samuel; there was no other way to nourish him. He had no muscle tone and was prone to aspiration so, it was critically important that he be held in a very upright position on a lap while holding aloft this tubed feeding apparatus. He could only take a few cc's a time without refluxing all of it back up so, feeding him took close to an hour each time and he was fed every three hours around the clock. At some point during the feeding, he would lean his soft little body into whoever was feeding him and then he would tip his head back and look up into the face above him; Samuel was blind so, whatever he saw, he viewed through the eyes of faith and love. Breastfeeding was wonderful; feeding Samuel through that tube: transcendent!
Being a mother is about being a mother........We give birth. We do our best each and every time. That's enough; just being who and what we are and loving what we do; is enough.
Prior to the 1950's, it was highly unusual for mothers' to spend the kind of time and attention now lavished on children and yet, for all the "attachement parenting" going on in the last 20 years; the level of behavioral, emotional and social dysfunction in children has skyrocketed and more young women and mothers are on anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications than at any time in the last two generations! The last time an entire demographic of mothers were, in large numbers, being prescribed psychiatric medications was back in the late 50's and 60's -- remember "Mother's Little Helper?"
The idea that "bonding" and "attachment" are delicate, sensitive arrangements that happen only in ideal circumstances, or only with great difficulty if anything imposes on those precious, irreplaceable few hours after birth is nonsense.
Yes, that IS what I said ~ Nonsense!
Bonding and attachment happen, for most women, during pregnancy. If we didn't arrive at birth already attached to our infants; we would not have the ability to assume their care immediately and we do have that capacity! The instinct that enables, in fact, drives a woman to reach for her newly born baby as it emerges from her body is the instinctive awareness of primal relationship to this small, helpless person she is hormonally, psychologically and emotionally primed, during pregnancy, to learn to know and care for, her hidden child!
We have evolved from women who would have given birth in potentially dangerous or threatening environments. To ensure the safety and life of the infant; the mother must have an immediate attachment that enables her to act on behalf of her offspring in order to protect it's life. If our bonding to our children were as delicate an endeavor as we in the "natural parenting" community have manipulated women into believing; the entire species would be extinct!
Over the last 20 years, the "natural parenting" movement that grew out of Midwifery has had the bewildering side effect of polarizing women against women and mothers against mothers. There is a definite generational divide, in my readership, between women older than 45 who may have opted for "midwifery" attended birth in home or hospital/birth center, and who happily breastfed but who, for the most part, worked outside the home in some capacity, possibly homeschooled but in a very open, communitarian way; helping their children establish learning and social experiences across a broad spectrum of neighborhood and society. They maintained very active and diverse contacts within their respective communities and families. The women who are 35 and under who are making the same basic parenting choices but seem, in large numbers, to have embraced a kind of moral and emotional zealotry that is essentially fundamentalist! There is a strict code for "good mothering" that holds that homebirth, attended or unattended with the "supermother" edge given to those who birth unassisted, extended breastfeeding, co sleeping, no separation of mother and baby for any reason at any time well into toddlerhood, and homeschooling that is far more isolationist, in terms of the broader culture, than what we embraced back in the late 80's and early 90's. The kids seem to spend most days alone, at home, with mom and the social contacts are limited largely to planned activities with other homeschooling families. There seem to be more issues with extended family over these choices and I think it may be because of what looks like a kind of "separatist" nature to the lifestyle choices, as opposed to the more "community" oriented goals of the earlier decades.
What I am finding increasingly disturbing is the viciousness of the attacks! The name calling! I honestly thought that once people were past, say, High School, the labeling and negating of someone by verbally assaulting them or questioning everything from their character to their sanity, just kind of went by the wayside but, on many of the blogs and forums; there is a veritable tsunami of ugly and cruel taunting, slurs and character assassination. Women, like the mother who wrote to me, are called "insane" and "freak" and "loser" and I can't even bring them all to mind. And why?
Because a woman who happens to be a mother wants to do something for herself that doesn't involve her new baby.
In the beginning, there was woman.
Before a woman is a mother; she is a woman.
Before a woman is a mother, she is someone's partner and lover.
A woman is more than her mothering; more than her birth and parenting choices.
A woman should be a free agent; encouraged and empowered by her sisters to make her own best choices in all areas.
A woman who gives birth is a mother; regardless of how.
A woman who feeds her child is a good mother; regardless of how.
A woman who takes care of her primary relationship is a good mother because the relationship between the parents' is the foundation for that child's life. Without the example of loving partnership set by the parents; the child has no ability to create or sustain relationships in his own life.
A woman who is honest about her needs and who knows how to get those needs met; is a good mother. A woman who knows her limits, chooses freely, each day, what is needed for that days life, sets an example of flexibility, openness to new ideas and creativity. Sitting in front of a computer screen for hours on end, conversing with a bunch of strangers on a forum instead of going out into the world and establishing real relationships and working through the inevitable issues of genuine, human contact and connection; teaches children to be afraid and to avoid confrontation with the world, leaving them without the skills to establish genuine community.
Robotically conforming to a predigested, limited palette of parenting choices out of fear of rejection by the same, computer-generated non-relationships permeating the ether is a form of self-neglecting and self-hate that no mother should model for her children; even if they are sitting on her lap breastfeeding while she does it!
