Getting ready…

Last night I attended my last birth as a doula before this baby comes. It was pretty close to perfect- mama was strong and focused, papa was totally with her and in tune with what she needed, the birth center was really great, labor was fast and smooth… a total privilege to be there. So beautiful! Baby was strong and healthy, nursed almost right away, and is a big almost 11-pounder that came out easily. Birth can be so great. It was really nice to see a totally normal, natural birth before this baby comes. I feel very peaceful and ready to nest and prepare for our own new addition. I’m excited to give birth again, too.

My friend  posted this article a couple of days ago, and asked what my thoughts were on it. It’s an interesting article, but for those who don’t want to read the whole thing I’ll just quote a couple of pieces:

"In “Le Conflit: la femme et la mère” (“Conflict: The Woman and the Mother”), she contends that the politics of the last 40 years have produced three trends that have affected the concept of motherhood, and, consequently, women’s independence. First is what she sums up as “ecology” and the desire to return to simpler times; second, a behavioral science based on ethology, the study of animal behavior; and last, an “essentialist” feminism, which praises breast-feeding and the experience of natural childbirth, while disparaging drugs and artificial hormones, like epidurals and birth control pills.

All three trends, Ms. Badinter writes, “boast about bringing happiness and wisdom to women, mothers, family, society and all of humankind.” But they also create enormous guilt in a woman who can’t live up to a false ideal. “The specter of the bad mother imposes itself on her even more cruelly insofar as she has unconsciously internalized the ideal of the good mother,” she writes."

"… Ms. Badinter thinks that new social pressures are hard for many women to resist. The “green” mother, she says, is pushed to give birth at home, to refuse an epidural as the reflection of “a degenerated industrial civilization” that would deprive her of “an irreplaceable experience,” to breast-feed for both ethological and environmental reasons (plastic baby bottles) and to use washable rather than disposable diapers — in other words, to discard the inventions “that have liberated women.”"

"The ecological pressure is partly faddishness, Ms. Meffre added, “part of people’s obsession with organic products, with this general idea that we live badly, there’s too much stress, that stress leads to cancer — the speech of a self-absorbed society.”

The issue of breast-feeding creates guilt for women, said Ms. Meffre, who finds the idea unpleasant. She quoted her female gynecologist, who said that a bottle was better for a baby than an unhappy mother."

I read this and thought "Well aren’t I a cliche!"… with a chuckle of course. I basically fit the bill for the type of mother/activist that is highlighted in this article as being trendy and somewhat misguided, not to mention unintentionally producing lots of guilt in those who choose different routes. What’s funny is, when I first made these choices I felt like I was in a minority. I mean, not necessarily in my circle of friends, and certainly not in the blogosphere (where you can find plenty of educated, creative, crunchy mamas), but in terms of the actual population of mothers out there. I mean, let’s just use homebirth as an example. Less than 1% of women in this country choose homebirth. I have definitely had to deal with judgment about my choices there, and at the very least I get loads of concerned looks. In terms of breastfeeding, while about 70% of new mamas start out at least with some breastfeeding, those numbers drop dramatically after the first 6 months. At 18 months, the percentage still breastfeeding is less than 6%. I wonder how many are still nursing their 28-month olds like I am. This stuff got me curious. What about mamas that stay at home? I just found that it’s pretty evenly matched for children under 2: about half of all mothers choose to stay at home. After that, the numbers drop to about 1 in 4. What about cloth-diapering? While it’s gaining popularity, I’d be very surprised to hear that it’s the norm. The only thing I could find after a quick google search was that about 85% of all diaper users use disposables.

