I mother with my entire body. Isn’t that what good mothers do?

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To hear natural childbirth advocates and lactivists tell it, the entire story of mothering can be reduced to three body parts: the uterus, the vagina, and breasts. I’ve been thinking about how I have mothered my four children over the past twenty-eight years, and it seems as if I have used just about every part of my body.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]These are the body parts I want my children to think of when they think of me.[/pullquote]

Arms: I used my arms a lot, not just to carry my children, although I carried them quite a bit when they were small. I used my arms primarily to embrace them. Hugs are the appropriate response in times of both happiness and sadness, or for no better reason than to be close. I cannot count the times I hugged my children, and even now, when they are adults, I still do.

Hands: I think I spent ten solid years holding hands. Holding toddlers’ hands when they learned to walk. Holding hands crossing the street and in the parking lot. Holding hands just because it is fun to hold hands.

I also used my hands to sew clothes for my children, to fill out a million permission sheets for field trips, to feel foreheads for temperatures, and to help with a billion school projects. (If anyone needs pipe cleaners, I still have hundreds!)

Lips: I kissed my children over and over and over again. I kissed boo-boos. I kissed to check for fevers. I kissed for no better reason than I loved to kiss them. Of course there were years I had to lay off the kissing because public kissing was just too embarrassing for teenagers, but those years are over now, and I can kiss them again, at least when I’m greeting them.

Legs: I walked miles holding fretful infants in the middle of the night; shopping for clothes and shoes and toys; tramping out to baseball fields, football fields, soccer fields, and basketball courts to cheer my children on.

Mouth: I used it to tell my children that I loved them, but I also used it to advocate for them, to seek out appropriate evaluation and therapy for learning disabilities, to explain them to teachers, to explain life’s lessons to them, and to praise them when they did something amazing, which was often.

My entire body: Is there anything that gives comfort like a mother’s body? It provides comfort when you are awake sitting near your children, and even when you are asleep lying next to them in bed after a nightmare.

Brain: I thought about my children constantly, when I was with them and when I was not. I taught them facts and I taught them morals. I worried when they were little; I worried when they were teenagers; and I still worry now. I shared my views on how they should treat others and how they should be proud of themselves (or not, as the case warranted). I conveyed my religious beliefs and my political views. I planned for them, I brainstormed with them, and I hoped desperately that I could give them what they needed to be happy and healthy and to reach their full potential.

Last, but not least, I used my heart. Of course I don’t mean my physical heart, although it sometimes felt like it when they were hurt or disappointed. I am referring to my metaphorical heart. I loved and I still love my children more than life itself and I have tried to convey that to them. They and their father are the most important people in the universe as far as I am concerned, and it is my deepest wish that they know it and feel it.

Yes, my children grew in my uterus. Yes, they transited my vagina when they were born. Yes, I nourished them with my breasts, but I don’t think that made much difference to who they are and to how I love them. I would gladly have had C-sections if there had been even the slightest chance that they were at risk during birth. I would have happily supplemented with formula if I hadn’t been lucky to produce enough milk. My children don’t remember those days, and frankly, they couldn’t care less.

That’s fine with me. Those body parts are not the ones that I want my children to think of when they think of me. I want them to remember holding hands when they were little, countless hugs and endless kisses. I hope they remember my physical presence beside them when they were sick, next to them in bed when they had bad dreams and in the bleachers or the audience for sports and plays and graduations.

I, like most women, mother with my entire body. Isn’t that what good mothers do?

 

Excerpted from PUSH BACK: Guilt in the Age of Natural Parenting.

  • Shut Up, Leonard

    This is the mother I hope I am (to three-and-five-year-olds), and the mother I want to be.

