There once was a time when everything was natural; it sucked!

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There once was a time when all food was organic and no pesticides were used. Health problems were treated with folk wisdom and natural remedies. There was no obesity, and people got lots of exercise. And in that time gone by, the average lifespan was … 35!

That’s right. For most of human existence, according to fossil and anthropological data, the average human lifespan was 35 years. As recently as 1900, American average lifespan was only 48. Today, advocates of alternative health bemoan the current state of American health, the increasing numbers of obese people, the lack of exercise, the use of medications, the medicalization of childbirth. Yet lifespan has never been longer, currently 78 in the US.

All the existing scientific evidence shows that the myriad claims of alternative health are flat out false.

Advocates of alternative health have a romanticized and completely unrealistic notion of purported benefits of a natural lifestyle. Far from being a paradise, it was hell. The difference between an average lifespan of 48 and one of 78 can be accounted for by technology including modern medicine and increased agricultural production brought about by industrial farming methods (including pesticides). Nothing fundamental has changed about human beings. We are still prey to the same illnesses and accidents, but now they can be effectively treated. Indeed, some diseases can be completely prevented by vaccination. Childbirth is just as dangerous as it has ever been, but now most serious pregnancy complications can be handled easily with routine childbirth interventions.

So why are advocates of alternative health complaining? They are complaining because they long for an imagined past that literally never existed. In that sense, alternative health represents a form of fundamentalism. Obviously, fundamentalism is about religion and the analogy can only go so far, but there are several important characteristics of religious fundamentalism that are shared by alternative health advocacy. These include:

  • The desire to return to a “better” lifestyle of the past.
  • The longing for a mythical past that never actual existed.
  • An opposition to modernism (in daily life and in medicine).
  • And the belief that anything produced by evolution (or God, if you prefer) is surely going to be good.

Advocates of the natural bemoan the incidence of diseases like cancer and heart disease without considering that they are mainly diseases of old age. That both cancer and heart disease are among the primary causes of death today represents a victory, not a defeat. Diseases of old age can become primary causes of death only when diseases of infancy and childhood are vanquished, and that is precisely what has happened.

Alternative health as a form of fundamentalism also makes sense in that it has an almost religious fervor. It is not about scientific evidence. Indeed, it usually ignores scientific evidence entirely. All the existing scientific evidence shows that the myriad claims of alternative health are flat out false. None of it works, absolutely none of it. That’s not surprising when you consider that it never worked in times past; advocates of alternative health merely pretend that it did, without any regard for historical reality.

The veneration of the natural reflects a profound misunderstanding of evolution. Evolution operates on the principle of “survival of the fittest.” That means that in every generation, the fittest for that specific environment are most likely to survive; many of the rest die. It does NOT mean that everyone currently alive is fit for the present environment. Moreover, the environment constantly changes. That’s why most animal species that have ever existed are currently extinct. The environment changed and the fit were no longer the fittest.

That also means that those who were fittest for hunter-gatherer society might not be fit at all for the highly technological society in which we live. In hunter-gatherer societies, nearsightedness was a serious affliction; it impeded both the ability to hunt and the ability to gather. In contemporary societies, nearsightedness is easily corrected and those who are nearsighted can rise to the pinnacle of achievement in any endeavor.

In hunter-gatherer societies women who grew neurologically mature babies with big heads were often doomed to die along with those babies when their heads couldn’t fit through the maternal pelvis. Today, those babies are born by C-section, potentially fitter than babies with smaller heads who are less neurologically mature at birth.

When you live in nature, natural advantages count for a lot. When you live in a highly technological society like ours, most natural advantages are meaningless.

Venerating the natural is not science; it has nothing to do with science; and it merely reflects wishful thinking about the past while ignoring both historical and present day reality.

 

Adapted from a piece that first appeared in July of 2009.

  • Sue

    I always find it ironic when people rhapsodise over the hunter-gatherer lifestyle over the internet.

  • Bugsy

    Given that I turned 35 a few months ago…it puts things in perspective!

  • moto_librarian

    I have several chronic health conditions, and I get pretty damned tired of hearing alties blame me for them. I have asthma and depression, and I’m still stunned by how many people tell me that changing my diet, using essential oils, homeopathic treatments, etc., would surely cure me and that my refusal to do so makes me a sheeple. I take a lot of pharmaceuticals to manage both of these conditions, and I’m not ashamed. I have a better quality of life thanks to these medications. I shudder to think of what my life would have been like even 40 or 50 years ago. My great-great grandmother was bedridden by her mental health problems. I have no desire to see us return to those days.

    • MaineJen

      “People are over-medicated for depression nowadays.” No. ALL of the nope. I think there were just a lot of miserable people back in the day.

      • moto_librarian

        The other thing that always rankles me about that “over-medicated” argument is that therapy is usually recommended, either before medication is started or in concert with medication, but actually finding a therapist is not easy. I only got into clinic here because I am an employee at a university with a medical center – everyone else gets wait-listed. Private practice was an option, but that seems to be where the more woo-prone practitioners congregate. I also have relatively good insurance, and that’s not a given for many people in the States. In short, there are a lot of obstacles to getting into therapy, so it’s hardly a surprise that many GPs prescribe medication.

        • moto_librarian

          Also, back in the day, people self-medicated for mental illness. I wonder how many WWII vets actually had PTSD and treated it with alcohol? We commonly hear that today’s soldiers must not be as resilient as those who were Boomers, but I don’t believe it.

          • Madtowngirl

            My grandfather was a WWII vet, and a serious alcoholic. My dad recounted some of the things he saw in combat. You can bet he was treating his PTSD with alcohol.

          • moto_librarian

            My mom’s uncle went in with the first wave on D-Day on Omaha. He died as a result of alcoholism.

          • Charybdis

            My maternal grandfather was in WWI and was mustard gassed in the Meuse-Argonne offensive push. He lived, but had lifelong health issues due to the mustard gas. I have all his letters to the Veteran’s Administration requesting that he be re-evaluated for disability, as he could not work in the family business (blacksmithing) after his return. They were all denied.

            He *never* spoke about what he had seen; he mentioned to my mom once that whatever *IT* was, it involved children. He also stopped going to church (Polish Catholic) when he returned and started drinking.

          • DelphiniumFalcon

            My dad’s older six uncles on his dad’s side were all pilots in WWII and all of them died of an alcohol related illness. Part of it was a predisposition towards addiction on his side of the family but the other part was they all started drinking in the first place after coming home from the war. It wasn’t exactly a good thing to talk about the harrowing scenes they saw that could put us “good guys” in a negative light. But how are you just supposed to get over being responsible for killing people?

            One continued in the military with NORAD and he was the heaviest drinker. But he was also one of the pilots that would be scrambled to drop nukes on Russia from Alaska in the early days of the Cold War. I think that would drive more than a few people to drink.

          • Amy M

            Alcohol and temper tantrums. I learned that my grandpa (WW2 vet) occasionally had some violent outbursts where he hit my grandma. I don’t know if he was drinking at the time, but he wasn’t an alcoholic in general (that I know of). Back then, 1)if a woman got hit it was probably her fault anyway, 2)no one aired their dirty laundry and 3)anger management classes weren’t available.

          • MaineJen

            My grandpa had horrible nightmares. During the day, you just weren’t allowed to talk about it. Awful.

          • sdsures

            I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but Patrick Stewart, who played Captain Jean-Luc Picard on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” grew up with an extremely violent father who beat his mother. The father was a vet, and also a weekend alcoholic, and it’s heartbreaking to hear Patrick speak at Violence Against Women type of conventions about it. Here’s a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xi_27bpIb30

          • J.B.

            I was thinking about self medication generally, and thinking how much better it is to take controlled doses of medication under care of a physician. And don’t forget world war 1 soldiers with debilitating shell shock, some shot for cowardice.

          • DelphiniumFalcon

            I think you’re very much on to something here. I think soldiers today have a lot better support networks than soldiers back then did. It’s not talked about often since it’s kind of (a waning) taboo to imply anything bad about The Greatest Generation but they didn’t always treat their shell shocked veterans all that well. A lot of them never really interested back into society.

