Implied Judgement is Still Mom Judgement

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Image courtesy of mjrphreak.

There will always be judgey moms who call you a “bad mom” – oftentimes even in your own social circle. I have been judged harshly by some for “choosing” not to breastfeed for medical reasons. I had friends think it was cruel for me to put my child in her own room to sleep in her own crib the night we came home from the hospital. The most frustrating of these judgements came when I wasn’t sad at all about putting my kiddo in daycare. These sanctimommies are the easiest to ignore because you can just write it off as intolerant and never look back.

But what about those judgements that fly under the radar? I have many more friends who claim to “support” my choices by saying “you do you”. That’s great or at least it seems great until you actually discuss any of these “dicey” topics at length. Then, the “I could never” or “I have tried so hard to do it ‘right'” comments came out

A recent conversation with a friend illustrates this. Let’s call her Sophia. She’s been exclusively breastfeeding for 15 months:

Sophia: I wish I could stop breastfeeding. I am just so drained. I want to drink a beer without feeling guilty.  I want to sleep. It’s been so long.  I’m not happy.
Me: So… stop?
Sophia: Well, the WHO says you should breastfeed until 2 years.
Me: That’s a global recommendation mainly due to the scarcity of safe water in the developing world.  We don’t have to worry about that. You’ve given her 15 months. If you aren’t enjoying it, it will not hurt her.  But if you’re resenting her, that could hurt her.
Sophia: Yeah, but I just don’t want to make her sick. I’ve tried so hard to do the right thing.

Sophia didn’t try to offend. She didn’t say formula was poison. She didn’t even say I was “doing it wrong”. But the implication was I was in the wrong. In these conversations, the mom judging will never admonish what I’m doing directly but will imply it is wrong and that’s okay. Normally, I just tell myself “well, she thinks I am wrong but who cares?” That’s not completely fair, though. I think I’m finally at the point where I feel the need to push back a bit.  This time, I did.

Me: So, am I doing the wrong thing?
Sophia: Uh… why would you say that?”
Me: Because my baby hasn’t had a drop of breastmilk in her life. You’re saying it’s bad.
Sophia: Oh, I’d never say that! I didn’t say that.
Me: Sure, but you implied it. You said you tried so hard to do the “right” thing. When you say things like that, you may not think it hurts my feelings but it does. Even though you omit that judgement, it’s still a judgement. I hate hearing it. I know I’m always supposed to rag on formula while doing all I can to advocate for my breastfeeding friends but it’s not fair. I’ve supported every one of you girls but you don’t give me the same support.
Sophia: I just don’t see it that way. I think it’s obvious what I meant. Breastfeeding is hard.

I dropped it. It seemed pointless and it made me feel bad to continue. But, dang it, it’s time to say something! These omissions of judgement that are actually judgements are screwed up. By saying “I can’t let my kid cry it out because she’s going to end up damaged”, you are implying that moms who sleep train are damaging their kids. By saying “I could never put my kid in daycare and miss out on all their firsts” you are implying that I’m a bad mom who doesn’t care about her kid and their firsts because my kid is in daycare full-time.

When moms do this, it is still offensive even if intent isn’t to be vicious. Instead, I think the goal of moms doing this is to beat themselves up and raise moral support. We feel bad about something because we have these huge expectations that are impossible to meet day in and day out and we can’t let it go. As moms, though, we need to realize that our choices are own and another choice is not “bad” unless it leads to our child being neglected or harmed. If your kid is fed, has clothing to wear no matter how mismatched and stained, and has a roof over their head, you’re doing a good job. Insinuating that your friends are doing the “wrong” thing by reinforcing that you are suffering to do the “right” thing is reductionist.

Let it go.

The Romanticism of Third World Motherhood

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Image courtesy of David Leo Veksler of Flickr.com.

The recent Cry-it-Out arguments and “Breast is Best” competitions on my facebook have devolved into commentary about how “90% of the world doesn’t see it this way”. Possibly true.  But I especially love these comments from people who have never been to the developing world for more than a luxe holiday.  I get that many people don’t do it “our” way and see bedsharing and breastfeeding as the only “normal” option.  But  I also think the romanticized idea of women in the developing world having it all figured out to be patently offensive.  Why?  Let me explain.

