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


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.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]A central assumptions of modern, Western culture is that raising happy, healthy children requires maternal suffering. [/pullquote]

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.