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Thursday, September 20, 2012

206

An Interview With Jessica Valenti

Jessica Valenti (the founder of Feministing, author of several patriarchy-smashing tomes, and young mother) very nicely agreed to talk to the Hairpin about her most recent book, Why Have Kids? She managed to respond to our questions despite being extravagantly ill at the time, because FEMINISM.

How did you lose the baby weight? (This is a joke.)

Ha! A strict regimen of pre-eclampsia, failing liver and hospitalization did WONDERS. Highly recommend it. Seriously though, I was irritated about that ask on so many levels. Obviously the editor hadn’t read the book or didn’t realize I was a feminist writer – and I’m sure they had no idea about my personal, medically terrifying experience. So it’s not like it was done out of animus or whatever. But still, to ask someone who has just pitched you a very political story to write about their eating habits...it just epitomized so much of what’s wrong with the way we talk about women and mothering in the media. I also hate to sound all smelling salts about it, but it was personally upsetting. Right after Layla was born whenever I met someone new and it came up that I just had a baby, they’d almost always “compliment” me on how thin I was. To me, though, being thin felt like being empty – like I was missing this baby that was supposed to still be there. So yeah. Fuck that.

I'd love to talk a little about the odd blend of anti-consumerist feminism on one hand and deeply conservative attitudes on the other that you find in the quote-unquote natural parenting movement (anti-vaxxers from opposite political poles, etc.). Why is our obsession with 'good' motherhood the point of convergence?

Yes for sure. At the core of it, I think, is a distrust of institutions – which for women, makes a lot of sense to me. The feminism at the heart of the homebirth movement, for example, is women being fed up with their bodies being pathologized and being told that they need all of these medical interventions to give birth. I get that. The medical establishment – and the government – has spent forever telling women they don’t know what is up with their own bodies, so it’s understandable that there’s a backlash against that. But there’s a difference between having a healthy skepticism of traditionally sexist institutions and believing that your “instinct” trumps science and established fact – which is what the anti-vaccination movement is very much about. I also think that a lot of the “natural” motherhood stuff as espoused by Dr. Sears is extremely consumerist – I mean, Sears has become a parenthood empire. But yes, the point of convergence always is “good motherhood” in that so long as we’re doing something in the name of being Best Mom Ever, it’s all good.

If you'd written this book when Layla was a little older, I suspect there would have been a chapter on the homeschooling movement (speaking of odd bedfellows!). What are your thoughts on the rising popularity of secular homeschooling/unschooling/Waldorf?

I’m sure that’s true! I’ve heard the feminist arguments for homeschooling or “unschooling” and I sympathize with the idea that our current model isn’t the best and that our educational system often reinforces sexism, racism and classism. That said, I’m skeptical of solutions that focus on the individual over the community.

I think it’s up to all of us to try to change the educational system. If you’re an activist for social change, it seems to me that you should be working to change these structures not just for your kids – but for everybody’s kids. Maybe homeschooling is awesome for your kid, maybe it means they won’t be subject to sexist indoctrination...but what about every other child in your community? How many people have the privilege of being able to stay at home and homeschool their kids? I just think children, broadly, would be better served with parents making a ruckus in our existing school system – not taking their individual kids out.

This is a little off-topic, though mentioned briefly in the book, but the issue of 'Roe for Men' is always fascinating to me. I actually have a ton of sympathy for men who find they have fathered children they do not want their partners to give birth to, as the experience of an unplanned pregnancy is a terrifying prospect for anyone. I don't think there will ever be a workable legal remedy, and I agree that once a child is born, he or she is entitled to support from both parents, it just...sucks. I feel as though we can be overly dismissive of the concept. It's bizarre to me to hear other women saying 'well, he should have thought of that before he had sex/didn't wear a condom,' etc., as though we haven't been fighting the good fight against bullshit statements like that for decades. Even if there's no remedy, I think we could acknowledge that it's unfortunate for men to fundamentally lack reproductive choice. This is barely a question, I'd just love to hear more of your thoughts on the matter.

I also have sympathy, for sure – but as you said, there’s no real legal remedy so long as women are the ones who give birth. So unless we’re going to get all Shulamith Firestone about it, this is what we’ve got. I think I would be more concerned for men if 1) Women actually had total reproductive freedom in the U.S., which of course we don’t and 2) If the men leading the charge with this “Roe for Men” stuff weren’t such blatant misogynists.

I love that you discuss the ridiculous racism implicit in the whole 'African babies don't cry' sphere of attachment parenting, as though there's some kind of mystical pan-African tribal utopia in which babies blissfully snooze the day away on their mom's chests. I'm sorry, I'm pretty sure there are working moms in Johannesburg sweating to pay for daycare. Where does this come from? I definitely found a lot of value in the various anthro-y parenting tomes, but WHY are we making women feel inadequate for failing to parent in a manner which is only sustainable in a society that supports it?

Ahhhhh yes – I will never forget the moment I was looking at websites for Elimination Communication (a parenting style where you watch your weeks-old baby for facial cues that they need to “eliminate” and run them to the toilet accordingly). There was a line that said, “Elimination Communication – not just for African bush women!” And my jaw hit the floor. Among a certain sect of middle and upper middle class white mothers, there is this fetishization of so-called Third World moms. As if there’s this monolithic natural “Other” mom that epitomizes what real motherhood is supposed to look like without the trappings of Western culture. I get that a lot of it comes from this place of wanting to get past the horrifying parental advice industry – but it’s really quite racist. Moms do different things throughout the world! Babies wearing diapers is ok, really!

Oh, let's talk breastfeeding. I'm going to give it the old college try again with my next baby, because I think it has a ton of value, but I'm thrilled when I hear women say it CAN be a shackle. Can a truck stop waitress breastfeed? Can she exclusively pump? What about when it's her third child? I actually want to apologize to you, by the way: I read a blog post of yours via "The Feminist Breeder" in which you were critiquing certain policies at baby-friendly hospitals, and I absolutely disagreed with you and felt smug (I didn't write about it, or anything), and I read it again after having a baby and felt like a total douche-waffle. I have seen ADOPTIVE mothers shamed on mothering forums for not 'trying' to induce lactation via, you know, Reglan and domperidone. I do wonder if I would have had a happier time those first few months if I wasn't trying to stuff a nipple into my daughter's mouth 24/7. In the book, when you mentioned that a friend of yours almost accidentally starved her baby, I looked back through my very early baby pictures for Amelia, and she was so, so painfully scrawny until I started supplementing. And I didn't see it. I just kept breastfeeding every twenty minutes waiting for some kind of supply/demand alchemy to kick in. But people are nice about it, because I tried so hard. That's bullshit. Why do we need to try THAT hard? Who do you need to make your 'I tried hard enough' application to?

Haha, I have felt smug over so many things and then felt silly about it – so no need to apologize. I actually was pretty sanctimonious about breastfeeding until I became a parent. I remember a girlfriend of mine was pregnant and I asked her about breastfeeding (in retrospect: WHY was this any of my business?) and she said she just didn’t want to do it. Didn’t want to try, wasn’t interested. I was horrified and shittily smug.

When I had Layla, reality smacked me dead in the face. It was like, guess what traumatized lady – no fucking way are your breasts going to pump anything CLOSE to what your baby needs! I didn’t know that though, because Layla couldn’t digest food for the first few weeks and was fed intravenously. So until her digestive tract developed I pumped constantly. I thought I was a total pro until she was able to take the milk and went through my supply in no time. The day she had her first bit of formula, I was the most devastated I had been since having her. I felt like I was a total failure and now my baby had to have poison. It was ridiculous. So I went to pumping over 5 hours a day. When I expressed concern to someone that I wasn’t going to be able to work and pump that much they said, “What’s more important – your job or feeding your baby?” So yeah, total mind fuck. The day I stopped breastfeeding for nutrition and just let her do her thing for funsies and to fall asleep was the first good day I had parenting. It’s what eventually allowed me to bond with her.

I think we’re so obsessed with ensuring that women prove that they do everything for their children, no matter how much it hurts or is causing mental distress. And then if you complain about these things, it’s just – oh, you’re not doing it right TRY HARDER.

The bravest, and possibly most controversial phrase in your book, I think, is: "...my other desires, ambitions, and beliefs are as much a part of me, maybe even more, than being a parent."

Can you expand? I love hearing women speak honestly about not placing their child at the center of their universe.

I love my daughter more than anything and anyone – but I don’t see raising her as my life’s mission or the most important thing I will ever do. It’s the most important relationship I’ll ever have, I’m sure. But Layla isn’t a work product, you know? I want her to feel loved and important and to be an ethical, independent kid. I do that, and I can help her be the person she’s going to be, without making “mother” my primary identity. To be clear – I’m not saying that’s a “wrong” or less wonderful identity to have than any other. But for me, I’m not a mother first. I’m a person first, and being a mother is one part of me. I also have enough confidence in my relationship with Layla that I know she will never doubt the depth of my love for her.

I think this “mom first” framework is really troubling, actually. It’s why we venerate moms who are killing themselves to subsume their identity into their children. It’s even why every so often you’ll see some media story about a pregnant woman who refused to undergo chemo and died so her baby could live. That’s a brave choice to make, to be sure, but framing women who die as the best moms of all makes me mighty uncomfortable. Poe once said that “the death of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetic topic in the world.” I see those stories as sort of conforming to that narrative. I tried to do it myself – when I was in the hospital and things were getting pretty bad, they told me they were going to induce me soon. I tried to convince them and my husband to let me take on more risks health-wise to keep her in longer. It was stupid, actually, because me getting sicker didn’t do her any favors – but I think at the heart of it, I knew that a “good” mom would make it absolutely clear that her health and life came second. I derived some sort of perverse pride from it – maybe I still do, actually – but all it did was hold up what was an inevitable end to the pregnancy.

Because your book is more of a societal diagnostic than a 'we should do x,' you only briefly touch on the social infrastructure you think would help mothers. Let's talk more about daycare, paid mat leave, paternity leave, etc. Which nations do a better job (without going broke)?

Everyone? I mean seriously, we’re very much at the bottom of the barrel here. Scandinavian countries are the ideal – naturally. It seems like you can’t have an article or book about child care without some sort of glowing section dedicated to Sweden. I think what’s really interesting about Sweden is that in addition to providing both maternity and paternity leave, they dealt with the fact that fathers at first weren’t taking advantage of the paternity leave. There’s a cultural roadblock there. So they created incentives in the form of lost subsidies if dads don’t take off. Now something like 85% of dads in Sweden take some time off. And this is key – we definitely need paid parental leave, paid sick days, subsidized child care. But we also need some sort of plan to deal with the fact that culturally the burden for all of these issues still falls on women – there needs to be a proactive model to handle that.

