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.

Another Body Altogether

Warning: I’m taking a break today to talk about postpartum issues.  If you have trouble with body talk or periods, please don’t read this post!  I will be putting out another gender and kids post later, so keep an eye out if that is more your style!

My baby turned 3 months this week.  When did that happen?  I also had a follow up for my birth control and endometriosis treatment (an IUD).  I’ve been bleeding for 4 weeks straight (going on 5!).  My doctor had warned me the bleeding my surprise me but I was unprepared for this.  It was sometimes worse than my immediate postpartum bleeding.  I was dumbfounded.

My doctor didn’t want to dismiss my fears but she did tell me, “You need to think of your pre-baby body as a completely different body altogether.  This new body is unknown.  For me, it was like going through puberty again.”  That was frustrating to hear but after reflecting on it for a week, I guess it is helpful.

I’ve felt so wrecked and all broken up postpartum.  I had a hard, arduous pregnancy.  Between losing 35 lbs (and only gaining 1 back) and having SPD, it was awful.  I was at my heaviest in recent history by the time I got pregnant.  I figured losing weight was pointless and time to conceive was pressure.  I was still an endurance athlete and ran about 3 days a week, lifted seriously. I was dedicated to the gym and would run with the dog in the morning at the crack of dawn before work.  I was hoping to run a 5k in the spring.  I assumed it would take MONTHS to get pregnant. And then, like a fool, once I got pregnant with my daughter, I figured I would still work out.  NOPE.  It didn’t work like that.  I was too sick and couldn’t spare the calories.  I was so atrophied when I delivered due to it.

I fit into pre-pregnancy clothing immediately after delivery and now fit into pretty much everything I did before I reached my heaviest weight. I planned to donate all of these clothes the month I got my positive test with Ruth but was then too tired to make it into town to go to Goodwill.  Instead, I kept them.  And then I lost so much weight, I mainly wore pre-pregnancy dresses and pants with a hairtie until I delivered.  Now none of those pants fit because they were just too big about 4 weeks postpartum.  I continued to lose weight (as most women do postpartum) although nothing like I did before.  But, I have so much loose skin and feel so fat.

Today, I started back to “running”.  In my time, I was never fast, but ran sub-30 5k’s in my early 20s and rode up to 65 miles in races and charity rides on my bike.  I also used to regularly run 5-7 miles several times a week before starting the time suck that is grad school.  But now, I’m hoping to do Couch to 5k at the behest of my OBGYN who thinks i’s the safest bet I have to slowly begin running. I wasn’t even cleared to do any running or light weightlifting until 12 weeks postpartum.  It sucks because I’ve never needed to start so slow.

My goal is to run a 5k by May.  I think that is doable.  I’d love to run a sub 35 time.  I will still get beat by my 70-something in-laws who do this for a serious hobby.  They run halfs and 10ks still.  My BiL who is a marathoner and ultramarathoner.  He’s run races around the world and now, in early retirement, is trying to run a marathon twice a month.  I feel like what I’m doing pales in comparison and is sad.

I know I will never get my body back.  I welcomed the stretch marks because they are a battle scar in a way.  But my abs are GONE.  I never had a six pack but I had such good abs before my daughter.  Abs that made me carry high and almost not show until 24 weeks.  I never appreciated my strong thighs, big calves, or tight stomach.  I felt so fat before I conceived.  And now I feel like a bowl full of jelly.

I need to get better at accepting my body has changed.  I know my husband still thinks I look good.  Others tell me I look amazing for having had a baby 3 months ago.  I can’t accept compliments from anyone (which I think is a common problem for most women).  I need to cut myself some slack – start slow, make it a goal to finish, don’t get bogged down in how out of shape I am.  If I could just feel more like myself again, I would be happy.  But this is the new body and it’s a whole ‘nother chapter to write from here on out.

Failure to mom?