            My dad’s dad worked on the church farms as a kid to earn money for shoes for school. He was the odd kid in a sea of “shell shocked” WWII veterans who couldn’t integrate back into society and relied on this job to give them the means to survive and not just fall by the wayside.

            My father in law has touched on this a bit too. We don’t really know what to do with people that were career military. Military life is so different from civilian life from what he’s talked about. He said budgeting for mortgages and health care were all but foreign to him because the military has always paid for those things when he was active. And he’d been active military since he was eighteen. He also always had a hierarchy he could rely on when he didn’t know what to do next. Civilian life isn’t quite like that. He was angry and a bit lost after retiring from the military and he’s not entirely proud of the person he was at the time because he sometimes took his frustration out on my husband in the form of yelling.

            He really wishes there was a transition program of sorts for those leaving the military when it’s all they’ve known their entire adult lives. Teach them how civilian life differs from the military and how it works. He wonders if there’d be less depression and difficulty for veterans if something like that were mandatory.

        • MaineJen

          And therapy is only marginally effective for some. Finding the right medication, at least for me, has been a thousand times more effective than sitting on a couch and talking.

    • Roadstergal

      Isn’t it funny that ‘demonic possession’ and ‘touched’ and ‘visions’ and all sorts of other like diagnoses started going away once we got better words for chronic mental and physical conditions?

    • Squillo

      Me neither. By the time my great-grandmother was my age, she had been in a mental hospital for severe depression for many years. My grandfather committed suicide. If only they had had the opportunity to be overmedicated sheeple.

    • DelphiniumFalcon

      I’m very lucky to have older family members and journals from those who passed on long ago on my mother’s side who speak/spoke so candidly about their mental illness. We can reliably trace it back five generations now back to a man who had medical issues during the civil war including a very deep depression to the point of not being able to.get up and fight that just happened to be the first in a long line of depressive episodes that plagued him the rest of his life.

      My.great-grandfather wrote very candidly for a man of his generation (born mid 1900s) about his mental illness and his search for relief. Back then it was attributed to overwork but he always passed on the advice that the mind and spirit need rest just as much as the body does. Since that’s about all you could do for it back then.

      His son, my mom’s father, has spoken and written a lot.about his episodes of depression which were of a much worse intensity. His first bad episode of crippling depression was when my mom was about six when their family was in Western Samoa and my grandpa was a school teacher there. This awful darkness just settled over him and wouldn’t leave. He’s a very religious man and my mom, her brother, and my grandma remember him praying every night for so long and so wracked with mental anguish that his knees were raw and bloody from kneeling. They had to move back to the states after it was clear this wasn’t just an episode of disappointment or melancholy. Something had settled deep into his psyche and refused to be removed. We can definitely see how in the past those with mental illness would be mistaken for possessed by some kind of malevolent being. He started on some of the earliest medications for mental illness despite the side effects. That was in the mid sixties and he really didn’t find true relief until tricyclic and SSRIs came on to the scene.

      My mom and I were lucky to live in a time where we’ve had this rapid, though at times flawed, advancement of treatments for mental health. She and all five of her siblings, plus most of my cousins, have some variant of depression with the odd Asperger’s case that pops up here and there. Despite how dysfunctional my mom’s family can be, week keep in touch on what meds and therapies are working for who so no one is so entirely lost on where to start on their road to treatment.

      Yet with all of that so many people tell us that what we experience.isn’t real. That we just need more sunlight, or essential oils, or vitamin wtf. Or my favorite, excersize. Yes it helps some people but damn you try to.exercise when just.getting out of bed is a monumental task. They haven’t lived in that cage of despair. And it does feel like a cage. I’ve been in therapy and done the med change song and dance long enough that I can identify when my thought processes are largely to blame and when it’s likely something biological. And when it’s biological all the “you just need to think more positive!” in the world doesn’t help and in fact makes me want to verbally tear their head off. It’s hard enough to live with mental illness. It’s even harder when you’re doing everything “right” and you’re still consumed by the symptoms that just won’t lift no matter how many times you force.yourself out of bed and do what.you’re told is supposed to.fix it all. But then it doesn’t.

      Anyhow I just hope that the stigma against mental illness continues to be going the way of the lobotomy and when future generations look back at how we treated those with mental illness it will be met with the same disgust.

  • Heidi

    I’m curious where the “natural” people draw the line about what is natural vs. what is not. What is so natural about essential oils for example? Only humans express a tiny amount of oil out of something that contains almost no oil. I also don’t understand the negativity towards “man-made.” Are humans not of nature, and if so, isn’t man-made still natural? Otherwise, what’s so natural about a dam being beaver-made or a nest being bird-made?

    • The Bofa on the Sofa

      Is aspirin natural or not?

      • MaineJen

        It’s basically willow tree bark extract, no?

        • The Bofa on the Sofa

          Yes and no. That’s why it’s a good question. It’s chemically modified willow tree bark extract.

          • Chi

            I’d rather have chemically modified willow tree bark extract in a set dosage than risk accidentally overdosing on the ‘natural’ product.

          • DelphiniumFalcon

            Having an intact stomach lining and no bleeding because of accurate dosage is always a plus in my book!

        • demodocus

          And fillers! horrible fillers like cellulose or some crap.

      • Mad Hatter

        Only if its from the willow bark. So willow bark tea or extract is best! (snark)

        • The Bofa on the Sofa

          That’s not aspirin, though.

      • Roadstergal

        Is taxol natural when it’s extracted from bark, but unnatural when it’s synthesized? Chemically identical, just doesn’t require clear-cutting the Pacific Yew…

    • monojo

      Yes! Essential oils are either steam distilled or chemically extracted. Even oils that are easy to get- like citrus oils- need to be separated from the water, it’s not like you can just twist the peel and get the pure oil.

      Humans are very inventive, but we can’t just make something out of nothing. Everything that is in the world is already here. We might put them in different combinations, but everything we make is of the earth.

    • Sue

      I also don’t get why people are so glowing about herbal medicine, which is just old-fashioned, pre-technological pharmaceuticals. Take the active ingredient, purify it, standardise the dose, and you have a pharmaceutical product, with the advantages of a known dose and lack of impurities.

      Preferrring pre-technological pharmacology makes as much sense as proferring horse-and-buggy or mud huts. It;s just old-fashioned and not as effective.

  • Amazed

    There once was a time (2011) when a midwife tried to force a mother to go back to the time when everything was natural. The baby died. Then, there once was a time (2012) when the same midwife tried to force a mother to go back to the time when everything was natural. The mother died. Oh, and then the midwife surrenderer her license because she didn’t want to work in a system that forced women to have interventions in them ebil hospitals. She’s been working without one ever since.

    The findings on Caroline Lovell’s death were released today. Midwife was found negligent in court.

    • yugaya

      There was another baby that the same midwife “let” be born post-dates in 2012 the way nature intended – dead. She only surrendered her license after that death.

      • Amazed

        Right, I have lost count.

  • MI Dawn

    Oh, the “good old days”. Don’t these people talk to their grandparents? My grandfather was a GP and LOVED vaccines, hated home births, and was thrilled whenever something came up that would extend his patients’ lives. He saw too many people die young from leukemia, diabetes, high blood pressure.

    And yeah, they had “natural” diets, a lot of them – they lived on farms and grew their own food, canned a lot of it, and had lots of fresh air. But they still died in their 40s, 50s, and 60s.

    • demodocus

      But diabetes is only because you eat badly!! No way is there a genetic component.
      /sarcasm.

      • AirPlant

        Fun fact! My grandmother became an insulin dependent diabetic as a result of complications from her first pregnancy! She went partially blind before they caught it! Nature!

    • DelphiniumFalcon

      My great grandfather praised vaccines in his life account for the family, specifically citing the eradication of small pox that he never thought would actually be possible. This is the great grandfather whose parents lost their first child to small pox only a few weeks after birth. He hoped someday we’d have vaccines for MS and cancer. That was back in 1993 or so. He’d be amazed that we do have vaccines to prevent certain cancers. And dismayed that polio is still around because of antivax idiocy. He was hoping that would also be eradicated in his lifetime.