I've warmed up to Linda Hirshman myself, but I would like to talk briefly about the idea that we could pay women on welfare less to stay home with their kids instead of paying for daycare while they try to cobble together low-paid jobs to keep receiving benefits. Why is there such a disconnect between 'women should be moms first' and 'but we want to watch them sweat'? Let's get it straight: is staying home a privilege, a sacrifice, or what?

It’s a sacrifice if you’re white and middle class. Anything other than that and you’re lazy, apparently. The way we look at moms who stay at home is, obviously, through a lens colored by race and class. The truth is that most moms can’t afford to stay at home; most families need two incomes. But then you also have couples where the moms say that child care is too expensive and it makes more sense for them to stay home (and of course because of pay inequity and cultural norms, in straight couples it’s almost always the woman for whom this “makes sense” the most). Linda Hirshman got a lot of flak because of her focus on elite moms, but she makes a convincing argument that what elite moms do matter because it becomes what is considered “right” or desirable. She also really changed my mind around ideas of “choice feminism” – or the idea that we shouldn’t judge what a woman does because feminism is all about choices. But feminism is absolutely not about supporting a woman no matter what she does – it’s about analyzing and changing structural inequities. So it’s important that we talk about the cultural impact of some women staying at home instead of working – it means that our choices matter.

While I absolutely love the book, and the conversations it's spawning, I do try to remember that, say, attachment parenting, although it seems like 90% of people I know are trying to do it, is a BLIP on our nation's radar. Most babies are on formula, most babies are in daycare, most babies are vaxx'd, most boys are circumcised, etc. I hate to pick on people who are already on the fringes for trying to defend their choices, many of which are great, sensible choices. How can women attempt to agitate for issues which ARE choices without being judgmental? One could say, never, but if you think that circumsion is genuinely wrong, do you say so to other moms? Do you try to convince people? When is it 'mommy wars' and when is it 'lobbying for change'?

Well here’s the thing – they may be on the fringes population-wise, but not in terms of their cultural power and significance. And I don’t see it as “picking on” as much as I do thinking critically. But maybe that’s a fancy way to say picking on, I don’t know. And some of these issues – like anti-vaccination – have a huge impact even if they’re just practiced by a few people. The CDC says the whooping cough epidemic is at the worst its been in 50 years. If you can watch a video of a kid suffering with whooping cough and still not vaccinate...I don’t even know what to say. So that’s a tremendous public health issue. But with all of these issues, it’s always going to be painted as “mommy wars” so long as it’s women debating things. The difference for me in terms of what we should be focused on is lobbying individual mothers versus trying to create systemic change. It seems to me that all of this nastiness on mom boards and blogs (and I’m sorry, there IS a lot of nastiness) is a distraction that keeps us from politically mobilizing. So no, I’m probably not going to say to an individual mom that I think such and such is wrong (unless it’s vaccination then I’m just going to make sure my kid goes nowhere near her kid) because it’s not likely to create change that has any lasting impact.

OH, one last question, because it's part of the book and definitely part of our readership, but to what extent is the childfree movement (holla, childfree ladies!) gaining greater traction BECAUSE motherhood is looking more like a gulag and less like Candyland every year? Obviously, people are not childfree because of ludicrous parenting standards, but they might be noisier about it.

I think that’s a part of it – sure. There’s more transparency about what having children looks like. But it also seems to me, from the folks I’ve spoken to, that a lot of them always knew they didn’t want kids or they always felt ambivalent about it. Now, we’re getting to a place where it’s more acceptable to express that ambivalence (though obviously there is still a stigma attached to being childfree by choice). There is just no logic attached to questioning childfree people as to why they didn’t have kids – it’s all cultural expectations. A third of births in the U.S. are unintended – that’s fucked up. That’s what we want to get away from. We don’t ask parents why they had kids – even though we’re the ones bringing new people in the world. Childfree folks are just maintaining...the only reason to question them is that as a culture we simply cannot fathom the idea that a woman (men get a lot less shit) might not crave kids on this intense biological level.

You can read an excerpt from 'Why Have Kids' here, and if you'd like to berate Jessica in person, she will be at the 92YTribeca Mainstage tonight at 7 p.m. for a panel on modern parenting and happiness.



206 Comments / Post A Comment

Margalo

Never been such an early commenter before!

So pinners - YES, THIS. As a mom who is a little further down the track, it often drives me crazy when people write about mom-hood when they have just barely begun. But wow - talking about loving your kid while also remembering to talk about racism & classism, and thinking about the larger community rather than being totally individualist for the sake of "what's best for my kid" - ? Go Jessica! What's most important to me here is the importance of remembering that no matter how much you love our kid, a) you are still an individual b) your kid is going to become an individual and c) you are both part of a larger community.

stavros

This is on my must-see list for fall.@m

Heather@twitter

This was great...that book will definitely be in my library whenever that babytime thing happens.

sharkburp

This interview was so great; I just put my hold in for this book at the library! Thanks for the shout out to people who aren't 100% into the idea of having kids. I heard an interview with Jessica on NPR and the point that I identify with the most is the fact that unlike any other time in history, children are being born only for the parents benefit (i.e not for farming or marrying etc). This brings with it a whole slew of problems with women being unsure why they aren't finding self fulfillment. So much food for thought- thanks!

Judith Slutler

This sounds like a great book, from the bluntness about the classist and racist "mommy wars" to the side-eying of anti-vaxers. If I have a kid one day, I will be sure to add this to the parenting books I'll probably read too many of.

MmeLibrarian

What a lovely coincidence - I just got the email notification from my library telling me that I'm up next on the hold list for this book. I also, not ten minutes ago, heard a story on the BBC World Service about a group of women agitating internationally for home birth. It inspired in me some of the same ambivalence that comes through in this great interview. On the one hand, yes, woo, women learning about their bodies and taking charge of their experiences. On the other, I had a very "western" hospital birth for very good reasons and I am not cool with the representative of this group of women saying that my birth experience is abuse (which she did). My daughter is only four months old and I am definitely still processing my experience - the good parts and the bad. All of the outside static telling me how I'm supposed to feel about what happened makes it almost impossible to do that.

Judith Slutler

@MmeLibrarian Oh wow. You shouldn't have to listen to someone else's high handed definition of your experience. I'm all for women trying out home birth in rational ways and with good support, but telling everyone else that they have been abused? Hell no.

MmeLibrarian

@Emmanuelle Cunt She seriously used the word "abuse" to describe all hospital births on an international radio program. Awesome. Just awesome.

Bittersweet

@MmeLibrarian Oh man, that is the worst. She knows where she can shove *that* shit.

parallel-lines

Just finished this book! Thank you so much for the "you should be working to change these structures not just for your kids – but for everybody’s kids" part in the book and this article. I live in Park Slope, aka "mommy central" according to the media, and the first wave of gentrifiers really did a lot to improve the local grade schools. Now most of what I see is A) people lying/cheating/acting like an asshole over getting one of those very limited spots, or B) going private/homeschooling/charter schooling (I have a lot of grief with those but that's for another time). And so the NYC ends up incredibly segregated--my husband is a teacher and has described his class getting more segregated by the year--as there's white flight out of the public schools.

I've been on the fence about children (I'm nearing that 'shit or get of the pot' age) and this book definitely pushed me towards not having kids. Just the part alone about the nasty comments she got while bottle feeding--I would have not have been that polite. The thought of raising a kid with little outside support and constant scrutiny just sounds wildly unappealing. I give you ladies who make it work props.

MmeLibrarian

@parallel-lines Fwiw, I've fed my baby formula in public a number of times and no one has ever said a thing to me about it. I will end the first person who does, though.

parallel-lines

@MmeLibrarian There's a story in the book about her feeding her premature baby formula after being very sick in the hospital and having numerous people try to intervene and tell her "breast is best". If anyone ever did that to me they should be thankful that both of my hands are full so they could get a head start before I smacked them.

melis

"Maybe you didn't know this, but my breasts only produce pudding. The Jell-O brand kind, not even the kind you can get at Whole Foods with the stevia instead of sugar, not the almond stuff because that has a weird texture - kind of gritty, almost? - with all the Chemicals and the foil tops. So, formula it is."

Tragically Ludicrous

@parallel-lines And the Atlantic like, just published some smug nonsense on NYC homeschooling! http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/10/the-homeschool-diaries/309089/

The Hyperbolic Julia Set

@parallel-lines And awfully, I know a lot of white middle class people pulling their kids out of public schools because their kids see a whole lot of people of other races/classes in schools which is not only a terrible thing to do but its also just tautological.

parallel-lines

@Tragically Ludicrous I don't get why you'd move to a community where you didn't want to participate in your community, ESPECIALLY if you have a family! And by the way--the school the're referencing is PS20 in an extremely wealthy neighborhood where one bedroom apartments go for north of $2K with a housing project smack dab in the middle of the 'hood - said principal is gone http://ps20.org/ As for whether his kid was truly gifted or not...that's another story. I personally thing gifted programs are bloated because parents push hard for their kids to get into them.

OhMarie

@The Hyperbolic Julia Set @parallel-lines Gah, this is so frustrating. I have the same thing--my neighborhood is extremely diverse, which is part of why we picked it, but we don't have kids and didn't look closely at the schools. The high school has a good mix, but for elementary school, basically all of the middle and upper class kids go to private schools. It's like school-only white flight.

iffie

@OhMarie Mine, too! So I sent my kid there because there's nothing wrong with that! I mean, for the people who opt-out, fuck them. The rest of us will stick around and contribute.

The Hyperbolic Julia Set

@parallel-lines AMEN to the part about gifted programs. I was in one in elementary school, and it was fantastic and showed me that I have talents/passions in a subjects my parents knew nothing about and it led to my current career. Great. But it was SO CRAZY RACIST/CLASSIST/SCREWED UP. They only let kids in if they knew their parents could be "properly supportive" of their child's development, so your parents essentially had to campaign to get you in, including a face to face interview (during the work day) where you had to pretty much "sell" your kid like a job interview. Which meant if you were working poor or the parents didn't speak fluent English, they didn't have much of a shot.

Ophelia

@The Hyperbolic Julia Set Yikes. Ours was based on a test (in Kindergarten, so it had no words, just picture puzzles), and I don't think there was any sort of parental engagement requirement.

Actually, thinking about my education as an adult, for a mid-range public school system in a really diverse town (there were something like 63 dialects spoken at my high school), they did a VERY good job of not caving to privilege. You could, for example, be in both an ESL English class and BC Calculus if that's what made sense for you as a student.

whateverlolawants

@Ophelia Mine too! Now, I only remember a few people in that situation, so maybe not everyone was encouraged to do that enough, but I do remember some high-level math students who couldn't verbalize in English very well yet. I thought about how upset I would be if I was moved to another country and had all of my academic progress derailed because of my low language profiency.