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I’m a Type A woman with OCD.  I have probably always been a perfectionist and my own worst critic.  I have really never failed at much.  I don’t say this as a gloat.  But I’m also usually a fair judge of my own capabilities and not one to take huge risks, either.  A part of me assumed this would be the case with motherhood.  How could I fail?  I figured this task would pale in comparison to the ride I had just gotten off – finishing a dissertation while working full time and defending it with hyperemesis.

So, when I had the baby, life was good.  I will post a bit about my birth experience later on but all in all, I did really well.  17 hours after my induction began, she was here.  I only pushed for an hour.  Once I got my epidural, it was fairly smooth sailing (although not easy at all).  I couldn’t complain.  My episiotomy really didn’t hurt after I left the hospital.  I didn’t die with my first poop.  My baby slept in her own room in her own crib the first night home and only woke once.  That has continued now for 5 straight weeks.  I can’t complain that I have a hard baby. I can’t complain that breastfeeding is draining my soul because I am formula feeding with a Baby Brezza at my disposal.  I went back on my antipsychotic an hour after I delivered.  Basically, the things I did worry about were not a thing.  I sailed through them.

Still, the past 5 weeks have been so hard.  To begin with, my dog jumped onto our table and ATE my pain medication when my daughter was only a week old.  My husband had to rush home and rush her to the dog ER.  Then, when I had to take her in for follow up bloodwork, my in laws accidentally let her out of the house.  My father in law and I chased her for 30 minutes in an ice storm and then I drove her to the vet in that ice storm, almost flying off the road the entire time to and from.  I also had some insane family drama over Christmas that left my husband and me reeling. I wouldn’t wish what happened on my worst enemy.  I couldn’t think of a less kind thing to do to someone with a two week old.  I have been able to call on friends and my in laws for support at this time.  It has been helpful.  But I still have had some trouble with my bipolar disorder and what is likely postpartum depression and anxiety.  I hit a new low two days after Christmas.  Again, I wouldn’t wish the feeling of family abandonment on anyone in this situation.  My therapist has told me that I’m dealing with the worst possible scenario for getting well and that I was luckily not at risk of institutionalization when I met with him but he was on the fence when I first called him panicked.  I’ve never been institutionalized.  Hearing this scared me.

Women told me hormones and any type of baby will rob you of your sanity.  I ignored this because I was analytical.  I survived grad school.  I was very good at sticking to logic.  No matter how logical and dedicated you feel you can be, hormones are a real issue.  You can’t control them.  You will experience the greatest highs and greatest lows.  And when you have bipolar disorder, this will throw your train right off the track if you can’t control other things – namely food, exercise, and sleep.

Even with a good sleeper, your REM sleep is disturbed with your baby’s night wakeup.  And napping?  It’s a bad idea that will offset your sleep cycle.  Sleep when the baby sleeps is not particularly helpful to someone with bipolar disorder (even with a good sleeper).  When your baby goes to a growth spurt, you will never have time to eat.  When your baby gets fussy, you will never have time to eat with both hands.  My baby hit a growth spurt (and gained about a pound in a week!) around the time that my family drama was happening.  She suddenly became inconsolable and for three days, I ate nothing but a small dinner. After 9 months of not eating, this was not healthy at all.  Finally, good luck with exercise.  This is a big one for me.  But I am still not cleared for any type of exercise and probably won’t be for at least another month. My husband really stepped up and my in laws comforted me.  They came up to ensure I had support the day after my family left town.  My husband was worried I needed some observation and distraction.  I was still emotionally numb when they encouraged me just to leave, get coffee, and go to the store.  I wasn’t eating because I was also really upset.  And while I was absolutely keeping the baby alive (she was my only good thing at this time), I felt like I was failing as a wife.  Nothing else was going as planned.  I was killing myself to put food on the table every night.  I was trying to do all this damn laundry that was killing my back and pelvis from running up and down the stairs.  I was feeling guilty from asking my husband to take night wake ups as he worked. I felt like I was failing as a mom.  Because moms do it all.  Because I’d done all this great stuff and worked two jobs and never took a breath all of this time but motherhood was kicking my ass.  It seems the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do and that is saying something.  I should be able to do it all, right?  And do it pleasantly! And that’s the curse of modern day motherhood.  I think especially for women who worked before they either went on maternity leave or who leave the workforce to be a stay-at-home-parent (SAHP).  A friend of mine wisely stated that she needed to hear “you’re doing a good job” more than ever after she decided to become a SAHP.  Because when you work, after all, you do get this affirmation a lot.  And to someone who is used to pleasing her boss and coworkers and getting the occasional “good job”, it is hard to imagine not having these things.  My friend’s husband was appreciating all she was doing but he wasn’t saying it.  The mantra of one of my favorite podcasts, One Bad Mother, is just that.  You’re doing a great job.  Because as long as your kid is alive the house won’t be clean, you won’t be making elaborate meals, you may have to ask for a lot of help, and you may feel like everything else is kind of just getting done and barely passing but that’s all you can expect right now.

