Bionic Mamas

you're not losing a vagina, you're gaining a son


A Clarification and An Elephant

Hello again.  I love all the comments on the last post!  I should rant more often….

I do, however, want to clarify what I did and did not mean by that rant.  (Dr. Jenny has pretty much already written my clarification for me, but even so.)

  1. I did mean that I think sleep training is not damaging or cruel per se.  (Insert boilerplate about at a reasonable age, yadda yadda.)
  2. I did mean that sleep is important for human life and health and general pleasantness, and that pretending otherwise is unhelpful.
  3. I did mean that crying isn’t necessarily an indication that what is going on is bad for the baby.
  4. I did mean that Dr. Sears is an ass, likely a hypocritical one.  Weissbluth, too, lest you think I only pick on the Attachment Goons.  They both have some useful things to say and some unhelpful garbage and a whole heapin’ helpin’ of erasure of mothers as people, in my always humble etc.
  5. I emphatically did NOT mean that everyone ought to sleep train, that not sleep training is somehow bad for or cruel to babies, that cosleeping, nursing all night, or whatever it is that works for you and your baby is somehow wrong, even if it’s not what works for me and Sugar and our baby.

This is not to say that I’m never a judgmental busybody about Other People’s Parenting, just that I have my limited spheres of true conviction.  I divide OPP into two rough categories, as follows:

  1. Things With Objectively Right Answers (most of the time).
    This category includes carseats, smoking, real neglect, and the Parenting Topic Who Must Not Be Named, Lord Vaccimort.
  2. Things Without Objectively Right Answers.
    This category includes practically everything else, from where babies sleep to what they eat and what containers they eat it from (well, soda out of baby bottles is Cat. 1, but I certainly don’t think there’s an objective right answer about breastmilk vs. formula, which is what folks fight about) to what kind of diapers they poop in, whether their giant robots transport them in carriers or strollers, what is or isn’t done to the ends of their penises, if penises they have, what solid food they eat and when, and even, though this one is teetering on the edge of being Cat. 1, whether their parents see fit to put sex-identifying lacy garters around their newborn heads.

I don’t mean to say that I don’t have opinions on Cat. 2 items, just that I’m unwilling to say that my opinions about them are the opinions everyone should hold or — and this is important! — that those opinions are so fact-based that I would think the same thing even if we were in a different situation or had a different baby.  Breastfeeding was important to me and I’m grateful that Big Pharma has made it possible for me to do it without agony, but if that weren’t the case, I am certain it would have been better for the Bean to be exclusively formula fed (instead of the mixed baby he is, like his Mama) than for him to live with my being in angry pain all the time.  He isn’t circumcised, but if Sugar or I had had what my father calls a contract with God about that, he would have been.  I was dead-certain BFF was cruel to let her baby cry at nap time until the universe sent me a baby who couldn’t nap without a good cry.

I think sleep is important, but I don’t think sleep training is important in its own right.  Pom, you are off the hook.  You, too, Frankiesoup, even though I think your metaphor is flawed.  (Here’s why.)  The fact that you’re even making metaphors suggests to me that you are functioning better without sleep training than I ever did, so keep on keeping on. Nor do I believe sleep training confers any long-term sleep advantage: I think it may (when it works) lead to more more sleep in the near-term, but I believe adult sleep patterns have nothing to do with babyhood ones, except inasmuch as both are affected by genetics and disposition and the benevolence or not of what gods may be.  That’s a belief, not a certainty, but as I’ve yet to see any evidence from those who believe the opposite, I’m sticking with it.

Not off the hook with me are those people who feel it’s their ever-lovin’ duty to not just give real advice, offer reassurances, or personal examples but to tell other parents what they “ought,” “must,” or “should” do, in particular those who follow up with “for the sake of the baby!”  There are plenty of things we should do for the sake of our babies — not maintain meth labs in the basement, for instance, or bungee their carseats to the Harley for anything beyond a quick trip to the OTB — so perhaps we could all save the bossier modal verbs for moments of real need.

The thing I find most grating about Dr. Sears’s “adjust your attitude” remark is how it echos the petty tyranny of the most condescending middle school teachers, those little Umbrages I remember taunting nasally, “you need to adjust your attitude, missy.”  I’ve spent a fair bit of time with students that age.  They can be pretty annoying, but what they “need” to adjust, in my opinion, is usually behavior.  Their attitudes belong to them, and to suggest otherwise is a belittling attempt to shame them, which is about power, not about teaching.

Shame is the elephant of the post title.  Like an elephant, shame can be useful in limited amounts: elephants built the ancient temples of India, and shame at lying to my father about how that piece of tile got broken taught me there are worse things than the fear of punishment.  But like an elephant, shame makes a lousy roommate.  Both can be impressively destructive and tend to fill the place with shit.

I don’t know about you all, but I’m finding motherhood plenty full of opportunities to feel shame without additional help.  Some of that shame is the useful kind (say, how I feel about losing my temper at lunch today), but the overwhelming majority is not (say, most of the blathering about birth I’ve subjected you to).  I manufacture shame prolifically, and yet some people in the world nevertheless seem to think I need more of it.  Shame in its noun form may be an inevitable companion to motherhood in my case, but its verb form has no place here.

