Monday, January 24, 2011

Judgement Day

A friend sent me the following article, asking for my take on it.  Read it, then read on:

First let me say, I wholeheartedly agree with the second to last paragraph, where she says, "My job is to do my best for my kids: to be the best mama I can be to them."  After all, isn't that what we're all trying to do?  Be the best parent we can, given our children and their unique personalities?  Create the best lives we can for our families, based on our given situations and the individual people, adults and children, within our families?
While, on the surface, the author says she's not here to judge people and talks a good game about people choosing to parent based on their individual circumstances, there seems to be some judgment underlying some of her statements.  Take this part, for example:

Natural birth is not something to “try for” and feel bad you couldn’t do. Our country needs to step up to the plate in educating women about the benefits of natural birth, and we need to help women actually do it – not just hear about it.

I don't know how it is in the rest of the country, but here in Austin, Texas, you'd be hard pressed NOT to be educated about the benefits of natural child birth.  It was something I strove for with the birth of my first son.  I did ask for an epidural at some point in there, only I didn't feel bad about it at all.  Here's the deal:  natural child birth is a wonderful thing.  It's something women have been doing since the dawn of reproduction.  If you did it, congratulations, I am duly impressed.  But here's another angle on it:  If we have this wonderful little low-risk thing called an epidural that will make something excruciating become a lot less painful, WHY THE HELL SHOULDN'T I USE IT??  Am I less of a woman or mother because I used pain medication?  Would you recommend someone having a limb amputated use nothing but whiskey and a stick to bite down on for anesthetic?  I'm not saying there's no reason to strive for natural child birth.  After all, with no pain meds, you are at no risk for side effects from them.  I'm just saying, you shouldn't be castigated if you decide you'd like a little something while your lady bits are being stretched from the size of a pea to the size of a watermelon.  By the way, here's something else women have been doing naturally since the dawn of reproduction:  dying in child birth.  Birthing centers and home births are all well and good.  I think it's great when people have their babies at home, actually.  I can completely see why you'd want to have all the comforts of home while you go through labor and delivery, and in a normal birth with no complications there's no reason you couldn't do just that.  I'd just like people to realize that hospitals are not all bad, either.  If there's a problem with the mother or baby (mom starts bleeding and won't stop or baby is in distress) they can have that kid outta there in under two minutes.  I know emergency c-sections and hemmoraging are rare, but so are side effects from epidurals.
In a perfect world, there would be some way to have a baby and get the best of both midwifery and modern obstetrics.  I'd love to have this next baby in a place they didn't take my blood pressure every thirty minutes and bother me to death when all I want to do is sleep.  I'd love to have the home-like environment of a birthing center and the nurturing personality and openness to alternative treatment of a midwife.  But I'd also love to have all of the advantages of modern science close by in case of emergency, oh yeah, and that epidural, too.  
Look, I wore my son in a sling until he was so heavy, I thought my shoulder would cave in.  The kid still sleeps with us in our king-size bed and probably will until he decides to get out of his own accord.  I drove myself to the edge of insanity trying to breast-feed him when he was born.  I sat on the floor and cried like someone died when the lactation consultant told me I needed to give him formula.  I wasn't making enough milk, though, so what's the other choice?  Let him starve?  I do still believe "breast is best," but I think today's formula isn't far behind.  And I don't believe you are dooming your child to a life of allergies and below average test scores if you give him formula  (which, by the way, is what I was lead to believe in all the literature I read and in the breast feeding class I attended.)  My advice?  Breast feed if you can.  It's cheaper, and more convenient than formula, and, in almost all situations, the perfect nutrition for your baby.  But if you've tried your best and you just can't,don't condemn yourself as a horrible mother.
Before Jack was born, I envisioned myself as the original earth mother.  I'd wear my uncircumsised son in a sling, breast feed him on demand and spend every waking and sleeping moment in close bodily contact with him.  Some of that worked out, and some of it didn't.  Here is what I learned:  no matter what your parenting philosophy is, your child is going to be born with his own philosophy, and it may not jive with yours.  And, you may think you want one thing before your child is born and completely change your mind once you actually have the real live baby in your arms.  In the end, I think it's best not to put yourself in one parenting camp or the other, as Mayim Bialik intimates in her statement about not labeling a person as one type of parent or the other.  You are not evil if you let your child sleep in your bed or if you don't.  You are not scarring your child by holding him all the time, or by putting him in a swing so you can have a few moments without a kid attached to your body.  You've got to work out what's right for your family, and the hard part is ignoring those people and internet articles that may judge you, however, surreptitiously.   It's easy to feel threatened and let the parenting opinions and practices of others undermine your confidence in your own.
It may be even harder, though, not to judge others yourself.  Because, if there is no one right way to parent, how do you know you're doing it right?  If you convince yourself your way is the right way and everyone else is doing it wrong, then you can feel smug and self satisfied knowing your children are going to be smarter, more empathetic and more well-adjusted than everyone else's, and there's a lot of comfort in that.  But if you acknowledge that everyone else who parents differently than you may also be "doing it right,"  you open up the window for self doubt.
So, while I support the gist of Mayim's post - non-judgment, non-labeling acceptance, I think she may be subconsciously judging people, all the while saying she isn't.  I mean, what exactly am I supposed to take away from "I believe that natural childbirth is a right and a privilege."  That sort of insinuates it's inherently better than anything else.  Plus, I'm not sure I want to trust her judgment anyway.  I mean, who breast feeds their child until they're two-and-a-half??  That's just plain weird.  And what nut wants to sleep on the floor on a thin, lumpy futon mattress, sacrificing a decent night's sleep for years?  What kind of Hollywood, neo-hippie-with-more-money-than-sense is she?  Oh wait, I'm judging again... damn.


  1. Thanks April! I love it.

  2. Nice take on Bialik's post, April. I too appreciate her sharing what works for her, but her language and tone seem to imply that it should work for everyone. I'm sure a few of the 471 comments on her post address this issue. If she's as open-minded as she claims to be, maybe her future posts will reflect it.