Monday, February 4, 2013

Thank you, judgment

It's no surprise to anyone that I am a religious person. I'm pretty sure the phrase, "Hate the sin, not the sinner," is common to many Christian religions, not just The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Is that really possible? some people might wonder. Can you really befriend/associate with/love people if you don't approve of what they're doing?

Well, I sure hope so. Because there are an awful lot of people I love, who I consider my dearest friends, who do not share my religion and do not abide by the same precepts I do.

When it comes to pregnancy/birth/baby-raisin', my religion has only so much to say. The Book of Mormon doesn't cover baby sleep habits. Old Testament doesn't give the lowdown on formula vs. breastfeeding. Or birthing positions. So, as a mother, where do I look to make a call on these subjects? Friends and family? My doctor? AAP? ACOG? My own feelings?

None of those things. Maybe it's because I majored in biology and I'm a nerd and I love science, but when I need to make a call about what is best for my children I look to evolution.

Why do I exercise and eat healthy when pregnant? Evolution.
Why do I see midwives instead of OBs? Evolution.
Why do I birth naturally? Evolution.
Why do I co-sleep? Evolution.
Why do I breastfeed exclusively? Evolution.
Why do I extend breastfeeding?
Why do I not use pacifiers?
Why do I not sleep train?
Why do I wear my baby?
Why do I feed my babies hand-mashed bits of foods we eat and never rice cereal or canned baby food?

The human race is God's creation. I believe He guided the way we evolved in general and the way we evolved to raise our young in specific. And unfortunately, the current American way of baby-raising does not coincide with human evolution. So, in my mind, it doesn't coincide with the models God provided us for giving birth and caring for young children. And yes, it does make a difference to our children whether how we treat them matches up with evolution-tested best practices.

The human race is God's creation. I don't believe God gave us broken bodies. Occasionally, yes, there are struggles with the body that individuals have to overcome. On rare occasions, c-sections are truly needed. On equally rare occasions, women can't breastfeed their baby for a true, biological reason. But when you load up a whole cart full of anti-evolution practices (like inductions, epidurals, pacifiers, exclusive crib sleeping...) what you're really buying is a body that can't function the way that it evolved to. A labor that doesn't progress because of drugs and bad positioning. A milk supply that's  not enough because it was never stimulated enough. A baby that doesn't gain weight very well because of ill-advised breastfeeding practices. The list goes on and on.

The human race is God's creation. We got to where we are as a species with God's hand. It is utterly laughable to me to think that we, as a small, hairless, toothless, sightless, scentless, clawless, strengthless species with our weak young could have ever hacked it in the animal world without help from God. I don't care how big our brains are or how advanced our tools became. I know human evolution happened, but without God figuring in, it just doesn't make sense at all. That being said, our bodies did not evolve so that women and babies would just die in childbirth left and right. Our bodies did not evolve so that women would require wet  nurses all the time until formula was invented. If you believe either of those myths, I refer you to The Politics of Breastfeeding. Evolution didn't make it that way, and God didn't make it that way.

The human race is God's creation. We are individuals and we make our own choices. It's meant to be that way. Reading this blog, especially lately, you might think I am judgmental of other parents. I definitely am judgmental--of parenting practices, not of other parents. "Hate the parenting, not the parent," is a reality for me. I love and admire many fellow moms for a variety of reasons, regardless of whether we make the same choices. I am not a perfect mother, and not all of my choices are perfect. Sometimes, I feel so aware of my weaknesses and inadequacies that it is hard to move. It's hard to go to sleep at night and know that tomorrow I will still be such a horribly flawed mother and wife.

I am not perfect, and I don't expect everyone to do things exactly the same as me. I don't expect everyone to breastfeed for the same amount of time I did. I don't expect everyone to cope with labor the same way I did. But I don't think that all parenting options are equal. I don't think we as moms should just pat each other on the back and say, "We all love our kids and we're all just doing SUCH A GREAT JOB!" If there's anything I can't stand, it's a blog entry by a mom that's full of feelgoodery and don'tfeelguiltyisms that gets reposted on Facebook a thousand times. I think we should feel bad sometimes about our parenting. I think we should feel guilty sometimes. We should pay attention to parenting habits that make us feel bad or guilty, not post on Facebook about what we're doing and expect our friends to swoop in and say, "Oh you're such a good mom! Be strong. Don't give up, crying it out is worth it. You're so awesome. You can do it."

Because guess what? There are things I could do better. There are things you could do better. There are things I'm doing that I want to stop, that I am really trying to stop, because they are not good for my children. There are things you are doing that you should stop, because they are not good for your children. Sometimes, I feel like there is this worship of The Mother as an entity, as if a mother can do no wrong and should only be propped up and given emotional bon-bons. Mothers can and do make mistakes, and the human race didn't get where it is by mothers endlessly complimenting each other and not trying to make positive changes.

