Surprise! Mothers don’t need to suffer to raise happy, healthy children

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Our deepest assumptions often go unexamined. That’s especially true if we live in a culture that takes those same assumptions for granted. One of the central assumptions of modern, Western culture is that raising happy, healthy children requires that mothers suffer.

I suspect that this bedrock assumption goes back at least to the Book of Genesis, which sought to make sense of the agony of labor by declaring that God wanted women to suffer as punishment for Eve’s indiscretion; as a result, she and Adam were driven from the Garden of Eden. It’s analogous to the ancient Greek idea that thunder is the result of gods fighting; it’s a poor effort to explain natural phenomenona that could not be understood in the absence of science. The big difference is that no one now believes that thunder is caused by the gods, while many people still believe that suffering is integral to motherhood.

A central assumptions of modern, Western culture is that raising happy, healthy children requires maternal suffering.

What is natural childbirth, really, beyond the assumption that suffering unmedicated agony in an attempt to have a vaginal birth is “better” for babies?

Sure, you can dress it up with fancy scientific sounding rationalizations like the claims that epidurals interfere with labor and harm babies (both shown to be false) or fabricated nonsense that labor pain is necessary for mother-infant bonding (for which there is no evidence whatsoever). If you’re going to lie, why not go all the way and try to convince women that their agony is good for them? They can be “empowered” by it.

Pro-tip: If it doesn’t empower an Afghan teenager to give birth without pain relief or medical assistance, it isn’t going to empower a privileged white woman who fetishizes refusing those same things.

There’s really no limit to the trade offs that natural childbirth advocates encourage women to make. Sure, vaginal birth might lead to tears from the clitoris to the anus, might result in urinary and fecal incontinence and sexual dysfunction but, but, but the microbiome!!! But, but, but epigenetics!!! There is no ostensible benefit to a baby too theoretical or unproven that it can’t be used to convince women that they deserve to suffer.

Lactivism is exactly the same. Breastfeeding advocates are forever fabricating new “benefits” of breastfeeding from poorly designed, weak studies that offer conflicting data, riddled with confounders. No matter that all their predictions about the lives and money saved by increasing breastfeeding rates have failed to materialize despite massive increases in breastfeeding rates over the past 40 years.

In agony because it feels like someone is macerating your nipples every two hours? Exhausted because you have to pump between feeding sessions to boost your supply? Unable to treat your postpartum depression for fear that the medication will contaminate your breastmilk? So what? Mothers must suffer because formula has “risks.” Let’s ignore the fact that two entire generations of Westerners were raised on formula and during those years every possible parameter of infant health continued to improve at the same rate as before formula became popular.

You want to give your baby formula because it is more convenient for you? How dare you imagine that you have the right to work, to rest, to control your own body? Only amoral, self absorbed harridans consider their own wants and needs.

Attachment parenting is the ultimate manifestation of the belief babies need their mothers to suffer in order to be happy. Attachment parenting postulates that mothers must serve as bedraggled chew toys for babies. Mothers are counseled that they can never leave their babies’ sides even to sleep or those babies will grow up to be neurotic failures. Curiously, the rise of attachment parenting has been accompanied by a rise in psychiatric disorders among children and teens, not to mention an increase in anxiety, depression, hospitalization and suicide among young people. There’s no evidence that attachment parenting caused this rise in mental health problems, but there’s certainly no evidence that it prevented it.

Don’t get me wrong, parenting (not just mothering) requires sacrifice. Parents sacrifice money, time, convenience and indulgences in order to raise children. But it does NOT require maternal suffering. There is precisely zero evidence that women who suffer in labor have children who are happier or more successful. There’s no evidence that women who suffer to breastfeed have provided anything beyond trivial health benefits for their children. And there’s never been evidence that attachment parenting is based on anything beyond the religious prejudice and misogyny of Bill and Martha Sears, who believe that God wants women subservient to men and immured in the home.

So if suffering is not integral to raising happy, healthy children, why are natural parenting advocates exhorting women to suffer? Because one of the central unexamined assumptions of our culture is that women deserve to suffer.

We have a word for that assumption: misogyny.

It’s time to reject suffering and misogyny in parenting … and in every other sphere of life.

  • Cynthia

    Not only is suffering not necessary, it s actually bad for all concerned. Babies need parents that are functional.

  • Empress of the Iguana People

    OT: is this as wooey as it seems to me? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autonomous_sensory_meridian_response
    My easily gulled spouse stumbled over this recently and is all excited. I don’t mind him listening to the goofy music he likes and whatever else calms his anxiety, but i don’t want him wandering into looney land.

    • Heidi_storage

      Seems iffy. In its favor, Steven Novella hasn’t excluded the possibility that it’s a real phenomenon, but I can’t help noticing in the (laudatory) Wikipedia article that “While little scientific research has been conducted into potential neurobiological correlates to the perceptual phenomenon known as ‘autonomous sensory meridian response’ (ASMR), with a consequent dearth of data with which to either explain or refute its physical nature….” So I’d say, maybe, maybe not. I sure wouldn’t use this supposed response as a replacement for more proven treatment, but it probably isn’t otherwise harmful.

