Dr. Amy’s feminist mothering affirmations

cropped view of woman pointing at pink feminist t-shirt, isolated on grey

Natural mothering advocates employ affirmations as a form of magical thinking. They appear to believe that if they just wish hard enough, they can affect the likelihood of the unmedicated vaginal birth that they are supposed to want or the success of the breastfeeding relationship they’re supposed to desire.

That’s nonsense, of course. But such affirmations are also anti-feminist. They are anti-feminist because they assume that a woman’s worth resides in her vagina and breasts, because they ignore women’s needs and desires, and because they arise from philosophies that seek to immure women back into the home.

A mother’s worth does not reside in her vagina or breasts.

My feminist mothering affirmations rest on the opposite premises:

  • A woman’s virtue resides in her mind, talents and character. Whether or not a baby transits her vagina is no more important than whether or not she wears glasses.
  • Women’s needs — for pain relief in labor, for control of whether their breasts are used to feed their babies, for participation in the world beyond mothering — are more important than any purported benefits from natural childbirth, breastfeeding or attachment parenting. Whether or not a woman chooses to adhere to these philosophies is her decision, based on what she thinks is best for her children, not what other people, ignoring scientific evidence, think is best for her children.
  • Women — and society — benefit when they are encouraged to use the full range of their talents in the wider world, and women — and society — are harmed when women are immured in the home, forced to restrict themselves to childcare.

Here are my top ten feminist mothering affirmations:

1. It makes no difference how my baby is born.

Over the course of your son or daughter’s childhood, you will have many occasions to ponder how your actions impact your child’s life and you will second guess yourself many times, wondering if you had handled a specific situation differently might your child have been happier or more successful. Whether your baby was born vaginally or by C-section should never be one of them. It will make absolutely, no difference to your child how he or she emerged from your womb (or, in the case of an adopted child, even if he or she emerged from your womb). There is no reason for you to worry or obsess about how your baby is born.

2. There is no reason for me to suffer.

Some lucky women have a manageable amount of pain in labor and don’t need any relief. Most, however, have an unmanageable amount of pain and desperately seek relief. There is NO REASON to forgo pain relief when you are in pain. It is not safer, healthier or better in any way for your baby or for you to withstand hours of excruciating pain.

3. I am not in competition with other women.

Admittedly this is hard to believe when your friends, acquaintances and casual strangers demand details of your birth so they can compare their “performance” to your “performance,” but it’s true. It’s nobody’s business how you choose to give birth to your child and they don’t deserve to comment upon or even to know those private details.

Childbirth is not a performance that ought to be rated or compared. Childbirth is a bodily function like vision. Sometimes it works well; sometimes it needs help. No one judges women who wear glasses or contacts for nearsightedness even though their eyes don’t work “as nature intended.” Nearsightedness just happens, is no one’s fault and implies nothing about the overall health or quality of a woman’s body. Similarly, childbirth complications just happen, are no one’s fault and imply nothing about the overall health or quality of a woman’s body.

4. I am not guaranteed a healthy baby, so I need to consult with the professionals who can help me ensure my baby’s health.

Human reproduction, like all reproduction, has a high degree of “wastage,” which is another way of saying that death is a common complication of pregnancy. For example, 1 in 5 established pregnancies will end in miscarriage. No amount of wishing and hoping will change that. Similarly, in nature, nearly 10% of pregnancies will end in the death of the baby, the mother or both. Fortunately, the interventions of modern obstetrics can prevent the vast majority of those deaths, but only if you avail yourself of those interventions and the expertise of the people trained to use them.

5. I will not trust birth, because birth is not trustworthy.

Trusting birth makes about as much sense as trusting vision. No amount of trusting will prevent nearsightedness, so refusing eye exams in favor of trusting vision is stupid in the extreme. That goes double for childbirth, which is far more deadly than nearsightedness.

6. I will carefully analyze the motives of those who declare that any particular way of giving birth is “better” than any other.