      • KeeperOfTheBooks

        Talking to people of prior (ie, pre-vax) generations can be extremely eye-opening. I have a couple of elderly relatives who, while ordinarily the most soft-spoken sort of people, get positively rabid on the subject of anti-vaxxers because they remember their childhood friends who died or had lasting effects from measles/mumps/rubella/polio/what-have-you, and have friends now who get to deal with shingles and so forth because of having had chicken pox.
        And lest some anti-vaxxer jump on board with “nutrition!”, I’d like to point out that in the case of the two relatives I’m thinking of, they grew up in Midwestern farm country, and had very healthy diets and lifestyles as kids: lots of fresh produce in season and canned out of season, fresh eggs and milk and meat, etc. Pies and cakes and cookies sometimes, but more of a special occasion/Sunday dinner thing vs everyday, and lots of physical outdoor work to keep them active.

  • Taysha

    I think the survival of the fittest people entrenched in the natural movement believe in is far beyond Darwinism and borders on eugenics.

    They see themselves as fit and consider themselves superior due to their self-control/willpower/dedication/you name it. Much like sanctimommies, they derive their sense of rightness from being “better” than others, which is why the accusations fly that people/women/children not following the natural movement are weaker and somehow broken.

    To them, people should die if they are broken, to leave way for those sparkling clean natural followers. It’s just what they deserve for what they have come to label with immoral tones – GMOs, vaccines, pollution, McDonalds, sedentary life.

    The fault of disease for the natural crowd always lies with the sufferer, because they didn’t TRY hard enough. So it’s ok if they don’t survive.

    • demodocus

      social darwinism meets christian science. What could go wrong?

    • The Computer Ate My Nym

      Sigh. That’s not even how natural selection works. A twinkie eating, formula feeding, computer game playing woman who goes to the hospital when her labor starts and has a healthy child is fitter than a organic food eating, natural remedies using, athletic woman who stays at home and bleeds to death from a retained placenta after giving birth to a child who is stillborn from prolonged hypoxia in labor. It’s all about the outcome, not how you got there.

      • Rachele Willoughby

        My most important evolutionary adaptations are my desire to labor in a hospital and my willingness to vaccinate.

  • Kate

    This might sound like a weird question, but it has just occurred to me: Do you think it’s possible that the elevation of “natural” remedies and “alternative” medicine in the US is related at all to the high cost of healthcare? I’m not American so I am genuinely curious to know what any Americans here think. After all, why pay for a doctor if you can treat your tumour with a $2 bottle of apple cider vinegar you already have in your pantry at home?

    • Taysha

      It’s also in part the deification of stupidity and derision of knowledge.

      Doctors are some of the most educated people. For someone with a highschool degree who has no intellectual endeavors of any kind, there is a thrill in the idea that they know more than all doctors. That the highly educated doctors are less knowledgeable than someone who doesn’t have a college degree.
      You see it in schools, the kids who work hard for grades are “nerds” and “stupid”.

      We’re creating generations of people who venerate idiocy.

    • demodocus

      There are several big anti-vax groups in Australia and Germany’s had an active alternative medicine element for years and years, or so I’ve heard reading comments on Things Anti-Vaxxers Say and Science-Based Medicine. Both countries are a good bit cheaper.

      • Roadstergal

        Germany is lousy with the “New Medicine” and homeopathy (a German invention).

    • fiftyfifty1

      No, I don’t think it has to do with cost. The biggest proponants of “natural” medicine here in the US are well off financially. A visit with an alternative medicine practitioner is often quite expensive, and typically not paid for by insurance. And then the supplements they prescribe are expensive too. It’s a status symbol really. Like buying organic food. This differs from the “folk remedies” that I see economically poor, maginalized groups sometimes turn to. For example many Latinos try Vick’s Vapor Rub for just about any ailment. But they don’t do it because it is “natural” but just because that is the traditional cure-all folk medicine back in their countries of origin.

    • Azuran

      We have free healthcare where I live, and homeopathy and natural products are still used a lot.
      It’s probably a mix of many things. Some might take it because they cannot afford doctors or real medication.
      Many will do it because they get a sense of superiority in using ‘natural’ things.
      Some are just vulnerable and the promises of alternative medicine (we cure everything without any side effect) is all they have. My uncle because very wooish after his doctors told him his lung cancer was too advanced to be cured and that he would be lucky to live 1 year.

    • tariqata

      I’m in Canada so I can’t really speak to what goes on in the US, but I suspect that it may be a factor, but not the only factor by a long shot. E.g., in Ontario, pregnant women without provincial health coverage who are residents can nonetheless receive free pre- and post-natal care from a midwife, but have to pay out of pocket or via private insurance for care from an OB as well as services provided in hospital, and that’s advertised as a potentially much cheaper option if they’re low-risk. Looking at the clientele served by the midwife clinic that I went with, I think that a number of women who might otherwise not get any pre-natal care have access to at least some as a result of that policy (and fair point, midwives receive compensation for providing that care so they obviously benefit as well). But I know lots of people in my demographic – white, middle class, university educated – who opt to go with chiropractors, naturopaths, osteopaths, homeopaths, and many other forms of quackery even when they pay more out of pocket than they would be going to an actual doctor.

    • Allie P

      Homeopathy is all over the UK and they have NHS, so I doubt it.

    • MaineJen

      No, I think it’s because like Dr. Amy always says, modern medicine (obstetrics in particular) is a victim of its own success. “No one dies in childbirth any more. It can’t be that dangerous. My grandmother had ten children naturally at home and they all survived and she was just fine!!!1! Look at all those babies born accidentally on the side of the highway! They just want your money…”

      • Eeyore

        I don’t think so. At least not by much. The high cost has many factors but mostly it’s because we have no bargaining power. The same medication can cost 100 times more here than in other countries simply because they know they can get it. If I need it to live, I have no choice but to get it. And if I refuse, the company won’t miss one person.

        Also administrative costs here are astronomical. For a typical office visit as much as 1/3 of the cost is for administrative duties. Whereas for a visit to the ER, it’s about half.

        Then there are still uninsured or underinsured. I myself have had to raise my deductible higher and higher to afford my premiums. This year a doctor ordered a series of blood tests that would run over $2000. I refused since I would have to pay it all out of pocket and since I’m already paying over $800 a month for insurance, it’s just too much. So, likely some people like me have conditions that go undetected until it becomes a bigger deal.

    • KeeperOfTheBooks

      It may be. It may also have to do with how hard it can be to see a doctor even with good insurance.
      I’m an American with absolutely fantastic medical insurance. It costs us $30 to have a baby. $30. That’s the initial specialist copay for the OB to confirm that I’m pregnant; after that, everything–hospitalization, testing, OB visits, in-hospital pediatrician checks on baby, everything–is covered. We live in an area with a huge number of hospitals and doctors.
      Despite this, the first time in my life I was really, desperately ill, I couldn’t get in to see my primary care doctor for weeks. I had started getting cluster headaches, which I’m told compare in pain to kidney stones and childbirth. They were…BAD. Far and away the worst pain I’d ever had in my life. Pain 9/10 or 10/10, and this from someone who never filled her pain med prescription post-CS. The narcotics that the ER doc gave me would work…for an hour or so, max. Unable to function. Multiple 2-3 hour episodes over the course of the day and night. Etc.
      I told the receptionist and nurse at this doctor’s office what I wrote above. Their response: “The earliest appointment we have is two weeks from now.” With a lot of pushing, I got them to move it up to ten days after the call.
      Now, once I did get in, it took 3 minutes for the doctor to confirm what I already knew and to prescribe appropriate treatment: cluster headaches, here’s the standard script for them, should help break the cycle in a few days, here are more pain meds in the meantime plus a referral to a neurologist. However, with that long a wait for something pretty urgent even with such an excellent insurance plan…oh yeah. I can see it. Throw in the high cost of health care (the last time I was uninsured and had strep throat, the urgent care visit cost nearly $300, which was an entire paycheck), and no, I wouldn’t be surprised if all that is a factor.