My boyfriend (who moved to the US in 10th grade and had to take ESL classes) told me about one of the math teachers at our school and how he was really interested in a Mexican student's math notebook from his old school in Mexico. The teacher thought the notes revealed better ways of explaining some concepts, and adopted some of the Mexican teacher's examples. Pretty cool.

And the gifted and talented program in our district was based on a test given to all kids (or all interested kids, can't remember which), and the top 2.5% (about 81 kids) were invited to join. Now, there may have still been some underlying privilege at work (and the test may or may not have been good, who knows), but my classmates were socioeconomically diverse. Even if you lived far away, the district would provide you with a bus to the school with the program. Many parents could provide lots of support, but others couldn't or didn't, and the teachers seemed to understand that. The years I spent in the elementary program were the most engaging years of my K-12 education. I just wish all kids got that.

Yolanda and Steve

@The Hyperbolic Julia Set This makes me so sad. I was in a gifted program (or as we liked to call it, Independent Study so we didn't sound so stuck up our own butts) and it was based on statewide standardized test scores and then recommendations from your teachers for those of us that qualified. I think my mother was just notified when I was in 3rd grade that I'd been offered a spot in the program. After that I just rode the bus with the big kids to the middle school every Monday. Our class, like the rest of our school was incredibly diverse. Although, my mom is still a teacher in the same city and she mentions how every year there are less and less white kids, and less and less funding. Interesting correlation, no?

Megan@twitter

As a child-free person, I can only comment on the last question and answer (thank you so much, Nicole, for asking it). The ridiculous demands on modern mothers has informed my decision not to have children. At the very least, it has pushed me from ambivalent about kids to a definite "no." I know that I would drive myself 'round the bend with all of the pressure and guilt to be the most homemade, organic, pure and engaged mother ever that I decided that it would be best for MY mental health not to engage in child-rearing at all.

parallel-lines

@Megan@twitter YES! Everyone else has SO MANY OPINIONS and I have so little tact.I feel so stretched this, so broke, so barely able to get by as-is, adding a kid into that mix is surely a recipe for a breakdown.

datalass

@Megan@twitter Me too. My first professional job was in a place where there were a lot of young women getting married and then having children. As I watched that progression, I was struck again and again at just how hard it was. I remember in particular one colleague who arrived at a big deal meeting with just minutes to spare because she'd taken part of the morning off to go to her son's "Muffins with Mom" event. I just couldn't get past how unnecessarily inhospitable to working people it was for a school to schedule an event like that in the middle of a Tuesday morning. No wonder parents are overwhelmed with guilt--who could even imagine their child sitting alone while the other kids' moms were there sharing muffins?

Megan@twitter

@datalass And imagine if you brought (gasp!) store-bought muffins, and not the homemade ones that the judgey moms had made out of wheat that they had stone-ground themselves and butter that they had churned that morning?!?

No. No, thank you. I'm out.

BornSecular

@Megan@twitter I am also child-free and plan to stay that way. (I also like that "child-free" is evidently a thing now, and has its own term?) I have basically always known I didn't want kids. I never played with dolls, never wanted to hold relatives' or coworkers' kids, and generally dislike being around kids. Living in the Midwest, though, I feel like a total freak for feeling this way. I had a break down a few weeks ago with my husband and demanded to know what was wrong with me since I felt like the only person in a 5 state radius who didn't like or want kids. Sometimes I feel like I have some type of social/moral obligation to have them, since we are fairly ok monetarily and intelligence-wise, but I know I wouldn't be true to myself, I would just be giving in to the pressure.

datalass

@BornSecular I hear you. When I lived in a small rust-belt town, I felt that pressure in nearly every new social encounter. Incident-by-incident, it was fine but every so often it accumulated to a critical mass and I melted down.

Megan@twitter

@BornSecular @datalass Hairpin Child-Free Support Group?

(It's not just the Midwest, by the way. I'm in New York and I feel like a freak for not wanting kids. Still get the "oh, just wait, you'll want them" b.s. from friends and family.)

Bebe

@BornSecular I have sometimes felt like a freak as well - like, I'm broken as a woman or something because I just have zero desire to have children. Since propagating the species is supposedly a basic biological urge, I wonder if something is wrong with me for not having it. If you'd never been hungry or thirsty in your life - would something be wrong with you for not having the biological urge to eat or drink?

Lord Amy

@Megan@twitter I am in my twenties, the working mom of a six-year-old, who is almost NEVER able to make the Muffins-with-Moms events and sometimes I do feel a pang about that. But mostly not. Like Jessica said, "I’m not a mother first. I’m a person first, mothering is just ONE of the things I do." My son is growing up knowing his mom isn't stay-at-home because a) she's a human being with a career she's excited about and b) she needs to put (sometimes-but-not-often organic, home-cooked) food on the table. Also I mean... I'd rather not be the organizer of a Turkey Trot, ya know?

To say "No thanks, I'm out" in this particular context seems akin to shying away from judgment from PTA moms, which, for cryin' out loud, not all of us are. Also, I've expanded my views on the moms who have time to volunteer at book fairs and at sports events and what-not: They're not all judge-y, not by a long shot, and a whole bunch of them think it's rad that I'm a young working mom!

Much respect to the moms and non-moms speaking their minds! What a great discussion.

skyslang

@BornSecular You are not the only person in your area that doesn't want kids! You might the only person self-aware enough and brave enough to admit it, though. The others will have kids they don't want, that's why it's important for us to talk about this!

faience

@Bebe I was told once by a student during a university tutorial that a woman who doesnt want children is in fact 'broken'. I had so much rage that day but it turned into a good lesson for both me as a new teacher and the students on how their POV is not the be all and end all of the universe.

Springtime for Voldemort

@Bebe Maybe not. I kinda sorta used to have that urge when I didn't think about it too much and had a super-super-romanticized idea of what parenting is like. And then I looked at my own childhood and parents, and at other parents, and asked around a bit, was like "oh, so it isn't like Candyland, it is a gulag" and that sorta-kinda-maybe-urge was replaced with a different urge of not wanting to go near that with a 60 foot pole.

Plus, evolution isn't a be-all-end-all. Homosexual desires somehow exist, even though they do jack shit to continue the species.

carolita

@Megan@twitter same here. I decided long ago that motherhood wasn't for me, and watching some of my friends (or ex-friends) so it badly has made me even surer of it. I have very few friends whose kids are a welcome addition to our friendship just because of the way they changed (and, say, became insufferable motherhood promoters, or tried to force their children upon me, treated me with disdain for not being a breeder like them, tried to make me feel like some selfish slacker with no responsibilities -- hey, I go to work and pay my taxes and do laundry and cook and clean, and am my brother's keeper just like everyone else! I don't need that crap.). The rare ones who I do still love, I love their kids, too. I'm not anti-motherhood, or anti-child. I just don't feel obliged to like insufferable mothers with unsavory children. That's not so unfeminine, is it? And to anyone thinking I'm a bad or fair-weather friend: I just think that sometimes having a kid is a bit of a litmus test to a friendship. Sometimes I just realized, "Who is this woman? Holy smokes! I never really liked her, and now I really can't stand her." Because whoever you are, I'm pretty sure you're going to be ten times MORE whoever you are, once you have a kid.

Better to Eat You With

@BornSecular Child-free Midwesterner here, too. Solidarity! Because I feel exactly the same way about the social pressure.

E Wren

@Megan@twitter Let's get that New York chapter started!

BornSecular

@E Wren I need a Midwest chapter too! All of my friends & in-laws are planning on having kids soon (only one couple is actually pregnant right now) so I will have no child-free solidarity. :( I hope I am wrong, but it already looks like I will lose a lot of friends because the one who is pregnant has so altered her behavior that I fear for the rest of them.

BornSecular

@BornSecular Yikes that sounded really bitchy. I meant that she's already stopped hanging out with anyone at all and the rare times she does she's not very pleasant to be around. I just hope when everyone we know has kids we can still have kid-free, fun adult times!

BornSecular

@BornSecular Yikes that sounded really bitchy. I meant that she's already stopped hanging out with anyone at all and the rare times she does she's not very pleasant to be around. I just hope when everyone we know has kids we can still have kid-free, fun adult times!

Megan@twitter

@Lord Amy From my perspective, it is a vocal minority of super-moms who exert the kind of negative pressure that I've been talking about. It is by no means all moms, and you sound like you have a great perspective and would be a positive influence. You also sound like you're confident enough to brush off that negative static (and Jessica sounds that way too), but I know from my own experience that it would affect me too much.

That said, the guilt is not the only factor that influenced my decision not to have kids. It is just the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. I was probably 90% sure that I didn't want to have kids for a whole host of other reasons.

Better to Eat You With

@BornSecular I lost my two closest friends shortly after they had kids, in no small part because they only wanted to spend time with other moms.

The Hyperbolic Julia Set

@BornSecular You are not alone! I know at least three others in your region who are gleefully child-free! (full disclosure: the husband and I want to get involved with adopting/foster care sometime but NOT NOW and we don't have any kind of baby fever)But I know the pressure. One time I was driving with 2 other newly married friends and one was just going on and on about SOMEDAY WE'LL ALL HAVE BABIES AND THEY'LL ALL PLAY TOGETHER YADA YADA YADA ONESIES!!! And me and the other girl politely and appropriately shut her down because we are all about the child-free but she had literally never considered not having babies and (so she says) met any woman who didn't intensely NEED to have babies. So feel free to vent with me at any time. We know the same crazies.

harebell

I love her comment about the need to think about the whole community! instead of finding "solutions" like home-schooling that are individualistic to the point of being solipsistic.

Also I am glad to hear it as a college teacher. Every year or two I get a very high-functioning home-schooled kid in my classes, and so far it has been uniformly a nightmare because they really don't seem to develop social skills to the same degree as other kids -- even when they were in community college supplemental classes etc. Very little sense of the needs of the other people in the room and how to cooperate with classmates instead of monopolizing classroom time -- or blurting out childish/self-absorbed things. They tend to have a sort of lingering immaturity that is very disconcerting because one feels called upon to protect them -- but it's too late for that level of protection to really be appropriate.

(apologies to any super-well-adjusted homeschooled people out here - it's just my anecdotal evidence, and probably also corresponds to homeschooling of kids in small families who aren't in the company of other children enough)

parallel-lines

@harebell hahahah, this totally makes me think of Victoria from this season of America's Next Top Model. She's in college now...online, and she is an odd duck! The Soup is constantly making fun of her for being weird...but she's so weird!

http://comcast.eonline.com/videos/195046/the-soup-blog-america-s-next-top-model

Are They Biting Ducks?