    • Vast

      It’s real. I’ve had ASMR all my life (regularly, in response to “good” music). Only recently learned that it’s a “thing” and that not all people experience it (explains why so many people like “bad” music :P). My husband experiences it too, but not to the degree that I do. We’re both (barely) on the autism spectrum so I wonder if that has something to do with it (sensory differences). I haven’t read the article much, but I’d assume that if someone hasn’t ever had them before, they’d be unlikely to ever be able to trigger them?

      • Casual Verbosity

        Can also confirm it’s real. I have also had it for as long as I can remember. I don’t experience it to the same extent that some people do, but at the very least it makes me very, very relaxed. That being said, certain music will set it off like crazy.
        I imagine it’s a form of auditory-touch synesthesia. I also occasionally experience sound-light synesthesia. I also have certain minor sensory issues. Whilst on the one hand I experience whispering as incredibly enjoyable, other sounds like chewing or even just chalk on a board are really unbearable for me. I stim a little bit by gently tickling my arms, and there are certain textures that make me feel ‘icky’ (for want of a better word). This sort of sensitivity seems to be anecdotally common among people who experience ASMR.
        I ‘cured’ my insomnia a few years back with mindfulness, but ASMR was helpful in the process, especially to keep me calm on nights when sleep wasn’t coming as quickly as I wanted. These days if I want to nap during the day, it’s the surest way to help me sleep.
        From a treatment perspective, I think ASMR can be used to supplement other treatments. For example, for someone who struggles with emotional reactivity, listening to their preferred triggers would be a tool they could use to bring their arousal levels down. So ASMR is a tool within a tool, the overarching tool being CBT, DBT, ACT etc.
        I can completely understand how crazy this must sound to people who don’t experience it. It probably sounds about as crazy as women who say they have experienced orgasmic birth. All I’ll say is that I am about as anti-woo as they come, but the sound of a whisper will make my back and legs tingle like a pleasant form of pins and needles, and the sensation happens to put me into a very relaxed state. If neuroscience wasn’t my most difficult subject in undergrad, I would love to research ASMR in postgrad.

        • Empress of the Iguana People

          Demodocus is a synesthede too

          • Casual Verbosity

            Isn’t the brain incredible?

        • Zornorph

          I probably shouldn’t say it, but I had to look up what CBT stood for, because the only time I had encountered that acronym, it stood for ‘Cock and Balls Torture’ :O.

    • MaineJen

      It’s a real thing. There are you tube videos of women talking in a whisper, paper being crinkled, etc. And people watch them for hours just to generate this sensation. I always think of the Anne of Green Gables books, when Anne talks about “getting a thrill” when she sees something especially beautiful.

      I get goose bumps when I listen to certain pieces of music, but I don’t think that’s the same thing.

    • Zornorph

      Okay, I have to speak up in favor of ASMR. I recently discovered these videos. I have to say I absolutely love them – they give me the best feeling to listen to. I am about as far from ‘woo’ as you can get, mind you, but this was like finding something out there that was always missing and you just didn’t realize what it was. Now, I really don’t think everyone would respond to it – for someone who was not ‘triggered’ by it, it would probably be silly and a bit tiresome. But it’s just the most relaxing and de-stressing thing in the world for me. If your hubby likes to listen to ARMR videos, I would say it’s the most harmless thing in the world.

    • Empress of the Iguana People

      Thanks, everybody. This sort of thing doesn’t work on me and I needed to be sure. Bless him, he’s the super bright type with precious little common sense. He thought I was being literal when I told him I had a cast iron stomach back in college.

      • StephanieJR

        He sounds adorable!

    • Dr Kitty

      I get ASMR- have done since I was a child. Whenever I would get my hair styled, or makeup or nails done or someone would spend time talking softly to me I would get a pleasant tingly sensation on my scalp which radiated to my neck and arms, but it wasn’t something I purposefully set out to trigger.

      I find a lot of the ASMR videos a bit weird (I don’t really like the role plays and the woo-y stuff), but I really enjoy one particular lady on Youtube (Gentle Whispering ASMR).
      I find listening to her talking about folding towels or her earring collection very relaxing.

      Even though I absolutely don’t believe in any of it, her video on Chakras is absolutely guaranteed to send me to sleep within 10 minutes and is a real life saver when I have insomnia. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to stay awake beyond the third chakra!

      My husband calls her the Russian Snoring Lady, because I’m usually snoring shortly after I start watching one of her videos!

      SO…if you get tingles, there are plenty of people making videos for that- it’s all pretty much sweet and harmless and not creepy, fetishistic or weird, but a lot of people who are into it are into crystals/reiki/essential oils and some videos feature woo-adjacent stuff.

      Basically- if you’re the kind of person who finds watching QVC, makeup demonstrations or cookery shows relaxing, you’d probably enjoy ASMR videos, but not all ASMRtists produce content that you will enjoy so be discerning.

      Bob Ross videos on Youtube are another godsend for when I can’t turn my brain off- so if standard ASMR isn’t for you, maybe try that?

  • maidmarian555

    I wish someone would point this out to just about every HCP I’ve come into contact with since my daughter was born. Bar one hospital nurse (who told me she wished all c-section mums would combo-feed at least until their milk comes in), pretty much EVERY conversation I’ve had has gone like this:

    HCP: Wow, your daughter is doing so well, she’s gaining weight, she’s a beautiful colour, you’re obviously doing great! Also, you look brilliant and are doing much better than we would expect this soon after surgery. You’re breastfeeding, right?