  • Sue
    • attitude devant

      Absolutely disgusting. Until reading the coroner’s report I had not realized that Mrs. Lovell was bipolar and under treatment for anxiety. It all comes clear to me now: a woman with a significant psych AND obstetrical history falls prey to the “complications only occur with interventions” speech that killer midwives use to prey upon the most vulnerable. But this midwife took it one further: ignoring her clients pleas for transport as she bled to death. Awful, awful, awful.

    • PeggySue

      Hideous. Poor Ms. Lovell and her poor family. I can’t imagine how frightened she must have been.

    • Roadstergal

      I mean, not that this is the worst part of the story by a long shot, but – she stayed in the birthing pool for an hour after giving birth? An hour, soaking in increasingly cold water full of blood and other fluids? How on earth is this a gentler, more comfortable experience than the hospital??

  • jessiebird

    This is a great point, as usual, from Dr. Amy. I want to add the important point that there are at least two measures of life expectancy. One measures life expectancy at birth, and will usually bring the numbers down because of, you guessed it, childhood mortality! (Thank you, vaccinations, for being here.) The other measure starts at about age 15, and calculates life expectancy once you have survived childhood diseases. This life expectancy is much higher, often in the 60s or so. (Can’t remember the exact numbers.)

    This doesn’t disprove the point above. Quite the contrary in fact, but it is interesting to note.

    (My doctorate is anthropology with a specialization in longevity and healthy aging in Japan.)

    • Sue

      Yep – and thankfully we now have better-than-ever life-expectancy AND longevity.

  • namaste863

    You’d think these people had never opened a book in their lives. Any of the classics up until about WWII usually have people snuffing it left, right, and center of causes all but eliminated by modern medicine today. Do they think that Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Leo Tolstoy, ect. made that shit up? Well, okay, they did make up the characters and the plots…oh, you know what I mean!

    • LaMont

      Haha the short answer is yes! And it’s not so far-fetched, unfortunately – good drama isn’t *always* aligned with good reality. Aren’t abortions something like 15%+ fatal in fiction, while being basically *not* fatal in reality? Plus if you took arts/entertainment for reality you’d be forgiven for thinking women were 25% of people or fewer!

    • demodocus

      Not so much the fiction itself as reading the bios of the authors. O.O

  • Are you nuts

    I was thinking the other day how I won the birth lottery. By being born in current day in a developed country, my life is so much easier and likely better than most kings’ throughout history. Air conditioning is at the top of my list of faves, as are modern medicine and drinkable water that comes straight out of the tap.

    • Rachele Willoughby

      Vegetables! I love being able to eat a varied, mostly vegetarian diet. Lean meat that’s been butchered and wrapped for me, available practically any time I want it, is high on the list too.

      There were many places in what’s now Russia/Northern Europe where meals year round consisted of bread, more bread with some bread on the side. (Though that implies that there was enough bread to go around which there often wasn’t.)

      • Young CC Prof

        Don’t forget the turnips! Or cabbages. Some sort of tough and indestructible veggie.

        • Inmara

          Porridge! With lard. And rye bread to the side.
          From recipes and descriptions of authentic 19/20th Latvian dishes, the main source of nutrients was various grains (rye bread, barley porridge, some oats and for the celebrations and wealthy families – wheat), some peas and beans, potatoes, dairy and lard. Fresh meat was a luxury and consumed occasionally (when a pig was slaughtered); most meat products for everyday use were salted meats and lots of lard. Vegetables (except potatoes) were considered to be mostly for women and children because they are not as calorie-dense as grains and dairy.

        • Mishimoo

          My Mormor’s family was well off – they had a summer house where they grew all their fruit and had gardens. She remembers sitting on the roof and eating nearly-ripe plums with her sisters, while her parents pretended to look for them.

          • demodocus

            Pretended? lol I’m sure life was often very hard for them, but i bet the parents treasured that memory, too

          • Mishimoo

            I like to think so too! It’s extra-special to Mormor because it was one of the last summers before her father died of a heart attack in his early-mid 40s, leaving a loving wife and 9 kids behind. She reminds us of it each time my kids are being a little cheeky because she wants to enjoy it and wants us to savour it too.

        • Rachele Willoughby

          Rutabagas!

      • The Computer Ate My Nym

        Yeah, I’m happy that I don’t have to eat a local only diet right now. And that’s even with greenhouses keeping some local produce going. But I’m glad that we’re able to trade with southern hemisphere countries that have an abundance of fruits and vegetables. (Though I admit that I’ve been looking at the strawberries blooming and wondering when they’re going to be ready…)

    • demodocus

      Indoor plumbing for me, and my husband being able to have more choices than musician, piano tuner, or beggar.

  • Amy

    I don’t think the link between fundamentalism and religion compromises your analogy here– devotion to natural everything at all costs IS based on faith. It certainly isn’t based on science!

    Another thought occurred to me, not for the first time, as I was reading this post– maybe fodder for another satire on your part Dr. Amy. In the “good old days,” before modern dentistry, nobody needed to have their wisdom teeth removed. Wisdom teeth were nature’s way of replacing adult teeth lost to decay or trauma. Now that we can save those first adult teeth through good dental hygiene or, barring that, root canals, there are too many teeth and the wisdom teeth have to go.

  • Tumbling

    A few years ago I found a bound volume of a woman’s magazine, published in 1835. A set of drawings of the stages in a woman’s life caught my eye–infant, young child, young lady, etc., ending with the old, toothless grandmother in a chair by the fireplace. The grandmother was labelled as being 45 years old.

    • The Bofa on the Sofa

      My wife is gray enough, but has all her teeth. And she is 45. I’m sure she’d love to sit in the chair by the fireplace.

      (I’m allowed to comment on her gray hair, because, as she’ll say, at least she has hair)

      • The Computer Ate My Nym

        I’m 48. I have gray in my hair, but it’s not completely gray and the only teeth I’ve lost are 3 wisdom teeth the dentist took out. (The fourth never formed thanks to a lucky mutation.)

        • The Bofa on the Sofa

          When the kids draw pictures of their mom, they draw her with gray hair, so it’s not just “gray in her hair.”

          She blames me, of course.

      • demodocus

        COuld be worse, dear Bofa. My husband’s been bald since I met him, when neither of us could drink! And I have only a dozen greys. He’d be more jealous if he could see 😉

        • The Bofa on the Sofa

          Yeah, at least he doesn’t have to feel bad every time he looks in the mirror….

          I go into a well-lit bathroom these days and see that the few hairs remaining on my head are going gray. Your husband doesn’t have to deal with that. He is so lucky….

          • demodocus

            Eh, he’s an ash blond, so the fact that it’s liberally salted with grey is easily overlooked even by the rest of us. Its when fools think he’s my father that completely pisses him off. He’s barely a year older than I.

          • The Bofa on the Sofa

            Oh come on, that’s just an opportunity to boast on his hot, young trophy wife!

            “Is that your daughter?”
            “Better! She’s my wife!”

      • Busbus

        I just recently thought about the fact how we don’t even know anymore how people (especially women) with gray hair look because virtually everyone colors it. When I was little (andI’m not that old! But I did grow up in Europe), every old person had gray or white hair. That’s just how it was. Today, many, many people color their hair into their sixties and beyond. Until recently,i had never even thought about it, until it struck me one day that this couldn’t possibly be the natural hair color of some of my acquaintances. I mean, I’m getting some gray strands now, and I’m only 33!

        • The Bofa on the Sofa

          My wife’s sisters are 7 and 5 years older than her. Her older sister is gray, her other sister is not.

          Not a coincidence, however.

          • The Computer Ate My Nym

            I like to claim that the wrinkles in my forehead are from all the times I had to lift my eyebrows skeptically at the things my older sister tried to get me to believe.

