Parenting, Shame, and Pushing Back

In Push Back, Amy Tuteur seems to take pride in the fact that she is hated by natural childbirth advocates. This mutual enmity drives this manifesto against the natural parenting movement.

Tuteur’s main message is that women should not be made to feel guilt or shame for their birth or feeding choices, which I am totally on board with. Tuteur clearly states that there should be no dichotomy in birth, that one birth is not better than another, that women who breastfeed are not better than women who formula feed. This message is important, and when it comes out, it shines.

Many times, I felt as if there were mixed messages in the book. Because Tuteur is so against the natural parenting movement, she has a hard time seeing the shades of gray herself. She tries to acknowledge them, which I give her credit for, but at times she just contradicts herself. She states that birth is just like digestion or breathing: a bodily function. She states that women should not be empowered by birth or feel that birth is an achievement. Then she says that she rarely thinks about her own children’s births and that they were just days to her. Yet later in the book, she tells women to love their bodies and their births the way they are. She wants women to make their own choices, but then pushes epidurals and pain relief, saying that there is no reason a woman should refuse them. She talks about natural parenting advocates acting like they are superior to others, but clearly sees herself and other doctors as the superior choice.

This frame has its advantages. There is a clear passion against the irrational and a deep commitment to the best care for women and babies. Because the feeling is so strong, it is clear that the message is important. It is when Tuteur becomes dismissive that she lets us down. She talks about messages from the natural parenting community being “spoon-fed” to women. She puts down birth plans and birth stories. Does she truly believe that every woman who thinks about about her birth experience and how she wants it to be is incapable of critical thinking? She concludes that the natural parenting industry has created a mythos around the childbirth experience – which I agree with. This causes women to feel unnecessary guilt and shame. But birth is an experience nonetheless, no matter how it turns out. True, it cannot be controlled, but women should do the research and get an idea of what they might want in labor. This allows them to maintain their agency and a sense of control, even when they are experiencing something that cannot be controlled.

Women should critically evaluate their doctors and not be spoon-fed what doctors give them, either. Doctors are people just like the rest of us; just because they are educated does not mean they are perfect. It is so important to form a relationship with your care provider and trust that they are the right one for you. Tuteur’s home birth and water birth statistics are frightening, which is the exact reason I chose a certified nurse-midwife and a hospital for my deliveries. That was my choice, not anyone else’s, and I was pleased with my decision. I wrote a birth plan, too; my first birth did not go as expected, and my second one did. Was I traumatized? In some ways, yes.  In my specific situation, the epidural was not the right choice. I got a terrible spinal headache, which was worse than the pain of labor and which I wanted to avoid for my second birth.  But my children are alive and happy, and I had two experiences that I feel were achievements. I was empowered because I chose excellent care and received it. Granted, I am lucky that I had the privilege to do this; Tuteur makes the point that these choices are the domain of white women in developed countries, and I agree with that. But let’s talk about what should be considered an achievement, one more time. Is beating cancer an achievement? Then, so too should be giving birth. I don’t enjoy being told how to feel. I’m not a doctor, but I’m self-aware.

I could extrapolate this further by saying that having a child is an achievement. Whether it’s medicated, unmedicated, by C-section, or by adoption. A small organism is relying on you for its well-being. I’m not claiming I’m superior by stating this. Running a marathon is an achievement. Potty-training your dog is an achievement. Those are two things I never really want to do, but I respect those who have. I want to hear birth and child-getting stories that are different from mine because I value other people’s perspectives. If you want a good book of birth stories, I suggest Labor Day. These stories are authentic, real, and necessary.

Let’s also remember that not every individual is driven by an agenda. My doula and I don’t always agree, but I knew she had my back no matter what my decisions were, because she supported my decisions. Birth support is so important, and women need it. If you are skeptical about the organizations that provide credentials for birth support, find someone you do trust. For example, one friend had her mother, a nurse, with her at all her births. Do not dismiss natural parenting ideas out of hand – instead, take them as they are, be critical, and use what you need. Yes, some people do have the agenda of shaming. But don’t shame me because I used a doula either. Another example: I don’t babywear because I feel my child needs to be close to me at all times. I babywear because I want to be close to my child and because it is more convenient than a stroller. My choices, not an agenda’s.

Breastfeeding is covered in detail as well, and again, the evidence is great; the conclusions, not always. My favorite evidence-based parenting writer is Emily Oster, who writes in this article about the studies surrounding breastfeeding. I have always felt that breastfeeding may only be marginally better, but if I can provide milk to my child, it’s cheaper, takes the pounds off, and yes, it’s an achievement. I’m nourishing my child using my own body. What could be cooler about that?  Yes, I felt bad that I could never breastfeed exclusively – yes, I had to rely on the pump. That was because I am missing out on baby snuggles and hormones. That’s another reason I babywear, actually – so I can get more baby snuggles. Really, all of this is about baby snuggles.

Tuteur talks about the “normalizing breastfeeding” movement being about women showing their superiority because they breastfeed. Maybe this is true, in some cases. But I don’t think the women who have been kicked out of restaurants and museums, talked down to, and told “no one wants to see that” would agree. We need to normalize breastfeeding because it is normal! Just like formula feeding is. I would argue that we need to normalize formula feeding, too. It’s the other side of the same coin. The mom buying formula doesn’t need to be shamed either. Why do people even care? Because women’s bodies and parenting choices are the territory of society. This is a feminist problem, and one that Tuteur talks about, but I think we need to talk about it in more detail and with more perspectives.

