How we know natural mothering is about re-domesticating women: there’s no natural fathering.

938A3AC2-73A8-4759-A38A-E5C3D6531E4F

A lot of angry women have parachuted onto my Facebook page to berate me on my claim that the philosophies of natural mothering — natural childbirth, lactivism and attachment parenting — were promulgated for the express purpose of re-domesticating women.

It’s not my opinion; it’s empirical fact. Grantly Dick-Read (a fundamentalist and eugenicist) made it clear that his philosophy of natural childbirth was designed to pressure women into having more children. La Leche League was explicit in its purpose on founding (by religious traditionalists); the philosophy of “mothering through breastfeeding” was created to keep mothers of small children from working. William Sears (a religious fundamentalist), the man who created the philosophy of attachment parenting, initially made no secret of the fact that he believed his philosophy was vouchsafed by God as His preferred method for organizing the family.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Where is the claim “good” fathers demonstrate their love for their wives and children by killing game animals and dragging them home?[/pullquote]

Their goal: to re-domesticate women, particularly those women who dared to have jobs and careers, exercising economic power that was previously the purview of men.

The unwitting agents: midwives, doulas, lactation consultants and attachment parenting “experts” who convince women that mothering requires staying home, sacrificing and suffering.

The threat: Advocates of natural mothering claim — with no evidence of any kind — that if women refuse to submit to the ideologies of natural childbirth, lactivism and attachment parenting, their children won’t bond (i.e. won’t love them).

And it’s working!

Consider this Facebook post:

3B82645C-2AEC-46C8-B4C3-C8AC51B209E1

Breastfeeding Is hard work. It’s really fucking hard work.

It’s sleepless nights, It’s cluster feeding 24/7. It’s not leaving the house because you’re insecure about feeding in public, it’s judgement, it’s pain, it’s emotional, it’s learning, it’s missing out, it’s feeling like your body no longer belongs to you, it’s waking up every two hours (at most), it’s lonely, it’s changing your anatomy, It’s choosing someone else over yourself every single day, It’s overcoming fear and uncertainty, it’s guilt, it’s isolating -it’s really fucking hard.

Staying home ✔
Sacrificing ✔
Suffering ✔

Cluster feeding? Not leaving the house? Pain? Missing out? Never sleeping more than two hours? Lonely? Isolating?

All of that could be easily averted with formula. That’s why it’s so important to convince women that formula is bad. We wouldn’t want mothers feeling happy, well-rested, able to engage with the world, right?

But there’s another way you tell that the ideology of natural mothering is intended to re-domesticate women: there’s no natural fathering.

There has been no comparable attempt to return fatherhood to the supposedly superior lifestyle of our ancestors with which we evolved. There’s no effort to keep men in pain, away from technology, out of the workplace and tied to their children.

  • Where is the claim “good” fathers demonstrate their love for their wives and children by killing game animals and dragging them home?
  • Why aren’t men escorted out of the delivery room because traditional societies do not allow fathers at childbirth?
  • Where are restrictions on what men can consume, justified by the desire to keep their sperm safe for maximum fertility?
  • Why aren’t fathers competing over who is the more natural father?

Obviously any large social movement, like the movement to re-domesticate women within industrialized societies, is complex and multifactorial. Nonetheless, a significant impetus is to return to the good old days … good for men, possibly good for children, but not good at all for women.

That’s why there are mommy wars, but no daddy wars.

But, but, “the science”!

If the last two decades have shown us anything it is that “the science” is weak, conflicting and riddled with confounding variables. We cannot pin down the answer to something as basic as whether it is good or bad for children if their mothers work and the reason we cannot pin it down is that there is no one answer. It depends; it depends on the individual mother, and individual child and the life circumstances of the family.

It’s just like breastfeeding, where “the science” is also quite fuzzy no matter how much lactivists insist otherwise. That’s because the greatest danger of not breastfeeding comes from contaminated water used to prepare it and that’s not a problem in first world countries. Is breastfeeding better for term babies than formula feeding? It depends; it depends on the individual mother, the individual baby and the life circumstances of the family.