    Me: No, we’re doing breast and bottle.

    HCP: Whyeeeeeee??!! Why are you doing that? Now your milk is in can you not just drop that bottle?

    Me: No. She clusterfeeds late at night so I don’t get to bed til about 1am right now. Her Dad gets up at 4/5am with her and does a bottle. He gets to go to bed around 10/11pm so we’re all getting a good chunk of at least 5hrs sleep right now.

    HCP: But you don’t need that bottle. It would be so much better if you could feed her exclusively.

    Without fail, every single one of them seems completely unable to grasp that part of the reason we’re all doing well is because I’m not trying to kill myself exclusively feeding a newborn. Her dad goes back to work in a few weeks and I’m going to need to be fit enough to take care of my two under-2s. This means getting some sleep now and resting where I can. Apparently this is ‘bad’. I can see why I felt so awful after having my son, it’s not helpful having these conversations where you’re repeatedly told you’re doing it ‘wrong’. And that’s even when all the evidence points to the contrary. I feel good, I’m recovering about a millions times better than I did after my first c-section and my daughter is eating like a champ and packing weight on. Does it really matter how we achieve that?! Why am I being told I am a crappy mother for needing to sleep at night? It’s insane.

    • MaineJen

      So…you ARE breastfeeding. You’re just not *exclusively* breastfeeding. Come the f^&* on. When is this insanity going to end? Who could look at a healthy, thriving baby and a happy family, and think that something is wrong??

    • mabelcruet

      So you’ve obviously got a system that works well for you and your family and everyone is thriving. Personally I’d refuse to get into conversation about the details ‘Yes, feeding is going well’, ‘Yes, baby is gaining weught’. It’s nothing to do with them about what type of feeding as long as its working. Either fib, lie by omission, or just smile mysteriously and say nothing!

    • Sheven

      This might sound weird, but you might want to type out your complaints and carry a copy in the next time you see your healthcare provider. Perhaps challenge them a bit–ask what if any studies they know of that show that exclusively breastfed children do better than children with supplemental bottles. End by stating the way this is hurting you and that you hope they don’t do this to other, less experienced mothers.

      It can be hard to say everything you have to say and to keep an even tone about a difficult subject. Simply handing them this note and asking them to read it and respond to it while you’re there might be easier, even if it feels awkward.

      • Casual Verbosity

        I’m already planning such a document that I’m going to use when I have my (currently hypothetical) future children. I’ve been collecting scientifically sound studies that Dr Amy posts to supplement the document. There will be citations and sass seeping out of the ink.

        • Steph858

          Please please please post it here and Creative Commons License it so those of us who are less eloquent/more lazy than yourself can arm ourselves with it.

          • Casual Verbosity

            I will most certainly do so. Although I can’t say when it will be available; my hypothetical children are some way off.

      • maidmarian555

        We’ve now (thankfully) been fully discharged from midwifery care so my interaction with these people should be much reduced. Your suggestion is a good one, I just thought as this is my second child and I’ve been clear that I’m confident in my choices and don’t need feeding ‘advice’ that this would stem the flow of unsolicited suggestions that we completely drop the supplementation. Sadly this hasn’t been the case. A written document would have helped, I’ve really struggled not to be too snarky (and definitely didn’t get a positive response from the midwife when we checked out of hospital who told me if I persisted with supplementing, my supply would be terrible and I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed as long as I wanted to- I flat out said she was talking bollocks which did not go down well at all).

    • Montserrat Blanco

      Congratulations on your baby! And I am really glad you are doing well. Just carry on as you see fit. Your mental health IS important. Your rest IS important and the fact that you are able to function IS REALLY important. And whoever tells you otherwise… well, I would kindly invite them to go to your house at 3 am to look after your baby.

    • Sarah

      I’d threaten to move to exclusive formula feeding if they don’t shut up.

  • Emilie Bishop

    I wanted to stop breastfeeding on day 3 of my son’s life. But I didn’t, because the hospital staff told me it was “best.” So we started triple-feeding. I wanted to quit after a few days of that because I was miserable. But I didn’t, because the hospital staff told me if I kept at it, my supply would build and we’d EBF, which was, of course, “best.” So I let my baby scream next to me while I pumped instead of holding him, convinced my breast milk was better for him than my arms. I kept at it for two months, literally telling myself that motherhood required sacrifice and what was a few extra minutes of sleep compared to providing “the best” to the baby I tried for four years to have. When I finally quit, I told myself I was a terrible mom who didn’t deserve a baby I wasn’t willing to suffer for. The misogyny cuts deep.

    • Casual Verbosity

      That is truly awful. No one deserves to go through that.

      Your comment that the misogyny cuts deep rings very true for me. Although I am still some way off having children, I know that were I to have children now, I would probably force myself through natural birth and breastfeeding even if they weren’t working out for me, because I’m worried that other people would judge me for not doing it “properly”. I feel this way despite intellectually knowing that epidurals and formula won’t damage my baby, and have the potential to save my mental health. I feel this way, despite being so passionate about maternal mental health that I’m considering specialising my future clinical practice in this area and advocating for policy change. It cuts deep indeed.

