I have received several messages and facebook comments about yesterday’s post about postpartum depression. They have made me realize that I need to make another post about new motherhood (and motherhood in general) as a feminist issue. But before I do that, I would like to thank you if you are reading my words and responding to them. I have only just started this blogging thing, and I have lately been in a deep, dark hole of depression, one of the worst I’ve experienced in recent years. For whatever reason, writing is the one thing I feel consistently motivated to do. (I write poems too, and have only shared those with a couple people because those are far more vulnerable to share, but eventually I may add a poetry section here.) I do not feel motivated to do any domestic tasks (although I never do), and lately it’s an effort to even take care of myself at a basic level. I can’t bring myself to hang out with people. So to know that some of you are reading my words and that they resonate with you or provoke an emotional response or lead to further questions is incredibly meaningful to me. It’s currently keeping me going. A deep and heartfelt THANK YOU.
My post yesterday was specific to my own experience with severe postpartum depression, and my belief that recognizing, valuing and supporting ALL postpartum experiences is a feminist issue. Many of the responses I got made me think about new motherhood and beyond in a broader sense as a feminist issue as well, so I’d like to speak to that.
I will start with a confession as a way of acknowledging my own evolution on these issues. I used to be pretty judgmental about certain issues around early motherhood and childbirth. Particularly the issues of breastfeeding and elective c-sections. In fact, I still struggle with the fact that the option of elective c-section even exists for women with low-risk pregnancies, but that has nothing to do with the women who choose it. Rather it’s an issue I have with our society’s culture around childbirth…But that’s a topic for another time. Here I will focus on confessing to the elitist attitude I bought into about breastfeeding.
As a pregnant person and a new mama, I was understanding when it came to people who at least attempted breastfeeding before stopping and switching to formula for whatever reason. Any amount of breastmilk was better than no breastmilk, and I admired people for giving it a shot even if it wasn’t a sustainable option for them. But, I was an absolute asshole (in my own mind, not to anyone’s face of course) about people who decided not to breastfeed at all. As an example: Someone I knew decided not to breastfeed simply because she wanted to sleep at night (the nerve), and her husband (gasp!) was the one who got up for nighttime feedings.
My friend Audrey eloquently stated this in a comment earlier:
It makes me really mad how anti-feminist the whole culture of pregnancy and early child rearing is. You suddenly become, even to many ostensibly feminist people, this vehicle for making a “healthy” baby and must sublimate and suppress anything that you might want as an adult person. If you make any selfish choices, then people have no problem judging them, even complete strangers!
This comment resonates with me for two reasons:
- because I am learning to overcome the negative feelings I have internalized about my own parenting and
- because I have also changed my viewpoint (in other words, become FAR less judgmental) about other people’s choices, as long as those choices aren’t harmful to other people or abusive to their own children.
So, back to the woman I know who chose not to breastfeed. Oh man, this is hard to admit, but I remember having this actual thought: Why even become a mother if you’re not willing to make sacrifices for the sake of what’s best for your baby? Give me a minute to cringe in shame… Done. And you there shaking your head at me can just get off your high horse too, because you know you’re judgmental as shit about something or other. And if you are a truly non-judgmental person, that’s… no, I don’t believe you.
I tell you this because I realize now how shitty it was for me to judge another mother that way. She was making choices that were best for her and her family, and she was probably a better mother as a result. Plus, you go girl! Get some damn sleep! And kudos to her partner, who was willing to make that sacrifice so she didn’t have to. Know your strengths and use them to help each other. That’s what a solid partnership is about. As a personal example, my partner gets up early every morning so I don’t have to, because I am not an early morning person. Know your strengths.
The other reason I share this is because it proves we can evolve! Our opinions and thoughts can change if we educate ourselves and are willing to truly listen to other people’s experiences! In fact, that’s basically the point of this blog.
I know women who have breastfed for many months or many years.
I know women who tried breastfeeding and it didn’t work out.
I know women who breastfed and supplemented with formula.
I know women who chose not to breastfeed at all.
All of those choices are valid. Your baby will be OK. Do I still think breastfeeding is the best option for the baby? Yes! And I think we need to provide the best support we can provide for women who are committed to breastfeeding, and we could do better in this area. But more importantly, while breastfeeding is the best option for the baby from a medical standpoint, there are other factors to consider. First of all, the baby is not the only person in this scenario whose health matters. Contrary to what many seem to believe, new mothers are still human beings with their own sets of needs. Additionally, while breastfeeding can be a beautiful way of bonding with your baby, the act of bonding with your baby is not limited to those who breastfeed. As I stated above, making the choice not to breastfeed for the sake of one’s own sanity and emotional health makes some women better mothers. Knowing that about themselves is powerful, and it deserves respect. And guess what? We are all doing the best we can, being great parents in some ways, and completely fucking up in others! Isn’t that comforting?
I know women who have had quick births (and as a friend pointed out, there are challenges involved in quick, “easy” births as well).
I know women who have had long births.
I know women who have had positive, empowering birth experiences.
I know women who have had traumatic birth experiences.
I know women who have had home births.
I know women who have had birth center births.
