Reflections on motherhood...


Friday, September 23, 2011

The cult of "motherhood fundamentalism"

While on my sickbed, I took to reflecting on my approach to motherhood.  Mostly, I wondered if my 'die hard' attitude to breastfeeding had somehow left me disadvantaged.  Before I go on, I should say that this situation I found myself in (ie, with a baby who refuses to take a bottle or formula, and who showed, until recently, very little interest in solid food) was not something I really gave much thought to - it just happened that way, before I really had time to convince Milkbaby that the boob was not the be all, end all, breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and midnight snack.

Certainly more than one person [read: almost everyone] who heard my mastitis misery tale asked whether I'd thought about giving up breastfeeding.  Even the specialist, during one of my mama-exposes-boobs-to-all consultations, asked me sternly:

How old is he now?
And how much longer do you plan on breastfeeding him for? [picture his stern but bemused sort of face]
Ummm.  Err.  I don't know?  Until he doesn't want milk any more?  [I'm thinking, hang on mate, you're a breast surgeon, and you're asking me to put some kind of time limit on this thing? We both know the World Health Organisation says "two years and beyond"]

As if it was somehow my decision anyway.  The truth is, I probably would stop if I could.  Or I would if Milkbaby had showed any disinterest in the boob whatsoever.  I know he'll stop wanting milk sooner or later... surely.  But at this stage I can't bear the screaming when I refuse him.

I mentioned to a friend, in a passing comment sort of way, that maybe I shouldn't have been so committed to breastfeeding.  Or that I should have at least introduced (and persisted with) a bottle and formula.  Just for the odd occasion.  Just so that I could have the odd night out.  Or so that I could have had a whole night on my own in hospital.  Or perhaps, so that I wouldn't have gotten the damn mastitis in the first place.  (Notice how these reasons are all about me and my freedom?)

Elisabeth Badinter
So this friend sent me an article about Elisabeth Badinter, contrary feminist and apparently France's most influential intellectual.  Here's a picture of her, cigarette in hand.  Tres French, non?

In her latest book, "Le Conflit: La Femme et la Mere", she rails against what she regards as a cult of "motherhood fundamentalism" that is spreading in the West.

Since "fundamentalism" has become synonymous with "terrorism", the phrase "motherhood fundamentalist" has me picturing a motherhood suicide bomber.

"If he doesn't go to sleep within the next ten minutes,
I swear I'll explode."

I digress.  "Motherhood fundamentalism" is apparently a spreading cult which advocates a more natural, green style of parenting.  Cloth nappies, breastfeeding, and homemade baby food are the main targets of Badinter's criticism.  She argues that women are burdened with intolerable guilt unless they stay home and breastfeed for as long as possible.  And shame on you if you try and give your kid baby food from a jar.  Cloth nappies are a life sentence of washing (which, apparently, men do not help with).

Elisabeth Badinter (or at least what I understand of her argument - most of it is in French), gives voice to the extreme version of the thoughts that had been niggling at me.  Whereas I wonder, (in a vague, sleep-deprived sort of way) "have I taken this breastfeeding thing too far?", Badinter shouts, "almost certainly!".

I don't agree with her.  Some of our differences might be cultural.  France has the lowest breastfeeding rates in the Western World.  So low, in fact, that the country is not even included in World Health Organisation breastfeeding statistics for babies older than three months.  And in France, unlike in my household, women still do 80% of the household chores - which goes some way to explaining her aversion to cloth nappies.

I wouldn't call myself a "Motherhood fundamentalist" or even a "Crunchy mama".  But I don't think much harm can come from a little effort to reduce my impact on the world (and cloth nappies are more reliable than disposables anyway), and for most people, little harm comes from a healthy commitment to breastfeeding.

Would I do it the same way again?  If you're asking me that question in a hypothetical, abstract sort of way, then yes, absolutely.

Motherhood lesson #3

How to take your toddler to get a passport photo, and leave the shop with your nerves in tact.

Sorry, I'm afraid it's not possible. Either get his passport photos done when he's a few weeks old, or forget about international travel until after age five. The latter approach probably involves less stress for everyone anyway.

If you want to know how "the third way" might go for you, read on...

I took Milkbaby to get a passport photo last week.  Naively thinking that it would only take a few minutes, I popped in to the photo shop on our way home.  The rest of the afternoon went something like this:

I sit him on the seat.  He stares, open-mouthed, at the girl taking his picture.