When you take the time to analyze the advice and recommendations of “birth workers” like midwives, doulas and childbirth educators, ask yourself if they profit when you follow their advice. That does not mean that their advice is necessarily wrong, but it can and too often does compromise their recommendations. Instead of recommending what is good for you and your baby, they may be recommending what is good for their wallet.

Similarly, you should analyze the advice and recommendations of friends and acquaintance looking at how they benefit if you do what they suggest. Are they anxious for you to validate their birth choices by making the same choices? If so, feel free to ignore them.

7. I will not take pregnancy advice or care from anyone who won’t take responsibility for that advice or care.

If a homebirth midwife doesn’t carry insurance, and makes you sign a document declaring that the responsibility for any and all outcomes in yours, she is signaling that even she doesn’t believe that she is educated enough or trained enough to take responsibility your baby’s life or for your life. Real professionals take legal and ethical responsibility for their work; amateurs and hobbyists never do.

8.My baby does not care whether he or she is breastfed or bottlefed.

It makes literally no difference to the baby how he or she gets fed, only that he or she gets fed. Yes, breastfeeding does have some advantages, but those advantages are small and in industrialized countries those benefits are trivial.

9. Both the baby’s needs and my needs matter when it comes to infant feeding.

Yes, breastfeeding can be difficult and stressful in the first few days and weeks, and it is great to persevere through those difficulties if breastfeeding is important to you. But the baby’s hunger and suffering count for a lot, and if you feel your baby is suffering from hunger, you should feel free to feed the baby formula. Your pain and suffering count, too. If your nipples are raw and bleeding, if you have horrible pain when nursing, if you start crying every time the baby cries with hunger, dreading nursing, it is perfectly healthy and acceptable to use formula instead, either for supplementing or exclusively.

10. I will not judge my mothering by the performance of my body.

You mother with your entire body. Your arms hold and embrace your children. Your hands guide. Your lips kiss. Your brain plans and worries, and your metaphorical heart loves your child. Your uterus, vagina and breasts are trivial when compared to the other body parts, so it makes no sense to judge your mothering by whether you had a vaginal birth or breastfed your children.

Mothering is hard. I know; I have four children and I have spent countless hours caring and worrying, wishing I could carry their burdens, smooth their paths, and absorb their hurts. My children are adults now, and no doubt there are many things that they think I could have done better, but they never, ever give any thought to their route of delivery or to whether or for how long they were breastfed.

Don’t judge yourself on these issues, and don’t let anyone judge you. It isn’t simply doesn’t matter … and it’s anti-feminist.

  • FormerPhysicist

    Another OT, but did you all see the last letter? Hooray! CNM, 15 minutes isn’t 15 minutes, … everything Dr. Amy and commenters keep repeating!

    https://slate.com/human-interest/2019/06/right-age-for-cellphone-care-and-feeding.html

    • rational thinker

      That is something these people will never understand. In reality 5 minutes isnt even really 5 minutes.

  • KeeperOfTheBooks

    This is so very OT, but I love how common-sense most posters are here, and would really appreciate suggestions.
    The World’s Most Stubborn Toddler is now a brilliant, lovely, and, unsurprisingly, stubborn 5-year-old. She potty trained at 3, but has stayed dry at night mayyyybe 4-5 times total.
    She wear pullups at night, and is outgrowing, and out-peeing, their largest size. I’m inclined to think it’s time to start nudging her towards getting up and using the bathroom vs the pullup at night, if she’s developmentally there. We tried this about a year ago, and it was a disaster: she’s a very deep sleeper, and once woken at 10:30 or so to use the bathroom, would simply sit on the toilet and scream angrily for 30-45 minutes over being woken rather than pee and go back to bed. (Cue facepalm.) Bear in mind that this is the kid who once held her pee for 19 hours straight rather than use a bathroom away from home, but she has significantly matured since then…
    I’m getting a bit tired of changing sheets every few days, and am thinking of spending a week or two doing a combination of restricting liquids after 7, waking at 10:30 for a bathroom break, and possibly some sort of small reward (sticker?) for dry nights. If we have no success after two weeks, I’ll throw in the towel and try again in a few months.
    Does this sound reasonable?

