Tuesday, April 4, 2006

The Pregnancy Co-op

The Pregnancy Co-op
Andria Brown

We’re having a baby!

By “we,” I of course mean my sister, my best friend, their respective husbands and I. And by “having” I of course mean that they’re handling the pregnancy, birth and child-rearing and I’m sitting on the sidelines, 3000 miles away, trying to find the line between helpful observer and meddling busybody.

Blame it on over-education. When I was pregnant, lo these many months ago, I quickly realized that the standard tomes of pregnancy information were not all that useful to me. Having been exposed to some non-mainstream parenting concepts through online groups and real-life clusters of progressive mamas, I delved deeper on my own and discovered a number of facts that made my already sensitive stomach turn. From skyrocketing C-section rates to the U.S.’s abysmal infant mortality, it seemed obvious to me that “the way things are done” wasn’t necessarily the best way to do things.

In the process of discovery, I’m sure I bored anyone who would sit still with lengthy lectures about epidurals, circumcision and other topics inappropriate for the dinner table. But to me, it was all fascinating and more than a little bit disconcerting. If I hadn’t been really motivated to seek this information, I never would have come across it. I would have gone along believing that I had to gain exactly 30 pounds, go into labor at exactly 40 weeks, and willingly submit to every hospital procedure in the book.

Just when I thought I was filled to the cerebral brim with baby info, I took on ownership of a parenting store. Every day brought new stories, new shared experiences and new reasons to stay current on emerging research. While being the mother of one young child didn’t make me feel like a parenting expert, being around a constant stream of babies did boost my confidence on the subject.

So with all of my knowledge, paired with deep affection for my friend Leah and my sister Kelly, I knew I would be facing nine challenging months of self-restraint. I’d already noticed that many alterna-moms, myself included, often fell victim to Convert’s Zeal. Armed with newfound information that we feel is so vitally important, we have a tendency to inflate the positive aspects of our decisions and criticize those who disagree with us. A somewhat justifiable reaction, I think, to the many negative opinions hailed down on mothers who choose to breastfeed, birth naturally, co-sleep or deviate from the norm in any other fashion. Sometimes you need a little overconfidence to shake off Aunt Libby’s pointed questions about solid foods or the stink-eye from the lady in the mall who clearly has nothing better to do than try to catch a glimpse of someone else’s nipple.

I was somewhat released from the burden or parental proselytizing, however, by a very astute essay in Andrea Buchanan’s book Mother Shock. In it, Buchanan theorizes that unsolicited advice is often a very thinly veiled confession of self-doubt. With that in mind, I started to hear my own diatribes as personal pleas for validation. I wasn’t providing a public service so much as I was desperately trying to convince myself and anyone around me that my decisions were not going to screw up my kid.

Needing a little support is no crime, of course, but there are risks to being a mamavangelist. In proclaiming our own path, we disregard and often devalue mothers who’ve made other choices. A recent New Yorker article about educational programs for impoverished parents noted that infant-development strategies are “fetishized in places where babies are fundamentally secure and likely to prosper.” (The New Yorker, Feb. 6, 2006) As an avid infant development fetishist, I have to admit that whether a baby is birthed at home or hospital, fed breastmilk or formula, the most important factor in her well-being is a safe, loving home. And knocking down the confidence of another mom is not going to help achieve that.

So with the overeager, insecure mommy voice echoing in my head, I’ve done my best to leave Kelly and Leah to their own instincts. Well, other than the time Leah mentioned Baby Wise and I nearly choked on my own tongue trying to think of a diplomatic way to discredit it (I thought I avoided using the word “evil,” but witnesses disagree). Still, I’m trying to be supportive rather than subversive. Granted, it helps that they both live in California, where breast pump bags are common fashion accessories and even the Naval hospital has a midwife clinic. It’s easier not to worry about new moms whose own good sense is supplemented by unlimited resources and cultural support.

I like to think I had a small positive influence on Leah, who is dedicated to breastfeeding and maintaining a rational work schedule even after she returns to her extremely fancy corporate job. Perhaps some of my hippie ways have even rubbed off on my big sister, who has just put a co-sleeper on her baby registry and is still arguing against circumcision with her husband even though they know they’re expecting a girl. But I give more credit to the fact that they’ve done their research and learned, as I did, that mothering is a highly personal endeavor. No one will ever love their babies more than they do, and no one can tell them how to do it better. Not even me.

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