(my first post!)
What bothers me about the labels is that in identifying someone as “mainstream” or “AP” or whatever assumes that you know what is going on in the heart and mind of that mother. I’m lucky to live in a place where the alternative model of birth and parenting is greatly supported (almost a mainstream in itself here in Seattle), and I feel like I have kind of an interesting perspective on the dichotomy. Never have I felt on the defensive for the “AP”-ish things I do with my baby in front of “mainstream” friends, but have been many times called out for “mainstream” things by “AP-ers.” I have also felt similar judgmental feelings within myself from time to time, but after some reflection and experience I have come to see that those feelings only serve to alienate me from other women, women with whom I have something precious and wonderful in common.
I remember that when I had my baby, I was overcome with my love for her. But I was even more overcome with the realization that this overwhelming love was part of something MUCH larger—the love and attachment that mothers everywhere have always felt for their babies, whether dictated by hormones or biology or whatever. Yes, there are exceptions, but I think for the overwhelming majority of mothers it is true. When I see a mother doing something that appalls me (obvious abuse aside), I remember the feeling I had when I held my daughter as a newborn and tell myself, “That woman loves her child no less than I love mine. She is doing the best she can.” It’s remarkable how that melts away my feeling of smugness and superiority. I am lucky to have the support and education enough to know different ways to do things. Not everyone is so fortunate. But that doesn’t mean their love is less strong, their commitment to their child weaker.
Another thing that has helped me change my mind about these labels are all the things that happened to me since having my daughter that did not go the way I had hoped. Some examples:
I planned to breastfeed (I do bf still, btw), but ran into trouble initially. The trouble was very typical, and it often deters moms from breastfeeding. I was lucky—and that’s the only way to describe it—to have the resources available to me (education, money to hire a lactation consultant, a supportive partner, a bf-friendly city to live in) to overcome those difficulties. The difference between me and my sister-in-law who quit after 3 months? Pure, unadulterated luck. I remind myself of this fact every time I’m tempted to judge a formula-feeding mom.
I wanted a home birth, but an early blood-test revealed a problem that necessitated that my baby and I be under medical care for my pregnancy and that I birth in a hospital. It was a wonderful birth despite the medical interventions. The difference between me and my neighbor who gave birth at home? Luck.
After my daughter was born, I sustained nerve damage in both my shoulders (a freak syndrome that would have happened however I gave birth). I was in incredible pain and lost the use of both my arms for several weeks. Nine months later, the nerves have mostly knit back, but I am still incredibly weak. I have never been able to use the beautiful sling hanging in the closet, and if I want to take my daughter out, I have no choice but to use a stroller. The difference between me and the woman on the street with a baby in a sling who told me she’d never use a stroller because babies deserve to be carried? Luck.
You get the picture.
Anyway, I just wanted to point out that when we see other mothers doing things we consider “mainstream” or that we think are wrong, we need to remember that we often don’t know the mother’s situation. What we do know is that she is a mother, that she loves her child as much as we love ours, and that that love makes us far more similar than parenting styles make us different.
And sorry for such a long first post!