A lack of choice – Women living in developing nations don’t have all of our luxuries.  They may very well live in a one room flat or hut with 5 or 6 kids.  When I was going out to villages to speak to women in Rwanda, many women appeared to sleep on a dirt floor with all of these children.  That was the way it was for their families because that was the only option.  Breastfeeding was definitely the preferred,if not really the only, way to feed in Rwanda but that was also due to a lack of safe water.  Formula feeding there would either be dangerous or prohibitively expensive.  Most of my friends would have a hard time understanding this.  In cases where women lost production due to illness or an aberrant inability to feed their kids, other women living in the same village or social circle would often help.  I know there are milk banks here, many of which do not screen milk, but this idea of community feels very different.  These women do what they need to for their kids to survive.  There is no other option.  Sure, there are also plenty of wealthy women in Rwanda who live differently as there are plenty of wealthy women everywhere but the average woman breastfed and bedshared due to a lack of space and a lack of funds.

A lack of economic power – The reason I was in Rwanda was to study post-genocidal recovery and to look into the status of women there.  As a white feminist who doesn’t want to make her experience the only acceptable experience, I have a hard time saying that more “traditional” setups can’t be a CHOICE for women.  However, when it comes to working outside the home, on average, Rwandan women had few options.  The main bit of field research I did required me to interact with women in somewhat precarious situations.  Many were abused by partners.  Leaving was not easy.  There is a “No Sugar Daddy” campaign by the government currently so girls will stay in school and go into the workforce rather than marry early and end up in a bad relationship.

Because women don’t often make their own money (especially typical middle and working class women), they don’t have the same problems with juggling breastfeeding and work or deciding who will take shifts.  There is just no question.  Most women stay home and provide almost all the domestic labor.  It’s not comparable to the experience that many Western women have.  Whether it is better or worse is immaterial.  It’s apples to oranges.

A totally different “role” as a woman applies – Patriarchy is a huge issue in the U.S. and abroad. My time in Rwanda made me realize that similar things were said to women, a similar rape culture dialogue existed, and women, in large part, were fighting similar battles to be seen as equal.  The women in Rwanda, however, were dealing with other basic necessities not being easily found and disparities in education beyond what is seen in the West.  So, we all face patriarchy but in different ways and different amounts.  While my working mom was a bit unique in my upper-middle-class suburb for working despite having a gainfully employed husband, she wasn’t seen as a pariah or completely unusual or unheard of.  Sometimes teachers did not “get” it but no one was downright offended by her choice of working over homemaking.  This is different in other places.  There was a choice in her role.  At one point, my father quit his job to stay home and raise us so my mom could go back to work.  She did not enjoy staying at home. This sort of choice would have been unheard of in Kigali.

Romanticizing the fact that women who don’t have a choice, don’t have their own economic ability to “choose” to work outside the home, and don’t have the ability for outside work to be seen as “normal” or even “acceptable” is disturbing to me.  These women aren’t choosing to stay home for the most part.  Many of them don’t see any other opportunities.  That’s the role of a woman in her society.

There is a weird need to explain bedsharing and breastfeeding as being “closer to nature” and, thus, preferable but we need to be especially careful when we romanticize women living in the developing world as “closer to nature” lest we veer towards describing them as “primitive”.  Nothing could be more offensive in my opinion!  It’s not “cute” for women to be stuck in a role without the choice or economic means to pick another way.  A lack of cry-it-out and formula feeding is out of necessity and different circumstances.  It’s not only unfair to women in the developing world to take this tack, it completely ignores the difference between a woman in a postmaterial society and than in society industrializing.  I’m not big on first-world feminism being the only argument and I’m a huge believer in intesectionality, so these dialogues just ignore huge, important concepts surrounding the rights of women around the world.

Instead, how do we avoid this?

First, know that it is okay to say you prefer to bedshare or breastfeed.  If you prefer it, that’s reason enough to do it.  It is your choice to do so.  If bedsharing means everyone sleeps, that’s fantastic.  If breastfeeding works for you, keep it up!  Second, we should acknowledge the difference between a choice and a given.  If you live in a place with non-potable water and a one room place, you don’t have a choice.  Realize that women around the world are not pictures or scenes, they are living breathing people just like us who have their own struggles which may differ from ours and that’s okay.  As long as we don’t try to speak FOR THEM directly, we should be okay.  Using them to support your argument against an entire swath of women (for the purposes of basically calling the other women bad moms) as if they are game pieces or tokens is never okay.

We can’t say their experiences are ours or are better or worse than ours but we can be sensitive in our conversations.  Neither CIO or bedsharing are the devil. Neither breastfeeding nor formula feeding will kill your kid.  It’s okay to have a preference and it’s okay to respect the preferences of others.   But, seriously, leave women in developing nations OUT of it!

Mom Bod and Body Policing in Motherhood

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Image courtesy of Tatiana VDB of Flickr.