The weak “science” of breastfeeding and the weak “science” on working mothers is stronger by far that any science on natural childbirth or attachment parenting. That’s because there is no science at all to support either of those two components of natural mothering.

What does science show about fathering in nature? No one knows, because virtually no one is looking.

In part that reflects the importance of mothers during pregnancy and early infancy, but, I would argue, it also reflects the fact that we use mothering to control women while there is no comparable effort at all to control men through fathering.

As a society we need to step back and ask ourselves why we are placing such pressure on new mothers and why we are demanding that women accede to the imperatives of natural mothering (and shame them for not doing so), while paying no attention to fathering.

Is this really about what’s best for children? Is this really about “the science”?

No, it’s just the thoroughly modern way to re-domesticate women.

  • Marie

    I think complaining while self congratulating is the new passive aggresive.

    I used to follow a travel blogger and while the travel content was okay I just had to walk away from her constant “self congratulating for suffering” mom comments. “D’s bag is just stuffed with toys he won’t give up, but I’m happy to carry it because his well being is invaluable.” “B is getting so big, but I love that I can still carry him on my back when his little legs get too tired” (B was 9 at that point btw).

    I’m really curious to see where these moms and kids end up in 10-20 years. If your whole personal value is how much you can sacrifice for your kids, what do you do for self worth after that short period where they need you? From what I can see, a lot of moms are working hard to extend that window as far as they can. I can just see the next round of posts:

    “We’re just so happy to have darling Lancelot in our basement where we can enjoy our strong bond on a daily basis. He’s so sweet and loving, most boys of 26 hardly ever see their mothers and he gives me such a wonderful smile when I deliver his meals to the computer room three times a day. His father has recently been given special permission to work 5 years past the usual retirement age and we couldn’t be happier with the lifestyle we’ve chosen. I really am F&%*ing incredible, aren’t I?”

    • Cat

      “From what I can see, a lot of moms are working hard to extend that window as far as they can.”

      Yeah, I’ve noticed a certain type of mother on parenting websites who seems desperate to infantilize her kids because she’s scared of the fact that they’ll grown up and leave home. They’re the ones competing in the comments on mommy blogs over how much they carry their strapping nine or ten year old kids (“I don’t care what the doctor says about my back, I’m going to carry them round as much as I can because one day I’ll never be able to carry them again!!!”). Or refusing to wean their kids off the baby bottle or pacifier way, way past the point when the dentist has warned that it’s messing up their teeth because “they’re only little for such a short time so why should I deny them something that gives them joy?”.

      I mean, I get it. Once you have a child, you start to feel the clock tick on your own mortality because the evidence of your ageing is physically there, in the form of another person. But treating your baby like it’s still in the womb, your preschooler like a baby and your pre-teen like a preschooler isn’t going to slow that time down. Nothing can.

  • momofone

    I think MAM’s ridiculous little blurb should be called Ode to Martyrdom (and Self-Congratulation). My husband would rightly be furious if I had tried to monopolize our son or the work of being his parent. We decided to have a child together because we wanted to be parents together, not so that I could shun him/martyr myself. It may be hard for MAM to comprehend, but many fathers actually want to care for their children.

  • rational thinker

    In the past 20 to 30 years there was so much social change in a fathers involvement of taking a more active role in taking care of the daily needs of his child. In the early 90’s I saw a lot more dads changing diapers and bottle feeding their babies than when compared to eariler decades where dad went to work and when he came home children were taught not to bother daddy. In the past 15 to 20 years I have even seen more teen fathers taking responsibility for their kids. So this push for intensive mothering may serve to reverse all the progress fathers have made and that would be an awful thing. Both parents need to take responsibility not just mom. That just sends dads the message that they are not needed to help with the child’s care.