More than ever, I need to remind myself that I’m only human. I can’t expect much more.  And I’m doing a good job for my baby and for my family. If you’re reading this and going “I’m really failing” for any reason other than DFS is at your door demanding your kids leave the house, realize you are doing a great job. And if this resonates with you because it’s BTDT, the next time you see a mom like me who is really struggling and crying just because she’s barely keeping her head above water, tell her she’s doing a great job.

 

Gender Disappointment? More like Gender Frustration.

I was so hoping to have a son.  I will fully admit that.  I assumed it would just “be easier” for us.  This baby was a tie breaker since my husband already has one daughter and one son.  This is our one and only baby to have together because we don’t need four and I’m not ever doing this again.

I was a non-gender-conforming kid.  I was definitely a girl who was PROUD to be a girl.  But every single holiday was an excuse for my extended family and society to school me in proper gender presentation. I didn’t play with dolls.  I played with horses and trucks and planes.  If you’d asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d have been more likely to tell you I wanted to be president or an astronaut or avet than a “mommy” or a teacher or a nurse or any other “acceptable” occupation for a lady in the late 80s/early 90s.  My sister was the absolute opposite.  She wore dresses.  She played house.  She played with dolls.  She was rewarded at every birthday and holiday by receiving presents she actually wanted.  I would end up feeling demoralized.  My parents were fairly keen to start a tradition of receipts for this reason.  I knew the rules: accept gracefully, tell mom and dad you are sad on the way home, go pick something out you actually like.

The situation I remember frustrating me the most was a holiday Christmas party my mom’s company did.  I grew up in a manufacturing area and mom worked in engineering for a big firm.  Each year, everyone from the line on up would bring their kids to get a toy.  But, like the frustrating trip through the McDonald’s drive-thru in which you had to announce a “boy toy” if you wanted something that DID anything and wasn’t just a model of a stupid princess, girls lined up for “girl toys”.  Santa would turn a lever and down the line your stupid girl toy would come.  I waited patiently knowing my only options were a doll, a housecleaning set, or a tea set.  ALL CRAPPY.  The boys got a boat, a plane, or a car.  I wanted to go in the other line.  But nope.  I had a vagina, so I got stuck with a housecleaning set.  Now, the irony in this is I actually have OCD, so I actually really do enjoy cleaning and desire cleaning in a way most people don’t.  But 4 year old me was so unimpressed.

So, when they got the “money shot” up on the ultrasound that sealed our fate, I started crying.  The tech asked me what I thought the baby was.  I told her I thought it was a boy “but that’s not looking like a penis”.  I was right.  We are expecting a baby girl in just a few more weeks.  Everyone was overjoyed and to be honest, I was crying tears of joy because as awful as pregnancy has been, I wanted this baby desperately and I will love her so much.  But my husband was worried I was crying because I was sad.  He waited until the tech left to ask me and I assured him while I have my worries, I am thankful to be given the chance to raise an amazing little feminist.

