Thursday, November 12, 2009

The wee hours of August 19, 2004 found me birthing my first daughter into the world and becoming a mother for the first time. As she was pushed earth-side, I was shoved unceremoniously into a world I had no real understanding existed. The Mama World. The Mama world can be a wonderful place. Here you will find people that completely understand how you can dread and love the sound of your baby's cry all at once. Here there are women that KNOW. The droopy eyes, the mismatched socks, the twenty-three interruptions in one telephone conversation- they just get it. The internet has been, for me, the center of my "Mama World" as most of my IRL friends do not yet have children. The internet chapter of this world is always there. I got my first taste of it while pregnant. Any question that I had was immediately answered by at LEAST thirty different women (and in many cases, I received thirty different answers!). Once I was officially initiated into the Mama World I found that there were literally thousands of eyes always available to answer any questions I had. Trouble breastfeeding? Diaper rash? Colic? Not sure which store has the very best price on strollers? Need energy shots? No problem, here's seven-hundred and fifteen opinions with at least forty different links to go with them and while we're at it, here's fourteen phone numbers if you need to talk. With the birth of each of my children, I've been blessed with a HUGE support system for all of my various little Mama Quirks.

Oh we all have them. Some of us simply cannot LIVE without our baby carriers. Others would rather choke on a snake than touch a disposable diaper. Others are more concerned with whether or not everything that their baby ingests is organic. The lists of Mama Quirks go on and on and on and many residual fires can be seen still smoking from flame wars the internet-world over attesting to just how SERIOUS we all are about them.

Flame wars? I know, I said the Mama World can be a wonderful place. It can also be a vicious place. Mothers the world over have a reputation for being fierce and warrior-like when it comes to our children. Unfortunately that Mama-bear instinct can be misplaced into ripping our sisters to shreds for doing or thinking about things differently.

What follows is the first of what I hope will be a series of opinionated posts about these various issues. Today I want to talk about Parenting Labels.

It seems that when I first became a mother I got sucked into the flame wars as quickly as the next mother. I couldn't help but notice, though, that the "more experienced" moms tended to be a bit more careful about picking their battles. As I'm now rounding the first corner into my oldest child's fifth year, I'm beginning to understand WHY. Being a mother is quite possibly THE most challenging occupation I can think of. Deep down inside most mothers want one thing: what is best for their children that doesn't also equal complete insanity for them. Most of the internet moms I settled down with spend a lot of time reading about raising children. And in reading, they've learned that there are some "parenting styles" that have become rather popular. The one I run into the most is, of course, Attachment Parenting (usually referred to as AP parenting or just AP).

In the beginning, this was what I was ALL ABOUT. It just seemed to fit what I wanted for my kids. The base premise is very simple: respond to your baby's needs. And out of that premise we introduce things like baby-wearing and exclusively breastfeeding. But AP parenting has almost become the flag of the "natural" movement. I've not met many women, for example, that home-birth that don't also breastfeed and cloth diaper. I know very few women indeed who cloth-diaper that don't ALSO baby-wear. It's a slippery slope and in general, it's a good thing. All of these things are "good". What's NOT good is the way women seem to become divided over some of these issues.

Honestly, I never gave it much thought until recently. Some women baby-wear, for example, and some don't. But recently, one of the newer moms in a group I belong to wrote in asking a question that really made me realize just how bad this can be. Her question was along the lines of "Do I have to pick up my baby every single time she fusses, no matter what? I want to be AP but I sometimes I'm responding to her needs so often that I literally can't pee!" Ok, so I'm paraphrasing and I don't think her need to tinkle actually made it into her post. Her baby was old enough to be crawling around and getting into things and generally wreaking havoc on Mom's need to wash the dishes. Her question got me thinking: Why is she worried about being AP? It reminded me of my first year of Mom-hood, when I was afraid someone would find out that I let my 12mo old follow me around crying because she wanted to be picked up but I NEEDED a clean house because we were having company. She wasn't hurt, hungry or sick. She just wanted attention and was expressing that to me VERY CLEARLY. And I heard her! I listened, I responded! "I am RIGHT HERE, baby, I can hear you and you can be with me. But right now, I need to wash the dishes so I can make dinner so we can all eat." I felt GUILTY because I wasn't wearing her in a sling on my back so she could be in contact with me during her little moment of insecurity. It didn't help that while I was washing the dishes, she got down on her knees and laid her forehead on my feet and cried herself to sleep. Yes, on my feet. Right there at the sink with me up to my elbows in suds. In case anyone is wondering, she is JUST as dramaful today.