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    I’m still trying to figure out – are women designed to give birth and breast feed, and it’s perfectly natural and everyone can do it, or is it way, way hard and a real fucking impressive accomplishment?

    • MaineJen

      Right?? And here’s the thing: if it works, it IS really easy (I mean, despite the sleep deprivation thing, which kind of sucks). You don’t have to do much more than stick the nipple in the kid’s mouth. But if it DOESN’T work and you have to kill yourself MAKING it work…then yeah. Hard. Or, you could supplement/switch to formula, which is just as good. But then where would we get all of our bragging rights??

      • AnnaPDE

        Yeah, like isn’t the whole selling point of breastfeeding that it’s wonderfully easy and just works if you leave it alone?
        I mean, it started quite badly for me (ridiculously little colostrum, severe tongue tie), but after making milk transfer possible, it sorted itself out quite nicely despite supplementation and whatnot.

        When someone is really killing themselves with breastfeeding, that’s simply doing it wrong. It shouldn’t be suffering. Not for mum, not for kid. And someone who encourages mothers to do it wrong is simply harming them.

      • GeorgiaPeach23

        BF didn’t work for me/us so I brag about my career, which predates and postdates the birth of my son.

      • Ayr

        Your comment reminded me of a good friend who is a Type I diabetic and literally almost killed herself trying to breast fed her first born. She started having seizures and other issues from her sugar being so out of whack. It was so bad her husband asked me to stay with her during the day for a few days when he went back to work, just in case. They had already started formula feeding, but it took weeks for her to get everything back under control.
        Breastfeeding is easy if you produce and are healthy enough in the first place to do it. So many women are fooled into thinking it is the only way to feed, and don’t think of what it might cost them.

  • Mel

    MAM makes breastfeeding sound horrific.

    Spawn’s first few months out of the NICU were rough. He was on O2 at home so he was living in our dining room. He developed a nasty case of reflux that would cause him to spit up, panic, and stop breathing – but never in the first 30 minutes after eating – just at some random point 45 minutes to 2 hours out. That meant we needed to have an infant CPR trained awake adult with him for 24 hours a day until he outgrew it at 5 months adjusted. He was out of isolation to avoid colds, RSV or the flu from March through late June and back in from October 1st through March so I was stuck at home with him unless my parents or husband could spell me.

    Here’s the scary shit – my quality of life was better than the average MAM breastfeeding mom.

    I slept around 10 hours a day. I got two 4 hour spells plus a 2 hour nap. It’s not nearly as restful as 8 hours at a stretch, but I wasn’t feeling like a lunatic from sleep deprivation.

    I bailed out of the house daily for a walk, eat at a local restaurant and/or go swimming.

    I had no guilt thanks to hearing pretty much every medical professional express relief that ended up at a hospital before we both died.

    I did have some really rough times because I knew that there was a small chance that we could do everything right in terms of getting calories into Spawn and avoiding illness and he could still develop pulmonary hypertension and possibly heart issues because of his lung damage – but I reminded myself that torturing myself was not going to lessen the probability of that outcome – and I’d cross that bridge if it came.

    MAM’s obsession with breastfeeding has created a lifestyle that is harder than having a medically complicated kid….under the guise of bonding. But formula fed kids bond to their parents just fine.

    I know this because my kid lets me know. When I get home from work in the evening, he’s supposed to be asleep – but if he’s awake – I hear a sudden explosion of happy jabber from his bedroom peppered with “Mama!” when he hears my voice. And when I tuck him in again and say “I love you!” a little voice says “Dove you!” back.

    • Amazed

      I love hearing about Spawn! He still sounds adorable. Still so happy that all of you dodged the bullet.