But that said, god it’s so much harder to raise a girl from the outset.  I mean, with a boy, you can debate the merits of circumcision or what sports you are willing to let him attempt because head trauma but we’d already had those conversations.  WIth girls, the conversations just got so much more everyday and involved so many harder subjects.  The beginning stuff was rather simple.  For my friends – most of which had been gifted daughters- I had been warned that the clothing nightmares were real.  Oh boy were they!

I’ve put off buying clothing because I hate it so much.  Bows?  Why?  What the hell is the point?!  I will wear a bow.  I’m actually a fairly feminine-presenting adult hetero cis-female.  I’m very unremarkable.  However, I’ve CHOSEN this performance of gender.  She can’t choose.  Bows scream “I’m a girl!  See!  Don’t call me a boy because this bow is big enough to see from space!”.  And all the outfits have a stupid theme – high heels, ballerina shoes, cats, daddy’s little princess (oye that word).  My husband and I have struggled.  Most of our clothing is “boy” because the only other option is so very “boy”.  I don’t care.  No child of ours is going to be a ballerina.  I’m not built for it.  I’m built like a steel locomotive.  Her dad is like a tall steeple of a human.  We aren’t building dancers here, people.  We don’t like the idea of the woman who needs saving.  And why does it matter if the baby possesses certain genitals?  It’s a baby.  Unless you are a medical professional or changing her, it’s really none of your business (I feel strongly about asking people about decisions to circumcise their children but that’s another story for another day).  Clothing with ruffled pants (because standard pants are just unacceptable?) make your child look like a deranged clown.  Which, right now, is just dangerous.  Again, if you like these things, fine.  But I hate them and I think my baggage of being tormented by being forced to “do” gender “right” or pay the social price has really turned my stomach.

Further down the road, you get asked about whether you are piercing your daughter’s ears.  The arguments for are almost entirely predicated on “well she will want them done later”.  I am whitewashing here a bit because I know culturally there are more “meaningful” reasons, but I am talking about middle American whitebread moms because that’s mostly what I know.  I hate the above argument that you should get them done now because it’s silly.  What if she hates them later?  What if she’s allergic to nickel (I am and so are my mom and sister) and now she has to spend an arm and a leg to keep up this habit later?  What if they are hard to cover up for sports?  I’m a full grown-ass woman who, no, has never ever had her ears pierced.  People lose their minds when I say this. I am fully-functioning, I promise!  And really, the “she will want it done later” is not the argument.  The real underlying argument is this is another way to signal “hey I’m a girl!  Don’t you DARE call me a boy because I will be so offended!”.  Again, it’s a baby.  The argument she wants it later is still predicated on the assumption that girls have pierced ears and it’s a way to properly “do” gender.

Then further down the road you have to worry about consent and really heavy things with a girl in a way boys don’t have to.  I don’t mean this should exempt the parents of boys from teaching their sons “no means no” and how bodies are not theirs just to touch when they feel like it.  Parents of boys are just as responsible for this.  They should take it incumbent upon themselves to help solve these problems.  Still, my reality was that by age 14, I was a survivor of sexual assault.  I was abused by a friend on school grounds.  My parents taught me the importance of consent, using proper terms, you name it, but the whole “boys will be boys” and “boys say stupid things when they like you” messages society had put in my brain overrode everything else.  I spent years blaming myself.  I ended up in an abusive relationship after all of it and still blamed myself.  My stepson will never have to worry about walking down the street alone at night as much as the girls do – it’s incomparable. We worry about the girls much more.

It’s so hard.  Still, I don’t think of it as a disappointment.  This implies I’m sad I’m having a girl.  I’m not.  I’m just frustrated that “having a girl” means a greater degree of complication and mindfuckery.  I’m not even concerned about the things I thought I would be.  I don’t worry about her being limited by her gender presentation – no matter how girly or not – because I don’t think I ever felt limited back in the day.  I’ve surrounded myself with kickass ladies.  Our baby’s family includes a mom with a PhD who currently programs for a living, an aunt who runs a tech startup, an aunt who is an aerospace engineer, a grandmother who works in engineering creations out of sheet metal, an aunt who is a special ed teacher, and a number of other “aunties” who have advanced degrees and don’t fear the math required to do their jobs.