So what's my point? My point is that there seems to be a fine line between advocating "instinctive" parenting and advocating "getting in the line" of a particular label. We need to be encouraging our sisters to parent from the heart and soul, not trying to fit into a particular label. Some of this, of course, comes from the mother herself. I doubt very seriously that anyone would have criticized me for not picking up my whining toddler while I was in the middle of doing the dishes. After all, one of a child's basic needs is to learn how to appropriately interact with their families and sometimes, it is completely necessary that they WAIT on someone else. But I wanted to fit that label, man, I wanted to be an EXAMPLE. I wanted people to think I was the best mom on EARTH and to me, that meant being AP.

As an aspiring midwife, I think about things like this a lot. What motivates us as mothers and how can I facilitate the birth of a new Mom? What, if anything, would be the ONE thing I would say to a mother just starting out? Strive for "this" model of parenting and you can't go wrong? Peh. PEH I SAY. The one and only thing I think every mother on this planet needs to get through her skull is to parent from within. Find something that works for you and nurtures your children, your partner AND YOURSELF and go with it. It's ok if you just can't bring yourself to cloth diaper. I know, I know, it's better for the planet, it's cheaper and can be better for your baby's bum (depends on the kid, lol, I learned that the hard way!). But it's NOT a measure of how much you love your kids or how good of a mother you are. It's a Mama Quirk.

Three months ago I gave birth to my third child, a beautiful son. As I've been breastfeeding for five years (still "snacking" my 2yo daughter) it never even occurred to me that I might not be able to breastfeed my son. I've never had any significant trouble (except for thrush, thrush is my mortal enemy!). My babies have always come out smaller than my breasts but latched on without incident and there ya go, a breastfeeding mama! But my son had a severe tongue tie and was incapable of latching properly. We had his frenulum released at 8days old and all seemed to be well. Except for that niggling sense that something wasn't right, but he seemed to be nursing fine, had a perfect latch and all that. No worries. But he wouldn't grow. Eventually he was hospitalized for failure to thrive and after running every test we could think of it turns out it all came down to breastfeeding. After a long visit with a lactation consultant, we learned that our son has a rear tie (I have never heard of this until now, though apparently, I have one, too) and he literally cannot effectively nurse. It's correctable through major oral surgery. Yay. Not only is it highly invasive and involving general anesthesia, my insurance wouldn't cover it anyway. So...bottle feeding it is! He's getting far more formula than breast milk these days as that's the best I can do. One person very kindly asked me if I was disappointed. No, I'm not. It would certainly be nutritionally better for him if he could nurse but I say NO food is considerably less healthy than formula. I'm grateful we have bottles and the ONLY thing that disappoints me is that I am having trouble pumping enough to feed him. But I'm not upset that I can't breastfeed him. What bothers me is the knowledge, from being on the other side of the fence, that I will be silently judged everywhere I go for not breastfeeding him.

It's not that I don't agree that breast is best, I absolutely do (remember, five years and counting, here). I also extended nurse (my first was weaned at 3.5yrs old). I KNOW where the attitude comes from. But I must admit that now, being on the other side, I've been forced to really THINK about this "judging". Should we stop doing that? Are we hurting more than we're helping? I'm not sure. I will still encourage every mother I meet to breastfeed (or baby wear or whatever) but now I have a different attitude, I guess. The MOST important thing is that she nurtures her children from her heart.



Natacha said...

You really got it right! Beautifully written :)

Rebekah Costello said...

Why thank you! Sorry I didn't respond earlier, for some reason I didn't get the notification I had a note!

Michelle said...

AH! I loved this. What a great post. The black was hard on my eyes though...I just woke up. LOL

I feel you on the baby wearing...but when i had my daughter, almost 4 years ago, no one I knew knew about AP, so I got the opposite. Dont you ever put her down? Doesnt she sleep by herself. and you know what? I wondered if I WAS holding her too much.

I stopped listening to the naysayers and just held and loved my baby.

Found your blog from the UC yahoo group. I've seen your name a bazillion times but first time to visit your blog.

Rebekah Costello said...

Well thank you! Thanks for mentioning the black, I was wondering about that.

I baby-wear, too, though not as often as I once did (though that is entirely by choice and has nothing to do with nay-sayers). I think it's great you didn't listen to the nay-sayers. Go with your gut, Mama!

Anonymous said...

Great post! I was just thinking about the same topic today--and...I, too, have noticed that as your children grow the less clear-cut it seems what makes a "good parent" or what the "right" parenting choice is. It is simpler when they are infants and thus easier to judge others for making different choices. I've also noticed this amongst mothers of one instead of mothers of more--the mothers of more are a little more "humbled" in their sense of whether or not AP is the RIGHTEST. We all have to remember not be "holistical than thou" to other mothers!

Rebekah Costello said...

Well thank you so much, eh, Talkbirth!

I loved what you said about mothers of more than one being somewhat less quick to hop onto the judgmental boat. My mother used to joke that if you only had one kid, you were a mother but not a real parent (she had four) because you always knew whodunnit! I don't know how true that is but I certainly appreciate where she is coming from!