You may be aware of the phenomenon of “Dad Bod”.  It typically describes a man who is “chubby” or a bit rounder but certainly not morbidly obese.  It’s actually a fairly endearing comment to make about celebrities that is less about making fun of a guy who has gotten a bit “soft” and more about showing that now he’s a dad so he’s got other things to worry about.  At least that’s how I’ve interpreted a lot of this rhetoric.

But “Dad Bod” is not without complication.  Brian Moylan, a writer for Time, called Dad bod a “sexist” commentary on bodies.  His editorial basically talked about how this creates an unfair double standard.  It’s okay for the Dad to let himself go a bit. Moylan presents point after point about “Dad Bod” in popular culture – arguing that it’s really always been around but that it now has a name.  It’s evident in sitcoms, funny stories, and pretty much every day life.  Dad can be silly and a bit soft.  He’s just as lovable – if not more so – this way.

So, in sum, Dad Bod is fine for men but there is no acceptable counterpoint.  While daddy can be fluffy and lovable, mommy can’t have a “Mom Bod”.  Never okay.

Women are still largely talked about in terms of appearance rather than action. For those of you who are incredibly familiar with body politics and the like can just turn off your brain.  But for those who aren’t already burgeoning feminist scholars, think about the last time you watched an award show or an interview with a woman on the red carpet. What are the things you can expect her to be asked?  A main one is “what are you wearing?”.  Another conversation you can be sure will occur is that which covers the rest of her appearance – her hair, how beautiful she looks, etc.  They may ask about her sexy costars and how that worked for her on set.  But now think about the men on the red carpet.  They are traditionally asked about their current projects, charity work, other pursuits.  You may say “of course in Hollywood, shallow conceptions like beauty are going to be most prevalent” and while I would say this is partially true, it’s not just Hollywood.

Looking at questions Hillary Clinton is asked vs. Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump is about all you need to do.  She often has to address comments about her spouse and her role as a mother and/or grandmother.  Reporters comment about her hair constantly.  While she was Secretary of State, it was a common complaint.  Her lack of hair ability was a constant talking point.  Donald Trump has a tragic head of hair which is often lampooned but rarely does he get maligned for it in the same way Clinton did.  People may joke but they weren’t downright awful. And rather does The Donald or does Bernie have to answer repeated questions about his role as a father figure? For Clinton this is a central question she’s asked in almost every interview.  She may very well be the most qualified candidate on credentials but clearly her appearance or ability to play a mom are more important factors in her capabilities as a potential president.  I’m not a huge Hillary fan myself but I feel this is totally unfair and very illustrative of the difference between the way we perceive the roles of males and females in the West.

Mom bod isn’t acceptable.  Ever since I’ve gotten pregnant, people have been curious about how much weight  I’ve gained and how much I am expecting to lose post baby.  I haven’t exactly had time to worry about that. At 14 weeks, I just threw up in a bagel company parking lot after taking an entire Zofran because my body hates me.  I recently wrote about my struggles with extreme morning sickness and the constant hell I’ve experienced because it really HAS rocked my life.

Recently, I posted about a craving on Facebook, and was basically told my chosen food (a Vienna beef dog because I’m a Chicago kid) was not healthy and could harm my baby.  I explained that my doctor is concerned about weight loss and dehydration and we get excited when I eat basically anything these days.  So, whatever I crave and stays down is good.  I know I am not stick thin but I also suffer from hypoglycemia and since my body hates protein right now and I’m allergic to nuts, not eating pretty much every other hour is somewhat dangerous for me.  The people who commented on this post KNOW about my issues.  One of them tells me “Oh, my friend got WAY healthy with morning sickness and lost 50 lbs and she’s better now than ever”.  I responded with, “I actually have a medical condition.  It’s disconcerting.  I don’t want to be losing weight and should be gaining so I don’t appreciate the big congratulations over weight loss.”  Several other people pile on telling me I will SO appreciate it when I don’t have to crash diet post baby.

People, I was never crash dieting.  I’m sorry the world has led you to believe that you can’t be even 5 lbs heavier post-baby.  That is really screwed up.  But what is even MORE screwed up is a group of self-proclaimed feminists – many who have the same PhD that I do and who have studied subjects like feminist theory and representation of women in politics – is reacting POSITIVELY to the fact that I said I am sick and my doctors are worried about my weight.

Losing 5% of your body weight in a month should never be a thing to get excited about if you weren’t on death’s door due to obesity and weren’t actively working to lose weight.  It’s disturbing that the quest to avoid never-described but often talked around Mom Bod is so strong that we feel the need to congratulate pregnant women who are losing an unhealthy amount of weight.