  • HD

    I love this. It’s something I think about a lot as I’ve watched many of my peers and friends become completely obsessed with natural childbirth and breastfeeding. It’s as if they give birth and become developmentally arrested at the pregnancy/infancy stage as parents. It’s all they talk about, post about on FB, seem to care to advocate for, even as their children grow older. I can’t help but think these parents will have a tough time with the flexibility required to raise older children, when they can’t control every single thing about their children’s daily routines. I honestly find it quite disturbing. I very much wanted a natural birth and did all sorts of prep for it. Guess what? I ended up with my water breaking, no progress, pitocin, hideous back labor, epidural and then a C-section 40 hours after it all began. I’ll going for a VBAC this time because I personally find surgery to be no picnic either, but I won’t be trying for any heroics–if I end up with another C-section, so be it. And whatever happens, it definitely won’t be something I consider the highlight of my parenting career.

  • Francesca Violi

    Beautiful, Dr. Amy!

  • Emma

    Beautiful!!!!! I have a lump in my throat after reading and my eyes are teary! I love this!!

  • Jules B

    Beautiful! And so, so true. I often feel uncomfortable whenever I read or hear natural birth folks or lactavists go on and on about how vaginal birth/breastfeeding etc is required to establish a “true bond,” because one of my close friends adopted both her daughters, one when the baby was six months old and the other at almost a year old (so past the age of early infancy) – and my friend is honestly one of the best Moms I have ever met. Those are her kids no question, and they clearly love and adore her (and she them) and their bond is incredible…yet my friends’ uterus/vagina/breasts have had nothing to do with how she parents her children. She loves them with the whole rest of her body and mind and heart, yet somehow, because she did not birth them or feed them via her breasts, that is not good enough for the natural birthers and lactavists??

    They are missing the point of parenting, utterly and completely.

  • Abby

    Dr Amy this has just made me cry! I have a 3 year old daughter and this is so lovely and true! Thank you for your blog that made me feel so much better about myself when I had a horrible time in labour and hated breastfeeding so much ( I’m a doctor myself!) but this sums up being a mother and a parent, so lovely.

  • MI Dawn

    THIS! My kids remember the nights I would “buggle” with them (bundling up and snuggling) before they went to sleep. They remember my carrying them, even at 5, 6, and 7 when they were too tired to walk up to bed. They remember the laughter, the tears, the pride, the sorrow. They don’t remember (or care) that they were birthed vaginally, or breastfed. They remember the love. That’s what’s most important.

    (Having friends who’ve had abusive parents or relationships, I’m very, very grateful for my wonderful, loving parents, and know my children love me, their father, and their stepmother very much.)

    • MI Dawn

      And…adding…today is my father’s 86th birthday!

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        It’s a good day for a birthday! Happy Birthday to your father!

        • MI Dawn

          Thanks. Just talked to him. He’s feeling pretty good, though the weather in Michigan is lousy today.

  • momofteens

    The I guess to natural birth people I was never a real mom. I adopted both my children, so my uterus or vagina were not involved and they were middle school aged so no use of my breasts for them either. So apparently I am not a mom.

    So does that mean my kids will stop going “MO-OM!” (insert whiny rant du jour here)? That would be nice some days!

    • Sue

      If you’ve lived through the whine, you are definitely a REAL parent!

    • MI Dawn

      Uhhhh…the cry of MO-OM never stops. The problem is, your heart begins to stop when you hear it because it’s not a whine as they grow older; it’s usually followed by “I want you to know I’m still alive and OK, but….” (from the kid who was at Virginia Tech for the shootings there) or “I’m OK but I’m taking out a restraining order…”

      But it can also be followed by happy sobs and tears as you hear “I want you to know I’m getting married” or “I’m coming back home to become a nurse; I’ve decided that’s what I really want to do” (much to the surprise of her parents and stepmother!)

      Motherhood. Done right, it’s wonderful for you and your kids for the rest of your lives. Done badly…you cry for those who didn’t/don’t have what you had, and you offer your heart to them as a surrogate.

  • Sue

    Lovely article – thanks.

    (Wait – what happened to MEANNNNN Dr Amy??)

  • Caylynn

    I was adopted in the early 70s. There is no way my mom could have breastfed me. She didn’t give birth to me. Yet I know she has always loved me, cared for me, and worried about me. She (and my dad) always did the best that they could for me. Isn’t that what parenting is about?

    • Sue

      Yep – exactly.