I don’t mean to suggest that most of us mean to shame each other, only that it’s too easy to do and has a terrible domino effect.  When the Bean was 8 weeks old, the Other Lesbians from birth class asked us how we got him to sleep and then, when we told them what kind of soothing worked for us, said, “babies don’t like that,” and followed up with the unsolicited news that our very small baby was just manipulating us and absolutely did not need to eat at night.  (Which he absolutely did.  The child has the metabolism of a cocaine-addled hummingbird; even now, he’s below the 5th percentile for weight (CDC) despite nursing tons and eating five daily meals of solid food, and at that point he was still recovering from my early supply problems and his early latch issues.)  My anger at being told what to do by people with a whopping five days more experience than we had shielded me pretty effectively, but in hindsight, I wonder if what drove their pushy evangelism was shame, whether from people telling them they were fools if they didn’t sleep train, people saying they were cruel for doing it, or both.  I may be wrong about them, but I think I am right about the most abrasive woman I ever encountered at the mom’s group I quit, whose declarations and insistences on a whole range of topics made more sense when all the babies got hungry and she alone, in a crowd of crunchier-than-thou Park Slope moms (basically this, plus jobs in finance), pulled out a bottle of powdered formula.

Does this mean I think we shouldn’t have opinions or give advice?  Of course not!  What am I if not an opinionated, oar-sticking loudmouth?  I just think engaging in the Mommy Wars (gag me), even accidentally, is a distraction from better work we could be doing, or at least from enjoying our friends and our children.  I am cynical enough to believe that a whole lot of the external pot-stirring on issues like breastfeeding and sleep training is more or less designed to keep women where we have been told we belong: at home, and I mean that not in a literal way — the present economic structure all but requires two money-earning parents, so we ladies are welcome to our little jobs — but as a metaphor for out of the way of the big boys making decisions about our lives.

So I say let’s not do it.  Let’s by all means talk about our children and our desire for children, what works in our houses and what we’d like to try.  Let’s give each other advice and support and encouragement.  But let’s not take the bait and use inflammatory language to shame each other for the things we decide to do differently, eh?

Except for that head-garter thing.


A Quick Rant On A Fat Tuesday

Hi, loves.  Real post soon, at least some Items.  Things have been busy.  Short version: there is a Stomach-Flu Fairy, and I HATE HER.  All recovered now — please, please let this weekend’s horror-show be the virus the Bean already had — but suddenly it’s a teaching night and I just remembered how I was telling the students last week not to leave the reading until the last minute because in place of our usual 15-page story, I’ve assigned my beloved “A River Runs Through It,” which is beautiful and perfectly controlled and heart-breaking and over 100 pages.  And it’s been a few years for me, too.  Oops.

In the spirit of not getting my work done this morning, I wrote the following rant for a friend currently in the sleep-training trenches and feeling bad about herself, consequently, as one does.  Folks seemed to get a kick out of it, so I thought I’d throw it up here just in case you want to see me rave about something besides my vagina for once.  The self-sacrifice theme is in keeping with the coming fast, right?


Friend said:

Thanks for telling me I’m not horrible. But I have a hard time feeling that this is good for her. Deep within me beats the heart of a hard-core Dr Sears loving attachment parent.


I replied:

See, the thing that pisses me the fuck off about Dr. Sears is that so much of the supposed basis of his recommendations resonates with most if not all of us. We all want our children to feel loved and to love us; we all want to make healthy choices that lead to good outcomes; we all want to feel confident that working hard and being brave and strong will make everything turn out right. Then he takes those shared desires and turns them into massive guilt cudgels for following HIS rules, which may or may not be any better at making any of those things happen. I realize that my contempt for the man’s attitudes is well-established, but his answer to feeling exhausted by a baby who won’t sleep is, “adjust your attitude?” FUCK YOU, buddy.

Maybe I’m just an embittered and cynical ol’ feminazi, but i find it pretty interesting how much of the published and touted sleep advice of ALL kinds comes from *fathers*. Not at all to say that men can’t be knowledgeable or involved parents, but when the advice comes down to endless self-sacrifice for the primary caretaker — whether that’s Dr. Sears’s endless white night or Weissbluth’s command to NEVER be out of the house anywhere NEAR naptime — it makes me wonder whether any of these professionally successful gentlemen have really walked the walk.

I think that by any rational measure we waited plenty long to stop saying nothing but “yes” to every need and desire of the Bean’s. I also think that it’s not unreasonable to suggest that being able to self-soothe through the more wakeful moments that are part of every human’s sleep cycle is a useful skill, and while I’m not sure whether sleep training is teaching it, per se, or only allowing it to develop at a time when the baby’s brain is ready for that work, I don’t think it’s somehow automatically better parenting to ignore the situation.

Would your daughter know how to crawl if you never set her down? Certainly not. You didn’t teach her to do that, but you let her have the chance to learn, even if it meant bumping her head a few times. If crying a little is okay in that context, why not in this one?

If you like rants about sacred cows even better when they’re written thoughtfully and full of medical evidence, I highly recommend Good Enough Mum‘s parenting blog, Parenting Myths, Parenting Facts.  Good stuff.