Lactivism has a problem. It privileges process over outcome.
It is no longer enough to raise a healthy, happy, well-adjusted child who becomes a healthy, happy, well-adjusted adult. How you raise that child, specifically how you feed that child, has assumed outsize importance.
Prior to lactivism, there was no right way or wrong way to feed an infant. Properly prepared infant formula was considered no better and no worse than breastfeeding. Since the advent of lactivism, there is only one right way to feed a baby, and it is women’s ability and willingness to emulate a fantasized version of paleo infant feeding that supposedly determines whether they will be good mothers, and whether their babies will bond to them and they to their babies.
Does that sound familiar? It should because it bears great similarity to natural childbirth and homebirth advocacy.
The point of childbirth is no longer seen as having a baby, but instead, the specific process by which you have a baby has developed outsized, and in my view thoroughly misplaced, importance. Birth has become a performance. Process is privileged over outcome.
Prior to Grantly Dick-Read, there was no right way and no wrong way to have a baby. Any birth in which both the mother and baby survived was a good birth. Dick-Read, and the string of old white men who followed him (Fernand Lamaze, William Bradley, Michel Odent, etc.) changed that. Now women are encouraged to judge themselves and other women by faithfulness to a carefully scripted performance of birth: no pain relief, no C-sections, no interventions of any kind. Women have been taught that it is their ability to emulate a fantasized version of paleo-childbirth that determines whether they will be good mothers, and whether their babies will bond to them and they to their babies.
I, on the other hand, am a momivist.
What’s a momivist?
A momivist privileges people over process. Specifically, a momivist privileges mothers and what works for them and their families than over any specific process for giving birth to and raising children.
When you think about it, it is difficult to understand why women have allowed others to evaluate and render moral judgments over whether the process they are using in giving birth and raising their children is optimal. But when you consider that there is an entire industry complete with products, courses and cadres of health paraprofessionals designed to support the “correct” way to give birth and to feed and nurture children, it isn’t so surprising after all.
That industry is only profitable to the extent that it convinces women that there is a right and a wrong way to give birth or feed a baby. In order to preserve and increase their profits, they engage in massive and well funded marketing campaigns to make women feel badly about doing anything any other way but their way. In contrast, there’s not a lot of money in putting mothers ahead of process. You can’t sell books, products and courses to people who think that they can raise perfectly happy and healthy children without the guidance of moral arbiters.
It’s just an extension of the marketing principles applied to other products. Want to sell mouthwash? Convince people that without using mouthwash, they will have bad breath, and be social failures with no chance of having sex with attractive people.
What to sell natural childbirth? Convince women that without natural childbirth, they will fail at their very first task of motherhood and be unable to bond with their own children.
Want to sell lactivism? Convince people that, contrary to the scientific evidence, breastfeeding supposedly has massive benefits and formula feeding supposedly has massive risks. Make it difficult for women to obtain formula in hospitals, and, above all, shame them with threats that their formula fed children will be sick, dumb, and socially maladjusted.
Natural childbirth, homebirth, lactivism and attachment parenting privilege processes because they make money from promoting those processes.
Momivism privileges mothers over process and there’s not a lot of money to be made in telling people they are doing fine and don’t need any special products, books or courses.
Momivism, by encouraging respect for individual mothers and the personal choices of others, does not allow one mother to feel superior to another mother for parenting the “right” way.
Momivism, by recognizing that there are many right ways to give birth and raise children, deprives some women of the opportunity to publicly shame other women for not mirroring their own choices back to them.
Momivism has a lot of downsides for the industries that promote feelings of inadequacy, shame and depression, but only upsides for mothers.
Imagine a world where mothers support each other instead of tearing each other down. Imagine a world where mothering choices are judged based on the actual effect on specific children, not grossly inflated theoretical risks and benefits. Imagine a world where mothers recognize each other as having different needs, aspirations and desires and respected those differences.
We could have that world if we were all momivists instead of advocates for a preferred method of parenting.