Bear with me as I rage a bit, and try not to judge me too harshly. This past week I have read several articles related to parenting and I have felt something bubbling up inside of me. Tonight is the explosion. Hey, ladies, fellow moms, it is time to take the power of normalcy back.
In a recent Washington Post article comparing American mothers to French mothers, Brigid Schulte contends that American moms are too consumed with what is “best” for their child. We should learn from the French to relax a bit—take care of ourselves first and keep our children in their proper place (it isn’t clear what that place is exactly. It might be the daycare. Or with the nanny. But it certainly is not attached to mommy’s hip.) According to Schulte:
“ (T)his unending, merciless judging of other parents in the name of what’s “best,” this constant comparing of ourselves with parents in other countries, this gnawing fear that kids are falling behind and our nation is losing its superpower edge, point to a deep insecurity that is not only draining American parents but fostering insecurity in American children.”
I disagree. She is wrong in her premise. What is wrong with American parenting—and French parenting—is that we have forgotten what is normal. Sex, pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, parenting and loving our children—these are all normal processes. Wow. I am feeling the stress leak out of me just by saying that.
American women are confident and knowledgeable about sex. American society is very comfortable with the notion that sex is normal. We are comfortable with people having normal sex (and there is a wide range of normal sex for most of us). We don’t stress out over having the “best sex.” But once that sex leads to pregnancy…yikes! Normal just flew out the window.
Most American women, who know a ton about menstruation and sex and how babies are made, have very little idea of how babies grow in utero, how babies are born, and how to care for a newborn baby—until they have a baby. Then they take classes; they hire professionals to evaluate every stage of their pregnancy; they truck off to hospitals as the labor contractions rage so that a professional can help them give birth. Then they debate over whether to breast or bottle feed. They know “breast is best” but bottle is okay too—it is a choice.
What most women are missing is that pregnancy and birth are normal. Your body knows how to do this. Women, who are amazingly assertive and confident in so many areas of life, suddenly turn submissive when it comes to pregnancy and birth. We follow doctor’s orders. We don’t stand up for what we want. We feel incompetent. It’s as if we have internalized that old Biblical story that tells us that pain in childbirth is a punishment for our evil temptress nature. We cringe in shame and seek ways to avoid the painful, punishing contractions. We try to be good, obedient pregnant women in the hopes that we will not be punished beyond our endurance.
No, no, no! A pregnant woman is a sacred space. She is not something to be poked at, tested, and diagnosed as abnormal. If your doctor or midwife does not approach you in humility and awe, then you are not where you should be.
If you look back upon your baby’s birth as a series of potential problems that were averted through careful medical monitoring, then you are not experiencing the normality of birth.
And all of this matters. I am an advocate of choice for pregnant women. I believe they should make the decisions that are best for them. But I also believe those decisions should be informed by the truth that pregnancy and birth are normal. Beautiful, exhilarating, and normal. How we (the collective womanhood) choose to give birth affects how we choose to parent. It affects how we view breastfeeding, and even how successful we are with breastfeeding our babies.
We may think that we are framing the motherhood conflicts around what is considered best for our children so that they will become the smartest, healthiest, most successful person they can be. The real issue is not that we are unsure what the best is. The real issue is we don’t even know what normal is. We accept abnormal responses to what should be normal situations. If we could just get to normal we might also find happiness and satisfaction.
A disclaimer: I know that abnormal situations exist. Sometimes pregnancy and birth exhibit complications. Then we are all grateful for the abnormal, extra-ordinary response. But these are the exceptions.