      My mother LOVES children, and is a people person is general. She talks to strangers, coos at babies and hugs people. I was raised with that kind of love and affection.

      It was only when I was feeding my baby that she told me she had only BF me for about 6 weeks. Apparently I cried a lot (still do!), so she was advised to put me on formula.

      Apparently that formula should have neutralised the mother-love, but it was too strong! 🙂

  • Froggggggg

    Beautifully said.

  • BeatriceC

    The dangers of c-sections, hating, weaning before age 12: I believe this picture is the very definition of IDGAF. We have the teen boy figure skating in Picachu pj’s and a clashing red avengers shirt while sporting a “frohawk”.

    http://i301.photobucket.com/albums/nn67/mmsw1/Mobile%20Uploads/1459383985_zpsbiqfstxf.jpg

    • Linden

      That’s just adorable. 🙂

    • Charybdis

      I do believe you mean “hatting”, not “hating”. Although, with a 12 year old redhead myself, going through the beginning of puberty, growing like a weed (in his THIRD size of uniform pants since school started) and eating me out of house and home, sometimes “hating” is the exact adjective necessary. 😛

      Seriously, though. I love my son, there are just some “puberty and testosterone poisoning” days where I don’t like him much. Thankfully, those days are few and far between.

      • Sean Jungian

        Word on the puberty, testosterone, teenager jackassery. I really couldn’t ask for a better kid, truly. When he was a baby & toddler, I joked that he was one of those kids that makes anyone feel like, “Hey, I am really good with kids!” I mean he has never given me any trouble, he’s very thoughtful, thinks about others, etc. Nice boy, I hear it all the time. Heck, I get compliments from retail and wait staff on how polite and kind he is. So I’m not joking, he’s a good kid.

        BUT!!! OMG do I dislike him sometimes! Even as good of a kid as he is, he can still ride my last nerve like NOBODY else. And the teenager-itis, he’s not immune to it in the least. Last night I reminded him to walk his dog, and he says, “I KNOW, Mom!” to which I sweetly replied “Hey, could you put a little more SNOT on that? You didn’t quite slime me as thoroughly as you could have!” Holy moly can he be snotty. He rolls his eyes so hard I can practically hear them clicking.

        And don’t get me started on how entitled/blind to his privilege he can be. I am working on getting him over that, hoo boy.

        • Charybdis

          Tell me about it. His latest whine is about him wanting a phone. I told him he does not NEED a phone, for any reason at this time. They are not allowed to be carried at school (private, Catholic school) and when he is not at school he is either at home (with PHONES!!! Land lines, even) and can use the phone there, or he skypes with his buddies while playing computer games, or he is at BJJ/Wrestling practice. He does not need a phone at this stage of his life. When he starts high school, we might revisit the topic.

          But Christ on a cracker, can he whine about the phone….”I’m the ONLY one who doesn’t have a phone! What if something happens while I’m at school or practice? What if there is an emergency? EVERYBODY else has a phone, why can’t I have one” on and on. If you figure out a good way to curing them of their privilege blindness, let me know. Because, you know, NOBODY *anywhere* has it worse than him.

          • Sean Jungian

            I wish there was an easy way to cure that – now I know why I had to listen to so many of my parents’ “When I was your age…” stories lol.

            I hope they will outgrow it, at least a little. I know my friends’ older children seem to learn RIGHT QUICK how privileged they’ve been once they move out and have to pay their own way on things.

            It doesn’t help that we live in such a small, isolated, homogeneous town. I just keep trying to nag remind him that not everyone has the advantages he has. If he moves to a larger place for a while that will help. I know in my own case I was a bit of a spoiled, entitled brat as a teen myself but living on my own, living in a larger city, going to college – all these things broadened my world and showed me how good I had it.

          • AirPlant

            When I was a teenager I asked my mom for some yarn so that I could knit a scarf to match a set of mittens that she had gotten me. She matched five of the colors but couldn’t find a hot pink. I rolled my eyes like she was the stupidest thing walking and huffed out saying the project was ruined. I look back and just CRINGE.

      • BeatriceC

        iPhones don’t seem to like NCB propaganda words, it seems.

