[A post actually involving books is forthcoming. This one is way too long as it is.]
So, the mommy wars. Which are very real and very nasty; spending three minutes on the internet will eliminate any doubt you may have had about that.
My six weeks of being an expert on the subject has generated some thoughts, which I'm putting down here largely unformed - remember the post in which I talked about not having enough time to revise? Well, since then Perdita's transitioned (in the twinkling of an eye) from a creature who only wakes to scream because a need isn't being met to a very small person who is awake, alert, happy, and curious for long stretches of time. It's wonderful and I love every goofy cooing moment of it, but there is even less time for anything else now.
My thoughts pretty much boil down to: as long as there is love and common sense and regular medical care involved, the kid will probably turn out fine, so OH MY GOD YOU HATERS SHUT UP. And for myself: OH MY GOD STOP TRYING TO PLEASE THE HATERS.
What I end up running into most often in my internet-forays is an infuriating rigidity combined with a belief not only that what the writer did is the Only Correct Way but that what the writer did is something all women a) should want to do and b) have the ability to do if they just try hard enough. And so you end up with things like some poor woman, obviously at the end of her rope and beating herself up plenty without additional help, confessing on a mommy forum that she just can't produce enough milk and is thinking of using formula. Instead of getting any support or understanding, she is told, over and over, that rather than use formula she must literally pump around the clock until her milk either improves or she, presumably, dies of sleep deprivation. She's admonished over and over, "yes, it's hard, but remember you're doing it for your child!" And she's bombarded with the idea that if something worked for someone else, it WILL work for her, provided that she can just get over her own laziness (or, you know, pesky little facts like not having anyone else to take care of the child while she pumps twenty-four-seven, or having to go back to work next week) and be as dedicated and selfless as that someone else.
It's like the nurse who kept responding to all my requests for pain meds with, "I had three children without any medication!" That's great, lady, but I am not inhabiting your body or your choices, I am inhabiting my own and I am the person currently in labor, so it just feels like my attempts to communicate with you are being met with bizarre non-sequiturs. The quest to find permission to forgive oneself for a perceived failure at motherhood is very reminiscent of this, because most of the time there is a refusal to acknowledge that each woman's body, experience, and choices are unique to her. Consequently you end up with statements like, "all women's bodies were meant to bear children" and "all women are capable of producing enough milk to feed a baby", full stop.
How do these blanket statements help anyone? Having gone through childbirth, I am absolutely in awe of women who manage it unmedicated. All labors are, of course (this would be my entire point), different, but they all involve holy-crap levels of pain to some extent, and I think that an atmosphere in which "totally unmedicated vaginal birth" is the minimum achievement allowable is appallingly cavalier towards that pain. If everything else is worthy of shame and guilt, then the unmedicated vaginal birth is not the ideal, or even simply one choice of many: it's the least a mother should be able to do. It's managing to put pants on before you come to class, as opposed to nailing the AP test. Not only does that attitude result in the shaming of women who choose otherwise (or have the choice made for them by medical necessity), but it completely diminishes the amazing accomplishment that I believe is the unmedicated vaginal birth. I mean, as long as you're acknowledging that it's not an option for all women, if you had one you should be hugely fucking proud of yourself.
Honestly! It's insane that, regarding this huge physical ordeal, if you need medical intervention you've completely failed, but if you manage without all you get to do is check off one box of several thousand on the Acceptable Mother Checklist. Oh, you went through thirty hours of body-racking agony and pushed hard enough to tear through your own flesh? The world shrugs, and says, "Well, I should hope so; if you weren't willing to do at least that much then you shouldn't have become a mother."
This is bullshit! The world should say, "Damn, woman! You are amazing!"
And the world should likewise say, "Oh, you had placenta previa and carried the child as close to term as possible before an emergency c-section, and then cared for a newborn while recovering from major surgery? Kick-ass! You rule!"
And: "Oh, you navigated the complicated, expensive, and potentially heartbreaking adoption process, and gave a child a loving home? You, sir or madam, are astonishing."
This is how it should be. This is what I want to see. As I stumble around my own head and the internet seeking forgiveness for my lack of milk production (I manage to pump an ounce on a good day, and the rest of what Perdita gets is formula), all I see is the toxic stuff I discussed above. What I should be able to hear is, "Your baby is thriving and alert and happy, and her growth is spot-on, and there is no lack of bond between the two of you, so well done."
And at the same time we shouldn't act like exclusive breast-feeding and/or pumping ten hours a day are no big deal, are just what any mother who's not a complete monster would do. They are huge investments of time and energy and commitment, and kudos are due. (If I could produce all the milk Perdita needs by pumping ten hours a day, would I be willing to do so? In all honesty, no.)
So much of this is a biological crapshoot anyway, and the problems begin when we act like biological factors (not to mention socio-economic circumstances) are moral successes or failures. Fertility, pregnancy complications or lack thereof, how labor progresses, milk oversupply, undersupply, or something in between: assuming the mother isn't doing heroin or something like that while pregnant, it's all the luck of the draw, rather than a display of how good or bad a person she is. Mommy wars start when mothers are encouraged to act towards each other as if a healthy pregnancy, uncomplicated birth, healthy baby, solid milk supply, and the financial ability to stay home from work breastfeeding for [x] amount of time are all examples of the bar being set as low as it can be, to the extent that a) you have to do completely over-the-top (usually involving the word "organic") shit to stand out as a mother and b) you are thoroughly supported in looking down on women who don't or can't meet the standards agreed upon by a particularly privileged subset of the group.
The simultaneous diminishing and exalting of motherhood, in which it is seen both as something all women should just do without making a big deal of it, and as something that has to be done to an impossibly-perfect level, is sadly and tediously like every other expectation set on women. ("Don't ever openly diet, but be perfectly thin" is just the first example that comes to mind.) Mothers are supposed to meet these unrealistic standards and to act like those accomplishments are nothing. "Oh, you give me too much credit; it's just called being a mom." What I want to see is eliminating the "Well, of course I bought a goat so I could card and loom and weave my child's onesies; it's what any mother would do," statements, and replace them with, "Well, I was incredibly privileged to have a goat-friendly home and a budget conducive to a goat and a loom and time to weave. I'm really grateful that I can do this. Goat-tending and carding and weaving are really time-consuming and exhausting, but they are priorities for my family; they may not be anywhere on your family's priority scale, and I respect that. I'm really proud of the work I'm putting into the goat and I like getting credit for it. Your kid is adorable as heck in her non-hand-woven onesies, and it doesn't matter the origin of the onesie, they all get poop on them sooner or later."
I... don't know where the goat analogy came from. I am getting more sleep these days but clearly not enough. But I hope it conveys the point. I think that if you're a parent, you have to incorporate parenthood into your life in a way that still allows you to enjoy that life, or you will be too miserable to be a good parent. If mom spends all her energy trying to keep up with the goats next door and beating herself up with guilt over the fact that she can't weave, instead of celebrating the things she does do that make her child smile from ear to ear, then that's just a waste. NOTE TO SELF.
I'll say it again, to remind myself: as long as there is love and common sense and regular medical care involved, the kid will probably turn out fine. And hopefully so will the parents.