@harebell It's a little hard not to take umbrage at this, being a very well socially adjusted homeschooler (or, at least, I like to think so). We have a running joke in homeschool circles about people, who upon learning that we were homeschooled, immediately exclaim quite rudely "But how were you ever socialized?!" - our thought has always been "well, apparently better than you were." Not that we'd ever say that out loud of course. ;)

Ophelia

@Are They Biting Ducks? You know, that's a really interesting point, and I think it does reflect on the fact that (like public schools), homeschooling experiences vary WIDELY. I have a good friend who was homeschooled, and she was also very active in gymnastics as a teen. She was totally on the same level as everyone academically and in terms of "friend" socialization (for lack of a better way to describe that), but completely out of her element when it came to dating. Her specific experience was that she'd lived in a world where it wasn't really expected that she interact a lot with guys, and she wasn't able to handle it well at all for the first few years of college.

Are They Biting Ducks?

@Ophelia Yeah, I think what helped for us is we had a hugenormous group of families that got together for activities multiple times a week - so by the time dating became an option, I was just as boy/girl crazy as any other confused bi teen.

MilesofMountains

@Are They Biting Ducks? I wonder if there's some correlation=/=causation thing going on there. Some of the homeschoolers I've known were taken out of regular school because of how badly they were bullied, and I suspect they were bullied for being a bit awkward socially and surprise! They are still a bit awkward socially as adults. I don't think the homeschooling had much to do with it instead of maybe preventing bullies from beating them down into repressed, traumatized adults which I guess counts as "socialization" of a sort.

Although, I am biased. I homeschooled Grade 8 English and all of my siblings have been homeschooled for a year or two at some point in their childhood. I'm sure that whatever social problems we have have nothing to do with the homeschooling.

Are They Biting Ducks?

@MilesofMountains That wouldn't surprise me at all. A couple of the kids in my group were ADD, and this was back in the late 80's when, to the best of my knowledge, there wasn't much of a support structure in public schools to handle that. They did better under homeschool because their moms could design a program that actually worked for them - which, naturally, being the socialist liberal that I am, I'd love to see happen in regular schooling so mothers don't have to take on that burden. /end vaguely political rant

Miss Maszkerádi

@harebell I was homeschooled (unschooled, even) my entire life until college, because I grew up in a part of the country where you couldn't learn about evolution in science class, the bullying culture was particularly bad, mandatory abstinence-only training meant lots of girls got pregnant by 17, and my and my parents' lack of religious affiliation would have caused all sorts of problems with students and administration alike. (We were reluctantly-transported New Englanders in the buckle of the rural Bible Belt.) I am also an only child, so put the homeschooling and the lack of siblings together and I sound like I'm shaping up to be an unsocialized nightmare.

I got "socialized" because my parents and their friends and colleagues would talk to me as if I were a perfectly normal human being, just shorter. It sounds corny but "the world was my classroom". In the times I was left alone to do my own thing I was either writing elaborate stories, composing music (poorly), or most likely, reading everything I could get my hands on and marveling at the wonders of science, history, art, etc., developing a passion for knowledge that I never saw in the public-school kids around me. It's very true that throughout my childhood I was much more comfortable talking about nerdy intellectual things with the grownups than trying to fit in with the bewildering cliques of other children I knew from my sports teams and music lessons (the kids always made a conscious effort to mock and exclude me, based on my amusing ignorance of pop culture and the fact that I dared to be female and intellectual at the same time) ....but then, you know, everyone kind of grew up and everything was fine. I had my weird aspects of childhood, so did everyone else, I have my weird traits that may be congenital and may be marks of homeschooling, everyone else has their weird traits that might be congenital and may be marks of public schooling. We're not exactly the same, but we're all fine.

Point is, I just graduated college (music conservatory, actually, one of the higher-level ones in the country) and am now in graduate school. I get pretty good grades, I have great friends, I function in society, I live on my own and haven't reverted to savagery, I'm starting to find ways to turn this music degree into a career as a musician. I am still hilariously ignorant of most of mainstream pop culture and I too still suck at dating - the parade of boyfriends all the normal girls were expected to have always sort of weirded me out, I'd rather be contentedly single until someone I actually connect with comes along - but, you know, I'm fine.

Apologies for the autobiography, I just get a little touchy when people start pontificating about how home schooled kids are never socialized properly. And that's the issue: if by "socialized properly" one means "identical to the standardized model of social development, proper interest-to-age ratio on all subjects, approved number of romantic interactions, sufficient extroversion level, acceptable score of common pop culture trivia knowledge from the '90s, proper lack of eccentricities, and overall completely indistinguishable from someone who went to public school," then yeah, I'm kind of a fuckup. But if "socialized properly" means "able to function well in society, communicate with people, deal with professors and/or bosses, survive on one's own as an adult, find work and/or hobbies one enjoys and have a personally fulfilling social life whatever it may be," then I and every other home schooled kid I have ever met are doing just fine, thank you all very very much.

This is my new username

@Ophelia I'd also like to point out that there are pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeenty of people who went to public schools that are clueless about dating and have terrible social skills.

Ophelia

@This is my new username Oh, that's totally true. It's just something she and I talked about a few times over the course of college/after - it was the one 'missing piece' she felt she had. I imagine going through single-sex education in a school setting would yield similar results.

Miss Maszkerádi

@Ophelia ...or being introverted/shy, or some form of queer in a not so queer-friendly environment, or genuinely preferring to focus on studies/activities/friendships than dating until one is a bit older, or religious/cultural reasons, this or that or the other...there are PLENTY of reasons an otherwise normal, healthy and happy person might be "bad" at dating by someone else's standards. What does "bad at dating" even mean except "has not had many partners"?

I'm sorry, I don't mean to sound defensive or bitchy, I'm just curled up on the couch with world-ending cramps this afternoon and all I have the energy to do is drink tea and bellow at the interwebs.

Bloodrocuted

@CountessMaritza Despite your cramps, your writing was beautiful! I am sort of awed and jealous by your idyllic homeschooling experience. Of course you're right, there is a successful and unsuccessful way of doing most all parenting.
As for myself, I was homeschooled. I didn't enjoy it at all, but I know it's not an awkward-persons-invention machine, and public schools have their failing as well. Maybe it is easier to accuse one mother of doing a bad job educating than an entire government system.

TARDIStime

@CountessMaritza
I would love to redefine "bad at dating" to mean several things, because I have only had one partner, but he is great and we're still together. I would consider myself "great at dating" because of this success.
"Bad at dating": just seeing the wrong people or meeting them in the wrong places or not totally being yourself so that they fall in love with the real you. Also, some people are just D-bags.
This isn't everything - would love to see additions to the definition below!

Miss Maszkerádi

@Bloodrocuted aw, thanks. :) I don't want to be looking in completely rose-tinted hindsight at it all, my childhood definitely had its less-than-idyllic moments (mostly sort of loneliness/isolation at times and the aforementioned bullying for being the weird kid - though, necessity did teach me how to throw a damn good punch in self-defense) but overall I'm glad it was the way it was. DEFINITELY it isn't for everyone. I was fortunate that my mother was able to stay home with me (we had a very low cost of living and my dad made a good salary), fortunate that both my parents have post-doctoral degrees and were very effective "teachers", and fortunate that for whatever reason I was the kind of kid who would just nerd out for happy hours in a pile of books. With different personalities on either my or my folks' part, the whole thing might have gone up in flames by third grade.

JaneDoe

@CountessMaritza
Thank You! I am screwed up in a variety of ways, for a multitude of reasons, but, the way I choose to be educated has not resulted in any of them. I have been enrolled in around three separate at-home programs since 7th grade and different combinations of part-time work. I have found something that works for me at the moment and that is all I can hope for. Having dealt with depression, anxiety, rheumatic fever, and now chronic migraines. \
If I chose, I could be in a multitude of advanced classes as a part of the "regular" H.S.; but with my understanding, and supportive teacher I can do more advanced work while struggling to find what alleviates my symptoms.
Then again, a lot of my peers would probably have trouble with the program I'm a part of because you need to be very focused, driven, and interested in learning; and regular school can be stressful and exhausting, for any number of reasons(I get to sleep in! Make my own schedule. Choose what and how many classes I take at a time. focus on picking myself up, and dusting myself off when I'm down, rather than suffocating in shame, guilt, and frustration over my mind's perceived faults... Also, the bus. ugh...), and have only minimal contact with the woman who would be my counselor(she completely zoned-out our first 2 meetings, and I had to ask my mom to step in because she did not take me seriously). So, anyway... I have feelings about education, specifically alternative education...

Better to Eat You With

@harebell When I taught in a different part of the country, my experience with homeschooled students was 1) almost completely uniform, and 2) very similar to yours. But most of the students where I taught came from the same basic geographic area, and I wonder if there weren't some homeschooling trends going on in that area that weren't helping kids get ready for anything outside their current experiences.

Now, in the Midwest, I can't tell the homeschooled students from anybody else.

geek_tragedy

Wow! I'd heard so much about Jessica Valenti but never realized until now how badass she was! Her self-awareness and her thoughtful approach to parenthood is awesome! (Exclamation points.)

Somewhat off-topic, but: women of the US, how the fuck do you do it? Especially women who are also mothers. Like, how can you raise your kids without imploding? The system seems SO unsupportive, and there are no structures in place, really, to help: no universal daycare, no universal healthcare, no mandated paid leave, etc. etc. etc. Like seriously. I spent my early years in Europe, where my mother stayed in the hospital for two weeks after my birth. We had home help. The state effin paid for a physiotherapist to come to our house for my mother's pelvic floor therapy, post my birth. I had state-sponsored healthcare and daycare. Society in general both venerated parenthood (especially motherhood) AND supported mothers in general.

I am exhausted just trying to understand how middle-class or working class women in the US have kids and function.

@geek_tragedy They suffer. Martyrdom becomes a fetish.

Tuna Surprise

@geek_tragedy

They also sign up to do it at a much higher rates than their counterparts in socialist paradises.

Ophelia

@Tuna Surprise Although roughly 1/3 of that is because we lack access to reproductive health services. :-/

iceberg

@geek_tragedy sometyimes we just have the kids and put functioning on hold for a bit :S

Margalo

@geek_tragedy I don't suffer. I work 50 hours a week, have a long commute and two kids and am super duper happy. It works because I have lots of support, like my job, deeply love being a parent, and don't live in an insane town full of these insane judgy moms I hear about, but don't encounter. Like anything else - if you want to do it, you do your best to make it work.

bocadelperro

@geek_tragedy I am an American with a German mother, and what is and was fascinating to me is, despite the pretty great family support that Germans get (1 year paid maternity leave, plus the 14 weeks before your due date, a subsidy from the government when you have small children, pretty awesome post-partum care including a midwife who comes to your house to check up on you for the first 3 months of the baby's life, free contraceptives till you're 20) plus socialized medicine, and really really great preschools (google Waldkindergarten if you're curious) my German cousins and friends, who have similar levels of education and income to my friends in the US (professionals with advanced degrees--engineers, university professors, high-level government bureaucrats--admittedly these people are the top of the heap) have had the same struggles of balancing parenthood and their jobs that my friends in the US have.

