I want to talk a little bit today about the tendency to scrutinize each other’s parenting choices. This piece is to encourage an attitude of inclusion and to bring to light the unintended consequences of assumptions, flippant remarks and catchy sayings meant to educate but may isolate some. I am sharing a bit of my own experience as a new mother to illustrate the experiences that left me feeling alone.
I homeschool my children, I chose to co-sleep until my children decided they wanted to sleep in their own beds, I gave birth to my children naturally without any medical intervention at a birth center with Licensed Midwives. I think most people would consider me to be squarely rooted in the holistic “crunchy parent” community. But in reality, I have always seen myself as an outsider due to the scrutiny, and negative inferences that I felt as a new mother. I did not fit the expectations of mainstream or alternative culture.
I wanted the best for my children and set about trying to accomplish that by educating myself about every single choice. I really pressured myself to do my very best. My wonderful son was born and I breastfed until he was nearly 2 years old, it came easy for me. Sometimes I hid in a bathroom stall to nurse, I just didn’t have the patience to deal with the disapproving glares. I was excited for baby-wearing but every time I wore him, my back hurt so much that it affected my ability to do daily tasks for a week. We usually stayed home so I was able to hold him all day anyway and when we did go out it was nice to have him in his stroller looking at me. I felt a little “free” in my shoulders and in all of my body, which was really needed due to the co-sleeping!
When my second child was born, things were very different. She seemed constantly distressed, more than just a normal fussy baby. Her skin was so reddened and bumpy that I called her my sweet baby alligator. I tried everything including limiting my diet to one single food at a time in order to rule out each allergy, (under the advice of my pediatrician.) This was extraordinarily taxing on our whole family. I was encouraged to try a one-time bottle feed with a hypoallergenic formula. Reluctantly, I fed her the formula and my baby girl was suddenly completely different. She was calm, her belly wasn’t distended, she was no longer in pain, within 4 hours her skin was not as inflamed. The stark, sudden improvement was truly remarkable. She smiled and laughed! But I knew that breast was best so I continued to breastfeed, alternating with bottle feeding until she was about 5 months old. It took me that long to admit I was only breastfeeding for my own ideals and comfort because every single time I nursed she was clearly having belly pain and hives on her skin. I was overwhelmed with sadness to stop breastfeeding so early. I felt like a failure, but once I stopped breastfeeding completely my baby girl started to thrive, she was happy and our life got better. This experience was so different from my first born and I missed the bonding time and closeness of breastfeeding.
Again I tried baby wearing but, my goodness, she really squirmed and was completely uncomfortable. She would tolerate it for a short time, but she had her ways! She wanted to be put down and have me looking at her! She loved eye contact and communicating (yes, I tried all the expensive organic wraps, slings, and carriers and I went to the classes.) I spent most of our early years staring at her while she laid down freely. Later we discovered she is severely allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, and eggs.
Now, here comes the part I really want to address.
Whenever we went to our local homeschool coop, I had to walk by the car of the La Leche Leader with the bumper stickers that say “don’t be a weaner” and “breast is best.” I hid in the bathroom stall to feed my daughter a bottle but I couldn’t hide the stroller which I needed as a single mom to carry her Epipens, Benadryl, formula and all of our homemade lunches and school supplies, and to prevent my back from putting me out of service for a week (no mom has time for that.) I didn’t really fit in with all the other mama’s wearing their babies and breastfeeding. But oh how I longed to fit in and for support. I was sad and ashamed. I attended a mom’s support group, but when the conversation turned to making fun of strollers by calling them “buckets” I was just sad, embarrassed and felt pretty isolated. In my own mind, I could never measure up to these mama’s.
My kids are older now and I don’t face all the judgements that I did back then, but I see it happening to others. I am a practicing homebirth midwife so I get to work with many very diverse women as they go through pregnancy and birth and take their first steps of parenting. It’s such an incredible honor to come alongside a family during such a special time in their lives. Each woman I have worked with, without exception, has held being a mom in the highest regard and as her highest most precious gift. I witness families diligently research each choice before them, (all the while facing their own battles in life) and making the very best decisions for their family and I have seen that thoughtful decisions are different for each family.
I have hidden in a bathroom stall to breastfeed and I have hidden in a bathroom stall to bottlefeed. Each time I was facing enough difficulties in my personal life that I simply didn’t want to feel on the disapproval of others in that moment.
I understand the need for education regarding breastfeeding, babywearing, vaccines and the many other choices new parents face and I support it wholeheartedly. But, does using a catch phrase like “Bodies not Buckets” or "Don't be a Weaner" really help make a change? While it’s true that in order to make changes in our culture we must create awareness, however, it
must be created with love, grace, compassion, and inclusion.
I would love to hear from you. What are some of the judgements that you have felt as a new mother? Please reply with the assumption/judgement and the reality of what was happening. Please include any slogans or phrases that made you feel isolated or alone and your idea of how we can do better.
Assumption: “shes on her phone while her kids are playing on the playground, she is so disconnected from her kids, how sad”
Reality: She is with her children 24 hours a day 7 days a week because she has embraced attachment parenting and is acutely connected to her children. She is a single mom that homeschools her children. She is a midwife on her phone with her client who thinks she may be in labor.