And Now, We Present the Politically Incorrect Portion of This Evening's Program: A Contemporary Piano Sonata Entitled "They're Your Hooters (I Got My Own Right Here)"
When you want to be a mother but you can't because your uterus keeps expelling pregnancies like Pencey Prep School on a Holden Caulfield binge, you do a lot of on-line reading about motherhood. And when you do a lot of on-line reading about motherhood, you eventually come to the conclusion that motherhood is a lot like high school: there are in-crowds and popular girls, wars between cliques that make Japan's Yamato period look like a Quaker meeting, and an infinite number of unspoken rules of conduct that, if broken, will forever brand you as being hopelessly uncool. Everyone wears Izod shirts on Fridays. Everyone rolls up the cuffs of their Polo button-downs. Everyone buys their sweaters at Benetton. Hello Kitty is in, Twin Stars is so out. Everyone breastfeeds. Oh, you don't breastfeed? Well, then, we'll stone you to death. Here, climb in this pit so we can bury you up to your neck, it won't take but a minute.
Let me say, while I attempt to pry your fingers off of my neck, that I am well aware that breastfeeding is much better for children than bottlefeeding. Breastfeeding is extremely important. Women should be strongly encouraged to breastfeed. Women who breastfeed should be supported by more than just their underwires. Hey, I'm on board with that platform. But I can't follow the crowd to the conclusion that women who don't breastfeed are little more than evil stepmothers who should be forced to eat their own poisoned apples.
Ever since child psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott coined the phrase "good-enough mothering," we have known that children do not need ideal environmental conditions in order to thrive. Research has demonstrated that childhood risk and resilience result from a combination of variables, and that single variables must rise to the level of considerable trauma in order to have lasting impact. Childhood rape ranks as a variable that will have profound lifelong consequences. Being bottlefed doesn't, unless you think seasonal allergies constitute a socioemotional disorder.
I believe that in a perfect world, every mother would breastfeed, yes she would, can I get an "Amen." But in the real world, that won't happen, because the real world is imperfect. In the real world, we muddle along as best we can.
I think divorce makes a fine analogy. Developmental research has conclusively shown that divorce poses significant risks to children. Children of divorced parents develop more internalizing (e.g. depression, anxiety) and externalizing (e.g. aggression, conduct disorder) psychological disorders than do children of happily married parents. They have poorer language skills, lower grades in school, poorer social competence with their peers, and more physical ailments (e.g. infectious illness).
But in the real world, parents get divorced. They get divorced and they try, as best they can, to minimize the effects of the divorce on their children, and the fact that they've chosen divorce in no way diminishes their love for their children. You'd never turn on a friend who was suffering through the pain of a divorce and accuse her of being a "child abuser" because her marriage ended, would you? No, of course you wouldn't. You'd never say that she shouldn't have had children, that she's a wretched parent, that she doesn't deserve the moniker of mother, that she should just climb into the pit already so we can get the stoning over with because we have a very crowded schedule of stonings today, thank you for your cooperation. And you'd never believe that the singular event of the divorce itself would determine her childrens' entire life trajectory. The divorce would put them at greater risk, statistically speaking; it would be less than ideal, in terms of their needs. But it would not, I'm sure you'll agree, spoil them for life like a barrel of fish left out in the sun.
The thing is, when you call bottlefeeding mothers "child abusers," when you use excessive rhetoric to condemn the caregiving practices of other women, all you're doing is contributing to the larger societal discourse that vilifies mothers, that finds them forever lacking in comparison to some fictionalized ideal. In my humble opinion, the standard we should use to evaluate other women's mothering is a minimum standard, a standard of imminent danger or risk of harm. It's the same standard the state should use when determining whether to remove a child from the custody of his or her parents. If it doesn't fall beneath the minimum standard, then we shouldn't contribute to society's chronic degradation of motherhood by playing the role of insecure high school girls: do you see what she's wearing? can you believe what she said? do you know that she uses time-outs? do you know that she bottlefeeds, uses disposable diapers, works three days a week? should we call the Department of Children and Family Services and make a hotline report?
Sorry, but that kind of mother-bashing really chaps my ass. You want to breastfeed, co-sleep, baby-wear, use cloth diapers, give birth in a bathtub? Hooray for you, so do I (and just in case you're listening, God: I really hope I get the chance during this lifetime, thanks for everything). But let's dismount our Trojan high horses and stop judging women who elect to do it differently. So the woman down the block bottlefeeds. So what? That doesn't mean that her kids are going to grow up to be serial killers who kidnap your kids and chop them up into tiny little kid pieces and then feed your kids to other kids who are on their way home from a La Leche League rally.
So here's my modest proposal: if you believe that breastfeeding is an important social goal, then by all means, continue your efforts to spread the word. But please stop voting other mothers off the island as though parenting were a "Survivor" episode in which the Titty Tribe wins the pediatric immunity challenge. When you do that, you're only hurting the status of all mothers by sinking that placard into your front lawn: "Mother-Bashing Accepted Here." Eventually, motherhood will look a lot like the rap wars: it's East Coast versus West Coast! it's Interscope versus Murder Inc.!
As for me, should I ever have kids, I'm going to make my own sign: "Why You Gotta Be a Motha Hata? Why You Gotta Hate Like That?"
That's my campaign promise, and I'm
sticking to it.