Friday, 11 May 2012

*THAT* Time Magazine cover...

How could I not blog about it? I mean really... Everyone and their dog seems to have an opinion on Time's May edition front cover photo and it seems to have caused quite the whirlwind. Never one to resist a good bandwagon, I feel it's only polite for me to contribute my two-penneth on the matter. 

You can't possibly have missed it, but just in case you have, here is the image in question:

The lady is 26 year old mother of two, Jamie Lynne Grumet from Los Angeles, and the child is her near-4 year old son, Aram. So there's the introductions done with: Jamie and Aram, meet the world. The world, meet Jamie and Aram. OH! But wait... I forgot the pivotal character in this photograph - Jamie's BREAST. And oh my word, look where it is! Aren't we all just shocked to our very core? No? Oh... No, neither was I. It's a woman, breastfeeding her son. That's it. I have no reaction to it beyond that. I've known plenty of mothers and children who've enjoyed breastfeeding up to and beyond 4 years of age and it's just one of the many things that some parents and children enjoy doing together and others don't. 

There is, however, something I really, really don't like about the magazine cover. That caption... right there... Are You Mom Enough? Ick, yuk and shudder. I'm not even sure where to begin with dissecting this one. Firstly, every woman who has ever been pregnant is a mother. One-hundred per cent. There aren't degrees of motherhood, there isn't a checklist of achievements and activities that you tick off and at the end there's a shiny medal. I don't care how or whether you gave birth, how you fed your baby, where your baby slept, how you transported him or her around - we are all 100% mothers and should support and care for each other in that. There are plenty of parenting choices that I don't like and wouldn't practice myself, some that actually upset me a little because of the reasoning behind them or research demonstrating potential long term negative effects - but I am no "more" a mother because I of the things I do or don't do with my children. It just isn't a competition. 

The juxtaposition of that dreadful, loaded question with the image really sets up attachment parenting as the sort of movement that DOES consider parenting to be a competitive sport though. It's no wonder that the general public see us as weird, yoghurt-knitting hippies with superiority complexes because we practice x, y and z. I made the terrible mistake of reading comments from the general public on a range of websites that had written about this issue over the last couple of days, and some of them really made me incredibly sad. The vitriol directed at attachment parenting and the people who practice it is intense in places. Allegations of child molestation and paedophilia, accusations that this sort of parenting produces dependent, slothful adults who don't know how to function, and the favourite "it's all for the mother's selfish benefit". Selfish? Child abusers?? That hurts. It's also untrue but that should be obvious anyway - right? Well here's the problem... The mass media LOVE a juicy contentious issue to whip the public up into a bit of moral outrage. It sells, it's sexy news. I have never read or even considered Time Magazine before (I don't think it's a big thing here in the UK anyway) but here I am writing about it having spent a lot of today reading what other people have written about it. So clearly it's NOT obvious that we're not all judgmental lunatics. 

Actually if you go out and meet the sorts of women who breastfeed their children to whatever age, share a bed with them, use a sling or carrier more often than a pram or stroller, you'll find that, on the whole, we're really very ordinary. In fact, I defy anyone to single out one parent in their entire social circle who has not, at some stage, either breastfed (even only once after birth), slept in the same bed as their baby (even just one night out of sleep-deprived desperation!) or carried their baby in a sling of whatever design.
Very few of us are bonkers and self-righteous - naturally a few are, but then you find bonkers, self-righteous types in all walks of life! Just because some people who prefer bed-sharing, breastfeeding and baby-carrying are a bit nuts, this doesn't automatically mean that ALL parents who adopt this approach to raising their children are funny in the head. Somehow the sweeping generalisation that we are seems to have become the normal perception of attachment parenting, and sadly coverage like the Time magazine front cover really only serves to fuel that misconception.