I know women who have had hospital births with epidurals.
I know women who have had hospital births without epidurals.
I know women who have had midwives as their primary caregivers.
I know women who have had OBGYNs as their primary caregivers.
I know women who have used a doula.
I know women who have not used a doula.
I know women who have had c-sections.
I know women who have suffered through the grief and loss of multiple miscarriages, and been treated like their grief isn’t real because their babies weren’t fully formed.
I know women who have suffered through the grief and loss of losing a baby at or near full-term.
I know women who have had pre-mature babies who spent their first months of life in the NICU, and have suffered through the immense fear and pain and grief of that.
I know women who carried to term and whose babies still ended up spending time in the NICU.
I know women who have experienced severe postpartum depression.
I know women in same-sex couples who have used a sperm donor.
I know women in same-sex couples who have chosen adoption.
I know women in heterosexual couples who have chosen adoption.
I know women who have been surrogates.
I know women who have chosen to be single parents.
I know women in same-sex couples who have chosen not to have children.
I know women in heterosexual couples who have chosen not to have children.
(I also know men and people who don’t identify as a man or a woman who have made some of these decisions, and are incredible parents and partners. I don’t mean to ignore them, it’s just that this post is about people who identify as women.)
Isn’t it amazing how many ways there are to bring a child into the world and/or become a parent? And this is not an exhaustive list! If there are so many ways to become a parent we should expect that there are also so many ways to be a parent. Also hey! A shout out to my peeps who choose NOT to have children and have been made to feel like their existence is less important as a result. That’s a bunch of bullshit. I respect your decision. Actually, if I’m being honest, I often envy your decision… see how we’re each terrible parents in our own ways?? (tongue in cheek, tongue in cheek, but…)
A friend of mine once said to me, “Getting a divorce and sharing custody would be so awful because you wouldn’t get to see your kid every day!” and I thought, “yeah… how awful… oh man, not having to see my children every day actually sounds so great… aaaand, I am the worst.”And this brought up yet another issue for me, similar to my struggle with postpartum depression, or maybe just an extension of it: I am NOT happy to be a mom all the time. In fact, I am quite often unhappy as a mom and quite often wonder what my life would have been like had I chosen a different path. The freedom… These feel like tremendously unpopular things to say in a community of parents, but they are my truth, and all of our truths need to be shared and respected.
Returning to the world of nutrition: It starts with breastfeeding vs. formula, and, much like the childbirth I had hoped for, I have found that food and nutrition continue to be issues related to an unattainable (for me, at least) “ideal.”*** I have experienced a lot of guilt around food, domestic issues and parenting. People are remarkably judgmental about food. I believe in eating healthy things and treating our bodies well, and I want that for my children. But I also HATE cooking and planning meals, and trying to come up with food to feed not only myself but my children ends up feeling like a very heavy burden. I have many friends who love to cook, who garden, who grow and eat their own organic vegetables and make their own babyfood. I admire them, and am always thinking maybe eventually I’ll develop those interests and skills. But I am not those people and that doesn’t make me a bad parent. For now and possibly forever, food is survival mode for me. We eat a lot of boxed mac and cheese. We eat out or order in frequently. My kids usually eat school lunch because I don’t have it in me to make them lunches. Domestic chores are the same way for me… getting myself to do anything housework-related feels nearly impossible much of the time. Sometimes I can get myself past that and sometimes I can’t. Which means sometimes my kids have clean, matching socks and sometimes they don’t. For me, this is all connected to my battle with depression. Daily life wears me down and brings up an existential crisis within me, and the maintenance involved in domestic life and parenthood are interconnected. The tasks that seem to be simple for many people become incredibly difficult for me.
Why in the holy hell am I saying these things? Because I’m working on accepting them as I’m working on accepting myself. And I’m asking us to look at the ways we judge other parents and people. I also share these things in a post that is supposed to be about feminism, because I know my guilt about domestic and food-related issues is connected to the sexism I’ve internalized as a result of generations of women being defined by motherhood and domestic chores. Although I reject those ideas on a conscious level, I have been affected by the messages I’ve received about what a “good mother” looks like. And it ain’t me.
The diverse world of parenting decisions (including whatever your work/life balance looks like–yet another issue for another time) and our ability to respect them is a feminist issue just as the other choices we make and our ability to respect them are feminist issues. All of our expressions of motherhood and womanhood need to be acknowledged, held, and honored, including those women who are non-binary and/or transgender. Your genitals are not what make you a woman, and you don’t need a vagina to be a mother. Intersectional feminism! It’s good for everyone!**
As usual, thank you so much for reading this. I welcome and relish your feedback.
*The title of this post is a reference to the song “Dear Mama” by Tupac Shakur. If you don’t know it, listen to it. It’s a lovely tribute to his mother, Afeni Shakur, who was, among other things, a political activist, member of the Black Panthers, and a single struggling mom.
**As a cisgender woman, I am still learning about transgender and non-binary issues (hell, I’m still learning about most things). Here’s a great article from Every Day Feminism that can help us educate ourselves!:
***This post is long enough, so I’m not getting into it here, but the relationship between food and privilege is something I’d like to dive into at some point.