Jess sent me this interview with Jessica Valenti to read and then I saw that a few other people had posted it today too. It is so good and she talks about motherhood in a way that is so refreshing and rare to read. (I immediately bought her book on Kindle and can’t wait to read it in bed tonight.)
Sometimes I’ll start posts about motherhood and delete the draft halfway through because there is this phenomenon that I like to call the “explain yourself” culture and I don’t exactly know how to navigate it all the time. Want to make yourself batshit crazy? Go read a pregnancy/mom message board or forum. Or the comments of a post on Babble or some other parent-centric website. It goes a lot like this: Doing something a little different than other parents you know? Explain yourself. You want to be an attachment parent? Explain yourself. You had an epidural? Explain yourself. You want to quit your job to stay at home with your kid? Explain yourself. You’d rather not stay at home and can’t wait to get back to work? Explain yourself. You’re cosleeping? Explain yourself. Starting sleep training? Explain yourself. You’re not happy all the time? Explain yourself. You are happy all the time? Explain yourself.
In this crazy, modern world of motherhood, I feel a lot like I’m guilty until proven innocent. There are strong opinions everywhere and the nature of kids (like little pooping snowflakes, they’re all different) means everyone has something that worked for them that automatically becomes the “right thing” to do. Something weird I’ve noticed is that I tend to use defensive language even when explaining a decision we’ve made that’s completely neutral. I use this spoon because X. I decided to do this type of food because Y. I am using Z product because of such and such fact. Did you know all the experts say that this is okay? The worst part is that I know that I do this because in my head I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing 92% of the time. Part of the thing that’s so amazing about parenting is discovering all sorts of things about yourself and your capabilities. I love finding out what works for me and for Isobel, and sometimes it even feels like we figure it out together. That seems to me like it should be part of the beauty of being a new mother: the discovering. I’m not saying you should go into motherhood half-cocked and saying, “Oh, I don’t even have clothes for the kid, we are DISCOVERING IT TOGETHER.” But the discovery process—the weighing of each possibility and the confidence that comes from making a well-informed decision for your family—is considerably diminished by the noise of the Mommy Wars battling all around.
When it comes to our parenting decisions, Brandon and I do our best to inform ourselves, consult Isobel’s doctor, get advice from trusted friends, do our own research, read books, read websites and sometimes we even happen upon a lucky trick that seems to work for us. And yet, I still feel like I’m completely winging it nearly all of the time. Even in those few instances where I feel extremely confident about a decision I’ve made, I still question myself internally in order to establish a possible answer to questions that could arise.
To be clear, I’m definitely not saying that asking someone questions about their parenting is a bad thing. However, in my head there is a distinct difference between asking a question and questioning. Asking a question implies trying to communicate and open a dialogue and there is certainly room for disagreement within that space. One of my favorite things to do is discuss a parenting decision I’ve made with someone who made a different one. It’s so fascinating to see how families differ, babies differ and decisions can have different but equally fulfilling outcomes. But questioning someone about their parenting has a different connotation to me. When is the last time you heard the word questioning used? “The police brought him in for questioning.” I don’t want anyone to ever feel like I’m interrogating them about their decision to breastfeed or not breastfeed. Do you?
During my pregnancy, I got a taste of how the culture of momshaming begins to develop. It started as an early slow burn in my first trimester and gradually built and built over the next nine months. How much weight have you gained? What vitamins are you taking? What are you eating? Are you having a natural birth? Do you have a midwife? Are you doing prenatal yoga?
On the surface, these questions are pretty innocuous, but framed on a pregnancy message board, or asked by a certain person in a certain tone (maybe a mother or mother-in-law?) or posted by someone you haven’t talked to in two years on your Facebook page, they can—and do—resemble something a lot different than an interested party just curious about the ins and outs of prenatal yoga.
Isobel had latch issues as a newborn so I got to see firsthand mere minutes after giving birth how intense and mindwarping the practice of questioning can get once the baby is no longer inside you. Once that child hit the air, it was open season. At first, Isobel’s latching problems were thoughtfully attended by a few sweet nurses and one particularly great lactation consultant, but those efforts were largely canceled out by another lactation consultant who vehemently insisted I DID NOT NEED A NIPPLE SHIELD (I did) and I COULD DO IT, JUST TRY (I had been). To put a finer point on the whole thing, she spent several minutes with me discussing the finer points of breastmilk vs formula feeding on the off-chance I’d allow my baby to ingest what she seemed to think was the equivalent of mass-produced poison. It was terrifying. It doesn’t seem as scary now, almost nine months later. But, at the time, I was emotional, I was exhausted, I was still very sick and I had nothing to say. I couldn’t defend myself because I felt like I knew nothing, despite classes and months of reading and all the other assistance I had been given. I was reduced to a Thing That Wasn’t Working Right For The Baby and it was a horrible feeling. Explain yourself. You’re still using the shield several weeks later? Explain yourself. When do intend on weaning this baby off the shield? Explain yourself.
Ultimately, I really just want to say that nothing is more sad than people questioning other people (and it often seems to be women questioning other women) about their pregnancy or parenting decisions because they’re looking to pick a fight or seeking the smugness that can only come when one is intensely self-assured that they have made the superior choice.
Here’s a secret before I go: I actually love to talk about the decisions we’ve made or I’ve made. I like to share everything—the good, bad and the very, very stupid. I’m private, not secretive. But sometimes I clam up, especially online. I’ll delete the draft, I’ll remove that paragraph. It’s not that I’m afraid of defending myself, but I would just rather not even open that door a crack. How crazy is it that I feel better about posting photos of my stretch marks or my post-pregnancy body than writing a post about breastfeeding?
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- umcanyounot said: I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks for writing it.
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- delightsandshadows said: What a great post. Thank you.
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- dailybaxter said: Agree with all of this. So well said!
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- fivepoundnote said: I can’t love this post enough!
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- monkeychow said: Girl you know I’ve got a zillion and one questions for you. And I love this post can’t wait to read this book.
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- hershapeinthedoorway said: yeaaaaaaaaaaaaah you go girl
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