Reading an interview with the lady in the photograph, something jumped out at me about her appreciation of Dr. Bill Sears - the man credited with pulling together the philosophies behind attachment parenting and shaping it into a defined 'style' of raising children. When asked if she was a fan of his, Ms. Grumet replied that she finds him to be "a gentle spirit... nonjudgmental and relevant... The way he does it is graceful and educating rather than condemning"

That's a perfect summary of how I feel we should all treat one another in our journey as parents. It's what attracted me to join support groups for attachment parenting and why I enjoy reading the blogs and books written on the subject. I have encountered judgment and condemnation, but as a recipient from those who don't understand what my parenting choices are about, because they have chosen not to educate themselves about it but instead to make assumptions gleamed from snapshots misrepresenting the whole area - rather like this magazine cover. Or like the Channel 4 documentary on "Extreme Breastfeeding". Or like the plethora of Daily Mail articles maligning parents and particularly mothers at any given opportunity... You get the idea. It is very difficult to find a piece of popular media that presents attachment parenting or any of its constituent elements in a positive and open-minded light. In fairness, why would they? It's not interesting if you talk about it sensibly and encourage people to make up their own minds. It sells FAR many more issues if you get people really riled up, set parents up as warring factions hissing and spitting at one another's choices. Throw in some really obtuse reference to sex and you're onto a winner! 

So there is my opinion on the debacle. The fact that the woman in the picture is breastfeeding a four-year old is neither here nor there. I'm far more concerned by the unfortunate message that is being given out about attachment parenting and the people who embrace it. 

Thursday, 10 May 2012

So it's my due date!

Aaaand I'm still pregnant. It's not that big a deal, most babies are born after their due date anyway (makes you wonder why we bother with them!). I'm a little dismayed simply because two of my other children were born in the days leading up to the due date and I've had so many false starts in the last couple of weeks, we've been on edge and ready for Baby Alert for ages.

I did promise in my last post that I would keep an honest and open diary about my experience of having a new baby, so this seems like a good place to start. How I feel about going overdue... I would love to say that I'm on board with the barefoot hippy mentality that knows my baby will be born when he's good and ready, and not before. I actually know women who are not only perfectly happy to go beyond the 40 week mark, but actually object on principal to any medical intervention that would bring on labour artificially. Man, I would LOVE to have that sort of outlook and faith in my body. It's not that going overdue frightens me... I have every confidence that my body will look after my baby until he's ready to deal with the outside world. I'm just really bloody uncomfortable and running out of patience now!

I have armed myself with the plastic smile and stock answer of "yes I'm fine, just very excited" ready for when people ask me how I'm feeling. I'm not fine and excited is not the number 1 emotion I'm feeling at the moment, but I have learned that when people ask a heavily pregnant women how she's feeling, they don't actually want to be told that you're sick of swollen ankles, piles, sleep deprivation, heartburn, constant loo visits, not being able to see your own foof to keep up personal grooming and so on. If anything, it seems to invite responses like "ahh but you're lucky really because so many women can't get pregnant at all", or even "you'll get no sympathy from me, this is all self-inflicted!" (this was genuinely said to me a few days ago). So, the next time someone asks me how I'm feeling at 9 months pregnant whilst running round after 3 small children, I will tell them that I'm fine and very excited about meeting our latest family member.

I will confess now to obsessively watching my moods and changes in my body for anything that indicates impending labour. Apparently a strong desire to clean the house coupled with an inexplicable irritability at everyone and everything is a dead giveaway that I'm about to give birth. Well... I clean all the time because I have 3 children and a very messy husband. If I didn't clean all the time, my house would be revolting! I'm grouchy because I'm heavily pregnant and have to spend all my free time cleaning my house! So I don't think I can trust those two 'signs'...  Every little cramp and twinge I get is carefully analysed so I can decide whether that was a strong Braxton Hicks (sort of like a contraction but just a practice one) or a very mild proper contraction, and then timed to monitor regularity and increases in frequency. I'm not going to talk about going to the loo.. I know, I know I promised honesty, but the women who've done pregnancy and childbirth before will know where this is going, and those who haven't really don't want to know. I will leave you with one word that says enough: mucous. There, be glad that I'm not going into more detail!

So you can tell that I'm definitely NOT in line with the super-relaxed barefoot hippy momma philosophy just now. I want this baby out, sooner rather than later. I want my body back! I want to be able to put my jeans on without enlisting my husband's help. I would very much like to be able to reach my ankles when I shave my legs. I'd really, really like to be able to get off the sofa without having to rock back and forth to gain momentum, like a tortoise stuck on its back (a source of great amusement for friends and family last weekend!).

But... I Am Fine And Very Excited. Honestly.

Next: my birth story (whenever it flipping well happens!). Will I get my intervention-free, drug-free water birth? Or will I end up flat on my back at the midwife's insistence and begging for an epidural?