I worry more about the everyday struggles women face.  I worry I will either make her feel weird about being girly  which I don’t want to do if that’s the way she chooses to be or I will make her feel like she needs to have this big girly identity because I do (even if it wasn’t already that way).  I worry about what others outside our immediate circle will beat into her.  I have to hand it to my mom and mother-in-law so far because I haven’t received bows or tutus.  Most things have been fairly neutral.  But I know it’s gonna happen as she grows.  You can’t protect them from the real world even if it sucks.  That does more of  disservice.   So, I’m thoroughly frustrated for her and for us because the world is not kind to our type.

But I’m not disappointed.

Part One: Assessing the Business of Being Born 8 Years Later

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Image courtesy of Sandor Welsz of Flickr.com.

This is part one of a series entitled Intervention on Interventions which seeks to address the place of medical science, interventions, and public policy in the lives of women.  Using research done on interventions, pilot studies, and public policy interventions, this series will highlight whether or not interventions are to be feared and how public policy – not the distrust of doctors and medical professionals – can help women have safer, more empowering birth experiences.

8 years ago, The Business of Being Born was released.  For any millennial or Gen X woman who has given birth in the past 5 or so years, it has probably been considered required viewing.  I saw it when my first group of friends to give birth was having their babies in 2010.  The film criticizes the over-medicalization of birth as the film’s directors and producers see it, and highlights how “choices” for women are significantly reduced by the current status quo for childbirth.  The film highlights a number of “sins” from episiotomies to inductions to c-sections and suggests that for most women, midwives and homebirths should be utilized.  Overall, it raises some important questions and it’s no doubt that women have taken to heart over the past 8 years.  And considering that the history of medicine has historically ridden roughshod over the actual experiences and needs of women, it is no surprise that many medical interventions could be used without question and without concern for the risks and benefits for the women they are practiced on.  Overall, I think the documentary is still worth a watch on Netflix but this series suggests you watch it with some counterpoints in mind.

TBoBB’s strongest criticism seems to be of medicalization and of hospital births.  While it is true that in other countries, midwives and homebirths are more common, this doc does not get into the nuances of the difference between homebirth or midwifery in the American perspective and that in other countries.  This will be flushed out in much greater detail in a later segment but suffice to say, midwives in most countries are highly trained medical professionals while most homebirth midwives in the United States are not medically trained in a comparable manner.  Likewise, there are serious issues with the assertion that birth in a hospital is without a place in today’s world.  Maternal and fetal mortality have declined significantly over time – from almost 700 deaths per 100,000 live births to now about 60 deaths (HRSA 2007).  This is largely due to medical interventions which have saved lives.  There is a reason that women see health professionals in this country as they go through the processes of gestation and birth.  Birth is an incredibly risky event no matter how “low risk” both for mother and child.

No better illustration of this is seen than in Epstein’s homebirth experience.  Her midwife notices that baby is coming out in breech position and they head to the hospital.  In the end, Epstein and her child were saved by the wonder of modern medicine and were luckily able to get successful treatment in a timely fashion.  Her baby was also premature and required NICU treatment that wasn’t really addressed much by the dialogue in this film.  The documentary does a poor job of addressing these complications – leading to a shaky conclusion that lower intervention is better because most birth is not that complicated.  Epstein’s experience is unfortunately not atypical.  The American Pregnancy association states that 1 in 25 births is breech (APA).  These births typically require a c-section as breech presentation makes a vaginal delivery complicated.  Thus, Epstein’s baby and labor weren’t serious outliers.  They are the reason that hospital births and births in birthing centers which are attended by serious medical staff who work closely with OB’s are the standard of care most women choose and most physicians require.

