The blissful glow of Natural Motherhood is a lot to live up to.
I love it when someone comes to my facebook page and tries to educate me about nutrition. Or exercise. Or natural health. Or vaccines. Or GMOs. Etc. Because the only reason they can comprehend that I don’t agree with their opinion is that I simply haven’t heard the Thing about the Thing they have heard. I haven’t read the same diet book, or googled the same blog, or bought the same MLM supplement product. The only source for my differing opinion MUST be ignorance. And that if they just share the Good News with me, I will immediately repent and be saved.
Oh oops, did I get my analogies mixed up?
A long time ago, I was a Natural Mom.
I was a brand new mom. I mean, all moms are brand new moms at some point, and none of us is ever really prepared for it. They just don’t tell you how hard it is, is what I tell people now. I had just moved to a new city halfway across the country from my home in California. I’d left my friends and family, and my job, and all the things I was good at back at home. Have I mentioned I had a brand new baby? And my body was changing daily. Not in ways I was feeling very good about, either. I know now what I didn’t know then – I had post partum depression, though it wouldn’t reach a critical level for another two years, after my second baby was born. My husband had gotten the break of his career, so he was working his ass off trying to meet the challenges his position presented. I barely saw him – even when he was home he was down in his basement office working. And even when he wasn’t working, he was grappling with his own feelings – feeling overwhelmed by fatherhood, overwhelmed by his new professional responsibilities, overwhelmed from also leaving his home and friends and family, overwhelmed by not knowing how to help his wife. It was a dark time. Certainly not the glowing bliss of motherhood I’d been promised.
In other words, I was lonely, and depressed, and desperately in need of a friend. And oh! What friends there were to be found on…Mommy Blogs. What began as a search for information on teething became a descent into shame, judgement and The Mommy Wars.
And, my rebirth as a Born Again Natural Mom.
Oops, there I go getting my analogies mixed up again.
On Mommy Blogs and their counterpart Mommy Forums, I found a veritable wealth of information! I learned that I had pretty much been doing everything wrong for my entire life. I had been eating the wrong foods, wearing the wrong clothes, using the wrong sunscreen, washing my clothes (and body) in the wrong soap, using the wrong cleaning products, and USING THE WRONG CAR SEAT FOR MY PERFECT BABY. I couldn’t believe how misled I had been. My parents, my teachers, my friends, my doctors, and EVEN MY DAUGHTER’S PEDIATRICIAN had been leading me down the path of wickedness – I mean TOXINS – all this time. Fortunately I had unwittingly stumbled upon a group of other moms with Special Knowledge. How very lucky.
I learned about how toxic vaccines are, and that moms who vaccinate their babies don’t really love their children. I learned about how to grow my own food, and make it into homemade baby food, so that I could protect my baby from toxins everywhere. Store bought baby food was lazy. Store bought non-organic baby food was child abuse. I learned I needed to breastfeed my baby until she was at least 2 years old, or I may damage her psychologically, not to mention give her brain damage and probably ruin her immunity and cause her to contract the diseases I wasn’t vaccinating her against. I learned about co-sleeping, and how it was the way moms slept with their babies for millions of years, and it was selfish modern mothers who forced their babies to sleep alone, and how it was damaging children permanently. Moms who didn’t co-sleep were selfish and lazy. I learned about baby wearing, and how I needed to do it until my baby was about 8 years old or she would be insecure and think I didn’t love her. I bought a really expensive sling, because it was The Best. Strollers were for lazy mothers. Store bought sunscreen was verboten, unless it was $30/oz organic mineral sunscreen. Anything less than that would mean I didn’t love my baby. Far better to make my own sunscreen out of organic raw virgin coconut oil though. That’s what moms who loved their babies did. I learned to make my own cloth diapers and diaper wipes, because of course. And I could only wash them in vinegar, because of course again. And hang them to dry in the sunshine, because…well, you know. I learned that I should use breast milk to ‘treat’ ear infections, because medicine is toxic chemicals. And don’t ever dream of letting your child have pain reliever. You might as well be shooting them up with heroin. I learned that the only shoes that were acceptable were these $40 moccasin type things. Everything else would deform my child’s feet for life. Moms who used other kinds of shoes were lazy. I learned that the only kind of car seat that was acceptable cost $300. And any other car seat would pretty much kill my child no matter what, even if we weren’t ever in a car accident. And she needed to be rear-facing until she was five. Only lazy moms who don’t love their kids use other kinds of car seats. Oh, and I learned about off-gassing. So I had to buy organic mattresses and bedding. Because only moms who don’t love their kids buy non-organic mattresses.