      And fuck this bonding thing. I didn’t even MEET my youngest neighbours before they were 3 and 2 year old, about 1.5 years ago. The family was recently at a wedding and dad returned the kids in the evening so he and mom could have some fun together as a couple. They were both asleep as he carried them to bed. As he made them comfortable, one of them cracked an eye opened and asked, “Is Auntie Amazed here?”. “Yes,” her dad said and she went back to sleep. It sure looked like she felt safe with me in the next room. They stay with me when they’re sick and their parents had called too many sick leaves lately. Sometimes, I don’t even interact with them much on these occasions since I WORK from home and have deadlines to meet. In these cases, I inevitably allow them an hour or two TV time. They don’t seem brain-dead and they even still like to hear people read to them, can you believe it? When some people hear banging on their door, they usually think trouble; when I do, I think of little hands that can’t reach the doorbell.

      I didn’t even FORMULA FEED, let alone breastfeed them. I didn’t even meet them before they were toddlers. And still, we bonded just fine. What hell of a lacking mother should one be if she fails to achieve at least this bond without precious breastfeeding? Christ.

    • rational thinker

      “MAM’s obsession with breastfeeding has created a lifestyle that is
      harder than having a medically complicated kid….under the guise of
      bonding.” – As someone with a medically complicated kid I can tell you that you are absolutely correct about that. My daughter needs someone to care for her 24/7 and I am the only one doing that apart from teachers when she is at school, but even so I usually get enough rest and can get other stuff done. When someone does this intensive mothering crap along with things like pumping every 2hrs even if the baby is asleep when does she have time for anything else? But thats probably the point to all this “bonding” bullshit.

  • rational thinker

    “You are fucking incredible, we are fucking incredible every single one of us.”

    Um no if anything you are fucking brain washed.

    • Russell Jones

      lol

      “Incredible” ain’t necessarily a good thing. Holocaust deniers, anti-vaxxers, Donald Trump, etc. all qualify as “incredible,” after all.

    • momofone

      Yeah. If bodily functions make us incredible, I think we’re setting the bar a bit low.

    • Marie

      “every single one of us”
      Except for YOU, you lazy formula feeding sellout.

  • seenthelight

    There has been a trend of shirtless fathers with newborns in the delivery room because skin-to-skin, though I always wonder how much of that’s is performative for social media.

    • Mel

      My husband did skin-to-skin with our micro preemie because it was the only way we could hold him for the first six weeks or so.

      It was totally adorable – and all three of us graduated to everyone wearing clothes while holding the baby with no lasting harm.

      The best bit was when a nurse asked if I wanted to do skin-to-skin when Spawn was in the big baby room. I was taking a breath to say “No, thanks” when Spawn started bawling. He is a quiet toddler and was a quiet baby so this was unexpected – and I used that to respond “It’s ok, little guy. We know you are a big baby and we won’t do skin-to-skin…” He settled right down – mainly because I started patting his tummy the way he liked – but it was a neat parlor trick to seem like he hated skin-to-skin, LOL.

    • Zornorph

      I wasn’t about to take my shirt off in the delivery room; what would be the point? Now when they were ready for him to have his first feed, I was holding him for that (shirt on) and those pictures did get posted by my SIL on social media. I did eventually do skin-to-skin but it wasn’t performance art; I waited until he and I were alone in our room, lay in the bed propped up and opened my shirt and slipped him inside and cuddled with him. Honestly, it was for me, not because I felt he needed it to ‘bond’ or for me to imprint on him or something. I just wanted him to feel my warmth. I don’t even think I’ve ever told anybody – certainly it wouldn’t have been something I made any sort of big deal out of.

    • rational thinker

      Probably 80% of it.

    • KQ Not Signed In

      I was knocked out for the end of my c/s and they had my husband take off his shirt and do skin to skin for the first hour or so. My greatest regret is that nobody took a picture of it – but it never crossed my husband’s mind as he was busy marveling at this little tiny person he helped make, I was unconscious and the staff during that shift apparently couldn’t be bothered to even tell the two anxious pacing grandmothers in the next room that baby and I were okay, let alone capturing something that precious for me to see when I woke up.

      Just sayin. Still mad. Not that I missed skin to skin (kid and I are bonded just fine kthx) but that I didn’t get any chance to see my husband and son like that.