You must read Heather Kirn Lanier’s extraordinarily beautiful, haunting essay about giving birth to a child with an unexpected disability, SuperBabies Don’t Cry.
Although it is long, I encourage you to read it in full. The writing is lyrical, the emotions are raw and the love of a mother for her child infuses nearly every sentence. The reason that I am writing about it, though, is that Lanier explores the ways in which natural childbirth and lactivism reflect our deepest fears and prejudices.
Natural childbirth and lactivism are based on fear of anything less than perfection.
Lanier’s experience puts flesh on the bones of many major themes I have explored in my own writing about childbirth and natural parenting.
Natural childbirth and lactivism are concerned with creating a perfect product, not a person.
When I was pregnant, I tried to make a SuperBaby. I did not realize I was doing this… But looking back, my goal was clear. I ate 100 grams of protein a day. I swallowed capsules of mercury-free DHA. I gave up wheat for reasons I forget… I spoke to my SuperBaby, welcoming it into my body so that it would feel loved and supported. I avoided finding out my SuperBaby’s sex so I wouldn’t project gender roles onto her/him/them. I slept on my left side because I’d read it was best for my baby’s and my circulation…
Natural childbirth promotes magical thinking.
Preparing for an unmedicated waterbirth, Lanier used Hypnobabies.
My baby will be born healthy and at the perfect time, a woman’s voice uttered as I descended into a dreamy soup of electronica chords and affirmations. My body is made to give birth nice and easy. I look forward to giving birth with happiness. My baby is developing normally and is healthy and strong. The words were supposed to become lodged into my subconscious. I see my bubble of peace around me at all times now. I focus on all going right…
But magical thinking doesn’t work.
It was immediately apparent to healthcare providers that there was something wrong with Lanier’s 4 pound 12 oz daughter Fiona.
Too tired from my 36 hours of unmedicated natural easy comfortable excruciating childbirth, I didn’t concern myself.
I focus on all going right…
My baby is developing normally and is healthy and strong.
But after a shift change, when a new nurse entered my room (someone who hadn’t just seen me squeeze a person from my vagina without medication), she asked a question that felt like a slap: “Did you take drugs while pregnant?”
No, nurse, I wanted to say. I took superfoods. I took reiki. I took electronica chords and affirmations.
This is the moment when I realized perhaps I hadn’t made a SuperBaby after all….
Fiona has a serious chromosomal abnormality.
Lanier is an insightful person and she reflects on why she had thought she could produced a SuperBaby. She notes that her stepfather was a chiropractor:
When one of my family members became ill, we consulted Louise Hay’s little blue book, Heal Your Body: The Mental Causes for Physical Illnesses and the Metaphysical Way to Overcome Them. “Both the good in our lives and the dis-ease are the results of mental thought patterns that form our experiences,” Hay writes… “We’ve learned,” Hay writes, “that for every effect in our lives, there’s a thought-pattern that precedes and maintains it.” The bulk of Heal Your Life is a list of ailments in alphabetical order. You can find everything from hemorrhoids to tuberculosis to AIDS, and beside each ailment is an emotional cause.
Lanier thought she had already come to grips with the fact that physical diseases aren’t caused by psychological problems when her stepfather died of melanoma that failed to respond to all of her stepfather’s beliefs. But, she notes, the “culture of pregnancy,” which encourages women to believe that if they follow the right rules and think the right thoughts, they will be rewarded with a SuperBaby. Fiona’s birth disabused her of that thinking once and for all.
Natural childbirth and lactivism are ableist.
With my woo-woo belief that the mind could control the body, I’d pushed disability away. I’d done this by subscribing to the belief that disability always had an avoidable cause. I’d believed I could control the body because I could not stomach the truth: that the body is fragile, ephemeral.
Natural childbirth and lactivism are based on fear … of anything “less” than perfection.
I had not realized this about myself. I had not realized this about my parents. I did not see our adamant devotion to vitamins and affirmations and organics as fear-based, as an attempt to control the uncontrollable. I also did not see it as political. I saw it as morally good. I was making a SuperHuman. What was wrong with that?
By insisting on the perfection of bodily processes, natural childbirth and lactivism reflexively blame women for anything that goes wrong.
Here’s the thing. If you buy into a false narrative that the body is controllable, that illness can always be prevented, then by proxy you are left with a disturbing, damaging, erroneous conclusion: the belief that a person’s disability is their fault.
But there is another choice:
The world is a terrifying place. We manage it by believing we can control it. And when it hasn’t been controlled—when it doesn’t bend to our wills—we either look for something to blame, or we surrender.
Instead of pretending that childbirth is inherently safe and easily controlled with birth affirmations, we ought to surrender to the fact that it is inherently dangerous.
Instead of believing that our thoughts have the power to deliver a healthy baby, we should accept the necessity of medical interventions.
Instead of pretending that breastfeeding is inherently perfect and that claims of insufficient breastmilk or other difficulties are just ways for lazy mothers, brainwashed by the formula industry to justify their selfishness, we should accept the necessity that formula feeding is the best and healthiest choice for many infants.
Instead of pretending that our job as new mothers is to guarantee SuperBabies, we should surrender to the fact that our job as new mothers is to love our babies — not as perfect products — but as new, unique, possibly flawed people.