Posted On June 10, 2010
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.