    • Deborah

      You “found a bound volume of a woman’s magazine, published in 1835” !
      Wow! I’m amazed by that in itself! Where did you find it? In the attic? The shed? How wonderful!
      I have a lovely old book, published in 1863, that I bought in an op shop for a dollar many years ago. I will never part with it and I used to read it at least once a year when my children were small to give me strength and keep my own life in perspective. It’s about a missionary couple who were martyred in Madagascar around about that time. It’s filled with journal entries and letters and gives a wonderful, if sobering, glimpse into life at that time. William caught malaria, or fever, as it was called then, and was often debilitated for many weeks at a time, and many of Lucy’s babies did not make it past their first birthdays. The only children that survived were the ones they sent back to England to live at boarding school or with relatives. Her last child died with her parents at age three at the hands of a rebel mob disgruntled with the government and exacting revenge on the missionaries. She also suffered many bouts of “the blues” where she couldn’t function for days and expressed much guilt around that. She referred to herself as “old” when she couldn’t have been much past 45 when she died.

      • Tumbling

        I found that volume in a used book store. As the local libraries have been digitizing or buying into digital services, they’re discarding the old bound volumes of magazines and newspapers. I think that I paid about $5 for that treasure–and would of course have bought more, but other collectors had beaten me to them!

        You’re right, the stories are evocative and sobering. We are indeed living in good times!

    • The Computer Ate My Nym

      I saw a production of Romeo and Juliet the other day and thought about how creepy it would have been if everyone had been played as their actual ages. Among other things, Juliet is not 14 as I thought but actually 13, though nearing her 14th birthday. Her mother says that she herself was already married and a mother by Juliet’s age. IIRC (and I might not) Juliet is her oldest child, meaning that the mother is only about 25 or 26! The old, decrepit nurse is actually probably in her 30s. It actually explains a lot about the play, including why no one seems to be able to make a long term plan and why the “older” characters still act like adolescents.

      • demodocus

        If indeed, Juliet had any sibilngs who lived.

        • The Computer Ate My Nym

          Again, IIRC, she didn’t. Neither did Romeo. That’s part of what made the tragedy particularly poignant. Though why, if I’m correct, both sets of parents were so sure there would be no more children I don’t know. Perhaps damage during home births made both mothers infertile?

          • demodocus

            or repeated miscarriages. Romeo’s mother could have had a string of them before he was born, too, like my friend’s mother. My friend is the 9th of 12 pregnancies, and the only one to make it to 3rd trimester.

          • The Computer Ate My Nym

            Or even neonatal losses. Maybe she considers Juliet her oldest child because she doesn’t “count” babies who died in the first few days or months of life. I believe that’s common in places where neonatal mortality is high.

      • Mel

        My dad does high school drama productions so the cast is all under 19. The play works really well because Romeo and Juliet both have some really overly dramatic monologues that make much more sense if the actor/actress is a teenager.

  • Anna

    Thinking of the old times and looking at the top picture. Reminds me of one I came across recently, a picture of a teenage girl skeleton with a breech baby in her pelvis. That was sobering enough to totally quit taking the NCB crap seriously. And it’s empowering to know that we live in a time when mother and baby, otherwise perfectly healthy and “fit”, need not die a lonf painful unnecessary death through sheer bad luck. Cheers to that!

  • Sean Jungian

    I love road trips and have never driven anywhere that I didn’t think to myself how astonishing it is that we have modern roads, let alone vehicles that can cover distances very efficiently and comfortably. I always think about how pioneers in the U.S. did it in covered wagons or horseback or walking, in all weathers and over all terrains. How a trip to my home town which is a day’s drive for me now would have taken a month a hundred and twenty years ago.

    This always leads to me musing also about how grateful I am for indoor plumbing, flush toilets, hot water heaters, and central heating & a/c.

    You can have your crappy-ass old-timey bullshit. I’ll take modern times ANY day.

    • Roadstergal

      “They used to take 30 years…”

      This one has a lot of parallels to modern medicine, modern obstetrics, other modern loveliness…

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3dYS7PcAG4

      • Sean Jungian

        LOL that is so my boss, who has a vacation home in Arizona (we are in ND). He stays most of the winter there but flies back a few times and when he’s back he NEVER. STOPS. BITCHING. about how the airline is hosing him with the ticket prices. I’m always looking at him like, “Oh please, tell me again how HARD it is to own vacation property out of state where you can have your horses. Are your diamond shoes pinching your feet, too?”

      • Deborah

        Hilarious – it always amazes me too when people complain about flight delays when a VOLCANO erupts and there is a giant ASH CLOUD or when the plane requires MAINTENANCE.
        I think to myself “people, this is good!” “You were prevented from getting aboard a plane that was likely to crash!”

        • Sean Jungian

          Those natural events only happened to inconvenience me!!!

        • KeeperOfTheBooks

          Or getting the plane de-iced, etc. What, do you really want a repeat of that Air Florida crash?

        • demodocus

          Or even just delayed by a blizzard. Then the motel caught fire. Fortunately, my sister and I were tweens and found it exciting.

  • Isilzha

    Who wants to live in a world without modern painkillers!?

  • Lemongrass

    I always liked this post, written by an MD, on the subject of romanticizing the past : http://www.marninicholasmd.com/2014/01/romanticizing-past.html

    • The Bofa on the Sofa

      Marni is awesome

  • Madtowngirl

    Completely OT, but I trust the regulars here: my daughter had her 9 month appointment today, and we did the development evaluation. Prior to today, I had thought she was just fine, starting to communicate, not yet crawling but showing clear motivation to walk, etc., and now we’ve been referred for a developmental delay evaluation. I’m admittedly scared, and caught off guard. Does anyone have experience with this? Did early intervention prevent any further delays?

    • Montserrat Blanco

      My son attended early intervention as part of his follow up as a preemie (and his nine doctors).

      It was good. He “played” with the therapist and now at 18 months old is just like the other 18 months old. It was funny when he was 5-6 months, because he was much smaller than other babies but did much more things (crawling before other babies of his corrected age, etc). Now he is more or less the same size other babies his age and does more or less the same they do. He started walking at 14 months old (12 months corrected age) for example and now understands most of the things we say and says a few words.

      In our experience early intervention are nice places and babies have a great time there. It did sound scary at first but in reality it was great.

      They usually say that in general the earlier you intervine the better, so children should be referred asap in order to try to get the best results. You should ask the professionals about the likely outcomes though, I am not an expert in the field.

      Best wishes.

    • demodocus

      No personal experience, since I was 3 when i started speech therapy (a year before i lost half my hearing) and my boy’s within the normal range. I can tell you i never found it the least scary, and generally a bit fun. I probably got frustrated now and then, but i was in therapy for 8 or 9 years.

    • Mishimoo

      My daughter had speech therapy from 4-5 years old, she loved going to talk and play with her speech therapist and it made a huge difference to her speech. She went from only being understood by us to being understood by everyone in just a few sessions. Now she gets asked where she’s actually from because she has an ‘English’ accent.

      Early intervention is awesome and it’s very kid friendly now, compared to say the 90’s when my little sister was doing speech therapy. Good luck and I hope everything goes smoothly.

    • guest

      I can see there were a lot of replies already, but my slightly premature daughter was referred to EI for gross motor development, and we had nothing but a positive experience. It’s a slow process, and in fact she made some advances while her case was being put together and perhaps she didn’t need therapy at all – but there was no harm. She has no further delays so far (2.5 years later).

    • CSN0116

      So, ummmm, what exactly is a 9-month-old supposed to be doing?
      None of my children crawled at 9 months (army/wiggled a bit). They babbled, but surely had no words. They were starting to pinch foods and self-feed …that’s about it :/

      • swbarnes2

        Our pediatrician said at the 6 mo check up that he was going to ask “how does the baby get from here to there” at 9 months, didn’t care what the answer was: rolling, worming, army crawl, classic crawling, as long as the kid was one way or another moving. So if this kid isn’t crawling, or doing ANYTHING yet to go from here to there, that might be the issue. But I’m speculating.

      • Madtowngirl

        Apparently they are supposed to be able to balance against furniture and pick up things while holding onto said furniture…or something. And play patty-cake. At least, those were things on the form they had me fill out. I was a little skeptical about it, myself.