    • Daleth

      Awesome! Imagine how poofy his hair would be if you had NOT hatted him! 🙂

  • BeatriceC

    I gave birth both vaginally and by c-section. My children ate breast milk from the tap, breastmilk from the bottle and formula. Now they’re teenagers and none of that matters even the tiniest little bit.

  • AirPlant

    Meg Nagle constantly saying that children want to be “mothered through breastfeeding” and I think this piece highlights why that statement is so hideous. There are so very many ways to mother, and breastfeeding is such an insignificant part of that. My mother spent years hugging me and talking to me and singing with me and forcing me to eat green things and I treasure every single memory. How she fed me has an infant has absolutely nothing to do with any of that and it is offensive to insinuate that I lacked mothering because I was not breastfed until 4.

    • BeatriceC

      My mother breastfed me and my other biological sibling. That doesn’t change the fact that she’s not a good mother.

      To give credit where credit is due, she’s awesome when it comes to childbirth and infant care issues, but once those kids start becoming mobile and having the ability to voice opinions, things go very badly very quickly.

      • ElaineF

        Yup. Same with mine. Same with many others as well, I am sure.

    • Charybdis

      I must admit that I *occasionally* check out her site and Facebook, mainly when I want to raise my blood pressure or if my pissitivity level is high. Last time I looked, she had posted (with selfie!) about her trying to feed her sister’s baby some EBM in a bottle and the baby was not cooperating very well. So she pops the baby on HER boob and posts a pic of this, along with the statement that the baby calmed right down and fell asleep within a couple of minutes. Apparently this is proof that all babies need “all boob, all the time” and that you can mother someone else’s child through breastfeeding as well.

      Aaaaccck!

      • AirPlant

        I probably check her facebook more often than I should, it is just that I have trouble waking up in the morning and hate reading her gets my blood going faster than a hot cup of coffee and a brisk jog. She is just so WRONG about things, and so arrogant about her ignorance.
        .
        And yeah, that photo was such an eyeroll move. Like I would bet money that she didn’t even try the bottle. That kid has been in daycare a fair bit now, it knows what bottles are for.

  • Monkey Professor for a Head

    Love this!

    I gave birth vaginally and breastfeed. When I think about my son, none of that matters. Hes nearly ten months old now, and each day brings something new to love. I can’t imagine that I would love my son any less if I had had a c section or if I formula fed.

  • Cartman36

    It doesn’t matter how many hugs you give your child, how many boo-boos you kiss or how much love you shower on them, if you didn’t even try to have a natural birth or breastfeed your a shit mom.

    #sarcasm

    • Sean Jungian

      #ShitMom, trending?

    • Bethbeth

      Oh no, you could have orgasmically free birthed your child on the back of a unicorn, but if you mutilated their genitals or vaccinated them, you’re a shit mom. It doesn’t just end at how the child exited your body.

      • bethbeth

        (my reply is sarcastic of course)

      • Rachele Willoughby

        It’s a shame really. I was so despondent over not breastfeeding my children “long enough” but then I realized that I fed them non-organic bananas this morning so it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.

        • BeatriceC

          My oldest had beef flavored Ramen noodles for breakfast this morning. It can get far, far worse.

          • Rachele Willoughby

            Yeah, once you start bribing them with energy drinks to babysit, it’s all over. Might as well just sign them up for prison right now. 😉

          • BeatriceC

            That’s actually kind of amusing because he had a court date this morning. I’m still not saying much, but court went very well. Looks like this will all be over soon with a not guilty verdict on all but one count. And that last count is sort of unavoidable. He did what he did to protect his girlfriend from a gang attack, so I’m not at all upset with him.

          • Rachele Willoughby

            Well I’m glad things are looking up…

            I blame the ramen.

          • BeatriceC

            Also funny is this is the kid who was born vaginally, closest to term and breastfed from the tap for almost 13 months.

          • Rachele Willoughby

            But did you vaccinate?

          • BeatriceC

            For everything but chicken pox. He got the actual disease before he could get vaccinated.