      • Sue

        I hope that Dr Amy’s community can help to support you and other people affected by that deep conditioning.

        • Casual Verbosity

          Thanks Sue. Hopefully by the time I’m ready to have children, my rational thoughts will have completely replaced those emotional beliefs.

      • Allie

        I’ve embraced the judgment. I revel in it. I’m a great mom. I’ve switched to fructose-free Doritos, after all : )
        #shitmom

        • Casual Verbosity

          That’s fantastic!

        • Sarah

          Yes, I rather enjoy it too. Fortunately I don’t really have this guilt reflex that a lot of others experience, possibly due to living in a community with very high rates of formula feeding. I felt sad buying formula the last time ever because I knew that each time I did it, I was pissing off the TAPs etc of this world. I miss that.

          I’m only sorry that my section was the sort of Cat 1 emergency that even the more grudging NCBers will usually accept as an essential one. It would have been better for my persona had it been entirely elective, like my formula feeding. I might start lying and saying it was an ELCS. All the better to assert my right to bodily autonomy with.

          • Casual Verbosity

            Good on you! That will really piss them off.

          • Sarah

            Thank you!

      • Cynthia

        It was a liberating moment when I was agonizing over the decision to go back to work despite Dr. Laura on the radio comparing daycare to dog kennels, and I suddenly realized that her opinion was utterly irrelevant. If my daughter and my family were thriving, that was all that mattered.

        You will never please everyone, so there is no point in trying. You and your family are the ones that count.

        • Empress of the Iguana People

          Dr. Laura is a prat.

          • Cynthia

            That is putting it nicely.

            She was once kinda sorta tolerable, but over time the WTF advice started to outweigh the common sense and she just got more preachy.

    • Sue

      So sorry you were forced to go through that.

      I’ve told this story before, but it’s worth repeating:
      My mother, who migrated to Aus as a young woman, was raised in Sourthern Italy in a peasant lifestyle. I had always assumed that, because of that background, she must have breastfed me forever, which must contribute to my great good health.

      It was only when I had my daughter that she told me that I had cried a lot, and the early childhood nurse had advised switching me to formula at about six weeks (this was in the 1960s).

      So, here I am, breast fed for only six weeks, yet uber healthy in middle age. No dental fillings, no autoimmune disaese, no skin disease, not obese, no asthma, and still practising as a medical specialist.

      I was certainly shaped by my genes and having a secure, loving upbringing and a healthy diet. My parents migrated to the other side of the world, where they had to learn a new language and culture, to achieve a better life. It’s hard to imagine that longer breastfeeding could have given me anything extra.

      • My sister has 4 children. When her oldest was 3 months, my sister was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The treatment had to start immediately and was no compatible with breastfeeding, so said baby was moved to a bottle–cold turkey–at 3 months. Poor baby was so angry.

        My sister recovered (yay!) and had 3 more children. All exclusively breastfed.

        25 years later? Baby #1 is the only one without significant health problems. The 3 who were exclusively breastfed got the short end of the genetic stick.

    • c+

      Is it misogyny when it’s women judging each other for these things? The only obstetrician I’ve found in my area who is willing to do an elective c-section is male. I was turned down by many women obstetricians.

      • Russell Jones

        Women hating women is nothing new, sad to say.

      • Emilie Bishop

        I consider it misogyny because it’s still directed at a woman, telling her to suffer when other options are available. I have endometriosis and I’ve had two female doctors in particular treat me with condescension bordering on contempt for not getting better the way they thought I should be. One told me my endo was the result of an anxious personality and I needed a more “holistic” approach to healing. (When I asked her how that explained bleeding and pelvic pain multiple times every cycle, she had no answer.) I’m glad you found one doctor to do what you’ve asked. I hope it goes well.

      • Chi

        Sadly it is, because it stems from internalized misogyny. Women are socialized to be quite competitive because we have to be the prettiest/smartest (but not too smart), most perfect woman ever, otherwise men (or women if that’s what we’re into) won’t look twice at us or choose us.

      • Sarah

        Yes. If it stems from thinking worse of women, then that’s what it is.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Unfortunately, internalized misogyny is definitely a thing and women are quite capable of being sexist towards other women.

      • KeeperOfTheBooks

        Y’know, several friends and I have consistently noted that in our experience, male OBs are more understanding, sympathetic, supportive of our decisions etc than female ones. None of us are quite sure why this is, though in a few cases, we’ve hazarded a guess of “it isn’t that bad for ME, so it isn’t for you, either, just suck it up” being a factor.

        • guest

          At my first prenatal appointment with my first pregnancy, I told my GP about how sick I was all the time and said something to the effect of “that’s pregnancy” in this cheery voice. I never went back to her, I don’t have time for that in my life.

      • aurora

        Same!

    • Montserrat Blanco

      I am really sorry you went through that awful time.

    • KeeperOfTheBooks

      Been there, done that, still get anxiety thinking about the first kid’s first year. I’m so sorry.

  • Sheven

    The “wellness” movement has always preached improvement in “health” via sacrifice and suffering. Every comfort from a cup of coffee with milk and sugar in the morning to lying down on a soft mattress at night has come under fire from one expert or another.