Have I mentioned how expensive and time consuming it was to be a Natural Mom? Good thing I had so much free time.
For a while, I really felt like I’d “found my tribe” (yeah, that’s the phrase we used). I had friends. They were supportive (as long as I bought the right things and never ever admitted I wasn’t blissfully happy being a mother every minute of every day). I had a community, and it helped. For a while. Kind of.
I began to base my identity on being a Natural Mom. It’s what I was. I wasn’t Amber. I wasn’t a wife, or a sister, or a daughter, or a friend. I wasn’t a pit bull rescuer any more. I wasn’t a musician any more. I wasn’t even a mom any more. I was a Natural Mom. I took great pride in being a Natural Mom. We all did. It made us feel good. It made us feel superior.
And that’s what the Mommy Wars are. They are women losing themselves. They are women assuming a new identity (one of ‘Natural Mom’ in my case), and in order to remain a Natural Mom you have to Buy all the (expensive) Things, and make everything homemade (out of really expensive and hard to find ingredients), and never ever ever let on that motherhood is anything other than absolute bliss. And in return, you get a sense of identity. And a sense of belonging. And a sense of superiority.
And those things are really, really appealing.
Especially when you are lonely. And maybe depressed. And maybe not so excited about what is happening to your body (because lets face it, our culture makes it UBER clear that the physical effects of motherhood are NOT ACCEPTABLE. Pop that baby out and get back to your pre-pregnancy weight the next morning or you are a lazy slacker. And don’t EVER leak from ANY orifice, EVER.) New motherhood is a hell of a lot to deal with, and women don’t get a lot of support for it, not really. It is no wonder so many new mothers find themselves drawn to the apparent solidarity of Mommy Blogs and the Mommy Wars. It can be comforting to feel like you’re part of a tribe, that you have special knowledge, when you’re stuck at home with a new baby and a leaky body and maybe feeling guilty because you’re really not enjoying this whole motherhood gig but don’t you ever tell anyone that because there’s obviously something wrong with any woman that doesn’t enjoy motherhood.
The Mommy Blogs were comforting at first. But ultimately, I found myself saying things I didn’t really believe. Like, I didn’t really believe that giving my hurting baby some pain medicine was child abuse. I didn’t really believe that I would damage my kid if I stopped breast feeding at 18 months. More than that, I began to really feel uncomfortable with the idea that if another mom did something differently then it meant she just didn’t know what we knew, and that I needed to educate her. Some of the women with different opinions were smart – some of them were people I knew – and I really didn’t think they ‘just needed to be educated’. I started to question the motives of the people feeding me these lines. And then one day I realized how much fucking money I was funneling into these people’s wallets, these Mommy Bloggers, who’s blog posts were full of affiliate links to products they ‘approved’ of. How I was alienating real life friends and family with my holier than thou attitude that I was a better mother because I bought XYZ and spent my days making organic virgin this and that. Worst of all, I realized how misguided I’d been to believe a Mommy Blogger knew more than my baby’s pediatrician. How much I was risking, putting my faith in the (medical!) advice of an unqualified stranger on the internet.