However, these problems are still not the most problematic part of the film.  The problem identifies an issue- the medicalization of birth – due to hospital and physician greed.  The very title affirms that doctors and medical professionals view birth as a business and the reason they diagnose and treat the women in their care the way they do is their bottom line.  For these providers, childbirth is a business and women and babies are simply obligatory customers.  Basically, birth is like dealing with your cable provider – you know you have to but you really wish it didn’t suck.   This is a really salacious and entertaining thought but it’s neither particularly accurate nor particularly useful.  While economic means do play into childbirth and while maybe the anecdotal evidence suggested in the documentary affirms that some doctors are out to get women so they can make their 10 AM tee time, these aren’t problem that can be easily solved by the documentary’s proposed solution – homebirth and midwives.  If homebirth and midwifery are to work, then why didn’t these solutions even work for Epstein?  The answer is that these solutions aren’t really feasible for a large number of cases – not just outliers – but that the solutions that are don’t entertain or allow the documentarians to tie this up with

The reason is that physicians’ greed is not the issue.  The business of being born is actually driven by other factors which I will get into later in this series.  Most actually arise from a serious of intentionally or unintentionally bad public policy decisions that have been made over the same period where birth has gotten much safer.  The plateau shown by HRSA’s 2007 report in maternal mortality may be changed and birth experiences may be changed by empirically-sound and women-focused public policy not by demonizing the role of the physician and hospital in childbirth.  Of course, public policy is a much less sexy story but public policy seems to be best able to address a number of concerns.

As a feminist, I love anything that focuses on empowering women in a safe way.  But as a scientist, I have to wonder if the evidence supports the conclusions of this doc.  And, in all honesty, while I think TBoBB offers up some great talking points, it falls short of actually offering legitimate improvements to the way providers, women, and hospitals approach birth. The purpose of this series on interventions is to assess the world after The Business of Being Born using empirical evidence, important medical research, and knowledge surrounding how good public policy can help move childbirth forward.  I’m a political scientist and a researcher by trade but my goal with this series was to educate myself in preparation for birth.  I’m not an MD but as someone who does research for a living.  Still, what I found did surprise me.  And I think my findings about public policy are really important.  I share them here to try to balance the dialogue that has been going on for years.  The next segments in this Intervention on Intervention are meant to serve as talking points in a debate on how to improve health care.

Please note that I come here with my own biases.  After tons of time spent researching interventions, I found what I was comfortable with and have planned my own birth around that.  Having had a high-risk pregnancy thus far with a number of complications, I do feel it is important to trust my provider.  I am lucky to have found one who listens to new studies and who works at a hospital that tries to use science to improve the lives of women.  I had 4 hospitals to choose from and was really lucky in that regard.  Many women only have one option.  But, that said, because my pregnancy is now considered to be “high risk”, I am limited in the options I have.  Even if there was a birth center nearby, it would no longer be an option.  I have attempted to look at this puzzle not only to help myself but also help others but I acknowledge my own reading of this is filtered through the above perspective.  I think TBoBB is an entertaining documentary that raises excellent questions about women’s agency, maternal health, and interventions but my commentary explores these topics 8 years later to see how far we have or haven’t come and where we go from here.

Breastfeeding, Shaming and Solutions that Help

I’m sick of the shaming.

Many years ago when our mothers were first becoming moms, they were shamed for breastfeeding.  If we had been moms in the 90s, most of my friend group would have been so confused as to HOW to breastfeed.  Now, it seems like the only way is breast.  The problem is that while this is the common conception of post-2010 motherhood, it isn’t all that realistic for a number of women.

I’ve talked about the way we romanticize breastfeeding, cosleeping, and a number of “crunchy” options but I want to talk now about active shaming of moms who can’t or won’t breastfeed.

On facebook this week, a friend of mine posted this meme:

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The person posting this is an ARDENT supporter of breastfeeding.  She’s a SAHM, a feminist, and pumped for MONTHS while her kiddo was sick in the NICU.  For her, breastfeeding was a bonding experience and a labor of love.  I want to start this by saying I admire her love for her child and commend her on her effort.