        • CSN0116

          None of mine did that by nine months, and baby girl #5 (6 months old) isn’t looking like the she’s going to be the shining star either! 😉

    • swbarnes2

      It’s kind of like an “unnecessary” c-section. You don’t want the doc waiting until they are 100% sure that there’s a problem, you WANT a good number of kids going, being checked out, and turning out fine. It’s an “intervention” with extremely low side effects (unless the time and money really are an issue). So figure that you are one of the false positives.

    • Sean Jungian

      I don’t have personal experience with it at such a young age, but it really does sound like a “better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it” kind of deal. Try not to worry too much 🙂

    • Gene

      Early intervention is great. My son was in EI in speech from 18m to 3 years. It was great for him.

      What concerns did your ped have? Plus, eval doesn’t mean delay. It means eval for delay.

      • Madtowngirl

        My ped didn’t really say what concerns she had, but that the ASQ eval score was one that was an automatic referral. She was kind of low in all areas, gross motor, communication, and fine motor. But, she was 3 weeks early…so I’m guessing that might play into this?

        • demodocus

          Could be a factor, though wouldn’t it vary a lot with kids that close to term?
          Maybe it’s because she’s a little slower in all those different areas at once? My boyo wasn’t crawling at 9 months either, but he was a veritable chatterbox for the age. (Cute story, he started army-crawling when we spent the week with his 7 yo cousin a week after his dr appointment. He wanted to be *with* the big boy all the time! Cousin was just as enamoured.)

      • Dinolindor

        If you don’t mind, was there a specific red flag for speech at 18 months?

        I have a concern about my daughter’s speech and I was brushed off at her 18 month check up last month. Like I was brushed off for years for my son who finally ended up with an ASD diagnosis at 4 years old (too late for EI, and I had been bringing up my concerns since 9 months). I find my kids’ pediatrician is very reluctant to recommend evaluations, which I find very frustrating – she keeps saying “let’s see what happens when they’re older.” But isn’t the whole point of these screenings to catch it early? Because there’s so much success in catching delays early on? (I also find the lack of pediatricians taking new patients in my area very frustrating…)

        • Gene

          He had no words at all. Some mild gross and fine motor delay, but the lack of words was key. My youngest is 15 mo and if she doesn’t start talking soon, I’ll refer her. No other delays, just no interest in talking. Good receptive skills, poor expressive.

    • SLPgal

      I’m a speech-language pathologist who works with kids, although I’m currently on mat leave with my six month old son. I haven’t commented here before, but I’ve really been enjoying this blog since I found it in my sleep-deprived state a few months ago. It’s definitely made me feel better about some of the choices I’ve made for myself and my little guy.

      I thought I’d throw in my two cents about your concerns though…

      Early intervention really is better the earlier it’s started (there’s a lot of research in my field to support this). I’ve known many tots who have made tremendous progress and caught up with their peers as a result of their parents seeking out our services in a timely way.

      Early interventionists work hard to establish a good supportive relationship with families… We’re all a team that’s there to help the child.

      We also work hard to make the process fun for kids… Seriously, I’ve taken workshops that teach new ways to incorporate play into our therapy (those are the workshops I enjoy the most). We use toys and games to work on specific goals.

      I completely understand why this would be frightening to you… It would be to any parent. But you are definitely doing the right thing by following up on it. It could turn out to be nothing. However, if concerns are identified then you have lots of time to get them sorted out!

      Best of luck!

    • The Computer Ate My Nym

      I’m not qualified to speak on how well intervention works, at least at that age, but just wanted to point out that the pediatrician did a screening exam. The more complete exam at the specialist may conclude that there’s nothing much wrong. Screening exams are meant to have a low false negative rate at the expense of having a relatively high false positive rate. It’s best to get it checked out as soon as possible so if any intervention is needed it starts soon, but it may turn out not to be needed still.

    • Allie P

      I’m very interested in this. My daughter will be 9 months next week, and just started crawling, and I thought she was EARLY! My older daughter didn’t crawl til 10 months, and was never referred for anything. Don’t be scared — it’s possible the evaluation will show nothing.

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    I’ve mentioned this before. In 1920, in rural China, the average male lifespan was 24 year. Now, this was another one of those situations where they were organic farmers, living off the land. And if they got sick, they would have been the ones to be using Traditional Chinese Medicine.

    Women, OTOH, would have done all of this and been doing homebirths with the local midwife. The female average lifespan was 23 years, actually less than the men. Because women died in childbirth.

    I found the information in response to TCM, but it applies more broadly, including to the question of homebirth.

  • BeatriceC

    Not exactly on topic, but it has to do with nature and babies. We have babies! They’re dove babies, and I can’t actually get a picture of them because mama won’t leave the nest, but they hatched yesterday. Here’s a picture of mama on her nest on our back porch:

    http://i301.photobucket.com/albums/nn67/mmsw1/Mobile%20Uploads/1458763381_zpsyyj4hkbk.jpg

    • MaineJen

      Oh god…you have palm trees. I’m sorry, look at my screen name…the palm trees are all I see. *drools*

      • BeatriceC

        Lol. I’m in Southern California. Palm trees are more like large weeds around here.

  • Commander30

    I know I’m not the first to make this observation, but I find it incredibly ironic/funny how all these people extolling everything natural and shunning all things unnatural are doing so on their blogs, typed up on a very unnatural computer.

    Probably a lot of them wear glasses or contacts, too!

    • Isilzha

      I think anyone who says “it’s not natural!” should be banned from using any modern conveniences. No electricity (especially ac/heat), no computers (definitely no internet to whine about things not being natural, lol), no cars, no pain killers, etc.

  • Allie P

    I often find it frustrating to be a fan of things that are woo-adjacent. I’m nursing my baby (combo feeding, actually) and I’m supportive of public breastfeeding, destigmatizing, etc., but I’m not a lactivist and think we can support moms who want to breastfeed without shaming moms who don’t. I have a garden because home grown tomatoes are YUMMY but I’m not some organic homesteader. I like wearing my baby in a sling when I’m out and about or cooking dinner because she likes being held and I find it easier than lugging bulky strollers around, but I’m not into attachment parenting. My kid is not a duckling. But all these practices put me in with a crowd who take it from “thing I do that works for me” to “evangelical belief system” and it can get super annoying.

    • BeatriceC

      I’m the same way on a lot of things. Much of what I do are the things that the woo parents do, but I do them because they work for me, not because of some belief system.

    • Glia

      Pass me a paddle, I’m in the same boat. I can’t describe my parenting style with a name, because it really boils down to “what works for us, regardless of the ‘rules'”. So I cloth diaper…during the day, but I have no problem using a disposable at night or for travel. I let my baby feed himself…because he wants to feed himself and wouldn’t have it any other way. If that looks like ‘baby-led weaning’, well, whatever, that isn’t really important to me. I put him in a wrap, because he was happy and would sleep there, but if a stroller is more convenient on a particular day, then into the stroller he goes. I breastfed for more than a year, but a heck of a lot less than 2 or 3, so am I an “extended breastfeeder”? Depends on who you ask, but don’t ask me, I’m not looking for a label.

      Acquaintances who try to trash-talk other choices with me tend to be surprised by the response! As with religious fundamentalists, they are often surprised when ‘one of us’ turns out to ALSO be ‘one of them’.

    • Erin

      Yes yes yes, we did baby led weaning because I was looking for ways to bond and I used to (before the pnd/ptsd) love cooking. Ditto the babywearing, my shot at breastfeeding and I grow tomatoes, herbs and chillies because that’s how I was raised. I also like farmers markets (we live rurally) and fish landed at the harbour 200 m from our house but that’s for practical reasons not ideological ones. My baby sign language class is the worst for judgemental “yummy mummies” so far.

    • Megan

      Me too. Love our wraps and ring slings. Inadvertently did baby led weaning. Love our CSA for veggies in the summer (yum!) and tried combo feeding until it became apparent that she wasn’t gaining weight and just needed bottles. It is frustrating to be lumped into a group and labeled.

      • demodocus

        “CSA” freaks my historical side out. I’ve done rather a lot of studying about the American Civil War.

