A few months ago, I read a book that turned my hippie-granola mothering view on its head. “The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women,” written by Elisabeth Badinter, a French feminist writer and philosopher, argues that a “natural” approach to motherhood is costly to women’s’ equality. She includes natural childbirth, extended breastfeeding, and staying home as a modern imprisonment. For those of us Portland moms who swear by the aforementioned including cloth diapering and making our own baby food, this is insulting. It made me question my choices; am I the anti-feminist?
My choices are not based solely on feminism. Health, cost, environment, and social/cognitive development are all things I consider. I do not advocate making a martyr of yourself, but I do believe these choices have significant benefits for the reasons I list below.
I cloth diaper because I am an environmentalist. Think of billions of poop filled diapers festering in a landfill. I also include the water, material, and energy usage in the manufacture of said billion diapers in my life-cycle cost analysis. Cloth diapers and cloth wipes are also better for my son’s sensitive bum and hold in the blow-outs better. Then there is the promise of earlier potty training. What I give up is convenience. Cloth diapering is a shit-ton of laundry, pun intended. (Solution: use a diaper service provided you can afford it.)
I plan to make my own baby food. I want to feed my son the freshest organic food I feed myself. Again, I sacrifice convenience. I attempted natural childbirth in order to minimize my son’s exposure to medications, but after a premature rupture of membranes, slow prodromal labor, and two hours of intense constant pain, I gave in to the almighty epidural. Eh, next time.
I breastfeed for the immunity benefits, bonding, and nutritional benefits to both my son and his fledgling gut bacteria. I do not have latching or supply issues, so I freely give up the convenience of formula. Breastfeeding is a joy but it is also a lot of work. I have to plan my day around the breast schedule to avoid embarrassing leaks at office meetings. I’ve also been told I’m practicing attachment parenting, not that I consciously made that decision.
As mothers we want to do what is best for our children and modern doctors and psychologists are telling us that these are the best choices. Neuroscientist and mother, Lise Eliot describes the brain development of babies in her book “What’s Going On In There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life.” Her chapter on how crucial touch is to immune, emotional, cognitive, and motor control development reinforces my desire to hold my baby as much as possible. A number of animal studies that focused on maternal separation on infant growth and immune function show that the infants become stressed (increase in corticosteroids) when they are taken away from their mothers. In infant monkeys, ten days of separation is enough to create permanent damage to immune development. As for humans, daily infant massage has been shown to result in better weight gain, better performance on behavioral tests, and possibly higher IQ.
It all adds up to a ton of work for women, and as Badinter concludes, work that comes to a detriment to our individuality and our careers. Nor does she buy the assertion that these choices are best for children over alternative ones.
So here’s my conclusion on this cognitive dissonance I’ve experienced: Why does it all fall on the mother? Doctors should put just as much pressure on the father as they do the mother. Men need to step it up but often they do not, as described by Badinter. Those of you who have read my previous posts know I am sick of having to conform to the system we live in. The workplace should be more accommodating to mothers. The government should mandate this because it is in the best interest of the future generation. Partners should be equal in the parenting duties. I’m lucky my husband is so involved that my Turkish grandmother has dubbed him “Mr. Mom.” In Turkish.
I fully believe the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child.” My Turkish grandmother had her mother and sisters to help her raise my dad so she could have a career. My father was no latch-key kid. I’ve long felt the focus on a nuclear family and overemphasis on individualism in the US has led to an isolated community of people. We no longer have the strong connections you find in village life. We can recreate this village life in our modern society by forming close friendships with neighbors and family or creating home care services for new mothers. The trend has already begun, as evidenced in the increase of co-housing in the United States. I came across this interesting study on postpartum depression that hypothesizes that postpartum depression is an evolutionary development to reduce a mother’s investment in her offspring if the infant is not viable or she has insufficient social support to raise the infant. As someone who has battled depression my entire life, I rely heavily on social support for myself and my son. As I write this my sister-in-law and her boyfriend are entertaining the baby.
I disagree that the attachment parenting/natural model of parenting is detrimental to women. It is only detrimental if we as a society continue to insist the mother go it alone.