Next week in Washington, DC, I’m taking part in a panel discussion on what it means to be a reasonable mom. But I didn’t exactly begin my “mom life” as anything resembling reasonable. There was a long period of time when I believed a good birth had to be a drug-free one, pitied formula feeders and gave serious side eye to moms who dared serve their children STORE BOUGHT CINNAMON ROLLS.
Now, I may still be a little pretentious and particular about my baked goods, but somewhere along the way two realizations helped kick me in my sanctimommy tush: perfect moms are a myth (kind of like comfortable Spanx) and there are no experts on parenting.
When I became pregnant with my son, I was living in Northern California, where prenatal yoga was critical but immunizations were optional, and I was expecting pregnancy to transform me into some kind of lactating, raw food eating, skinny with a cute bump, Lululemon wearing goddess.
Reality? I couldn’t sleep, my anxiety was through the roof and, thanks to my skyrocketing blood pressure, I had to deliver my son at 32 weeks. But even that rough road didn’t persuade me to drop the quest for perfect-motherhood. In fact, I doubled down after that because I thought maybe if I just “mommed harder,” I could become the mama goddess of my dreams. I eventually breastfed exclusively, pursued a VBAC (vaginal birth after c-section) and a midwife-led, drug-free birth. But, with the passage of time, a difficult pregnancy loss and a really uneventful birth experience (wait, that’s it? Where’s my VBAC gold medal???), I eventually realized that chasing perfection as a mom is a joyless and impossible quest.
I also discovered skepticism and learned that “parenting experts” (as opposed to obstetricians, scientists, etcetera) aren’t really a thing. For me as a mom, the internet made everything worse and then, eventually, better again. In the beginning, I loved that you could read everything you could ever possibly want to know about being a parent. Breastfeeding, childbirth, baby-wearing, what to feed your child — it’s all right there on the screen every moment of the day and night!
But, oh my god, it’s all right there on the screen every moment of the day and night! I was suffering from information overload and what I really failed to grasp was just how easy it is to position yourself as an “expert.”
Reading the Skeptical OB blog was the first time I read someone challenge the so-called natural parenting “experts.” Dr. Amy had the gall to argue epidurals aren’t dangerous or damaging to the “birth experience” (and while we’re at it, why does birth have to be an “experience” anyway?) and breastfeeding may not be best after all. Now, some people disagree with Dr. Amy or object to her tactics (although I dare you to listen to her on this Science Enthusiast podcast and call her extreme!), but, whatever you think about her tone or tactics, she was one of the first bloggers to write about birth and motherhood and insist we look at the facts and evidence.
If you’re going to tell me it’s better to give birth without pain relief, show me the studies proving epidural use causes c-sections (you can’t). If you’re going to tell me I must breastfeed, let’s talk about the quality of the evidence (yes, there are benefits but those benefits have long been overstated). It may sound wonky to some to get excited about facts and data, but it helped me find sanity in a world made crazy by the likes of the Food Babe and Modern Alternative Mama.
These days, I write mostly about food but I didn’t start out so reasonable on that score either. For a long time I believed and espoused that organic food must be better for my family and better for the environment. I thought “clean” eating was something to which we should all aspire. But insisting on spending more for organic food, going the extra mile to earn my locavore mom scout badge and rejecting “factory farms” wasn’t actually making my family or the planet any healthier. Now, I focus on flavor, taste and ease, and everyone is much happier.
I’ve been reflecting on all of this in preparation for next week’s panel, hosted by Julie Gunlock and the Independent Women’s Forum. Now, some of you may be thinking, IWF? I thought this writer was a liberal! Yes, I am, but one of the most interesting things about the pro-science community is the diversity in perspectives and political beliefs.
For the most part, I relish my lefty urban bubble (relax, conservative friends, I don’t actually spend my days sipping cappuccino and gazing at a picture of Hillary Clinton) but I also enjoy getting out of it. I’ve met some incredible, smart and interesting conservative women who embrace science and reject fear and alarmism. Julie Gunlock is one of those women. Do Julie and I agree on everything? No. But if skeptics are going to challenge others to get outside their echo chamber, we have to be willing to do the same. It’s actually kinda reasonable.
If you’re around Washington, DC next week, October 19 at 6pm, please join us! psst…free range parents, Lenore Skenazy will be on this panel!