Am I a Sanctimommy?


Last week I posted this image:

house casket

It got picked up by Sanctimommy on Facebook who asked:

What do you think, does the fear mongering go both ways?

In this case it does because I created the image as a riff off of a similar image created by a lactivist organization featuring a bottle of formula in a coffin and declaring that “formula fed babies are 26.5% more likely to die in the first year of life.”

I contemplated responding to the bottle in the casket image with facts: a 26.5% increase is trivial; the increased infant mortality rate reflects the difference between babies who are formula fed (race, economic status, health care) from those that are breastfed, not the difference between formula and breastfeeding. I ultimately decided that a punch in the gut image like the bottle in the coffin would be countered most effectively by a punch in the gut image of the house in the coffin, which has the added virtue of causation, not merely correlation.

In other words, I created the image specifically to “go the other way” on fear mongering.

But the Sanctimommy had this to say:

I think Dr Amy and the Alpha Parent are on equal ends of the shock and awe parenting campaign. I don’t understand how you can love one and hate the other. The argument is different but the end result is the same.

I beg to differ. There are real differences that mean that Alison Dixley, The Alpha Parent, is a sanctimommy and I am not.

Do I judge? You bet I do. I judge mothers who can’t tell the difference between the internet and a medical textbook. I judge self-proclaimed midwives who couldn’t care less if babies die at homebirth as long as they get their birth junkie high and some money to go with it. I judge women whose babies died at homebirth and refuse to take responsibility for their own decisions.

Yes, judging is the sine qua non of being a sanctimommy. It’s necessary, but it’s not sufficient.

First, for a sanctimommy, there is only one right way: her way. My primary message about parenting is that there are MANY right ways to parent children and what works for one mother and her family may not work for another.

Second, being a sanctimommy is about denigrating other mothers in order to boost your own fragile self-esteem. But I don’t write about my children and my parenting decisions. I write about the central empirical claims of natural childbirth advocacy, lactivism and attachment parenting. Specifically, I write about the fact that they aren’t based on scientific evidence, but rather made up to suit the needs of activists.

Third, and most importantly, a sanctimommy wants the majority of women to feel bad about themselves and to feel guilty. My goal is the opposite. I try to reassure the majority of women that they shouldn’t feel guilty because they aren’t doing anything wrong.

Superficially it may seem that The Alpha Parent and I have a lot in common. We are both very aggressive. But she is aggressive in promoting her view that SHE is a better mother than you. I am aggressive in promoting the view that YOU are a great parent if your decisions are made with love and concern for your child, regardless of whether I might have made the same decisions. I have no skin in the game of mommy one-upsmanship, because my children are all young adults and the decisions that obsess sanctimommies are all in my rearview mirror.

Moreover, sanctimommy bloggers are writing as themselves. I am writing as an on line persona, chosen deliberately because it seems to work the best in combating the pseudoscience rampant in homebirth advocacy, lactivism and attachment parenting. As you might imagine, I’m not shy and retiring in real life, but I’m not this persona, either.

Do I judge? You bet I judge. I judge women who put their desire for bragging rights ahead of whether their baby lives or dies. I judge individuals and organizations that profit from spreading misinformation about childbirth and breastfeeding. I judge women who can only feel good about their mothering by tearing other mothers down.

But judging is not wrong. I also judge racists, homophobes and misogynists. I judge murders, abusers and child pornographers. I judge political parties that use hate to win votes and I judge countries that use violence against their citizens.

Judging alone does not make one a sanctimommy. Who you judge and why you judge matters, too.

I’m loud, I’m aggressive and I don’t hesitate to tell unpleasant truths, but that doesn’t make me a sanctimommy.

It makes me The Skeptical OB.