    • Sue

      Indeed – but it’s very token “suffering”. One must sacrifice certain foods and spend time in the gym, but there appear to be no restrictions on living in luxurious shelter, drinking tumeric-enhanced soy lattes or accessing the internet.

      • Merrie

        Soy and caffeine are common targets of elimination diets.

        It boggles my mind how quickly many discussions of breastfeeding difficulties jump to a blithe recommendation to eliminate large categories of food.

        • Sue

          It’s because diet and “gut flora” are fashionable targets for the “wellness” industry.

          • guest

            “Token suffering” is such a great phrase.

            I have to be on special diets due to Crohns and Celiac disease. This means that I often bring my own sack lunch rather than eating out with coworkers or joining in at a potluck. I’m always baffled at the response I get. Always, always there are three or four people saying “Oh, yes. Of course. I’ve been meaning to go gluten-free. And dairy free. We ALL should.”

            I always reply “but why? Do those things make you ill?”

            “Well, no. It’s just better. We’d be better people if we all did that. It’s cleaner, healthier. You know, we should all be GOOD and not eat those things.”

            Newsflash: being able to digest cheese and bread is not a moral failing, folks. I don’t see y’all with working legs rolling around in wheelchairs because you somehow think that a walking-free lifestyle will make you better people.

            It is amazing how food gets tied into the idea of morality and cleanliness.

            Jeezy petes, if people only knew. If I could be off this diet without landing in the hospital, I’d live off of fast food, coffee, and beer, and happily be the least pure and holy among them.

          • alicja1977

            I always ask if there’s a medical reason someone is eliminating something like wheat gluten* from their diet and how they plan on replacing the nutrients lost in the process.

            Blank stares.

            That’s right… there’s good stuff in there that we need to stay healthy. Good vegetal protein, vitamins… oh, and fiber. You really need that fiber. Enjoy being suddenly constipated all the time until you figure that one out.

            More blank stares…

            I’m such a buzzkill like that… suggesting that maybe you don’t need to punish yourself to lose a few pounds or feel less sluggish or whatever the reason is you think you have to upend your diet this month… and that frankly if you really feel like something is wrong, you should see a doctor and have some tests run before going on an elimination diet…

            *I haven’t had the biopsy for celiac, but given the pattern of symptoms I was experiencing at the time along with the vitamin deficiencies I presented with when I went through a battery of tests some years back to address the huge amount of fatigue, lack of stamina, and weight gain in spite of working out 5 days a week, it was suggested by the MD that I eliminate wheat gluten… along with how to adjust my diet accordingly with other healthy grains and a supplementation plan and a couple of other dietary tweaks to correct the deficiencies… (The battery of tests however did confirm Hashimoto’s. I suspect treating that is what made the most difference coupled with the supplementation and other diet tweaks rather than ditching wheat gluten so much, though my GI tract prefers less wheat gluten with appropriate “replacements”.) Me, in the absence of an official celiac diagnosis, I’ll indulge in a real donut or pizza on occasion and pay the gastric consequences until and unless a biopsy is indicated and the results say I have celiac.

          • guest

            “Token suffering” is such a great phrase.

            I have to be on special diets due to Crohns and Celiac disease. This means that I often bring my own sack lunch rather than eating out with coworkers or joining in at a potluck. I’m always baffled at the response I get. Always, always there are three or four people saying “Oh, yes. Of course. I’ve been meaning to go gluten-free. And dairy free. We ALL should.”

            I always reply “but why? Do those things make you ill?”

            “Well, no. It’s just better. We’d be better people if we all did that. It’s cleaner, healthier. You know, we should all be GOOD and not eat those things.”

            Newsflash: being able to digest cheese and bread is not a moral failing, folks. I don’t see y’all with working legs rolling around in wheelchairs because you somehow think that a walking-free lifestyle will make you better people.

            It is amazing how food gets tied into the idea of morality and cleanliness.

            Jeezy petes, if people only knew. If I could be off this diet without landing in the hospital, I’d live off of fast food, coffee, and beer, and happily be the least pure and holy among them.

          • Merrie

            I am sure glad that none of my kids has seemed bothered by anything I ate while breastfeeding. I tend to feel like if there was a problem and I tried an elimination diet and they showed up as sensitive to something, I’d have a pretty low bar for switching to formula, depending on what that something was. But I’m glad I haven’t had to deal with it. I had to eliminate dairy when I was pregnant and I hated it.

      • Who?

        The basic requirements are that it is expensive , inconvenient and time consuming.

        With the added frisson that the fashion changes constantly, so you are always a short revelation away from being wrong, wrong, wrong. Which is shorthand for, if not deluded, dangerously misguided.

  • Jen

    What’s puzzling is how unmedicated vaginal birth and exclusive breastfeeding became the feminist stance too. Religious Conservatives wanting women to be miserable is par for the course. Well-educated, staunch liberal feminists lecturing each other on how to be the perfect martyr-mommy is disturbing. Yet that’s what I see all around me in Boston.