    • rational thinker

      Try no liquids after 7 first and see how she does with that. If it is not working out there are larger diapers than pull ups. My daughter is 14 yrs and autistic and still in diapers and we just recently had to go to the adult ones. Pull ups go up to size 6T. After that look for the Goodnights brand they come in SM-M to L-XL they are for the kids ages about 6-12 and those should fit.

      • KeeperOfTheBooks

        Thanks for the suggestions! I hadn’t realized pullups went that high, sizewise, or that Goodnights did either (I’d thought Goodnights were just another brand of pullups).

        • The Bofa on the Sofa

          I like the approach of just stopping diapers. You might have some bumps, but get up and hope you are on time

        • rational thinker

          Also if she would rather have underwear goodnights make overnight cloth underwear with a spot in them that you put a pad into. They sell them at walmart they have starter kits that have 2 pairs of underwear with some pads and then you just buy the refill pads after that. That may be better if she prefers the underwear.

    • Who?

      Maybe try one thing at a time, so you know what’s working/sort of working/not working.

      I am a big fan of treats but wonder if they are counter productive for involuntary bodily functions.

      Our son was much the same until he was around 7-a very deep sleeper, he was dry until almost dawn-his preferred wake-time, and would wet the bed some nights as he woke up. Which upset him terribly. We convinced him to keep wearing the pullups, which meant he still woke but wasn’t stressed about it. He started sleeping later, which made us realise that the urge to urinate was what was rousing him, just enough to urinate in bed rather than get up to do it.

      Good luck!

    • The Bofa on the Sofa

      Why not wake her at midnight or 1am instead?

      You said you tried it a year ago. She’s a year older now. Tell her before that you are going to do it. No diapers. Make it all an accomplishment, and a team effort. You’ll help her stay dry all night.

      She’s old enough now to tell her that we just want to stop with diapers. She does it during the day, so let’s stop at night, too. In order to do that now, you have to get her up.

      Be positive and reassuring – we know you can do it, because of the day. So we can do the night, too.

      • KeeperOfTheBooks

        Honestly, I figured I’d wake her before I go to bed, but I think you’re all correct: it needs to be a bit later. We pitched it to her as “mama and daddy are going to help you learn to stay dry, and part of that is we’ll get you up late tonight so you can go pee, and then tuck you back into bed with a snuggle.” She’s very excited about possibly wearing her underwear to bed as well.

    • Cristina B

      They make a sheet that you can stick to the mattress (under the sheet or on top of the sheet even) and it absorbs liquids but the kid still gets the uncomfortable wet feeling. Or you can just buy a large size puppy training pad. My oldest is 8 and still occasionally wets the bed and this is a happy medium.

      • KeeperOfTheBooks

        The puppy pad idea is a good one, and I think we’ll go for it. Thanks!

        • KQ Not Signed In

          We got incontinence pads from a medical supply store. They were washable and felt soft like cloth. Saved a ton of laundry and were big enough for an adult in a hospital bed – so no worries that he’d slide off of them. They weren’t crinkly obvious like puppy pads are

          (Not to go all cloth v disposable – I used disposable diapers and don’t care one bit what anyone else uses – just adding what worked for us)

          • Cristina B

            That’s a good idea. I’ve heard of the washable ones but never knew where to get them.

    • Azuran

      Try not to be too harsh or shame her, she might just be a bed wetter….and sadly not much to do about that. I wet my bed until I was like 11 or 12 I think….and nothing really helped.
      Being wet did not make me wake up nor does it make it stop. I just woke up wet every morning and made my mom do a stupid amount of laundry. So I wouldn’t bother trying to make her unconformable by letting her pee herself and giving yourself more work.

      I believe they now make bigger diapers for kinds who wet the bed. so if the pull ups are too small, you can change for that. (Goodnights I think? god I wish we had that when I was a kid…..) Just get her bigger diapers for everyone’s comfort and sanity and start doing the basic steps: no water after x hours, wake up up at some point (maybe later, like 12 or 1am, it will help her last longer after and if she’s more tired, maybe she’ll be more cooperative) to pee.
      I have mixed feelings about calendar and stickers, I’d wait a little for that because the only thing it deep for me was make me feel bad at my failure and rub it in my face. (or maybe use them to convince her to get up and pee during the night without having a tantrum, instead of making it about not wetting the bed)
      If you still get night tantrums or it makes no difference after a couple weeks, keep the diaper and try again in a couple of months.