Overall, I think mamas who make some of the choices I have are actually still in the minority- there’s just a larger voice for them now in the feminist community. And that’s a good thing! I can’t tell you how I struggled over the idea of leaving school for mama-hood and taking on the roles that I have. I had so internalized the idea that I was truly selling myself short if I didn’t work or finish school and "do something". I had to actively address my prejudice towards stay-at-home mothers, traditional female roles, homeschooling… all sorts of things. Plus, being part of the community I’m a part of, well… most of my friends (whom I greatly respect) are still working towards their careers while I wash diapers and menu plan. It’s not that my choices are better than theirs or other mothers, it’s that they are the choices that work for me and my family. And it doesn’t mean I’m uneducated or missing out or any less deserving of the respect of others.

Now, all that being said, I haven’t made these choices without any judgment of the alternatives. I’ll just throw it out there- I think that disposable diapers are extremely destructive and wasteful and that we could do better. I think breastmilk is hands-down best for baby’s development (and in many cases mama’s health as well) and should be something that is the norm. I think of it as a birth right. I think that natural birth (and in my case, homebirth) is often the safest route for mama and baby. I think that staying home with Vera is best for our relationship, our family, and her development. I have issues with the routine use of hormones for either birth control or for use during birth itself- I think they have health consequences that negatively affect women. I think that we could and should do better. I also have an overall philosophy about how unsustainable of our way of life is, and I believe that a return to simpler life roles that are closer to each other and the land (for all people, not just women) would benefit us and our planet. That’s what I think.

With that in mind, I would never presume to think that other people have the same circumstances that I do or should make the choices that I’ve made. The fact that there is a large group of women who feel pressured and judged by women like me is frankly… not my problem. I don’t mean that in a cold way, I mean it in a literal way. If there’s anything that we women have had to deal with, it’s the unfortunate reality of women pitting themselves against each other rather than dealing with the real problem at hand. If a woman feels guilt about the choices that she’s made, I don’t think we should be trying to point the finger at other women or ideals that "made" her feel that way. We should look at why she’s feeling guilty and how her circumstances could/should change to better accommodate her needs. I’ve heard countless stories about women who wanted to give their babies breast milk but were either misinformed or weren’t given the support that they needed in order to establish their supplies. How many false premises do we accept when we read "…a bottle was better for a baby than an unhappy mother." Is it ever that simple? Shouldn’t we be looking at the pitiful unpaid maternity leave that this country has to offer? Shouldn’t we be looking at lack of maternal support? Depression? Shouldn’t we be thinking about how to help a mother feel adequately bonded to her children while she pursues a career or more education? The last thing we should be doing is walking around wondering what other women are judging us, and we should instead band together to create the healthiest and happiest of families. Using the example of breastfeeding- if we took that route and looked for solutions over judgment, I don’t think we’d be left with the kind of divide that we have now. We’d find that we’re mostly on the same team. Now, if a woman just straight-up didn’t want to breastfeed, then she should stand behind her choice and not let it matter what I think. Ultimately it’s her choice to live with. Same goes for birth choices, etc. Besides, I’m still in the minority, so that’s something to think about. 

My job as a feminist is not to validate every woman’s choices. Honestly, if the trend in motherhood is headed towards what I see to be a more natural and healthy norm then I’ll be thrilled. But it doesn’t matter. My job as a feminist is to help ensure that this world is one where women can make those informed choices, whether they be ones I would make or not. I’m honestly not that interested in worrying about misguided guilt- it’s a waste of our time when we clearly have so much left to do. 


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Comments (18)

  1. elfinecstasy

    it sounds like such a beautiful, amazing birth – how sacred and magical to be able to witness the start of a new life. As a doula, you should feel so good, down to your bones, about what you do for others.

    1. Gracie (Post author)

      I really do! It’s an amazing privilege to be a witness to that process. I feel so lucky. 🙂

  2. muirichinnahali

    I like you. 🙂

    1. Gracie (Post author)

      I like you!


  3. purerandomness

    I believe that article was written under false assumptions of a lot of ‘natural birthing’ mothers. I chose not to have an epidural because of the safety risks for myself and my baby, not because it was a degeneration of industrialized society.
    I choose to breastfeed because it is the best for my child, hands down. The people who push formula as ‘just as good’ either are selling something or just don’t have all the facts.