    • Emilie Bishop

      Seattle and its wealthier suburbs are full of this crap too. I think in some ways it’s because of the education and career success these women have prior to having children. Their children become their next project. And you do want to complete your projects according to best practices at all times, right? It’s so frustrating. I’m already dreading when my son wants to play sports or start music lessons and other activities. I hope he takes after my husband and tunes out all that stupid noise.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Yeah, there is so much to the “children-as-projects” idea. Especially when it comes to well-educated SAHMs, especially those who have been pressured on some level to be SAHMs. I think of a lot of them displace their need to accomplish things and have their accomplishments recognized–a very understandable need–onto their children. I think the same is true of the Christian variety of crunchy SAHM, who is often living in a subculture where careers and working after children is discouraged or even outright prohibited and so the kids become the “job” and the only outlet that they have to demonstrate their abilities and interests and skills. Which means, a lot rides on the outcomes. A child’s health or grades ends up being a performance review. It’s fucked up.

        • Empress of the Iguana People

          the class’s grades on standardized tests are already a performance review for teachers.

          • Amazed

            My first teacher in the English language school – the best one in my city – used to say that the Bs or even Cs (if I am not mistaken, these are the ones corresponding to, OK, yes, I guess this one goes) of the kind of students who simply had no head for languages (usually, these excelled at maths and physics, in my experience) made him prouder than the straight As of those who only needed to look at the textbook to grasp it and a little practice to absorb it.

            As one may guess, I am not a fan of standartized tests as a performance review for teachers. If someone had taken ME as a grounds of performance, my teacher would have had slightly off top notch grade when, in fact, the performance review could not reflect the situation of a “lazy student”. What the hell was he supposed to do? Escort me home and tie me in front of my desk until I did the bloody studying? But yes, the grades of his students reflected all on him without taking into account the different personalities and studying habits of his students. As it was, I needed TWO years to grasp the simple fact that I was now in a competitive environment and some effort on my part was bloody necessary. Meanwhile, I had been dragging the performance review of most of my teachers down with dogged determination.

        • Cynthia

          For better or worse, it also becomes about ego.

          There is fear if you aren’t good enough, but also a sense that ONLY the mom can ever meet any of the child’s needs.

          Meanwhile, focusing on the mom takes the focus away from what is actually in the best interests of the child. Focusing on the child means being able to admit if your child is actually happy or thriving at any point when they are away from you, or acknowledging that maybe, you aren’t required to do everything 24/7.

      • Cynthia

        People tend to put an inordinate amount of energy into marginal areas when it comes to parenting.

        When my oldest was a baby, I got a contract working as legal counsel for a child protection agency. I was also spending a lot of time on Babycenter’s “Great Debates” boards, esp. while breastfeeding at night.

        So, online I would read stuff about how access to formula should be made almost impossible, requiring a prescription, and in real life the agency was dealing with an inquest into the starvation death of a baby. Online I would read about how if a mom wanted to sleep, she should have gotten a kitten instead of a baby, while in real life I was dealing with cases of moms so exhausted that they couldn’t respond to their babies. Online posters would piously declare that some common practices were child abuse, in real life we were getting emails from the foster care department warning that there was no space for new children and was dealing with the fallout from bad foster placements. Online a poster would seem like mother of the year for exclusive extended breastfeeding and refusal to circumcise, when we made contact in real life I learned that the other parent of her child was a neo-Nazi.

        There are such thing as good and bad parenting practices. They just weren’t the topics of the debates.

        • Roadstergal

          Oh man. :/

    • Wasnomofear

      My first women’s studies class was a one-hour course on midwifery history, which is pretty rough, but mostly because women had it rough in general. I, however, connected that to the modern movement when that connection no longer exists – doctors are better and safer now. Similarly, the formula industry has atoned for its mistakes, but feminist lactivists can’t let go of the history there and see it for the lifesaver that it is.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      I think the idea is DIYing as a way to reject the influence of patriarchy, without realizing that a) it’s pretty impossible to actually do that and b) all of this self-sacrificing perfectionism is just part of that influence. I think it’s also a holdover from the days of Twilight sleep and paternalistic medicine (when pretty much all the doctors were actually men.) Stuff like that lingers long in collective memory.

      And to be sure, there is still a lot of misogyny in medicine. Why wouldn’t there be? I’ve yet to find a human institution it has not permeated. This “alternative” is not better and is, in many cases, worse.

  • namaste

    There’s a strain of thought in Western society that suffering is somehow a crucible, that it makes us better people. Look at Mother Theresa, as an example. She routinely withheld pain relief from her patients, something about there being “Beauty in suffering.” You see this attitude time and time again, that suffering is somehow redemptive. The idea of suffering as redemptive to women goes back to the writing of the book of Genesis. At the end of the day, it’s saying women deserve to suffer for being born women.

    • attitude devant

      Don’t even get me started about Mother Teresa

      • Spamamander, pro fun ruiner

        I’ll let Hitchens do it, he was beautifully brutal.

        • attitude devant

          I’m more in line with Aroup Chatterjee.

      • namaste

        Oh, by all means, get started! Do share!

      • I think most of us are with you on that particular person.

  • Heidi_storage

    Part of the problem is that there’s no way to ensure a successful “outcome” to parenting–that is, raising decent, intelligent, successful, capable adults who share your most cherished values. It is easier to focus on “process” instead, and to fetishize the most difficult ways to accomplish these processes. And there is a strong temptation to indulge in sympathetic magic–that is, to imagine that the most labor-intensive (no pun intended) or painful ways of mothering will lead to a good outcome.