And this isn’t even the worst of it.  Those of you who have been pregnant or have ever just had a baby have probably been FLOODED with those stupid “IT WORKS!” wraps or some dumb green tea cleanse.  I have a coworker who sells these things.  She confronted me with them the FIRST DAY she knew I was pregnant.  She was SO SURE I needed to be taking this green tea stuff.  First of all, I would never take a diet supplement because they are not regulated.  Second of all, I would ABSOLUTELY not take one while pregnant.  NO NO NO.  But I needed it so I could stay thin through my pregnancy and “speed up my metabolism”.

Or, to go even a step further, my friend recently had a baby.  She received a mailer from her hospital about 3 months postpartum. It was from a plastic surgery firm in the hospital that wanted her to “get back her body” and “target problem areas”.  As if at 3 months postpartum your body could even begin to be representative of “normal”!

Here’s the biggest contradiction and the most misogynist point, though.  The fact of the matter is that our society, in general, is terribly unsupportive of mothers yet it expects us to be runway ready 5 minutes post-baby.  I really want to know how we are supposed to be the primary caretakers for baby (because we’re supposed to breastfed or be shamed), go back to work at 4 weeks because we have no paid leave, and hit the gym regularly.  And all of this WITHOUT any affordable childcare options!  This is the biggest scam.

So, wear your Mom Bod proudly through pregnancy and after you have kids and tell people to shut it.  And, fellow feminists, know that if a woman is in pain and struggling during pregnancy or postpartum, please please please don’t make her even MORE self-conscious about her weight.  If she indicates she wants a running buddy and you’re game, tell her.  If she intimates she needs some healthy recipes, help her out with your favorites.  And if she says she’s puking a lot and on a ton of drugs and it’s depressing all she can eat are hot dogs, realize it’s a BAD TIME.  Don’t compliment her on weight loss.  It’s not okay.

I don’t want your mints, ginger, or judgement.

I’m starting into the 2nd trimester of my pregnancy.  It’s a time I looked forward to for a few reasons.  One, I had a miscarriage the cycle before this pregnancy early on.  Each week is a big achievement. Two, it meant we could announce that we were adding a third kiddo publicly and feel safe about it.  Finally and most importantly, I was told by now my morning sickness would be gone.

If I had a dime for every time a well-meaning person mentioned “Oh, my morning sickness was gone by week 11”, yeah, I’d be rich.  I’m past that now.  Week 11 arguably was my WORST week.  I puked in my cubicle while responding to legislative requests and then puked on myself on my commute home after my boss told me she needed me but not this badly.

Week 12 was bad, too. Week 13 will maybe be better?  I’m not sure yet.  I’m currently at home with a head cold and, you guessed it, woke up puking today.  My body is so tired of puking.  I have burst blood vessels on my face and neck to prove it. I’ve lost 12 pounds – 7 lbs in the last month – and my doctor wants me to “keep eating”- a task that seems completely ridiculous most days.

But even more so, perhaps, I’m sick of hearing your cures for morning sickness, people.  I’ve had the urge to puke since 3 days after my first positive pregnancy test. I have puked up crackers so much that eating them now leads to an instant run to the can.  I’ve tried ginger.  I’ve tried mint.  I have tried small meals (as if I could even eat a big one).  I really have tried it all.

When I tell you I’m now on medication but even on medication, it’s still bad, I would expect sympathy and concern.  However, what I get is judgement.  I’m glad ginger snaps and frozen oranges were enough to get you through.  However, my medication limits the amount of nose puking to 1-2 times a day vs. 4-6.  I don’t want to spend money and effort on Zofran but if I wasn’t able to stop puking, I would be unable to keep my job or my life.  I’m thankful my doctor is compassionate, believes in science, and values me as a person as much as my unborn child.

I don’t want to hear how you would “never have thought of taking medication” or how if I would just eat a frozen orange it would help.  I’m glad that has worked for you.  However, my doctor believes I have hypermesis and this isn’t your average morning sickness.  I wish I wasn’t this sick every day, trust me.  I LOVE food.  I LOVE cooking.  But I hate eating now.

And no, it’s not petty.  When a woman says she’s completely and utterly exhausted from puking and reaches for the Unisom or Zofran or both, let it go.  You don’t know her.  Especially if you are male or have never tossed your breakfast, lunch, and dinner for days on end, shut it.

This is not a petty problem. Offer advice if you think it will help but if a woman says “Yeah, I’ve tried that but I’m now on medication and still struggling” trust that she and her provider have those bases covered.  Don’t mansplain to her about the importance of her body being a baby incubator or assume she’s a weakling.  No one wants to be that sick.