"He'll need his mouth closed." she says.

He grins at her, displaying his pearly-whites.  I encourage him to close his mouth, by making closed-mouth faces at him.  He laughs at me, then stares with his mouth open some more.

He gets bored and starts investigating the chair he's sitting on.  He tries getting down from the chair.  I sit him back on the chair.  He grins at the girl some more.  He points and waves at her.  By now, he figures, they're becoming friends.

We turn the chair around, so he's kneeling on it. The girl tries to get his attention again.  I try holding his gaping mouth shut, and then taking my hand away at the moment of the photo.  It doesn't work.

We try lying him down on a white sheet.  Before the girl lifts the camera to her face, he rolls over and crawls away.

Apples: useful for enticing Snow Whites
and small children.
I'm starting to feel flustered and embarrassed.  The girl asks if I can think of anything that we can give him to eat so that his mouth will stay shut.  I remember an apple in my handbag.

We sit Milkbaby back on the stool, and I give him some apple.  He chews it, while grinning and waving at the two other shop assistants who've come to watch the spectacle.

He spits the apple out on the floor.  I try to look composed while picking bits of apple off the carpet and making sure Milkbaby stays sitting on the stool.  He points at the apple, wanting more.  I give him some more.

He sits and chews, seemingly offering a few closed-mouth photo opportunities.  But he's not looking at the camera, and the girl points out that his fringe is covering his eyebrows, something which is not allowed.

I do a very mumsy thing and lick my fingers to wet his hair, clumsily attempting to tame his fringe away from his eyebrows.  By now I'm very flustered.  I wonder aloud why it's so important to have your eyebrows showing in a passport photo.  It's like customs officials are playing some sick joke to ensure that everyone, including babies, look hideous in their passports.

The girl gives up and hands the camera to a colleague.  It's the end of her shift.  Her colleague goes and gets a bigger, better camera.  He's pulling out the big guns.

Milkbaby points at the apple.  I give the whole thing to him, figuring things can't get much worse.  I'm considering giving up on the possibility of overseas travel.  Who'd want to travel with a toddler anyway?

All of a sudden, Milkbaby seems to get it.  He gives up on the gap-toothed grinning and gormless staring, and puts on his best Blue Steel pout.

The guy casually snaps a couple shots, then says, "yep, I think we got one".  I breathe a sigh of relief, and leave the shop before they can tell me they need to do them again.  Fingers crossed the mugshot is good enough for the authorities...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The cry it out equation

I've decided that whether or not you get to the cry-it-out point depends on a number of factors.  These factors can be expressed in an equation, as follows:

NN + TLD X MF + (10/NA) > 5000 = CIO

Or in words:

Where (Number of consecutive nights without unbroken sleep plus total number of times you've said 'lie down please, it's time to sleep' multiplied by minutes of fussing you've already put up with plus (10 divided by the number of adults in the house at bedtime)) all divided by Length of tether (where short = 2; medium = 5; long = 10) is greater than or equal to 5000, it's more likely than not that you will resort to crying it out to get your baby to sleep.

For me, last Wednesday, that equation looked like this:

425 + ~826 X 120 + (10/1) = 30026

In other words, I was pretty much off the charts in terms of likelihood of resorting to crying it out.

Which is what I did.

The cry-it-out theory has its origins in a book
published in 1894 by the guy in the  middle, Dr Luther Holt.
I am hesitant to claim that it "worked", but for that night, I think we ended up on the positive side of the equation in terms of the ratio of total baby sleep (TBS) to total mama sleep (TMS), even with a little Reading Time (RT), a random OMG-he's-still-sleeping wakeup, and a sleepwalking interruption from the DH (DHS) - and once I actually went to sleep - after counting the Minutes Crying (MC).

That equation is represented as:



420 - (40 + 15 + 15 + 20) = 330 (5.5 hours)

That's right folks, read it and weep. I'm rejoicing over a single stint of five and a half hours sleep. And it was still interrupted. But hey, if we follow the equation above, there's hope for even longer, uninterrupted stints.

So... I know you're wondering... Has she, overnight, become a cry-it-out convert?

The answer? Not really, no. BUT... having tried it once, and a few times since last Wednesday, I'll admit to having added 'cry-it-out' to my list of parenting theories that I may or may not put to the test... if I'm tested enough. Just consult the equation above to determine the likelihood of it being employed.
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