Is She Baby Enough?

by Alison Friedman in Mommy's Musings

Does she sleep through the night? Does she crawl? Is she walking? Can she say her name? Did she get early acceptance to Harvard Medical School? And how does she measure up and compare to other babies who are just trying to be… babies?

Labeling babies as if there’s a Baby Olympics where the competition is stiff and then broadcasting it to other babies out there would be absurd. And yet, that’s exactly what TIME magazine did with their cover story about moms and the choices they make for their babies. The cover shows a mom awkwardly breastfeeding her preschool-age son with a hand on her hip as he stands on a chair (yeah, because THAT’S how moms breastfeed their children all the time…), creating a platform for moms to judge other moms and in my opinion, that is mean. And stupid. The mom chose to breastfeed her baby beyond a year. So what? Who cares?

I read the article. I read the follow-up responses. I took the quizzes. Apparently, I am not mom enough. According to the quiz results, I do not subscribe to the methods that Dr. Sears prescribes. And, because I do not sleep with my baby or breastfeed her, I am not an attached parent. So if I don’t subscribe to attachment parenting as a whole, then does that make me a mom who is detached?

Newsflash: I really like my baby. In fact, I love her. Actually, every choice I make is with her in mind. I am extremely attached to her. Even more so, I am attuned to her needs and respond to them in a manner that suits our family unit.

What the many articles and the Dr. Sears studies don’t mention are the many obstacles, usually unexpected, that moms and families as a whole, experience that could drive lifestyle preferences a certain way. I had every intent to breast feed my baby. I never gave myself a time limit. I assumed at least six months. Hell, I’d try to make it to a year. I didn’t expect to go longer because I knew I’d want my body back and that my baby would receive nutrition from her advanced foods. And that was my personal choice. As we all know by now, I made it two weeks. A week of breastfeeding and a week of pumping gave Madelyn about three weeks of breast milk. I fell about 21 weeks shy of meeting a benchmark I had for myself and am still mourning that lost experience due to the complications after my c-section. Dr. Sears would say I am not an attached parent. Laughable.

I should make sure it’s known that I don’t take a side on “attachment” parenting or not. I just think parenting, period, is important and necessary.

It’s no secret that breast is best. But things happen. Life plays tricks on you (or, you are just unlucky enough to get an on-call doctor who couldn’t care less about you when you explain you are in pain, which results in a horrible infection). Moms who don’t breastfeed aren’t shrugging their shoulders and shaking their heads as if to say “Nah. I’d prefer to give my child what’s second best.” We make choices. And sometimes decisions are made for us. Novel idea: how about we moms just give our children OUR best and stop putting so much pressure on everyone else?

The controversy about the article is really just annoying. Why breastfeeding has to be a controversy at all is beyond me. We are mammals. Yes, breasts are sometimes utilized during sexy time — wooo! — but their primary purpose is to nourish our children. As humans, we have the ability to make choices (or, in my case, not) and some choose to feed their children with a bottle with breast milk or formula, and some choose to feed their children straight from the tap with the breast. Other mammals do not have these choices, but no one questions a baby elephant in the wild who nurses until he’s about three to four years old. Likewise, I believe a breastfeeding mother shouldn’t judge and label a mom who’s nourishing her baby with formula.

Would I nurse my baby until she’s three to four years old? H. E. Double hockey sticks!! I love my baby, but I’d want my body back! But do I care if other moms do? Absolutely not.

So why the Good Mom vs. Bad Mom rivalry? Why the labels? Why does one side have to be right? And who can really be on one side anyway? I imagine, like the way most people identify with politics, parenting styles rarely fall in line with one single perspective. A little bit of this. A little bit of that. A pinch of this. A sprinkle of that. Why can’t moms learn from other moms, see what works, and practice what makes sense to them individually? That would seem like a perfect blend of methods and choices that work for the child-parent relationship.

By labeling and categorizing types of parenting in the spotlight like TIME did, we are putting a stigma on the methods we do or don’t agree with. This creates tension and polarizing differences between groups of moms if we don’t accept other moms’ practices. And don’t we want to raise little humans who are tolerant and accepting of others who are different than them? Is this really what we want to model?

Choosing only one camp and living exclusively by its set of bylaws seems to actually promote ignoring the baby’s needs for the sake of being loyal to a labeled lifestyle. There are aspects of attachment parenting I practice that I didn’t even know fell into the attachment circle of the Venn diagram. Reversely, Bryan and I parent in ways that would not be considered attachment parenting. But until I was aware that there was this war on moms — by moms! –, I always just thought instincts led parents to raising happy, healthy, and balanced children. I’d say we don’t use any specific method. Just our instincts.

TIME magazine played dirty. They took breastfeeding and made it into a topic that requires campaigning one way or another. It should be a non issue. Instead of educating people about available methods of parenting, TIME divided varying styles of motherhood, pinning moms against each other. Being a female is hard enough already. Didn’t we leave middle school behind us ages ago? Why is there a need to good cop/bad cop moms? It was sensational “journalism” to make something that’s natural and thousands of years old like breastfeeding “news.” The cover photo was a cheap shot to sell magazines in a world where print media is dying. Publishing a cover with a breast should not be the ticket to selling units. It makes me sad that a breast is sexualized so much that it’s a scandal and the talk of the town just because it appeared on the front of a magazine. If our elephant friend had been on the cover suckling on his mom, would we even be having this discussion? I’m sorry that print media is suffering but not at the cost of labeling moms and how they do the hardest jobs in the world.

I may be a rookie at this mom gig, but I haven’t met another woman who has said that being a mother is a piece of cake. I also believe that dads don’t have it so easy either. Parenting is hard work. Making, growing, and raising a human is the hardest job anyone could have, but its blissful moments and heartwarming experiences are better than any other million-dollar pay out could be. We are rich for being moms. And dads. And I don’t care how you do it and the media shouldn’t care how I do it. I am very attached to Madelyn and simply by being her mother and her being my daughter, we share a life-long bond that will always be strong.

  1. Char
    5/11/2012 6:53 PM

    The best thing you can do for your children is to love them and guide them to be independent, responsible human beings. Unfortunately the judging won’t stop. You will see it through all of her school years. But, you are a great mom and Madelyn will know that. She is a doll baby. Follow your heart and trash the crap you hear!

  2. 5/11/2012 6:06 PM

    Thank you!!! Thank you for saying what so many of us have been thinking, and quite eloquently at that! Time’s article is absurd because it’s purpose was to cause controversy. I haven’t been able to read the entire thing, but based on the cover photo and what I’ve read about it, I can say with certainty that it is incredibly unfair. The last thing we need to do as mothers is fight against one another, take sides, point fingers and judge. Ugh. Parenting is hard and we need to encourage one another!

    And I’m disgusted by how they chose to portray breastfeeding. I can’t help but wonder how ruined that poor boy’s life is going to be. How embarassing that photo will be for him as a teenager…

  3. Cindy
    5/11/2012 5:52 PM

    Well said.

  4. Jan Glasband
    5/11/2012 5:14 PM

    Eff Dr. Sears.