I have lived in Germany for long stretches of time (3 years after college, 1 year as a fulbright, and I just got back from a year as a postdoctoral fellow), and I always expect it to be better, but it's the same.damn.problems (including openly hostile work environments, problems finding childcare, wanting to take reduced hours but knowing that it will hurt your career, losing out on promotions for mysterious reasons, etc) it's really disheartening.

Ophelia

@bocadelperro Out of curiosity, are people expected to TAKE their leave and use their benefits in Germany?

Also, I'm genuinely curious whether the reactions would be the same if we examined the reactions from American and German families at or below the poverty line. Because I think that's a different kind of balancing act.

sceps yarx

@iceburg "sometimes we just have the kids and put functioning on hold for a bit :S" that is the best definition of American parenting I have ever heard.

bocadelperro

@Ophelia Most people take all or most of their Babyjahr, and you have to take the government subsidy. (seriously one of my cousins tried to give it back because they said they had enough money and didn't need it. They told her she got it anyway, so tough toenails. This explains to me why so many people in Germany have brand-new bugaboo or McLaren strollers).

As for the second part of that question, I really can't answer it, and it's worth looking at.

Judith Slutler

@bocadelperro Oh, for sure. The culture is tough on working moms here (in Germany) and it's something I've worried about if I decide to have kids.

Academia seems great though, like, I worked for 5 different female adjuncts / doctoral candidates (I seriously don't know what you would call WiMis, lol) within 3 years in an undergrad work study position because each woman would get her grant, get preggers, go on maternity leave, next woman would arrive... The department loved it and all of their baby photos were prominently displayed in the hallway.

Judith Slutler

@Ophelia re: stress on working class families, I think the much more equitable healthcare system alone must REALLY help. People might survey as saying they are at similar stress levels in both countries I guess, but even just as a relatively healthy single young person it makes a lot of difference. I can't imagine not being able to pay for good prenatal and neonatal care which is the situation so many mothers face in the US.

bocadelperro

@Emmanuelle Cunt It's funny that you say that because my aunt (who, incidentally, didn't work outside of the home for 10 years because she couldn't find satisfactory childcare for her 3 kids) works for a government program that focuses on hiring and retaining more women in the academy, particularly in the sciences, and the statistics she has rattled off to me are bleak, bleak bleak (bleaker than the US even). Granted, it's hard as hell to get a permanent academic job in Germany, but it's harder by whole orders of magnitude for women. I honestly wonder how many of those WiMis (I'd call them ABDs or adjuncts as the rough US equivalent) wound up getting permanent jobs.

And yeah, like you said, I think it's cultural, (in both the US and in Germany) rather than much to do with government support (which is wonderful, really, please don't misunderstand). I find that the Babyjahr just pushes these issues back a year (which is probably better for the health of all involved, but still).

Judith Slutler

@bocadelperro That is so interesting! In my last work-study job both of my bosses, one man and one woman, had gotten out of the private sector and into academia because they each wanted to start a family (not with each other)

Actually lol scratch all of this because I am in urban design / planning / architecture. A permanent job, I've never heard of this magical sparkly unicorn thing, neither had any of my bosses - their plan was explicitly get grant -> have baby -> do doctorate at as leisurely a pace as possible -> get other job. Probably academia is just better by comparison to most of the private sector, which is even more bonkers.

Speaking as an immigrant from the US I think I'd still rather have kids here, but I'm not sure because the cultural issues are really judgy and weird. But then again at home they are too. Oh just fuck everyplace.

frigwiggin

YOUR BABY IS NAMED AMELIA??

I'm going to pretend it's after me, hope that's okay.

(Amelias rule!)

Judith Slutler

@frigwiggin Amelia is totally on my "pronouncable by all potential grandparents" name list.

Um, I'm not totally baby crazy, but I do have that list!

frigwiggin

@Emmanuelle Cunt Pronounceable by grandparents, maybe, but not always by siblings! My whole family calls me Mia because my brother, who was a year and a half when I was born, could only say "Amia." (Not that this is a bad thing--I felt a deep and abiding connection with Mia Thermopolis when The Princess Diaries came out.)

Renleigh

@frigwiggin Amelia is one of my favorite names, ever since I read the Amelia's Notebooks series as a kid, and then The Princess Diaries. And actually, Amelia Rules was a series my younger sister read. Amelias, great all around!

paperbuttons

@Renleigh I have seriously never met an Amelia who wasn't awesome. it's uncanny.

frigwiggin

@paperbuttons I met one other Amelia in high school who punched me, so she wasn't great, but on the whole I think we're pretty cool people. *shines fingernails on shirt*

etheline.

As a newly pregnant woman already horrified by how vocal other women are about how I should be mothering my unborn child, this couldn't come at a better time.
I was getting fitted for new contact lenses last week, and the technician told me I "just have to breastfeed." Excuse me, what? This was my first time meeting her - we certainly are not on the kind of personal level where such recommendations are anything close to okay.
A few days after that, I got into a bit of a debate with my (male) editor about how breastfeeding is the best choice.
For what it's worth, I intend to try - but I have seen enough female relatives struggle with the frustration and discomfort of not being able to easily breastfeed, and I resent the implication that they are bad mothers who aren't sufficiently concerned with their child's well-being.

Judith Slutler

@etheline. Argh, that sounds horrible! With that kind of stuff, I like to try out a polite, cheery statement of the facts: "Wow, I just met you for the first time! This is a very personal subject!"

Scandyhoovian

@etheline. Ohhhh wow. I don't know if I will have the patience for that... I barely have patience for buttinskis as it is. I hope you have found a good way to quickly shut that down!

etheline.

@Scandyhoovian @Emmanuelle Cunt
I was too taken aback by her comment for a biting comeback, but with my editor was more prepared for some sparring.
I hope I never, ever feel I am an authority on other people's mothering styles. Being pregnant so far seems like a crash-course in sensitivity training.

graffin

@etheline. My wife kept breastfeeding through a two month stretch of constant painful mastitis. I wanted her to stop so badly, but I couldn't get my voice heard through the constant noise of pro-breastfeeding blogs, forum comments, and relatives who act as if not breastfeeding is tantamount to child abuse.

Judith Slutler

@etheline. Yeah it is just so hard to even think of things to say to such ridiculousness. Yikes.

Also, let's face it people, babies need food, cuddles, supervision, and diaper changes. Anything other than that, I'm not sure babies care about. Babies, they just don't give a fuck about all this mommy war bullshit.

etheline.

@graffin This horrifies me.
Obviously, I'd love to breastfeed with ease, but it is not okay for anyone to place judgement on what is an extremely personal decision. The idea that a mom has to be a martyr to her child is something I'm not comfortable with.

The Hyperbolic Julia Set

@etheline. Yeah. I'm not pregnant and I'm trying to be more polite person in general but if ever I'm pregnant I'm going to have a hard time not saying things like "Excuse me I'd rather not discuss the function of my nipples in public." Or "No you may not touch me in order to ascertain if something in my uterus is moving." ....

hallu

@etheline. The first 6 weeks were the hardest thing I have ever done. And then suddenly, all the pain and issues resolved. Breastfeeding is so hard, no one talks about how difficult and painful it can be. I am glad I persevered (and totally respect that some people can't make it work).

KatPruska

@The Hyperbolic Julia Set Neither of those phrases are the least bit rude. Assertiveness is not rudeness!

smidge

@Emmanuelle Cunt I think you need to make a t-shirt that says "Babies don't give a fuck."

Yolanda and Steve

@The Hyperbolic Julia Set A pregnant woman once came to my office and had her stomach basically molested by our insufferable receptionist (because apparently pregnant bellies are communal property?!) and the woman just calmly reached out and cupped the receptionists breast and said "oh, sorry, does that make you uncomfortable?" and cooly walked away. I never even got her name but she has been my hero ever since.

TARDIStime

@SarahBS
I love this so much I want to marry it.

austengirl@twitter

@SarahBS I wish I could upvote this x 1 million.

Scandyhoovian

I love, love, love the emphasis on "I am an individual first, and being a mom is just part of that" versus the "I am a mom first" mentality that so many people seem to think is the Way it Should Be Done. I want to have kids someday but I do not--DO NOT--want to put my own interests and goals on hold to do it. I love reading about others who feel the same way.

etheline.

@Scandyhoovian THIS. I think that's where a lot of my discomfort comes from in being an expectant mother.
I am excited to have this baby, but I already feel suffocated by all of the expectations heaped on me.
Specifically, I am very worried about my social circle dwindling to myself, my husband and our baby. What if motherhood doesn't entirely fulfill me like everyone says it should? I want to be a proud "individual first" without the shaming that comes from voicing that opinion.

Punk-assBookJockey

@Scandyhoovian Same here! I am glad to read about it because it is encouraging to know that despite what so many people have told me and what I have witnessed in so many of my friends, having a child does not HAVE to change your personality and/or fundamental beliefs. They make it sound like you are actually physically compelled to change into a different person, and that is scary to me. So to know that's not true and have a first hand account of people remaining themselves after having a child is very encouraging for me.

Ophelia

@Scandyhoovian YES. I'd like to have kids sometime soon, and a lot of my (surprisingly militant) feelings on childbirth and parenting stem from this same point. I have no idea how I'll actually feel when I have a child, but...

Passion Fruit

@Scandyhoovian Huh, yeah, that is so interesting. I was imagining if a father was to say, "Well, I'm a Dad first and foremost...," I'd be like "WTF is wrong with this dude?" But mothers say (and are lauded for saying) these things all the time. And the general unspoken sentiment to these statements seems to be "Well, yeah, of course you're a 'Mom first.' YOU HAVE A UTERUS. What else is there for you?"

Judith Slutler

@Passion Fruit IDK, I think my dad thought of himself as "a dad first and foremost" when my brother and I were little. Sure, he was also the breadwinner, but he and I have talked a lot about how he felt most fulfilled when he was playing with us or helping with homework or whatever.

Really I think it's a matter of personality type, not gender, as to who feels what about their role as a parent. I think it would be awesome if men could define themselves as fathers first and foremost, and women didn't feel pressure to be a mom to exclusion of all other roles.

iceberg

@Scandyhoovian - try to only have one at a time, then ;)

(I have triplets, for those of you that haven't been bludgeoned over the head with that fact yet)

Passion Fruit

I guess it just boggles my mind how deeply ingrained our beliefs are that women should subsume themselves and their identity for procreation, BUT AT THE SAME TIME, procreate and rear children without ANY social support, but WITH constant public scrutiny and criticism.