        • Megan

          Haha. As my husband is a civil war reenactor, I should know better than to use that abbreviation. 🙂

          • Charybdis

            My evil ex did that too. I was *required* to wear a hoop skirt to the local premier of “Gettysburg”. Ever try to fit into a modern theater wearing a ginormous hoop skirt and actually sit in the seat? Not much fun.

            Don’t miss him at all.

          • Megan

            Oh that does sound uncomfortable! My hubby would never make me do that and in fact, insists that I don’t need to ever watch any of it because he’s convinced I’ll be bored (sometime I am, sometimes not).

            We are actually originally from Gettysburg area and I remember one of our first dates we walked around the battlefield with ice cream cones and he could identify every flank marker and name the unit that was there by the symbol. I didn’t know whether to be amazed, impressed or appalled* (or all three)! 😉

            *Ok, obviously not appalled, as I did marry him!

          • The Bofa on the Sofa

            Hoop skirts are friggin cool, although I will agree that trying to wear one to the movie theatre is probably not all that practical.

          • LeighW

            When I was young/goth/living in Toronto I had a crinoline that I wore all the time and LOVED. It didn’t have the hoop so it was much easier to maneuver on the subway . Oh to be 17 again

          • Madtowngirl

            Lol, I’ve worn one while driving. Now there’s a challenge! Yay for historical costuming!

      • MI Dawn

        I loved my baby sling. It was wonderful having my hands free with a 1 1/2 year old being able to carry her when she was tired while pregnant with her sibling.

    • tariqata

      I try to think of my parenting choices as an ideology of “do what works for you/your family to be happy and healthy”… and if I have to be an advocate for something, it’s policies and support services that make it more possible for more people to have a genuine choice between different alternatives.

    • You have made my day with “woo-adjacent.” It’s perfect. Definitely going to be thinking it the next time my lovely yoga teacher starts pushing DoTerra.

    • Deborah

      Yes, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. I think if people came here (to this site) expecting to find a rabid bunch of people completely opposed to breastfeeding, positive birth experiences and alternative parenting styles, they would be pleasantly surprised. The fundamental difference between what you have described and the experience of many other women is that you are not defined by those choices, they don’t earn you any particular merit amongst your peer group and your whole sense of worth is not dependent on them.
      I think this is a whole area of study which is largely unmined. What causes women to cross that line? Why do some women topple over into complete absurdity – I pushed my baby out vaginally! Unfortunately he died – while the majority of them don’t? From my own experience I have a suspicion that it’s the women who lack self esteem and a sense of identity to begin with who fall victim to all kinds of ideology pertaining to childbirth and mothering because that’s all they have to work with.
      I’m currently watching with fascinated interest as my daughter-in-law, who only managed to breastfeed her first daughter for a couple of days, proudly breastfeeds her second daughter. We have regular updates on facebook, complete with photos and lengthy posts on how much easier it is this time etc etc. In addition, there are also posts announcing “I’m officially a baby wearing mother” accompanied by more photos. I love my daughter-in-law to bits and she is a terrific mother but the slide into wanting to do it all perfectly is not lost on me. She is an intelligent woman but left school early and dropped out of teacher training due to visa issues. This leaves a gaping vacuum ready to be filled by anything that will give her life a sense of meaning and purpose – and more importantly, something that will be perceived as right and good by others.

      • Sean Jungian

        I agree and I find the topic fascinating. I follow many different types of woo, and there is a lot of overlap between them, so I would think studies on almost any type of faith-based belief system would be applicable?

        A couple of things I am cautious about, though:

        1) it isn’t just women, although in NCB it is overwhelmingly women that talk about it, I think it is very much a parental belief rather than just mom. There are no doubt a lot of partners who just go along with the parent who is physically giving birth, but I think we have to try to not stigmatize just one parent out of what may be several?

        2) I really think we need to be very careful about assigning some sort of deficit, whether moral or mental, to woo-believers. It may very well be the case that things such as low self-esteem, rootlessness, phases of the moon, etc. all contribute to a susceptibility to woo, but I don’t think it’s anywhere nearly so clear as that, nor are we near proving any of it. I just think we need to be careful when doing this because it tends to feed our own egos and superiority. I have read speculation that there could even be a genetic component that makes some people more predisposed to faith than others, so I’d hate to see an assumption of moral value applied to something we know so little about. I’m not saying that a woo-follower’s behavior isn’t immoral or dangerous, but just that the simple fact they’ve been charmed in some way by woo doesn’t necessarily make them an immoral or dangerous person. You know what I mean? Sorry if I sound all PC blah de blah, I just think it’s something to be aware of as far as confirmation bias on our own part goes.

        • Deborah

          Yes I hear what you’re saying.
          I continued to think about what I had written after posting it and realised that education alone, or lack thereof, would be only one of many different variables and that there are many well educated and well adjusted people who become interested in alternative medicine and religion and they don’t necessarily tumble headlong into the rabbit hole, risking life and limb in the process.
          I guess I was just looking at it from one possible perspective based on my own limited knowledge and experience.
          A gene that predisposes one to faith you say? I must have been given a generous helping of it as I have just about tried them all!
          Now I am just a humble mother and nanna, content to sit back and let the next generation try to figure it all out 🙂

    • Young CC Prof

      Kinda like how I feel about environmentalism these days. I think protecting the planet is important, because I live here. But it seems like most of the people who are loud about environmentalism are just so freaking clueless about how to actually protect the planet while still meeting the basic needs of human beings, I kind of don’t want them on my team.

    • Mishimoo

      I hear you on the gardening and babywearing! My kids hated being in the stroller so a carrier it was. I’m technically an organic gardener, but only because I don’t want my kids to get into pesticides (they’re rather creative) and it provides better value. I’m lucky enough to not need to use sprays thanks to crop rotation and a few years of encouraging a healthy ecosystem with predators. Plus, I have the added bonus of being happy to buy and eat normal veggies and fruits that I can’t grow or can’t grow enough of for my family.

  • Mel

    Last year, I worked with a few college students on a case study about the “paleo” diet. My character within the case study was looking at the sustainability of the paleo-diet for a woman who was old enough to have college-aged kids.

    My argument was that following a literal paleo-diet using southern Michigan plants and animals along with naturalized European plants would be very sustainable, great for weight loss and horrifically hard on the body. I got as far as explaining about the importance of digging sunchokes and ground nuts before the freeze and was starting to explain the steps in removing tannin from acorns before the group was starting to waver on their plan for paleo. My recommendations for game stew – because you can always catch some squirrels and opossums here! – was the straw that got the paleo-diet rejected.

    Ironically, based on the Native American histories here, southern Michigan is a fairly easy place to live by hunting and gathering with some rotating gardens. We’ve got plentiful protein and fat sources in animals/fish and a decent number of native tubers that have carbohydrates. Really, the biggest trick is making sure you have enough to make it through the winter season from late October through late April…..

    • demodocus

      Isn’t surviving the winter/early spring always the trick without grocery stores and adequate heating?

      • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

        As most of my mothers family are from northern Vermont,Maine and Quebec, I’m gonna go with ayup! My mother (who lived to be 86, she just passed last December) lived in very northern Vermont until she was 14 and as a small child live for a while in a house with no bathroom, they had an outhouse and a pump in the kitchen sink. She used to tell me stories of how her grandmother died at just shy of 20 yrs old (in childbirth with her second kid), stories about the whole family nearly dying of a nasty round of scarlet fever, stories about how she lost 6 of her front teeth at age 25 and had to get dentures. My mothers mother married at 16 and had a baby every year for the first 4 years she was married (the 3rd baby died of Rh incompatiability)

        Mom though the good old days sucked. She LOVED modern medicine(she had asthma, diabetes, and high blood pressure and still made it to 86, since the placenta previa and transverse lie plus uterine rupture with her 3rd pregnancy didn’t kill her)

        Mother Nature is usually trying to kill you…

      • guest

        And many people resorted to canning for just that reason. Eegads! Processed food???