      • KeeperOfTheBooks

        Oh, I have NO intention of shaming her at all! I actually didn’t stop wetting the bed until I was 10 or so, but my parents never really did anything to help me with it or much besides get exasperated over the wet sheets. It took ’til I was in my 20s to make the “oh, hey, if I don’t drink lots of water before bed, I don’t have to get up in the middle of the night” connection–sad, but true. I figure I’ll try giving her some tools that might help, like restricting liquids and waking her up in the middle of the night (a later wakeup isn’t a bad idea–will try that) to pee, and if it’s not working, it’s cool, we’ll drop it. She’ll stay in pullups, or the equivalent, until she’s consistently dry. We talked about it this evening, and she seems very pleased with the idea of getting to wear her underwear to bed if she stays dry, and understands that Mama and Daddy are going to help her with this. Fingers crossed!

        • fiftyfifty1

          “I actually didn’t stop wetting the bed until I was 10 or so, but my parents never really did anything to help me with it..”

          Bedwetting is a genetic thing. Some people just do not form the neurologic connection that wakes you up when your bladder is full until 10-12. It’s not a matter of parents giving the right help or not. Anything that parents do (waking, fluid restriction, alarms, ddavp spray) are just work-arounds until the neural pathways form. Do these things if you want, but understand that it does not hasten the neural connection.

        • Mel

          Adding to fiftyfiftyone:

          My years as a camp counselor showed that bedwetting between the ages of 7-12 was as common as 1 in 10 girls. I asked my mom about that and she had the same experience as a Girl Scout Troop Leader at sleep-away trips.

          Honestly, we just had procedures in place to deal with wet sleeping bags/sheets.

          Some people’s brains just shut down really fast for sleep and bladder control is one of the areas that gets a bit wonky in the process.

      • demodocus

        Target has “overnights” that get up fairly big. Boybard wears them and he’s 5.5

      • MaineJen

        Bed wetting runs in my family, and my son at 9 has finally outgrown it. It was the same for my brothers, and for my dad and his brother. Who knows what quirk of anatomy causes it?? Anyway, we knew not to shame him for it, and in the meantime we used nighttime pull ups and Good Nites. It happens!

    • Mad Hatter

      Sounds like a pretty good plan.
      What works for us, is I carry the 4yo to the bathroom to pee after midnight. He wakes up just enough to pee and is back to sleep when I lay him back down. He stays dry and we can all go right back to sleep since he doesn’t fully wake. He doesn’t have a problem staying dry, I just don’t want him waking up an hour early in the morning to pee and refusing to go back to sleep.

    • deanimal

      Here’s a tip I learned when I worked in an extended care facility. (If your child will be okay with this). Diapers leak because they are too waterproof; too much fluid at once and it goes out the legs or back. So, put one diaper on with a bunch of little holes ripped in the outer, waterproof layer. Then put another one, one size larger over top. The liquid flows through into the second diaper instead of out the sides. This worked like a charm with my 2 year old son, who had a bladder the size of a bucket. And just a word of hope; when he started “flooding” the bed every night, it was actually a sign that he was just about ready to be dry. Instead of peeing little bits at a time, he was actually holding a bladder full and releasing it all at once. Which was a pain to clean up, but after a few months of very heavy wetting at night he started waking up dry.

  • Ayr

    Such good points! I love #8, there is such a huge ‘war’ (for lack of a better word) regarding feeding babies. I’m sick of seeing posts about ‘working’ mothers and how much they pumped while at work, as if it is this huge accomplishment.

  • momofone

    I love them all, but #2 is my absolute favorite, because it covers so much ground. Thank you for being such a reasonable, and kind, voice amidst all the vitriol, and for being an unwavering supporter of mothers.