    I think the state of motherhood in our culture is sadly lacking. We don’t celebrate mothers as we should: a woman giving of herself so selflessly to another person, giving up every part of her to cater to the whims of a small, helpless being, the sacrifices that a woman undergoes to be a mother regardless of whether she stays at home or works.

    Do I wish other women made the same choices I did because I feel they are right? Of course. Do I judge them if they choose differently because they have different beliefs and circumstances? Of course not!

    Maternity leave in the US = the worst! Seriously, something’s gotta give there.
    Thanks for writing this.

    1. Gracie (Post author)

      I totally agree. It basically assumes that these choices are merely trendy, and that we haven’t made these decisions after loads of research and thought. It’s definitely presumptuous and misinformed. I think it also represents a large number of women who feel defensive about this stuff. The big mistake is blaming this so-called “perfect mother” (impossible anyway, but whatever) rather than the actual issues. 🙂

      I also agree with you about celebrating motherhood. We definitely should- it’s such an important and challenging job. But the other thing that I thought was sad in this article was that she said women are being encourage to discard the inventions that have “liberated” them. Two things- the idea still stands strong that motherhood and the things that go with it are somehow holding women back. It isn’t motherhood that is doing that! I hate that that mentality is still prevailing. Also, I can’t stand that people (both men and women) want to be full-blooded animals- eating, drinking, loving, reproducing, etc., and yet they still believe that they can largely discard their involvement in the process. These inventions have not always liberated us, they’ve so often damaged and deceived us. She of course is missing the point there as well, pairing the modern liberated woman with a destructive and insatiable culture… but I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself.

      I celebrate you, mama!

      1. purerandomness

        I celebrate you too, awesome mama that you are! Mama x 2! 🙂

        people (both men and women) want to be full-blooded animals- eating, drinking, loving, reproducing, etc., and yet they still believe that they can largely discard their involvement in the process.

        This is so true and I can think of another analogy related to birth: it is so easy for women to fall pregnant, they don’t really have to think about it or do any ‘work’. But 9 months later, they haven’t really learned about the process of getting baby OUT and need to be ‘saved’ by the establishment. These women just let the pregnancy happen to them (oh, sure they made informed choices about the safest car seats) and then have no clue what powerful forces will be at work during labor/delivery. One can’t just sit back and let the most important process in life pass you by without investing in it and learning about it and fully coming to terms with it! I think the author of the article missed that crucial point as well.

        I’m so happy you saw a positive birth in your last session as a doula before your own birth. What a way to enter your own experience with a happy heart and soul!

  4. csgraham

    Does a home-birth count if it’s only a food-baby? I do that a lot. I tried breast-feeding it once… it wasn’t pretty.

    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Next time you should try to contact a lactation consultant… don’t be ashamed to ask for help!

      1. csgraham

        What a cool job… lactation consultant.

  5. moondaughter20

    I know your own birthing experience will be similar to the one you just attended. You know how to do this. 🙂

    I agree with everything you wrote (eloquently I might add) about that article. The thing is, many people are realizing we have been led astray by or industrial consumerist society. We have been encouraged to be dependent on so much stuff that really hasn’t been properly tested, because you can’t possibly know what the effects of something is long term until your test subjects (us) have ingested, used, applied it for a long time. So now more and more people are demanding we return to things that worked before, and have worked for ages.

    This is not an easy thing for most of us to do at this time, because making healthier, more organic, choices is still an alternative way of living. But it’s spreading. Those people that feel guilty or inadequate because they can’t or won’t choose the alternative, well some of them will eventually, when they are ready. I see it all the time with lifestyle choices of people in my life, how they are changing.

    Really, all this comes down to is, BE the change you want to see. Because that’s encouraging others. It’s never guilting anyone – guilt is a self-inflicted wound.

    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Thanks for saying that! I have to admit, watching this birth really was a needed reminder for me. I’m so grateful for the encouragement!