    • Heidi

      You mean to tell me cavemen weren’t blitzing their almonds in their Vitamixes to make crusts for their chocolate pie made out of raw cocoa nibs and agave syrup?!

    • BeatriceC

      Don’t forget about that “no stove” part. And no foil to help cook things on an open campfire.

      When I was in girl scouts we had a camping trip where we had to do things they way the pioneers did it. That meant we did without a lot of tools that modern people take for granted. It was an interesting experience. Even with that, we had access to tools that “paleo” people would not have. I think all these people extolling the virtues of that era need to actually spend some time living like that.

    • StephanieA

      Just commenting to say that I live in Northern Indiana. My husband’s grandpa tells of stories of hunting squirrels when he was a kid…if I was starving, sure. But my son and I enjoy watching the squirrels run up the trees rather than eat them.

    • The Computer Ate My Nym

      I have a vague idea that there was some Indian tribe in what is now the northern part of the US or southern Canada that divided the year into spring, summer, fall, winter, and hunger. Hunger was the season when it was getting warm but there wasn’t yet anything to eat because the plants had to grow, flower, and fruit before they could get eaten and the animals were still hibernating. We get to skip that season these days.

  • demodocus

    We are naturally naked omniverous hunter-gatherers who are *not* the top of the food chain. (though a heck of a lot closer than tasty, tasty rabbits). Nature gave us brains as pretty much our one major strength. Sure, I should eat a lot more plants than meat and be on the move most of the day, but we aren’t living in the bronze age, and pretending the bronze age was the Good Ol’ Days is silly. *Every* age sucks in its own way, but I like that my life expectancy has roughly 40 more years to go rather than 4 years past.

  • BeatriceC

    I, for one, am thrilled to live in today’s world. Even 50 years ago it’s likely that I or any of my babies would have survived. It’s possible, I suppose, that my oldest would have survived. He did come out vaginally, though there was that pesky shoulder dystocia. I suppose a very skilled old-time midwife could have gotten him out, and it’s possible that they could have resuscitated him, but it would have been nothing short of a miracle. The other two surviving kids were simply born too early, even if they hadn’t been c-sections. I definitely wouldn’t have survived that last one. He was a crash “snatch and grab” section to save *my* life. His survival was a bonus, and at 24 weeks, almost 14 years ago, he was one of the exceptions to survival. I lost my other pregnancies far too early even for that chance.

    Back to my oldest. Let’s pretend he actually would have survived without medical intervention. He happened to have inherited a genetic bone disease. Without modern medicine he’d be completely crippled. His arms would be useless (surgery to remove a tumor and repair a nerve that had been severed), his legs would be useless (surgery to remove tumors that deformed his ankles and knees), and the simple act of turning his head could mean instant death (spinal cord tumors combined with narrowing of the spinal column is risky at best, but the tumors have been removed so it’s less of a danger).

    Back then I was too entrenched in Catholic fundamentalism. It was my duty as a woman to please my husband and take as many babies as God decided to give me, no matter how dangerous that was to my own health. That one little glimpse into how it was in the romanticized olden days is enough for me to be a passionate supporter of modern medicine and family planning.

    • Mel

      I’m glad you got out of the fundamentalism. My dad was one of eight kids born in 12 years in the 1950’s-1960’s.

      His parents weren’t particularly conservative, but one of his sisters was. She ended up having nine kids – and somehow never picked up that bitching to my mom (who had raised premature twins with disabilities and who had a child die) and my aunt (who had been told she and her husband would never have kids) about how hard it was to have so many (healthy, living) children was extremely thoughtless and crass.

      • BeatriceC

        I bitch sometimes about it being difficult to take care of physically disabled kids, and occasionally get wistful of the babies I lost. Then I smack myself upside the head because while two of my kids are physically disabled, there’s nothing wrong with their brains and this world is much more accommodating to physical disabilities these days, so they have many, many options for happy, fulfilling adult lives. And they’re going to actually become adults. So many parents are raising children who have far more challenges and who aren’t guaranteed to make it to adulthood. I feel guilty for complaining.

        • Spamamander

          You shouldn’t though. If we all worried about “someone always has it worse” we’d never be able to vent. 🙂 You’re allowed to be a bit overwhelmed or even angry at challenges now and then. Just the humble opinion of a mom with a special needs child.

          • Kelly

            I concur. We are all struggling with our own issues. I feel completely overwhelmed with my healthy kids but I will not tell someone with one kid that they have it easier because . My mom had a severely handicapped child and then took care of four other children with my dad gone half the time. She never ever tells me when I vent that she had it harder because she understands that what I am going through is difficult in its own ways.

          • FormerPhysicist

            Thank you! I needed to read this just now.

        • Sean Jungian

          I understand what you’re saying, but I want to second @Spamamander:disqus – just because other parents suffer worse/have it worse than you do doesn’t mean YOUR situation doesn’t matter! It does! I used to feel guilty because I only have one child while other parents have more, sometimes many more – but however many kids they have has no bearing on how difficult my job is. Go ahead and complain. Whoever says you always have to count your blessings and “at least blah blah blah” can go piss up a rope 😉

    • StephanieA

      No way my mom and I would be here without modern medicine. 40 hours of obstructed labor, 4 hours of pushing with a vacuum, and I was born via c section. I’m very thankful for modern medicine (although my mom, to this day despite me telling her otherwise, thinks all those problems were caused by her epidural).

    • Amy M

      I don’t think my mom had any issues with my sister or me, but I am infertile, and wouldn’t have children without serious medical intervention. But let’s say I managed to conceive the pregnancy I had: its unlikely the babies and I would have survived birth w/no interventions.

      My sister can get pregnant just fine, but her son wasn’t coming out wo/a Csection. He certainly would have died, and possibly my sister as well. It could have been that my parents failed in the evolutionary sense, because their children would die in the attempt to perpetuate the genes.

    • Rachele Willoughby

      I was talking offhandedly with my middle son the other day about something (I can’t remember what but I’m sure it was probably related) and I remember telling him, “Oh yeah, if we’d lived a hundred years ago we both totally would have been dead.”

      Me from trying to deliver a transverse lying baby at 29wks gestation while my placenta abrupted and him from prematurity even if by some miracle we *hadn’t* both bled out.

      Thankfully we live in the modern day where we got an excellent crash c-section and he got two full months of NICU support to bring him to term. He’s turning 8yo on Wednesday and he’s not only alive but physically hale and neurotypical. Thanks modern medicine!

      • Commander30

        I got a similar statement from my older brother. When I was pregnant, I was comparing pregnancies with my sister-in-law, although since my nieces are twins we obviously had slightly different experiences. She told me (I had not known this) that baby A was transverse and baby B was breech, pretty much right under her heart. My brother commented dryly at that, “Yeah, if I was a farmer living 100 years ago, I’d be a childless widower now.”

        Instead, my sister-in-law had a scheduled C-section with no problems, and my nieces are healthy and active twelve-year-olds now. Yay modern medicine!

  • Zornorph

    Whenever somebody starts going on with all that natural stuff, I usually link to the Talking Heads song (Nothing But) Flowers. It’s about a time when mankind went back to nature: ‘There was a shopping mall/Now it’s all covered with flowers’.
    And lines like that. Of course, the narrator of the song discovers he’s not very happy about this. Saying things like “I dream of cherry pies/Candy bars, and chocolate chip cookies” while preparing to eat a rattlesnake he just caught for dinner and missing the ‘ the honky tonks, Dairy Queens, and 7-Elevens’.

    I’m quite happy not to live in nature. And I like my corn on the cob the way it is, not the way it was when the Europeans first got to the Americas. I’m sure if we went back in time and presented some modern corn to Montezuma, he’s say he loved it!

    • demodocus

      And then there’s the maize that Montezuma’s ancestors converted into something edible in the first place!

      • The Computer Ate My Nym

        Yep. Corn: A completely artificial, GMO’d food since the Mayans. (Who weren’t actually Montezuma’s ancestors. IIRC, the Aztecs were latecomers from the north, but I could have that wrong.)

        • demodocus

          You’re right, i was being a bit general. Corn was developed long before the Aztecs rose into prominence.