It is not about home/hospital/breast/bottle/stay home/go out/love mate/love child/follow the rules/rage against the machine/.........it's about being real people and about finding, and being, the true self. When a woman makes choices from her own, interior sense of what is right for her; with due consideration to the health and safety of her mate, children and community; she sets the right example for showing others what true autonomy is and how one lives life "close to the root" of one's own values.
When women develop more expansive personalities; the anxiety and fears go away! When women begin to respond to the desire to live more truly connected to their own souls and to acknowledge the need for real friendship, companionship and community; they begin to grow and to mother their children with real ferocity that moves outside the box of "parenting theories", ideals and ideology, to something fluid, relaxed, truly affirming and respectful. Children need mothers who are women! Women first........women who have lives and interests and options and creative approaches to problem solving that their children can learn from and emulate! Children need to see their mothers engaged in real friendship; with actual humans that come and go. They need to hear voices in conversation and even those raised in furious and fair debate and to see action, consequence and grief, healing and joy! These things only happen in community and relationship, with others.
A woman should not be shamed for prioritizing her marriage! A woman should not even feel that she needs to poll a Universe of strangers for such a personal decision; she should not feel that coming to me, another stranger, was the only safe option after being beaten up by women who themselves have largely insulated and isolated lives, glued to a computer for companionship much of the day and night!
I left midwifery largely because I will not stand by one more day while women are lied to, broken down and divided up into groups to conquer by the so-called "health care professions". I will not participate in conversations about birth or parenting choices that don't start with the simple question to the woman in front of me: "What do YOU want to do?" followed by "What do YOU need to do to be a 'good mother' in your own mind and heart?" Good mothering is not about a collection of options for birth and infant feeding or baby carriers or homeschooling.
Good mothering is about being a whole person who has chosen to bring other people into the world to give them a shot at being whole people too. If a woman is mothering out of a lack of options or if she is making mothering choices out of a belief that options, like breastfeeding or birthing in bliss at home, will allow her to feel powerful and important when she has done nothing else in her life to give her that affirmation; she will not be a good mother because all will be done "on empty"......on fumes. A good mother doesn't care one bit what "other mothers" are doing. She makes friends with other mothers' because they have kids in common. A good mother knows that her kids are watching and that every rejection made on grounds of "choices" and "lifestyle" teaches her children to make similar decisions; contributing one more generation of people who divide and segregate and separate and maintain prejudicial attitudes and judgements. We end up with another generation of War..........
Peaceful, gentle parenting is not about "choices"; none of them are inherently better than the others ( yes, really ). It's about modeling self-respect, autonomy and the freedom to be a unique individual with an intact sense of self and an appreciation for one's own creativity and abilities. It is setting the example of an open-minded attitude about differences; finding them only interesting and not a point of departure or rejection. If we are to raise our children in the hope of creating a more peaceful world; we then have an obligation to model, for them, peaceful behavior. We must, as Ghandi said; "Be the change we want to see in the world". We have to be willing, and become skilled, at the art of peaceful conflict resolution and show a real willingness to understand that there are many ways to skin a cat....and raise a child, and most of those 'ways' will work just fine. I think that we often assume that because we restrain our judgments and criticism to something that happens out in the ether; casting our aspersions beyond the computer screens and therefore ( so we assume ) out of the reach of our children, it doesn't matter. It does matter. What we communicate out into the world matters; the hurt and pain we inflict always matters and when it's done to other women, treading on the tender ground of their mothering; it contributes to the destruction of that which should make for a better world: Mothers who are strong, supported, cared for and valued. Mothers who are affirmed and validated for their strengths and for the hard work they do, every day, to take care of their children. To attack another mother is to attack oneself, at the core, and the ripple effect of self-hatred always comes back to shore; often on waves of depression, anxiety and isolation.
Leaving Midwifery, oddly enough, has given me a stronger voice for women! I no longer have to answer to the needs of a "profession" over the needs of the women and children. I am free, now, as Wendell Berry puts it "to set aside the fear that one will, in the end, not be radical enough". I am, and will be, radical enough...... I will never again have to endure the restriction on my own personal freedom in listening to one mother call another mother "sick" or "crazy" or "freak" because she goes on a date with her husband or to a family party or takes a day off alone to regroup instead of dutifully staying at the side of her breastfeeding infant even when her own heart is breaking and her own needs are beckoning her to self-awareness and self-care! I will never again avoid confronting this "mob" mentality of women who affirm their mothering based solely on never admitting to, or acting on , a need independent of the needs/wants of their young children! It's not healthy. It's not good parenting and women deserve better. A women shutting down her own voice and needs to capitulate to the group dynamic is not "empowered"; she is coerced. A woman who can't make a free choice about her day because it might mean giving a baby a bottle is a slave, not an autonomous adult person!
In the beginning, there was woman and she ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and even though it got her thrown out of the garden; she was empowered with wisdom and truth and she knew who she was!
This is a blog for women.....about women.......all women.........all mothers..........sisters.........friends.
No more mommy wars. No more "us against them". We are all One.
We are women first.