Monday, September 24, 2007

Good Motherhood

A good mommy. When a woman gets pregnant she starts to think seriously about what a good mom looks like. It is a heavy undertaking, becoming a parent~after all, a small person's entire physical, emotional, and spiritual health depends on you and your partner. If you fail, you have damaged an entire life.

I think God places in us an instinctual type of knowledge of what to do with and for our offspring. This instinctual sense is in large part learned from our parents, siblings, and others who have children, but some of it is a bodily knowledge. An instinct deep in the brain, blood, and body cells.
We knew this, once, when midwives assisted births and sisters taught each other what plants to eat to make your milk abundant and which ones to avoid, how to cure mastitis and calm a colicky baby. In the early to mid twentieth century the development of science and medicine and the tradition of patriarchy within them, paired with the very human tendency towards pride, started to erode this instinctual knowledge. Women's bodies know how to grow and birth babies, in a miraculous and beautiful co-creation with God that is empowering and humbling, much like a marathon or a mountaineering feat whose intense physical challenges produce a work of art. Art whose cries and gaze make you feel filled up, stuffed, every cell hypertrophied with joy.
Medicine decided it knew a better way. In many aspects this was true~basic handwashing, cleanliness, antibiotics, vaccinations, oxygen, blood transfusions, intravenous fluids, and cesarean sections drastically reduced both infant and maternal mortality in a matter of decades. However, medicine also decided that the best way to deliver a baby was to lie a woman on her back with her feet in stirrups, tie her hands down, and anesthetize her as much as possible.
After delivering the baby, medicine decided that separating mother and baby was best, to allow a new mom to rest after the difficulties of such a heavily medicated delivery. It is not common knowledge, but this IS how most of our grandmothers delivered their babies.
Then, and this one cuts me deepest, medicine told women that their milk was less nutritious than dehydrated, processed cow's milk with added vitamins, and women largely stopped breastfeeding.
Somewhere, we stopped listening to that instinct deep within us that tells us how to care for our babies, and listened instead to science. The thing about science, and medicine specifically, is that it is a powerful TOOL, but not something to be worshipped or placed above nature. If something is working well the way it is, why try to interfere? Chubby, milky, breastfed babies were healthy and thriving, yet medicine determined that it could improve upon this? Dried powder made from milk that God designed to make baby cows grow into muscular adult cows is better than what God put in a woman's brain, blood, and breasts to make baby humans grow into intelligent adult humans?
Breastfeeding became a lost art.
Midwifery became a lost art.

The thing about milk is, it makes a mom feel like a good mother when her body makes milk and stuffs her baby with it. The power to take a crying baby and make it happily drunk with milk from your body makes a woman feel like a good mother. This success is repeated, and it starts off a foundation of listening, responding to, and touching your infant, following that instinctual knowledge down the path towards bonding, attachment, and emotional health for your child.
It seems violent to me that this experience was taken away from so many women.
If a woman starts off parenting in this responsive and intuitive manner, she is more likely to embrace other positive ideas such as positive reenforcement, empathy, babywearing, bonding; tailoring parenting for the unique temperament and needs of their child, instead of what she thinks 'should' happen. For example my mother in law sent her oldest and youngest children to preschool, but not her middle child. Her intuitive knowledge told her that her middle child was not ready for school until kindergarten, and she responded to that.
This type of responsive, attachment based parenting style can totally develop without breastfeeding~I know MANY men who parent this way, and they obviously don't breastfeed~but breastfeeding starts a woman off in the direction of responsive feeding, and thus responsive parenting. It starts a style of listening to your baby which can continue as your child ages.

Some things I learned while breastfeeding that have continued include lots of affection and touch, a focus on listening and responding, lots of time spent together, and a focus on attachment. Because Ayden grew in my body and I breastfed him, this style came very naturally with him. Because Matthew was adopted as a toddler and, though i tried, I was unable to breastfeed him, this style took longer to establish with him.
This past six weeks I have been away from the boys so much, it feels unnatural and inconsistant with my style of parenting, and this makes me sad. I have spent a good deal of time thinking about this. I need to support us financially, and I need to work long hours to do that. I also need to spend time with my kids, so I can stay tuned in, and responsive...what is a good mother? Can I work long hours and be one? I've had to knead my parenting philosophy and work in more grace for myself. Ultimately my children are God's and not mine, and the path He asks them to walk is not something I can control. If we must walk this path of increased separation for a period of time, I will walk it to the best of my ability and fill all the time that we do have with love, affection, touch, and grace. My style.
A good mother has many shapes.


Sara said...

Midwifery and breastfeeding are not lost arts, just ignored ones. Many women still choose to and are successful in beginning motherhood in a 'natural' way. Unfortunately what happens after to these women is that society and their own families mock their attempts to return to instinctual mothering and therefore they downplay the importance of instinct in the raising of their children. By doing this we are inevitably putting all women at a disadvantage. We should be shouting out our stories so that all women are able to know that this option is still available and that entry into motherhood does not need to be scary and traumatic but can be beautiful, spiritual and empowering.

I am fortunate enough to live in a town where traditional labour practices are alive and well and very supported. I am so grateful that my life as a mother started so positively. I was reaffirmed the moment Kaleb came into existence that I could accomplish anything as a mother.

melissa said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comments...I definately agree that midwifery and breastfeeding are making a big comeback: I meant that in the early to mid 20th century, these two arts became lost. Their revival began, I think, in the seventies with a social swing back towards reaffirming women and femininity, all things natural, and positive, proactive birthing. This positive trend is now at a crossroads in medicine, I think, and we shall see if it will continue towards baby and mother friendly practices, or away from...
I am very glad you had such a positive and affirming experience: your account of your birth experience made me want to have that the next time around, and there are many things about your choices that will have informed my choices for my next baby.
Thanks for sharing!

Ms. Dragonfly said...

Hi Melissa,
I'm just checking out your blog. I like that you are a deep thinker.
Though as an LDR nurse the situation you mentioned (lithotomy and hands tied etc) doesn't happen (at least where I work). I do agree some deliveries are much more 'instiutional' than organic, but beautiful births do happen still. Midwives do deliver in the hospital as well, and many deliveries are aided by the hands of only the nurse. On my last shift I was in on a delivery where the mother pulled her own daughter out and onto her tummy. It was moving, I teared up.
Mat/child mortality was huge in the olden days of unattended home births.
Babies stay with mothers in their rooms now exclusively .
You are right about the formula vs. breast milk. Many more babies are bottle fed rather than on the boob.
Quite honestly I shrug at this, many children are starving in this world, here was are blessed to have a choice.
I'm all about the intuitive parenting. And as for defining a good mother..... I'll save that struggle to define for myself. I think we all struggle with it.

It's different blogging with someone I know. MAkes me think more carefully as to what I might say, knowing I'll see you in person.

Talk to you soon....
this will link you over to my place...