How mothers became rivals and what we can do about it

Two girls looking each other angry

For the longest time, I was one of the few bloggers writing about the perverse and inappropriate pressures of natural parenting. But as the response to World Breastfeeding Week indicates, the tide is finally turning.

In the last few months, we’ve seen:

Of course there’s still plenty of trash like this from Elizabeth Grattan writing about opposition to World Breastfeeding Week:

[pullquote align=”right” color=””]”Big Mama” has created and promoted rivalry as their premier marketing technique, and it’s working![/pullquote]

And every single time you hijack this cause to remind the world that you made a different choice, you HURT so many families who are not out to get you.

Don’t you care about that? Because I do…

I care that someone wants to pit mom against mom.

So fuck them.

And since you are doing it too, fuck you…

I am DAMN PROUD that I breastfeed. I have every reason in the world to be…

So, yeah then, fuck you…

Fuck you for feeling the need to boast this week online that you didn’t breastfeed and your kids are just fine. Fuck you for saying you support nursing “except”, “unless”, or “if” one more time…

Fuck you.

Grattan is furious we won’t let her use breastfeeding to bolster her fragile self-esteem as a better mommy than you.

Then there’s this, We Are Not Rivals, by Claire Kirby:

There is no wrong way. There is just your way. Sometimes it’s a choice, sometimes it’s a circumstance. We all parent differently. But we are all the same in that we are doing our best.

We all agonise over the decisions we make. We all feel the guilt that comes with being a parent. We all occasionally wish we could leave the house with a smaller bag. We all love our children with a passion we didn’t know we were capable of. We all cry on their first day of school.

We are not rivals. We are mothers.

It’s an eloquent plea to stop tearing each other apart over our mothering decisions, but sadly it does not reflect reality.

We are rivals because some people WANT us to be rivals, and they are using every method at their disposal, hijacking hospitals, exaggerating public health messages and subverting science to MAKE us rivals.

Who are they? The childbirth and breastfeeding industries, of course. The mothering counterpart to Big Pharma: “Big Mama.”

Don’t think they’re industries? That’s because we associate industry with large corporations. The truth is that midwives are an industry, doulas are an industry, childbirth educators are an industry, lactation consultants are an industry and lactation credentialing organizations are an industry. Like all industries they have trade unions, public relations personnel and lobbyists. True, they don’t make billions of dollars, but as industries they make tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars, and for many, 100% of their income comes from convincing mothers that we ARE rivals … for the title of best mother.

They have labored to imbue every mothering decision with incredible importance. They’ve subverted science to pretend that unmedicated vaginal birth is “better” for babies and to pretend that “breast is best.” They’ve hijacked hospitals to promote the only form of birth they can profit from, natural childbirth. They’ve hijacked hospitals to promote the only form of infant feeding they can profit from, breastfeeding. Like Big Pharma, “Big Mama” grossly exaggerates the health benefits of the products they promote and grossly minimizes the dangers of those same products.

They’ve created a Mothering Mystique every bit as soul crushing as the Feminine Mystique so eloquently described by Betty Friedan.

Wikipedia has an excellent synopsis of The Feminine Mystique and several chapters have particular relevance to the creation of mothering rivalry:

Friedan shows that advertisers tried to encourage housewives to think of themselves as professionals who needed many specialized products in order to do their jobs, while discouraging housewives from having actual careers, since that would mean they would not spend as much time and effort on housework and therefore would not buy as many household products, cutting into advertisers’ profits.

Friedan interviews several full-time housewives, finding that although they are not fulfilled by their housework, they are all extremely busy with it. She postulates that these women unconsciously stretch their home duties to fill the time available, because the feminine mystique has taught women that this is their role, and if they ever complete their tasks they will become unneeded.

“Big Mama,” the childbirth and lactation industries, encourages mothers to think of themselves as needing many specialized services and products in order to be “good” mothers, while discouraging them from having actual careers, which would interfere with their ability to consume the services and goods offered by the industry. Hence the need for books, experts for hire, and continuous physical proximity to infants and small children.

The childbirth and lactation industries insist on practices that fill 24 hours in each and every day, from extended breastfeeding, to constantly carrying young children, to letting them sleep in the parental bed on a regular basis. “Big Mama” insists that this is women’s role and if they ever complete these tasks, which used to be confined to infancy, they will become unneeded.

The childbirth and lactation industries strengthen the perceived need for their services and products by proclaiming that mothers who use their services and products are better than other mothers. “Big Mama” has created and promoted rivalry as their premier marketing technique … and it’s working!

One of the central conceits of the childbirth and lactation industries is that its goods and services help women recapitulate mothering in nature, mimicking child rearing among indigenous peoples. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In indigenous societies, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Mothers are not meant to be rivals.

It takes a village of women of all ages, mothers, grandmothers, sisters and aunties, to raise a child. In contemporary parenting, it takes a single mother, battling for supremacy in the mommy wars, buying the products and services of the childbirth and lactation industries, to raise a child.

We can reject the trap that these industries have set for us.

We can reject the divisive tactics of “Big Mama.”

We can end the rivalry that the childbirth and lactation industries encourage.

It’s time for mothers to return to supporting each other.

That’s better for our babies and better for us!