While religion, evolution, and scientific studies (and I do mean the actual studies, not "scientific" organizations like AAP and ACOG. They're highly suspect, but I'll address that another time) can't tell us every single thing we should do for our children at every stage, they can tell us certain things not to do. They can tell us certain things that we ought to do. They can provide something more than just our own judgment as a basis for our decisions.


  1. So I have been following your posts for a while, and I know you are a proponent of natural birth. Something I have not been able to figure out (such as in the context of this post, where the main discussion appears to focus on what is better for the child), is whether there is actually any advantage to a natural birth from the perspective of what is good for the child, and not just what might be a better experience for the mother?

    I too have often thought about the options of childbirth in terms of evolution, and while I see where you are coming from on many points (and know that there is a lot of research that says c-sections are over prescribed, often out of a fear of malpractice suits), I can also see the evolutionary argument that c-sections are becoming more necessary for many to-be mothers than perhaps before.

    For instance, while evolution is not going to direct the species in a manner where mothers are consistently dying in childbirth, we also know that for evolution to "work," only enough mothers need to survive to make the advantages of the trait which leads to a difficult childbirth to outweigh its consequences. So for instance, the big cranium of humans is often cited to cause a much harder labor for human females than most other species, but the advantages of having that cranium for the species' survival outweighs the disadvantage of having a comparatively few females die from birthing individuals with that trait.

    Additionally the flip side of that coin is that in terms of sexual selection, for many many centuries females with nice robust hips were considered the ideal, and so that minimized the likelihood of those females dying in childbirth; while passing on the genes for those nice robust hips to their offspring. However in recent decades, as c-sections and the help of modern medicine has all but eliminated the chances of dying in childbirth, there has been a sudden shift in sexual selection, with the societal ideal being the skinny, 00 waist (and hip) models. Therefore, my concern is that it is becoming more frequent (again, certainly not all, or perhaps even most) that c-sections truly are needed for the increasing number of females with small hips.

    But I also have not done nearly as much research into the area as you have, this is just my speculation from what I know about history and evolutionary perspectives. I would love to hear your thoughts!

    1. Whew, big questions with big answers. I'll try to be succinct and satisfactory at the same time.

      -Small hips do not mean a c-section is necessary. when a woman is pregnant, hormones are released to make her hips/pelvis expand. Also, babies' skulls are soft and able to shift so that they can travel through the birth canal. I'm not saying no woman throughout history has ever had hips truly too small to have a baby--no one can know that--but our perspective on whether this is actually a problem is skewed by a history of rickets and/or corset wearing. It is essentially impossible for someone to know whether your hips are "too small" to have a baby before you are in labor. And if you hear of someone whose hips were too small (as judged by a doctor), I would have a lot of questions about labor position before believing that.
      -What's in vogue (tiny hips) does not translate to sexual selection. Just because women end up on magazines doesn't mean those are the women who are getting pregnant and having babies.
      -In terms of whether a natural (and by natural, I mean drug/intervention free, not just vaginal birth) is just a nice experience for mom but doesn't matter for baby? Oh man, natural birth being good for the baby is the whole point! I'm happy that natural birth makes mom feel like a rockstar, for my own sake, but that is not why I am so committed to it and why I wish more women would do it. I cannot enumerate all of the risks that each kind of intervention/drug presents to babies in this comment. I'll give one example. In my first labor, Luke's cord was wrapped around his neck. We didn't know that until his head&neck were delivered and my midwife gently unwrapped the cord. If I'd had an epidural and had been laboring/pushing in the supine or semi-reclined position that's required with a huge needle in your back, then there would have been pressure put on Luke's wrapped umbilical cord. It would have constricted the blood flow and he would have been deprived of oxygen. His heart rate would have gone down. It could have gotten so dangerous that suddenly, an emergency c-section, with all of the risks of c-section for mother and baby, would have been "necessary."

      But I didn't have an epidural. I didn't even have an IV. I was free to move, to sway, and to push in positions that were productive and safe for my baby. His wrapped cord never caused any problems, and his heartrate was never impacted--because I was having a natural birth.

      There are a lot of other risks to baby (and mother) when you have a high-intervention birth--there are entire books and documentaries and blogs about it. But most women just do what doctor says, which may be what's most convenient/in accordance with hospital policy/involves the least liability, and not what is most low-risk for baby and mother. I always keep in mind with all this that the U.S. spends the most on maternity care, but we have some of the worst infant and mother mortality rates in the world. Natural birth is for the safety of baby first and foremost.