Passion Fruit

@Emmanuelle Cunt Huh! That's really interesting and cool! I have seen men behave in very awesome, father first type of ways, and it's wonderful. But I've still never heard a man declare out loud in public spaces, like the office, or in politics, or wherever, "I am a father first and foremost." Maybe I am out of touch, though! Maybe Obama has said this, and I've missed it...

sceps yarx

@iceberg ha ha, upthread I was totally into your "put functioning on hold" comment, and now that I know you have triplets it totally makes sense! I relate because my single child got diagnosed with leukemia almost four years ago, and we've been doing chemotherapy ever since. Obviously there are so many differences between that and having triplets, but the thing that's the same is, a lot of what these supermoms are worrying about just feels like luxury items. In a weird way, having a cancer kid has made me feel FREE of all these expectations. Our life is not going to conform to any standards, so we are free to figure out our own path of what works and what doesn't.

maevemealone

@Emmanuelle Cunt Yeah... I can think of a few men in my family who would definitely forget they are pretty successful whozeewhatzits and knobturners if someone asked them about themselves, they would say fathers first.

Maryaed

@Scandyhoovian This is pretty much the first "Mom" advice I give to new and expectant mothers, and in part because they're so bombarded with "your life will change FOREVER AND COMPLETELY and you should just accept it, isn't it wonderful!" No, actually, you're allowed to continue to nurture your core personality and fit parenthood into your life. Your kid will not thank you for giving up all the other things you love on her behalf.

iceberg

@sceps yarx "Our life is not going to conform to any standards, so we are free to figure out our own path of what works and what doesn't."

yep, this for sure. a good day is when everyone is alive and relatively clean at the end of it.

Banana dance

I loved this interview!
I've been having the same conversation with a pregnant family member (I'm a rather freshly minted mom), and neither of us understand the baby worship and mommy wars. Why can't we be individuals?

theotherginger

@Banana dance I try and be encouraging to mom friends by affirming whatever choices they make and also being like your child needs love (with ppd or something I might um say something different). Can you give me tips for what are good things to say? And also how to talk about other parts of life without negating adorable baby in my lap?

Princess Gigglyfart

Can't wait to read this!

melis

I can't tell you guys how disappointing it is to me that the Mommy Wars were not a real, actual event that took place in the late 2000s and involved broadswords and mechanized spider armies and control of the spice trade and super-mom soldiers with Linda Hamilton arms racing around the desert trying to grow the largest Baby Hoards.

melis

Like MOMMY WARS sounds so cool and intense - there should have been booby-trapped uteruses and bloody treacherous prime ministers made of umbilical cords and mind-control battles and a poisoned sea - but it's really just a bunch of parents arguing in the comments on Atlantic articles.

Tuna Surprise

@melis - If you guaranteed there would be casualties, this would be a war I would support.

Ophelia

@Tuna Surprise And the mechanized spider armies.

Emby

@melis They'd be called Mamm-armies.

Ophelia

@Emby The plain where the armies finally collide is called The Level Playing Field.

iceberg

@melis Baby Hordes, even.

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

I would play that as a video game.

iffie

I don't get the descriptor, "young mother". She's 34 years old, which isn't young in terms of motherhood.

Is it because she just became a mother? Shouldn't it then be that she's the mother of young children/child? I know it seems nit-picky but it feels like this descriptor, which I see often, is a reflection of our inability to recognize that we are adults and want to prolong our adolescence well into our 30s.

punkahontas

@iffie I was wondering about that too, because I instantly was like "She's having a baby in her early twenties and also managed to write a book?!?"

Still, having a baby and managing to write a book is impressive at any age.

Nicole Cliffe

Totally. I was going for 'actively parenting small children,' and could have been much clearer.

iffie

@Nicole Cliffe I figured that was the case but wanted to point it out. I was a "young mother" as I had a child before I was allowed to legally drink and the experience at 20 is much different than at 34 (still parenting) so I am a little sensitive to this. Thanks for the clarification!

Miss Maszkerádi

@iffie Just because I feel like playing devil's advocate today, as a 23 year old who's already starting to panic about inevitable wrinkles, gray hairs and rejection by society, I thought it was kind of nice to hear a 34 year old woman referred to as "young" at all. ;-) Because that is still young, really, it's not adolescent but it's still...not old. (*desperately tries to convince self that she has more than two years of youth/happiness/acceptance left*)

Bittersweet

@CountessMaritza I'm 41, and I'm here to reassure you. You have PLENTY more than two years of youth/happiness/acceptance left. And I won't try to sell you the "40 is the new 20" line, because it's patent bullshit, but...you are good. You're good!

iffie

@CountessMaritza Sure, it's not old relatively speaking but in terms of motherhood it is not young. An unpleasant fact about modern life is that we don't want to have children when our bodies are in their peak child bearing years and waiting until you're in your mid-30s, which definitely has it's benefits!, is actually old on the motherhood spectrum so to describe her as a young mother is a little ridiculous. And, yes! You're totally good and have so much time to have fun and be happy!

Anyway, I think Nicole clarified what she meant and i'm sorry that this is getting off topic because I think there are some really great things in this interview and don't want to distract too much from that.

Elizabeth Switaj@twitter

I don't really understand how you can talk about anti-vaxxers without talking about ableism, given how much of that movement is driven by fear of and hatred for autism and autistics.

Judith Slutler

@Elizabeth Switaj@twitter This is so true, I went down a link rabbit hole from a couple of sites for skeptics who shed a light on the anti-vax movement, and omg you would not believe some of the things "natural health" people do to their children with autism. not to be gross, but bleach enemas were involved.

Passion Fruit

@Emmanuelle Cunt AH! Bleach enemas!!!! NOOOOOOOO!

Judith Slutler

@Passion Fruit It was seriously horrifying, like, the conclusion in my mind was inescapable that these people were obsessively abusing their kids under the guise of "curing autism". They would do this awful stuff and then say that their kids were getting so much more sedate and quiet. Like, no shit, appalling abuse can make kids withdraw. WTF.

royaljunk

@Elizabeth Switaj@twitter Yeah, the fact that those movements never seem to involve actual autistic people (from what I've seen) is really suspect - I know a lot of parents involved probably mean well, but it always strikes me as more for the parent's benefit than the child's, and perpetuating "OMG AUTISM IS THE WORST FATE IN THE WORLD!!!!", can we not.

Passion Fruit

@Emmanuelle Cunt Ugh, oh my God, that is so upsetting. I mean, I can sympathize with all the pressure that parents of severely autistic children face, but this is seriously crazy pants. Poor kids.

bocadelperro

@Passion Fruit Seriously. A bunch of my uncles and cousins are on the spectrum, and I kind of need a hug after reading that.

iffie

@Elizabeth Switaj@twitter Not to mention that the anti-vaxxers depend on everyone else to vaccinate their children in order to keep their kids healthy. This is the part that drives me fucking crazy. It's so entitled.

Ophelia

@iffie I think we should just make all the anti-vax kids go to school only with each other. I shudder to think about lack of herd immunity for kids who ACTUALLY can't get certain vaccines due to allergies or a suppressed immune system.

Judith Slutler

@bocadelperro Aaahhh I'm sorry! It is really distressing :/

bocadelperro

@Emmanuelle Cunt no no, it's totally not your fault. My dad is an epidemiologist, with a brother on the high-functioning end of the spectrum, so the whole anti-vaxx/vaccines cause autism thing sticks in my craw particularly badly. It's just sad to hear what people are doing to their children in the name of "cures" for something that cannot be cured because it's not a disease!

parallel-lines

@Ophelia I concur with this idea: there was an outbreak of babies getting measles recently because of anti-vaxxers. Babies don't have the privilege of having an opportunity to even GET vaccinated until around 1 year of age, so good work you assholes. Your choices made a bunch of innocent babies sick.

sceps yarx

@bocadelperro all of my uncles and cousins and brothers are on the spectrum too. And my son is immunosuppressed. So yeah, very strong opinions. I am usually outspoken and articulate about my beliefs, but this issue makes me start trembling and weeping before I can even start thinking about what to say. Rage weeping is the worst!

bocadelperro

@parallel-lines Oh man, that is super-scary. Did you know that measles (and chicken pox) have significantly higher fatality rates among people of Native American descent? One of the reasons that the US pushed vaccinations for these diseases much stronger than our counterparts in the eastern hemisphere is because of this. Herd immunity helps to protect all sorts of people, and by not vaccinating, you are putting LOTS of people at risk.

@sceps yarx personally, I just get all shouty and impatient. It doesn't help that I live in Northern California, the fountainhead of all this sort of woo-woo. I've pretty much had to remove myself from cocktail parties over this issue

Maryaed

@Emmanuelle Cunt Makes me crazy, as do the people who claim you can't get the autisticooties if you're breastfed and unvaxed. A whole bunch of people seceded from the Mothering.com forums (Crunch Central) over this years back. But I assume there's always a new crop of people with small autistic kids that they can blame for their kids' problems.

orangeyouglad

This post is colliding all of my worlds. Feministing, Jessica Valenti, and the Hairpin could rule the world.

DullHypothesis

"To me, though, being thin felt like being empty – like I was missing this baby that was supposed to still be there"

Perfect. The changes in a woman's body are so life-changing during pregnancy, to make it about weight loss, even if your pregnancy is healthy, is so demeaning! This point illuminates it for Jessica's case (and anyone who's birthed a preemie) but I think it carries to all pregnancies. There's so much more about having a baby than getting skinny again!

emeegee

I read this interview while pumping at my desk. I started my dream job when my daughter was about 3 months old, and for the last 8 weeks I've been trying to negotiate the logistical and emotional dimensions of feeding her, caring for her, loving her, and being honestly excited about my work. To be perfectly honest, it's tricky and sometimes challenging but I'm crazy-privileged: my partner shares parenting equally with me and encourages my independent undertakings, I can afford a kind, trustworthy babysitter, and we're all three healthy. That's a lot of luck converging right there.

It's good to have people like Valenti raising the salient and often-overlooked fact that parenthood, work, and schools are highly political community issues in addition to being personal ones.

I am grateful for her eloquent reminders that agitating (socially and politically) for better support for all families is part of my job as a person first, parent second.

Nice interview, Nicole- as soon as I unhooked my tits from the milking machine I bought the book.

iceberg

Great interview, she seems like a pretty badass lady.

Even though I had mentally told myself I would not feel shame or failure if I couldn't manage breastfeeding my trio, I still felt HUGE shame and guilt when it dried up - like five minutes after I went back to work. If I'd had paid mat. leave perhaps I could have spent more time trying and pumping and so on...

hallu

@iceberg I only have one that i breastfeed, and the fact that you even made the effort to breastfeed at all is totally amazing. I don't think I would have even tried!

Ophelia

I'm not sure if Jessica addresses this in her book (since it sounds more focused on parenthood than pregnancy/birth?), but can we talk a little bit about US C-section rates, and what's "best for the baby" not (necessarily) being a) best for the mother or b) based on science?

