This is the beginning of a new section on Clever Nesting. One of the things that makes this blog a nest, and not just a creative space is that I am a mommy bird with three chicks. I have been writing about these parenting adventures and saving the content on my computer without planning on sharing it. But something happened this week which makes me want to speak out more about this part of my life.
I didn’t get to say what I was hoping to say on air. I am proud of what I did say, but I was nervous so I forgot to mention that the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for at least two years, and that the average global weaning age is around 4 years old. But even more importantly, I wanted to say we are all mom enough. And it inspired me to write the essay which follows the jump.
Today TIME magazine ran a cover story about Dr. Sears and attachment parenting which featured a super hot mama nursing her three year old while he stands on a stool under the headline “Are you MOM enough!!!??” I watched the controversy unfold while I was taking my daily facebook break during my (still nursing) two and a half year old’s nap. Of course the cover photo was intentionally provocative, the woman was exposing her whole breast and her son was standing up in front of her looking at the camera. And the controversy was working, the internet was aflutter with comments. Mostly people were wishing that they hadn’t poured fuel on the breast/bottle fire. But I just saw an awesomely attractive woman proudly nursing her son. Good for them.
When I gave birth to my first baby I was going to do it all right. Natural childbirth. Never using cry-it-out. Breastfeeding as long as she wanted to nurse. I was militant in my choices because I needed to stand firm on something. I had to stand on my militance, because it wasn’t my confidence holding me up. If I could believe it strong enough, and prove everyone else wrong enough then I could know I was making the right choice. No one could shake me.
No one it is, except for my own kid. She came ten days late so they forced me into an labor induction of doom. She was hard to get to sleep, always waking up 20 minutes after I laid her down in her bassinet. But the one thing I could get her to do was breastfeed. Forget the fact that she would puke like a volcano after many of her feedings. Never mind that I could hardly get her to latch, she was always popping off my nipple which would spray milk five feet in every direction. I would sit in the cozy glider and wonder why my child wanted to nurse every twenty minutes all night long and still wake up to nurse at night. She was supposed to be satiated after a feeding every 2 or 3 hours! I read the books, I knew that’s how it was supposed to work!
But I pushed through, growing more an more militant in my choice because I was truly worried we wouldn’t make it. Eventually six weeks became six month. Six months became a year. A year became 19 months, when my milk dried up because I was a few weeks pregnant with her sister. And I was proud of the job I did. I was proud of the bond I had with my kid. But I couldn’t easily admit that I had compromised. Not only had I had an induced labor, not only had I let her cry in her bed on a few occasions because I just couldn’t figure out what else to do, I also had made her wean before she chose to. I had not met any of my goals, but I couldn’t say my goals were wrong. I was going to try again, and try harder. I could be mom enough. And everyone else had better be striving to be that same mom-enough-mom as me or else they just aren’t mom enough.
I was condescending to people. It’s true. I would judge people for having a stroller. I went against the guidelines of my hospital and had a water birth even though I was asked during my labor to get out of the tub before I squeezed out my second daughter without pain medication. I stopped covering up in public to breastfeed (which I still do, even though I’m no longer an activist about it) and would scoff at crafty moms who sold handmade nursing covers to moms who wanted to be more discreet. I knew every single benefit of breastfeeding and I would vary which one’s I listed depending on my audience. Sometimes I highlighted the cost savings over formula, sometimes it was the reduced risk of SIDS, asthma, uneven teeth, eczema, and low IQ. I really was a teet nazi. I would get physically upset if I saw a woman bottle feeding in public, I would grieve for that poor child and their inevitable orthodontic visits and rescue inhalers.
My second daughter spent every night in our bed. She never has taken a bottle in her whole life. She was never left to cry in the night. And, she spent most of her time out and about in a baby sling on my back. I was the ideal Attachment Parent. I was giving my kids the BEST. THE BEST I TELL YOU! It was phenomenal for the first year of my second daughter’s life. Then she began to get bossy. She got clingy. We called her “Barnacle” and she would throw these terrible fits where her eyes rolled back in her head. She stopped sleeping at night. My perfect parenting was failing me, but I couldn’t turn back on it now!
Or could I?
I had a friend who I fought with incessantly for over a year about how to best feed a baby. I said, feed that baby whenever, where ever. You can’t spoil a baby. Don’t make them wait, they’re just little cute babies. She said, feed them on a schedule. It will help make life more sane. Don’t feed them any more than once every three hours. You’re setting them up for poor eating and sleeping habits. I think we spent 80 hours at least debating this issue in full. Clearly we are both very stubborn women.
I was so excited when her second was born and needed to eat more often than her first. And was fussier. And more demanding. She’s going to learn now…. hahahaha! Babies are all tough and clingy. Pop a boob in their mouth, that’s the only way to keep the peace!
Never mind the fact that I was still being condescending, this time to my own friend. And my perfectly parented kid was giving me fits. I couldn’t figure out how to get her to sleep. Maybe that schedule stuff wasn’t such a bad idea after all…..
When my third baby was born, something happened inside me. I just didn’t have time to give a crap anymore about how I was parenting. I knew that I was going to breastfeed. I didn’t have to prove it to anyone. I knew that I liked sleeping with my baby and I also knew that I wanted some more boundaries than I had with my second baby. We shared a bed with her for a while until it wasn’t working anymore and we unceremonially moved her to a crib in her big sisters’ room when she was eight months old. I didn’t even care if anyone knew where she was sleeping. Sometimes when we were out, if I didn’t feel like dealing with people’s looks and glares I would wait to nurse her until we got home, even if I knew she was hungry. I was too busy being a mom to fight the fight anymore.
But today when I saw that TIME cover ask “Are you MOM enough?” I suddenly wanted to fight again. In fact when I started writing these essays a few months ago I was beginning to fight again. But this time I was fighting a new battle. I am getting sick and tired of women pointing fingers at each other. We should be done with this by now. I am not threatening the feminist agenda by hanging out at home with my kids until they go to school. This is my choice. Plus, I’m not foolish enough anymore to say that I haven’t sacrificed anything to be home with them. I want a career. I want to contribute to this world more than just three well behaved daughters who get good grades and make good choices as teenagers.
I’m also not foolish enough to think that the women who are at work while their kids are in daycare aren’t sacrificing something as well. They miss their kids’ first steps and teeth. I know this because I taught daycare and celebrated those first steps and teeth. But these women are contributing to a career in a way I never will be able to, and I admit I am jealous! Plus, it was their choice. Isn’t that what we are all fighting for in the first place? The right to make our own choices? To vote, to work, to not be mothers until we’re ready, to be mothers before we choose anything else, to bottle-feed, or to breastfeed where ever we feel like for as long as we’d like? These are all valid choices. Let’s make them!
Sometimes the choices we make turn out to be mistakes, but we have to live with them the best we can. Or sometimes they weren’t mistakes but the choice wasn’t as fulfilling as we’d hoped it would be. Or sometimes we never had the chance to choose because of the way life works and so we’re just reacting to our circumstances. This is when we feel tempted to be the militant I once was. We can dig in our heels to prove our worth by the sheer tenacity with which we hold our values. Or we can cling to each other, we are all trying to figure this out as best we can. But the one thing I know is we are ALL mom enough. And none of us are mom enough. Both is true. Let’s have a glass of wine and laugh about it a little, OK?