People should read the book and draw their own conclusions about the evidence presented. I believe this is an important book – obviously, I wouldn’t have spent so much time thinking about it otherwise. This review sounds negative, but I agreed with quite a bit of the content, and I’ll still give it a five-star review. This book made me think and challenged my beliefs. It caused me to push back, both against the book itself and against the industry detailed in the book. This perspective is desperately needed in a world where people judge each other for the slightest differences in parenting styles, in a world where people said that a woman should be shot because she lost track of her small child for one second.

The only way to combat shame is to be authentic and real and tell our stories. In Rising Strong, Brene Brown details an example. Ask yourself – how would you view people differently if you said to yourself: “they are doing the best they can.” Catch yourself judging people? Say that to yourself. You will feel instantly humble. It is important to give ourselves the same compassion and self-respect.

Postpartum Depression: Part Two

Here is a quick list of things about my postpartum depression (second baby edition). Some of this may make you uncomfortable.

It does not mean I am a bad person, parent, mother, or employee. But it makes me feel like I am.

I should not be ashamed of it, but I am.

I love my children with everything I have. I enjoy my profession and I feel a calling to help others. But sometimes I am so tired of being needed. When all I want to do is cry all day, I still have to get up and take care of them. I have to go to work because I don’t want to let my colleagues and patrons down. I have to grade because my students want their final grades. I have to do laundry and cook so we have clean clothes and food to eat. I have to pay my bills. People rely on me.

Just because I am depressed does not mean I am incompetent, but sometimes I feel like I am. For a while I was very focused on making change and improving my life, but now I don’t care.

These feelings come and go. I am still capable of being happy. I can joke and laugh. I experience joy when I am around my sons.

I don’t need sympathy. I need empathy. I feel guilty because others in my life are dealing with difficult situations, and I have not been able to conjure up much empathy. When I say I’m sorry over and over, I feel even more guilt because I can’t give the support others deserve. Or I absorb their emotions and feel even worse.

Social media wrecks me. I am anxious about the election. I hate Trump but am afraid to say anything about it because his followers might try to kill me or my children. But I still go on Facebook because I have the hope I might see something positive posted from someone I care about. It’s the only thing that keeps me going sometimes.

I hate seeing women breastfeeding because I failed so hard at it, even worse the second time. Despite the fact that I have been exclusively pumping for five months, making enough milk to donate to babies in need, I still get upset when I think about it. Jamie Oliver and his crap about breastfeeding being so easy makes me sick.

Meghann Foye’s article about “me-ternity leave” makes me sick too. Does she seriously think having a baby is a time of rest and renewal? Would she like to feel like I do for a while and see how she likes it?

This may seem like a cry for help. You may see me as weak or selfish or not the right person for you at this time. I don’t care. Some people have said I am brave. I don’t care. I just want someone to listen for a change.

Mindfulness Study: What’s Your Rhythm?

My theme for this year is renewal and rebuilding. Last year, I spent a lot of time saying yes to new opportunities. Like Amy Poehler, I love to say yes, but sometimes we have got to say no. This year, I’ve taken a step back and am using what extra time I have to study and practice mindfulness. Here are some new concepts I’ve run across. I hope they also benefit you!

Rhythm vs. balance. In Overworked and OverwhelmedScott Eblin details how we can incorporate mindfulness into our daily lives – he focuses mostly on work, interviewing CEOs and other top leaders, but there is a lot of relevance to daily life as well. He talks about finding a rhythm vs. finding a balance. This resonated with me. There are many times I don’t feel overwhelmed, because I’m focusing on the present moment. When I am able to sit with my thoughts and emotions rather than let them take over, I am able to feel gratitude for the full, rich life I live. (This thought is also echoed in The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal: a stressed life is a rewarding one.) Yet there are also times when I feel consumed by my work or by my children’s needs. There is an ebb and flow to life, and we must learn to go with it, surviving the tough times and relishing the good times.

Repetition of positive loops. This concept is from Mind Hacking by Sir John Hargrave. I will be doing this 21-day program with my staff at the library in March – it’s very cool and available for free online. One of the exercises talks about the negative thought loops we all deal with. They are pervasive and frustrating, and they seem to exist no matter what we try to get rid of them. Hargrave suggests using positive loops to replace them: coming up with mantras that you repeat, over and over, until you start to believe them. For example: I am calm. I am at peace. I am a good worker.

Coming to terms with the gravel. As my life becomes busier, my tendency to want to complete everything to a high standard becomes harder. I want to have all the laundry done now! The house should be perfectly clean at all times! I should answer all e-mails the moment they appear in my inbox! When you think about it, this is clearly not possible. And there are so many interruptions in our day, it’s difficult to focus even when things are going right. Make peace with the “gravel” – all those little things we have to do in life. Stay in the present moment while you’re doing them, even if your brain wishes you were somewhere else. Let email pile up and address it all one or two times a day. Do laundry once a week, and you don’t have to do it all, as long as you have enough clean clothes to get you through. This is also from the Eblin book.

Guided meditation.  Even after studying mindfulness, I thought guided meditation was kind of lame. I didn’t think I could focus on it. But then I tried the Headspace and Calm apps. While they both have premium content, so far I have done the free stuff, and it is great. The library has guided meditation CDs you can borrow or download too. The guidance helps my brain think in different ways, getting me out of any ruts or loops I might be in.

A new definition of leadership. This is also from Eblin. At one point, he refers to leadership as a dual responsibility: defining reality and inspiring hope. In a world where some people seem to be confused on what a great leader is, this is a standard I aspire to.

How do you find your rhythm? What are your favorite ways to stay mindful?