Signed,
My closest hospital has a 41% C-Section rate

MmeLibrarian

@Ophelia My closest hospital has a c-section rate 10% below the national average and I still ended up having one. I had labored for 20 hours to no avail and no one knows why my daughter refused to join us in the more, erm, traditional fashion. My pro-natural birth, pro-mom-and-baby-as-equals-in-birth suggested a c-section. That situation was not safe for me or for my baby. Three cheers for c-sections and for doctors who are smart enough to know when they're appropriate.

Ophelia

@MmeLibrarian Oh, yes! Sorry, not disparaging C-sections when they really are necessary, I'm just really worried about the crazy-high rates in NYC, and a propensity to intervene when it isn't necessary. I also worry that medical practitioners are not being taught the skills to, for example, deliver breech babies, which also drives that rate higher.

Jaya

@Ophelia Yes! My sister-in-law just gave birth two weeks ago, and thank goodness she had a doctor who knew what they were doing. But the doctor apparently had to lie to the nurses about how dilated she was (i.e. very) and got them out of the room so she could...correct...the baby's position (is that how you put it?), otherwise the nurses would have seen the breech and forced a C-Section. And the birth was totally fine after that and both she and the baby are healthy!

Deanna Destroi

I'd just like to say thank you to all those involved in these types of articles. I don't have kids (yet, hopefully) but a lot of my friends do, and I feel like these realistic looks at parenting keep me from saying a lot of unintentionally asinine things that I might otherwise be ignorant about.

Megasus

Oh man, so my ex's Mom. She means well, but she is totally one of those super natural anti-vaxxer mothers (her youngest child did not get vaccinated, and me and the ex were always like O.O about it). HIs older brother recently had a daughter with is (now ex) girlfriend last year, and we had to tell her to leave the girl alone because she was bugging her about not breastfeeding (like to the point of upsetting her). She was still feeding her breast milk, she just wasn't breastfeeding. We were like, "OK, she is getting her Ph.D, she is aware that it's supposedly better or whatever, but she is allowed not to like it and your granddaughter is still getting all the nutrition of breastmilk, so lay off." Ugh, I definintely could not have handle this without getting mad, so there's another reason not to want kids (not that I ever really have).

phipsi

@Megano! This is soooo ridiculous! I was just reading another blog the other day where the mom discusses her decision to pump exclusively because things weren't going great with her kid on the boob for a variety of reasons (schedule, physically difficult, kid was having problems latching, she wasn't really enjoying it AT ALL). Most of the people on this blog post were very supportive saying, "I still count that as breastfeeding, since he's getting fed breastmilk. I don't think I realized until now that some people think that only breastmilk directly from boobs counts as breastfeeding. I mean, how do people go back to work with a baby if they are having to do this for a year or more?!?! UN-POSSIBLE.

phipsi

@Megano! OR GET A PhD for that matter!!!

Megasus

@phipsi I think it's like they think you bond better with the baby or something, or like it's healthier? I dunno, I don't think it matters. You're allowed to not like breastfeeding.

Bebe

@phipsi Wait, what? Feeding your kid breast milk from a bottle is bad? Because? Wow. I don't have any kids, so I guess that's why I'm so surprised but jeez -- talk about an impossible standard!

Bittersweet

@phipsi I breastfed for 5 months after I went back to work...but I had agreeable daycare providers, an understanding employer, and a fierce competitive streak. Damnit, I am going to make it to a year if it kills me!

TARDIStime

@Megano! There is research that says there is a bonding hormone that is released when women feed directly through their breasts that is not released when pumping for the bottle.
BUT probably not everyone produces this hormone, because if you're breastfeeding and you're not liking it and it's causing you to be stressed, my guess is that the negatives of stress will outweigh any positives from the bonding hormone. Also, if you have PPD, there is so much going on all up in there that I doubt all the hormones are doing what they should anyway.
Basically, do whatever the fuck you want. Parenting is not one-size-fits-all.

Jessica Valenti@twitter

Hey folks, just wanted to say thanks for all of the thoughtful commentary - this thread is making my day.

carlwinslow

@Jessica Valenti@twitter we love you, Jessica!

parallel-lines

@Jessica Valenti@twitter Great book! Thanks for being the voice of reason in a debate full of crazy.

Paul_Funyun

@Jessica Valenti@twitter Your work makes me feel less crazy for wanting kid(s?) one day and wishing I could be a mom in a world where more people are so thoughtful, reasonable and kind. Thank you!

sunflowernut

A few months ago I was talking with one of my good friends about what it might be like having kids. I mentioned that I probably wouldn't breastfeed (my breasts range from tender and to painful when I'm not on birth control, so the thought of breastfeeding sounds traumatizing) and she straight up said to me "Well maybe you shouldn't have kids." She actually told me that if I wasn't going to breastfeed I shouldn't have kids. I wanted to punch her.

Ophelia

@Asher You probably should've punched her. In the boob.

Ophelia

@Ophelia THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST FEELS LIKE! BAM!

MmeLibrarian

@Asher The other day I came across a mom blogger who suggested that people who hire babysitters so they can go out and have a nice meal/see a movie shouldn't have kids. I'd like to nominate her for one of those boob punches.

Also - WHAT.

sceps yarx

@MmeLibrarian uh, see how great of a mom I am when I never leave the house, loose my last f***ing marble and am rocking myself in the corner and drooling on my own yoga pants. Also, I've heard having a totally messed up marriage where you never spend time alone with your spouse is really good for kids, too. BOOB PUNCH!

Jessica Valenti@twitter

@Asher I got the same thing. Some helpful feminists on Twitter suggested I shouldn't have had a kid if I I wasn't prepared to "sacrifice." It makes me wonder what's up with their notion of themselves as parents that motherhood means this very specific and limited thing to them

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@Jessica Valenti@twitter
How sure are you that they weren't talking, like, Aztec-style? 'Cause my baby will only eat still-beating human hearts.

RK Fire

@Ophelia: I need to remember this line.

Ophelia

@RK Fire I'm thinking of having t-shirts made.

whateverlolawants

@MmeLibrarian When I tried out for Jeopardy! recently, a girl my age said she'd driven there for 8 hours with her sister, who had had a baby a month ago and needed some time away from her toddler, baby, and husband. And the only reaction was knowing laughter and "I bet she did!" I was so proud of my fellow auditioners.

TARDIStime

@whateverlolawants
This story just made me feel so very, very good.

Springtime for Voldemort

@Asher And the thing that kills me is that I doubt if you were actually childfree she'd really be accepting of that. So it's like, "don't have kids unless you x", but not having kids is not actually an option, so you just have to x.

whateverlolawants

I really liked this, especially the eloquence of how being a mother isn't always someone's most important role, and how that's okay.

The part that raised questions for me was about parents doing what's right (?) for their kids and not agitating for change in the current system. That's a debate I often wonder about, especially since I studied to be a public school teacher but changed my mind. I am mostly really glad I went to a decent public school (exposed to all sorts of people, had a mostly good curriculum), but I also know that school was where I picked up a large portion of the damaging ideas and myths that I'm still trying to shake off. And a parent might agitate for change, but how quickly will it happen? Will it be enough? I know it's a huge issue, fraught with questions of privilege. I just don't know what the answer is, and I guess it depends on the individual situation.

catspajamas

@whateverlolawants I am a parent that chose to move my child from the under performing school she was in to one across town that was almost its polar opposite in every way. No amount of rabble rousing was going to help my child get the resources and education she needed in that school in the three years that she left there. We moved because my divorce from her father presented an opportunity. The school that she goes to is in an area that is modest but has been colonized by entertainment types so, housing prices have skyrocketed. We live in a one bedroom apartment because NOBODY vacates the larger apartments. Sometimes I feel a little guilty because the school we moved to was considered undesirable 10 years ago and most people sent their kids to one of several nearby private schools. The school is now one of the most desirable in district due to the hard work of many parents that wanted their home school to be really great. I value public school. My father was a public school teacher. There really are no easy answers to this question. The questions only get harder when you have a responsibility for one specific child. The schools are overcrowded and unfortunately, YOU are the only person who see this whole child. It responsibility to advocate for this person and see that they get what they need. Change in Public Education is like trying to turn the Titanic. Also, Gifted education these days is not like it was when you were a kid. In our district there are a few magnet schools that get the bulk of the teachers trained to teach gifted kids and the resources to do so . Elsewhere, IF your kid has been tested, that's it. You are told that your child's teacher will extend the curriculum to accommodate and challenge your child. Class sizes have gone up and quite frankly they can't. The focus has become the tests. If your kid seems to be doing fine (decent grades, not disruptive and good test scores) then the school considers their work done. Even if that is not the case. Sorry, I'm just feeling a little frustrated because I feel like she is getting left behind. And reading people's comments about "Why don't people just make their home schools better?" didn't help. The comments sound a little "Let them eat cake"

whateverlolawants

@catspajamas I would be frustrated too. Comments like that remind me of people who ask why immigrants come to the US and other countries instead of fixing their own countries. So ridiculous. I agree with you. Change is slow to come to most schools. (That's one of the biggest reasons I hated teaching and decided it would be hell for me.) You're the one who knows your kid and one of her only advocates. My mom almost homeschooled me for similar reasons, but then the district came up with a better GT program. (And yep, they've mostly dismantled that program because all they care about is state standards and tests.)

cattgirl813

"There is just no logic attached to questioning childfree people as to why they didn’t have kids – it’s all cultural expectations. A third of births in the U.S. are unintended – that’s fucked up. That’s what we want to get away from. We don’t ask parents why they had kids – even though we’re the ones bringing new people in the world. Childfree folks are just maintaining...the only reason to question them is that as a culture we simply cannot fathom the idea that a woman (men get a lot less shit) might not crave kids on this intense biological level."

This is why I love Jessica Valenti's work. I would never dare ask anyone why they decided to have a (or another) child, so I wonder why people feel totally comfortable asking me why I've chosen not to have children...or insinuate I must be damaged/selfish/a lesbian/bitter because of my choice.

MmeLibrarian

@cattgirl813 People can also be complete jerks about people who choose to have only one child. My husband and I have been certain that we were going to go the "one and done" route for a while now, and, while we adore our tiny, shrieky daughter, parenting her has made us feel quite confident in our choice. Apparently, we're going to make her a neurotic, lonely mess by not giving her any siblings (an assertion that my only child husband *loves*) or we're going to have our brains hijacked by some sort of overwhelming biological instinct three years from now and have no choice but to reproduce again. Unless you've got 2.5 kids and the ability to shift your parenting style on the spot to suit every single person you interact with, you are always going to be given a hard time by people who should know better.

cattgirl813

@MmeLibrarian: And that is incredibly sad. I don't understand how people can be so intrusive and insensitive about something so intrinsically personal. Hugs to you and your familiy. I know your daughter is now, and will continue to be, one amazing young woman.