    • Cat

      Yup. That’s my problem with people who fetishize (to take one example) babywearing. Baby carriers and slings are a great tool if you need your hands free, but a baby in a sling isn’t automatically getting more stimulation and quality interaction than a baby in a stroller. I’ve seen bored-looking babies in slings being ignored by their parent all round the supermarket, and parents who’ve almost knocked over displays of cornflakes because they’ve been so absorbed in chatting to and smiling at their baby in its stroller (and vice versa). It’s probably easier to obsess over processes though (babywearing good! stroller bad!) than to accept that being emotionally “there” for your kids is bloody hard, no parent can be totally responsive one hundred per cent of the time and stay sane, and all you can do is do your best and hope it’s enough.

      • Cat

        PS Massive (belated) thanks to everyone who replied with kind and helpful comments to my family issues the other week. If I didn’t know that you guys were a totally meeean bunch of people who want to poison babies with vaccines and deny them liquid gold, I’d think you were one of the most supportive groups on the internet 🙂

      • TheArtistFormerlyKnownAsYoya

        My son loathes the baby carrier because he can’t see anything with his head crammed against my chest. Seems like the opposite of stimulation.

        • Cat

          I have a smug mummy acquaintance who immediately sticks her one year old in the baby carrier to comfort it every single time it starts to fuss. The kid seems very bright and is an early walker, so I can’t help thinking that it must find the whole thing quite frustrating. (I wouldn’t normally judge another parent’s parenting, but the smug mummy in question ruined my day recently by telling me that my daughter wouldn’t have found hand, foot and mouth disease unpleasant if I’d still been breastfeeding, so all bets are off. Plus I can guarantee that she’d judge any mother who gave her baby a pacifier every time it cried, even though the mechanism strikes me as pretty similar).

          • N

            Ah well, hand mouth foot disease and breastfeeding, … Well I’m a long time breastfeeding mother. My daughter was almost two years old, when she got that disease. She didn’t find it pleasant to breastfeed with that pain in her mouth at all. She suffered hell and stopped breastfeeding completely for almost 5 days! And my youngest, he had stomatitis when he was almost 2 years old. Still breastfed at that time, only ate, drank and breastfed enough to not dehydrate. It was no pleasure for him. Breastfeeding did nothing to help with the pain in the mouth. Ahhh, magic doesn’t work every time. I suspect my kids just didn’t believe enough in the magical relieve breastfeeding would give them from the pain in their mouths.

          • Wren

            My son quit breastfeeding when he and I both got hand,foot and mouth. He was 9 months old and I did everything to get him a I to breastfeeding except starve him. I was very into a lot of that back then (always vaccinated though) but I could not starve my baby because he didn’t want to nurse. I spent almost 3 months pumping and chasing an early walker before I “gave in” and got formula. It was miserable.

        • Cynthia

          My 3 kids each responded differently to the carrier.

          Girl 1 just wanted to be as close as possible to me, so she liked it.

          Girl 2 loved it, but only in the out-facing position, because she was apparently an adult stuck in the body of a baby and needed to see the world at eye-level with other adults.

          The Boy was mostly in the stroller. He liked his sleep. He was also my fattest baby and my joints couldn’t take carrying him very long.

        • Wren

          I had one who hated the carrier than one who loved it. It’s almost like kids have their own personalities and needs from early on or something.

          • Christy

            Oh come on, no way! /s

      • Mel

        Strollers are a much more effective way to move a baby who is on oxygen and attached to a breathing/heart monitor than babywearing so that’s what Spawn got while he was a fully corded baby. That let us go on trips to the local parks for walks as well.

        Once he was on night-only oxygen and monitoring, he was also old enough that he had full head control. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed babywearing him once he could be in a variety of positions in a K’Tan – not just a curled up kangaroo baby. I also feel more agile with him in a carrier than a stroller.

        I find that I have less interaction with him in the K’Tan, though, because he’s not in an easy position to make eye contact compared to when he looks back at me from his stroller.

  • Guest

    After working in childcare for many I am convinced that attachment parenting is a form of abuse.

    I’ve seen children from all other walks of life and all different kinds of families turn out happy, healthy, and successful.

    But the attachment parented kids were all well on their way to developing major anxiety and panic disorders by the time they were toddlers. All kids experience some degree of separation anxiety, but eventually their natural curiosity takes over, and they begin to explore their new school or daycare environment, socialize with other kids, and play.

    In contrast, the attachment kids would scream and cry inconsolably for hours, refuse food, and wet themselves in terror when greeted by another child. Of course they were terrified. Mom was terrified to leave them in the care of other people, and they had been taught from birth that being separated from mom’s touch (and mom’s breasts) was the worst thing that could possibly happen. They could not eat, use the toilet, or socially interact with other children without mom holding their hand. Their distrust of the world was heartbreaking.

    I really wish someone would do a study on THAT.

    • Heidi_storage

      My inlaws were surprised when my 2-year-old and 4-year-old stayed with them a few days sans parents, quite cheerfully; their cousins are babied more, and still have problems leaving Mom and Dad overnight, though they are 8 and 11. (To be fair, though, this might be a chicken-and-egg sort of thing; one cousin has had anxiety issues since babyhood.)

    • Sue

      It goes back to their misunderstanding of the “attachment” evidence, as we’ve discussed before.