However, I still think it’s incredibly underhanded to post memes like this.  When I called her on it, she defended it saying it was all about “encouragement” and not shamey.  The meme cites no actual EVIDENCE of the claims it makes.  And it insinuates that formula fed babies will end up sick.  That’s screwed up because no study on earth insinuates that formula fed babies will end up on death’s door.  I won’t get into citations here because it will take a ton of time.  But if you are interested, some good journalism has already occurred on this topic.  Basically, kids regress to the mean around age 3.  Most breastfeeding benefits are short-lived, and the confounding factor in most studies which assert the power of breastfeeding don’t properly account for socioeconomic factors.  Rich women have healthier and happier babies – who’da thunk it?!

Shaming mothers does not help.  IT DOES NOT HELP.  New moms don’t need more shame.  We have enough of it.  We reap the benefits of “you don’t know how you are already ruining your child’s life” in spades just going to the grocery.  Yesterday, my anatomy scan was “textbook perfect”.  Today, I was picking up a drink with my normal two shots of espresso which are condoned by my OB and got a 10 minute lecture on how I was “killing my baby”.  Someone needs to read more.  But regardless, shaming women doesn’t help. I drank my entire beverage.  It didn’t stop me.  It just pissed me off at 7 AM. Ideas like that cited above are not encouraging women.  They don’t make women more successful at breastfeeding, either.

All of my friends who have had babies in the past 10 years have attempted breastfeeding.  Few have been successful at feeding for more than 6 months.  The few that did are stay at home moms.  The rest saw a marked decline around the time they went back to work and either had to supplement with formula or had to give it up.  I know working women CAN be successful at breastfeeding but the success rate is not great.  And when you have little leave, it makes sense.

It is so true that few women get the necessary support to make breastfeeding a success for the year required for true “benefits” to show.  After all, studies don’t focus on EBF for 6 months.  They focus on a year, 18 months, two years, etc.  For feeling strongly about this, I commend my friend who is a member of LLL.  She does truly believe women can do better with support.  I don’t doubt this is true. However, she also doesn’t face the barriers many of us face because she stays at home and is available to her child all day – for better or worse.  Working moms struggle because real life is not kind with a 9 to 5 and a pumping routine.

Things that can help women do exist.  Namely, good family leave.  The women who are most able to access breastfeeding are already able to give their babies the “best” regardless of their breast capabilities because they are wealthy, can meet regularly with lactation resources, and either don’t return to the workforce until their child is in school or already have generous leave.

I get 6 weeks of leave with this baby.  6 weeks.  And that’s what most women get.  I consider it lucky that I have “saved up” 6 weeks of paid leave.  As the breadwinner and the carrier of our insurance, I need to go back to work as soon as I can.  While my reasons for formula feeding are largely rooted in a need for medications that aren’t breastfeeding-safe, maybe I would have attempted it if I could have had more time at home.  Without time to develop a good routine, I would likely hit the same barriers most of my friends do.

Another person on her thread defended the shaming and saying we need to “do better” to get women to “stick with it”.  I commend this because I know benefits really do take about a long time.  But breastfeeding is not easy and in our country, where maternity leave is a true luxury, it is a privilege many women can’t afford.  Shaming women on top of that won’t “cure” this ill.

Pushing for better family leave is a good place to start but not one anyone seems to want to discuss.

The lactivists I know are SAHM’s. There seems to be some cognitive dissonance surrounding what a typical work week looks like when a woman returns at work and begins to pump. I don’t think these women are bad-intentioned in their demands for breastfeeding.  I think they do what they need to do.  I don’t begin to contemplate how hard their jobs are as SAHM’s.  But I do think we need greater compassion for the actual problems we face.  Judgement doesn’t work.  And if feminists are supposed to support choice, we are doing a terrible job at that right now.

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.