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.

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