      I think you make a really good point about it being a problem of our culture rather than a problem of the naturalist or the stay-at-home mom. You also make a lot of sense with your reflections on guilt. Guilt totally is self-inflicted, and it’s merely an indication that something needs to change.

      Anyway, thanks for being the change! I really think you’re doing important work in your life, and you’ve risen to the challenge. It’s inspiring!

  6. brigittefires

    Reading your response made a link in my brain that I’m going to try to flesh out here, but we’ll see how it goes.

    I imagine the women who feel guilty at not making the choices women like you make are feeling the same guilt that many folks did back during issues with segregation and everything that went with it. That deep down they KNOW they are making the wrong decision, that they are allowing themselves to be swept away by “society does it like this” and “society does it like that.” That inside they feel that segregation is wrong, that epidurals and formula aren’t the healthy and happy way to have a baby. They feel insecure and inadequate, and don’t think it’s fair that they have to see other women making the choices they wish, maybe not consciously but still wish, they had the strength and information to make.

    And yet I’m sure that there are other women who honestly believe that these choices are wrong, that everyone should have an epidural, that all women should be working to prove that we are equal to or better than men. And unfortunately, I’m afraid that my usual standing of “do whatever is right for you as long as you’re not forcing it on anyone else” doesn’t work here, because what’s right for them IS forcing it on someone else–except they don’t see it that way because they’re saying, you don’t have to force this on anyone else, but it’s how you should live. Much like some members of a certain racist group in the 60’s believed that you didn’t have to join their group advocating for segregation, but you did still have to accept how things were and not try to change it.

    Apparently leaving me alone to think too long makes weird connections in my brain. In any event, thank you for taking the time to read and respond to the article. I read it and had some gut-reactions to be angry about some of the assumptions the author made, but I don’t have the experience and information to argue the point. It’s good to see it from the point of view of the exact type of woman about whom she was writing, rather than just from that of a woman who aspires to be one. 🙂

    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Thanks for alerting me to the article. I would love to say that I think it’s just this one misinformed author, but I know there is a lot of women out there who blame each other for the way they feel about their choices. I totally think you’re right- that their guilt is more indicative of their conscience than anything else.

      I like your weird connections! Keep em comin!

  7. lilpeace

    I wrote a big ol’ response and then accidentally closed my browser window. Durh.

    I thought the article (rather, this author) was a load of baloney. False premises and fallacies abound. Another example of folks blaming women for what is really a societal problem, IMO. Her arguments are all based on the assumption that our current economic system and our culture are things that women SHOULD aspire to fit into and work within, rather than what I believe is the truth–that we live and function (however well or poorly) in a broken system that was designed for men by men.

    I have no desire to placate women (or anyone really) who want to feel good about their cowing to the powers-that-be, rather than listening to and developing their own intuition and instinct. They feel guilty for giving their kids formula so they can keep working 40+ hours a week at a job that pays them 70% of what their male equivalent is making? It’s misplaced guilt, internalized misogyny and should be anger, IMO. And either way, it’s not my fault because I chose to confront that scenario as a false choice.

    Many of the choices I’ve made in terms of my mothering and child-raising may very well not be a realistic or viable option for many women, and I get that. But my breastfeeding isn’t the problem. The problem is the society that totally undervalues women, motherhood and children. The problem is the society that holds all people to a male standard of success, defined in a totally limited way and measured by dollars.

    I just couldn’t believe some of the things she was suggesting. There were so many problems with her arguments. I may have to go read the book so I can have a more complete picture of how wrong she is.

    1. Gracie (Post author)

      I totally agree. I’d be interested in doing a mini book club if you really wanna read the book. Since reading all this Jensen I’ve got a resurgence of energy for women’s issues. 🙂

  8. hippydippymama

    I found you from the booj post. I like you. =) Wanna be friends?

    1. Gracie (Post author)

      Sure! 🙂


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