      All that’s required for secure attachment is relative stability and a loving carer. Those harmed by neglect are children who live in chaos or extremely sensory-deprived environments, like the legendary “Romanian orphanage” style of neglect – not kids who go to child care.

      • Amazed

        Whenever I read about the tragedy of non-secure attachment, I want to laugh – not the merry way. My grandmother was a teacher in a school that was both an educational institution for local children and a boarding school for children whose parents could not or simply did not want to take care of their kids. Children spending the entire Sunday morning with their nose pressed against the glass, waiting for a mom who would not come was a common occurrence. And how one day my grandmother had Grandfather take the car out and drive her and a kid who was waiting on a mom’s promise to visit him this week, no, really visit, for third or fourth time in a row. The kid was in really low spirits and my grandmother decided to take him to his mom, in a nearby town, figuring that well, if the mountain won’t come… I don’t think I’ve ever seen her as angry as she was when they returned. The mother watched them from the window and simply did not answer the door. The kid ended up having lunch with us instead. I still have no idea what Grandma was thinking. I mean, the woman had given false promises to her kid more than once. On the other hand, my grandmother is a woman of action and I guess that seeing the kid like this, she figured that she should act. Little did she know.

        And you know what? The kid was still fucking bonded to this mother. What do these women think is so wrong with their kids that they won’t grow attached to them if they stay in someone else’s care for a few hours?

        • Ozlsn

          The best quote I’ve ever read on that was “children will still love parents who are completely unworthy of them.”

          How long that persists into adulthood though seems to depend a lot on how unworthy the parent was.

          • Cynthia

            It also depends on what alternatives are available to the child.

            I see a lot of cases where children in high-conflict divorce cases will actively reject a parent as they reach adolescence.

        • Cynthia

          If we are talking genuine attachment theory, as opposed to Attachment Parenting as trademarked by Dr. Sears, there is some evidence that lack of secure attachment – which basically means an inability of a young child to trust that they will consistently get the care they need from their primary caregiver – is linked to poor outcomes. Of course, it is also possible that the mother had ceased to be the primary caregiver for attachment theory purposes, and that your Grandma may have fulfilled those needs.

          If you look at the original research on attachment styles, they basically tracked mother and baby pairs, first observing the parenting styles, and then observing the reactions of babies to being with strangers. What came out of that was Attachment Theory, with a focus on the infant’s reaction. What you could conclude from the same evidence, though, is that the infant’s reaction was a symptom reflecting good or poor parenting. In other words – maybe it’s not that abusing or neglecting a child leads to a particular style of dealing with strange situations, maybe seeing a child with a different way of reacting to a strange situation could be a clue that the child is actually in a toxic home environment with abuse and/or neglect.

          In the situation you described, it isn’t that the child doesn’t have any bond with the parent. It is that the child may see themselves as unworthy of the parent’s attention and may lack trust. I’ve also seen that young children will often love even horrible parents, but that things often shift around adolescence.

      • Kq

        My mother worked. A lot. Still does, and she’s about to turn 70. I spent my childhood mostly being “cared for” by my grandmother, who lived with us and was a lazy narcissist. And spent visits with my dad and his openly emotionally abusive wife.

        I defy anyone to find a child more securely attached to their mother. To this day, we are incredibly close. We have had ups and downs, but from birth I’ve been extremely securely attached to her.

        Attachment parenting is bullshit.

    • Cynthia

      That’s a bit of an extreme statement.

      Yes, kids who spend more time with mom and who don’t go to daycare earlier will have some more separation anxiety. Separation anxiety doesn’t exist in the first few months, but it starts to kick in by 6 months and you will see it in toddlers.

      Kids overcome that, though. They go through an adjustment phase, and then they become comfortable with the childcare, even if it takes a week or 2.

    • Mel

      I’ve had some interesting conversations with moms who had infants right around the time Spawn was born about sleep training.

      Sleep training my son was a real time committment- but he was at really high risk for suffocation during sleep if we co-slept so we stuck at teaching him to sleep in a bassinet or a crib.

      I was so damn exhausted so many times between bottle feeding, NG tube feeding, cleaning everything and keeping his head elevated to prevent reflux for 20 minutes after the 60 minutes we spent feeding him that I wanted to sleep_so_bad that putting him down and having him start crying for 5-15 minutes while he drifted off to sleep again felt like it was going to kill me – but I did it.

      The net outcome was that by 3 months adjusted he visibly relaxed when we put him in a crib or bassinet because he’s associated it with sleeping since he came home from the hospital and he’d learned a variety of ways to calm himself like suck on his paci, play with the plastic keys or scratch at the different materials the crib is made of.

      The take-away from other sleep training moms is that training babies in how to sleep is emotionally draining and exhausting in the short-term but pays off in the long term.

      The take-away from the co-sleeping moms whose kids will not sleep in a crib without screaming at the same age is that I had a baby who was a good natural sleeper – unlike their child who is a horrible natural sleeper.

  • Sarah

    They probably think unmedicated vaginal birth is empowering to Afghan teenagers too, let’s be honest.

    • crazy mama, PhD

      Oh, they probably think Afghan teenagers are doing it wrong somehow.

      • Sarah

        I think that’s breastfeeding.