PS: My mom and dad used to get incredibly insensitive remarks about only having daughters (you know, the usual "the family name will die out" bull because my dad was an only child), mixed with whispers because one sister died of SIDS. ("What do you REALLY think happened....") My other sister, like me, has decided not to have children, so she gets the same BS, plus people give my mom shit because "you'll never be a grandmother." You know, like her life is a total failure. It gets to be incredibly hard not to tell clods off, but what can you do except ask the same question in the face of rudeness: "Why is this any of your business?"

@MmeLibrarian Not gonna lie... I love my brother, I love him a lot, I am super happy he's on the planet, but I think my parents would have been a whooooole lot happier if I had been an only child. I'm not sure why they wanted more kids (who knows!), but sometimes I look at my mom and think "wow, you know, maybe being an only child wouldn't have been so bad for any of us."

Only children, not weird. Both of my college roommates were only children. The first one was kind of not great as a roommate. The second one is my best friend and we lived together for 2 years. Only children: it's how you raise them.

whateverlolawants

@S. Elizabeth Agreed. I love my sister to death and can't imagine life without her. I am so glad my parents had her. But my mom is an only child and turned out great, as did my boyfriend and several of my friends. The only-child stereotype works if you ignore all the well-adjusted only children and horribly-adjusted non-only children.

theotherginger

@whateverlolawants hahahaha. seriously, people, it's how they are raised, what environment they are raised in, existing personality traits, experiences, omg. i know plenty of entitled juiceboxes with siblings.

@theotherginger Seriously. My Ladyfriend is an identical twin -- very few of the twin stereotypes apply.

Maryaed

I really loved this article: Jessica, you're saying what I have been saying for years and years, very sanely and civilly. Thank you for giving it a nice big audience.

area@twitter

Just wanted to join in and say how great this article was. Jessica, thanks for thinking and talking and writing so carefully and sanely on what is an insane topic. An aside- I have a series of health issues that would make carrying and breastfeeding a child very difficult. Kids are nowhere close on the horizon for me, yet I'm already having these mental debates about "well, what if you changed this medication, and you didn't need antidepressants (DING!) and you lost some weight (DING! DING!) and holy shit, why am I even considering putting myself through this shit for something that might never happen?!

theotherginger

@area@twitter was once reading something on a PPD website - who knows why - and they were like don't go off your meds for your baby. Your baby is happier when you are adjusted. WHY ARE WOMEN ALWAYS PREPARING FOR BABIES IN THEIR HEADS? CAN MEN PLEASE DO THIS TOO? Even if we will remain child free by choice?

jenntench@twitter

i have so many comments about this, but first and foremost, the formatting of this interview is flawed. Please fix so it's clear who's asking the questions and when Jessica responds. Am I just an overzealous editor who fixates on these things? maybe, but i'm willing to help, really!

dontannoyme

This was great, thank you. I am a mother but I have also always been a person. And the mother thing does not override the person thing, although sometimes it seems like it does (after a solid hour (or morning, or entire day) of breastfeeding, taking my screaming baby to the loo so I could carry on prioritising breastfeeding without having to do a wee on the sofa was one of those moments).

And re attachment parenting - it's a good idea to make your baby feel loved, to look your baby in the eye, to cuddle it and reassure it. But that does not have to be the only thing you do all day. I think the problem is that driven, educated women who are used to excelling apply this to babies. They take the theory, extrapolate it to the nth degree and apply to a frankly mysterious and unknowable newborn baby. So if the book says keep lugging baby around day and night, that's what you do. Even if actually what you want to do (and should do) is leave the baby to cry for ten mins and go and get a glass of wine.

theotherginger

@dontannoyme wow. if I ever decide to have children, you are my role model.

Ophelia

@dontannoyme This, exactly. My dad tells a great story about when my sister was about 4 months old, and Would. Not. Stop. Crying. He tried to comfort her, then tried to put her down for a nap, tried to comfort her again, pondered throwing her out the window, and then went and got a beer, let her cry for 10 mins, and only then tried again. It was probably the only sane thing to do.

ImASadGiraffe

@dontannoyme My dad likes to tell the story of one early evening when I was really young (like 6 months old), and wouldn't stop crying, wouldn't take a bottle, wouldn't sleep, diaper was fine, and my parents couldn't comfort me. They put me in my crib, shut the door, drank a bottle of wine together and watched a movie while I cried. For over an hour until I fell asleep. Woke up happy as a clam the next morning.

I turned out 100% fine so yeah. There's that.

chelsbells

When I had my daughter (who is now 3) I wanted to exclusively breastfeed. While in the hospital recovering from a C-Section I was surprised that my milk wasn't "coming in" as expected. Over the next week or so, I saw (at minimum) six different lactation consultants, purchased a $200 pumping machine...and wound up at the children's hospital with an extremely dehydrated one week old. Still, even as they were pumping her full of fluids, I was wheeled a hospital pumping machine where I produced a whopping 1oz of milk. I still had to request assistance as to how much formula to feed her and both her pediatrician and the hospital staff encouraged me to continue to pump every hour on the hour and feed her directly every hour and half. It was brutal and when I finally gave up a month later, never producing more than six ounces in a day, I still felt the incredible guilt of failing and switching to the formula that was destined to leave her feeling inadequate, sickly, and unloved. After the switch, though, I finally realized that the pressure to breastfeed exclusively is what led to her hospitalization in the future. Any failings are determined to be women's fault, some intentional or subconscious desire to thwart our child's health & development. I was never approached with the idea of using formula exclusively and wish I had been from the first moment I realized things weren't going according to the blissful stories I'd read in parenting books and had shoved down my throat for years...

hands_down

This is fucking great. Thank you, Jessica! I was never able to produce enough milk to feed my boy and had to supplement from the very beginning. And I felt like a total failure about this, shed many tears over it, and tried so, so hard to make it work. The Judgey McJudgersons of the world can stuff it...

hands_down

@hands_down And I wanted to add, when I gave birth I had NO idea that breastfeeding could be so fucking difficult, or that I might not be able to do it at all. The only thing I thought would happen is that my nipples would get super sore. I wish I'd known then what I know now. So I'm really glad that ladies like Jessica are getting the word out. The last thing women in the early stages of motherhood need is to feel isolated.

biminiblue

In my experience life is not black and white, but mostly gray. Me, I'm not a "new" Mom ... (turned 47 yesterday), three kids 14,11,9, my son was born cesarean and my girls were VBAC's (vaginal birth after cesarean.) I have found mothering and parenting to be a transformative and very spiritual journey, but I know it is not like that for everyone. I'm a passionate Mother but I'm passionate about a lot of things. The birth of my third child, natural for a hospital setting with no meds, changed my life and my spirituality in a way I can't put into words and don't have to.

I quit my teaching job in Brooklyn when my son was born because I wanted to stay home and childcare costs would have made it a wash. I Breastfed, Coslept smiled, cried, stumbled through the first years with my kids. I never told my pediatrician that my babies slept in the crook of my arm all night because I felt guilty that I was not following the "rules." It just felt right to my husband and I, but it doesn't feel right to everyone.

There is a lot to be said for attachment, natural birth and all the hormones that flow nurture bonding. There is also a great deal of science to support the benefits. Joseph Chilton Pierce (The Biology of Transcendence) speaks of an opening to a nurturing wisdom that occurs when Moms and babies (and Dads too) have early healthy attachments. Gabor Mate (The Body Says No, Hold on to you Kids) also has a great deal of knowledge (infant brain development) and wisdom in this area and he connects poor attachment to many of society's problems such as addiction and ADD. But he, and many others, also point out that it is never too late to attach to your kids. I believe no matter what your choices your intention is what truly connects.

I am not and anti or pro vaccine I just ask questions about everything and where name calling is involved I feel there is usually something uncomfortable to hide. When my kids fight I try to get both sides while establishing firm rules like no hitting or name calling. Fights and name calling occur because of misunderstandings so bringing compassion and understanding to a disagreement, when all is calm, is the way I go. It seems quite simple but this is something the media and the medical establishment don't seem to understand. People question vaccines and public schools/ school reform for good reasons and to simply dismiss their concerns doesn't solve the problem.

There is a lot of strong science that says vaccines can and do cause problems for some. That is why a dollar of your vaccine's cost goes to the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. They have paid out nearly 2 billion dollars since its establishment in 1988. New studies point to a connection between the upsurge in shingles and the chicken pox vaccine. The natural immunity boost of chicken pox exposure no longer keeps the virus at bay in those who have had the disease. They have created a shingles vaccine to address this. In pertussis outbreaks A outbreaks those that are vaccinated also come down with the disease as it is believed that immunity wans after 3 years. Adults, which are not mandated to get the vaccine, can also get and spread pertussis. There is no vaccine for Pertussis B.

Michael Specter, in his book, Denialism How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives takes on the "anti vaccine movement" among other things. In 2009 he made the talk show rounds, and even appeared on TED. No one questioned why his book had no footnotes and on his websites "Footnotes coming soon" has been posted for 3 years. A very well researched book with tons of footnotes was written by Heather Fraser entitled, The Peanut Allergy Epidemic: What's Causing It and How to Stop It. Ms. Fraser makes a very strong case for the connection between vaccine adjuvants and peanut allergies. She goes through the history of adjuvants and anaphylaxis, yet no one in the mainstream media is knocking down her door asking for interviews. Before anyone calls her names they should read her book!
George Carlin said it best when he said: "Don't just teach your children to read, teach them to question what they read. Teach them to question everything."

VelourFog

A friend just shared this inspirational quote on Facebook:
"My mother did not work me into her schedule; she worked her schedule around me. She spent little on herself so that she could spend what she had on me. She had her own dreams that she could have chased, but instead she helped me chase mine. Biology made her my mother, but her soul made her my mom. I loved her then, I love her now, I will love her forever."

I was so horrified that I had to run over here and post it.

bitemysnatch

@VelourFog - I love this quote!

bitemysnatch

@VelourFog - sorry- just noted you were horrified with this quote-at least she was a responsible mom. And hope she then chased her dreams when her kid was older..

bitemysnatch

@VelourFog -if mom decides to squash dreams for good of child, mom should not give that guilt to said child. So now more in agreement with you being horrified!

ciphressinchief

The numbers are even scarier: nearly 40% of births are unintended (unwanted or mistimed) and 49% of pregnancies are unintended! 49%!

bitemysnatch

We all must be realistic ( and responsible adults). Once we have babies, we must be responsible for said lil humans. If one works, is in a relationship and is a mom, there is very little room for other things if one wants to do the above well ( plus throw in being a good daughter, friend, citizen) But... not to worry- really , they grow up quickly- Do not compromise on your interests for your lover , but for your child.... some things can slide til that little one is "done".

u0301466

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