          • Daleth

            Did he happen to get it before age 1? My twins did, and the pediatrician says they need to get vaccinated for it anyway because chicken pox before age 1 doesn’t trigger the full immune response and thus likely won’t make the person immune for life. And chicken pox is MUCH more dangerous in teens or adults than in little kids, so you might want to ask your son’s doctor about this and get him the shot.

          • BeatriceC

            He was a little older that 1, but not much. I don’t remember his exact age. He was born in 1999, so this was after it was available but before it was required, and because of the days of seizures after his four month shots we were doing vaccines on an altered schedule per pediatricians advise. Not knowing exactly what caused the issue, he was doing one shot at a time, and prioritizing the more deadly diseases. He would have been due to get the chicken pox shot a couple months later. I’ve been thinking about discussing getting the shot anyway with his current doc. That’s something else to consider.

          • Bombshellrisa

            But if you put a hat on him, well…..

          • BeatriceC

            Well, not right away because he had a scalp line, but once that was removed…

          • Who?

            Glad that’s on the upswing.

          • Charybdis

            Good for him, mostly. I’m glad things are looking up in that matter. I’ve been concerned about you guys, but not “knowing” you in person, didn’t really know how to politely inquire.

          • Daleth

            Yay him!

          • Cartman36

            I love ramen!

        • Daleth

          Omg. Non-organic bananas. How COULD you?! I feel so much better about my own failings as a mother now!

          Hahahaha 🙂 /sarcasm

  • Glia

    Shut up, it’s allergies I JUST HAVE SOMETHING IN MY EYE!

    *sniffle*

  • MaeveClifford

    When anyone wants to talk about how MEEEEN Dr. Amy is, we can direct them to this entry.

    • The Bofa on the Sofa

      Oh, but look at all the breastfeeding bashing she is doing? Failing to elevate breastfeeding to ultimate importance is totally insulting to those who identify with it. She’s just hatin’ on them.

  • Commander30

    This is fantastic. You’re the kind of mother I hope to be to my child(ren), and very much like my own mother was to me. She has always been one of my biggest supporters and I still turn to her for advice all the time. And, much to many lactivists’ shock I’m sure, I didn’t even know that my brothers and I were formula fed until I was pregnant myself* because that’s how little the way she fed us impacted the kind of mother she was.

    *And yes, that’s the only reason it came up.

  • Sean Jungian

    I really love this.

    I love that my son (my only child) still will hold hold my hand even in public. He’s 14 and a good deal taller than me now. He does it almost as a way to look out for ME now instead of me looking out for him. <3

    • Mishimoo

      Awww, that’s lovely!
      My 9.5 year old daughter, who is starting to be a bit sassy*, still happily grabs my hand and holds it in public; I’m appreciating it for as long as it lasts.

      (*I’m more amused than anything by the sass. It’s nice that she’s got spirit and isn’t terrified of me.)

      • Amy M

        Yeah, I’m already getting eye-rolls from my 7yr olds. Of course, I deliberately say things to elicit said eye-rolls because its funny.

      • Sean Jungian

        I like to say that it both a blessing and a curse to have a kid with the exact same (somewhat dry, somewhat sarcastic) sense of humor that I have. No question where his occasional sass comes from lol.

        @SuperMouse2:disqus purposely eliciting eyerolls is one of the joys of parenting. That, and indoctrinating them with your taste in art and music when they’re too young to protest!

        • Charybdis

          Absolutely! We have a treasure trove of things used to elicit eye rolls, voice-cracking squawkings of MO-OM, NOOO!!! and other signs of teenage embarrassment. Naked Booty Batman is our ace in the hole.

          My husband and I have always told DS that “the rules are the rules. They are subject to change by us at anytime for your safety or our amusement.”

          • momofone

            Yesterday, at his birthday celebration at a music event, I mortified my son by dancing. It wasn’t intended to horrify him, but it was a bonus. 🙂

  • YesYesNoNo

    Beautiful ♡

  • Bombshellrisa

    Love this so much!

  • guest

    I love this. It doesn’t matter which body parts you have or exactly how you use them. You use everything you have to parent a child.