I began to climb out of my identity as Natural Mom. I got my kids vaccinated. I stopped shaming myself for wanted a goddamn minute of time to myself. I stopped looking down on mothers who didn’t do things the Natural Mom community did. And that was the best thing I ever did for my kids. Because the act of ceasing to judge others allowed me to stop judging myself. It allowed me to see that I needed real help for my post-partum depression. It allowed me to see that I’d lost a sense of myself, and I started re-engaging in things I enjoyed and was good at. It allowed me to nurture REAL friendships, that weren’t based on ridiculing people who did things a different way. Friendships that were based on respect for each other, and respect for the people we share the world with. It allowed me to model a healthier self-image, healthier relationships, and healthier self-care for my daughters.
Now, I would still find myself getting caught up in fad diets for a couple more years, but fortunately the things I learned extricating myself from Natural Motherhood allowed for me a quicker escape from the Diet Maze than I probably would have had otherwise.
So, when people come to my page and try to “educate” me about nutrition, or vaccines, or GMOs, or carbs, or evil sugar, or Cross Fit, or any number of other trendy food and mothering and exercise fads, I chuckle. Because I was them, like 10 years ago. I already read what they read. I already googled what they googled. I already Bought All The Things that they bought.
And then I read more. And googled more. And learned how to read a scientific study. And made friends with some scientists and doctors and even (gasp) some vaccine and GMO proponents. And those people turned out not to be heartless monsters bent on destroying the health of my children. They turned out to be kind and intelligent people with children of their own. And I know now that all the ‘Special Knowledge” I thought I had back then was bullshit, cleverly designed to separate me from my money, and make me feel ashamed of my natural body, and my emotions, and my desires and my fears. Make me ashamed of who I was, so I would want to be someone else. And buy the things promising to make me someone else.
YOU are ok. I am ok. Being a mom is fucking HARD and sometimes I don’t like it. That is normal. It is ok. We are allowed to have those feelings. We are also allowed to have cellulite and leaky body parts and thighs that jiggle and poochy bellies that our children love. And we are allowed to get mad. And sad. And sometimes be really tired and buy something convenient for our kids to eat. Those things are ok. Really. It doesn’t make us lazy or bad mothers. It makes us human. All of us. Human. With strengths and faults. Things we do well and things we suck at.
And being able to afford organic, and having enough spare time to make home made baby food, and having the space and facilities to cloth diaper doesn’t make you superior. It makes you fortunate. And that’s ok too.
And to keep this on topic, you know what the very best thing you can do for your health and that of your children is?
Take a walk. And eat fruits and vegetables (non-organic is fine, so is frozen, so is pre-cut). And get enough sleep. And nurture real friendships. And get your medical advice from your physician, not a stranger on the internet.
For me, post-partum depression manifested as anxiety and panic attacks, not as a feeling of sadness. Untreated, it produced a lot of upheaval and stress in our lives. I was shamed, by the Natural Motherhood community, into believing I must just not be trying hard enough. Post-Partum Mood Disorder can manifest in any number of ways, and can be enormously destructive to a family. If you have ANY suspicion that you may be struggling with something bigger than yourself, please seek out credible information and screening by a qualified medical professional (not a Naturopath, or a ‘nutritionist’ or a Chiropractor. None of those is qualified to treat Post-Partum Mood Disorder. See your physician or a psychiatrist or a psychologist).
I wish that I had had a better, truly supportive community during that time. I wish I’d been able to find a place where non-evidence based claims were countered with rational, credible evidence-based resources, and emotional manipulation was identified and called out. Where I’d been referred to a medical professional for what was truly a medical condition. Where health wasn’t pushed as a secret potion I could buy from the natural food store, but as what it truly is – reasonable, sustainable habits practiced consistently over time. Where I’d been supported in modeling healthy habits for my children, rather than modeling elitism and fear. I couldn’t find that, so I created it: The Habit Project.
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Sometimes motherhood isn’t blissful. And it’s ok. It’s ok to ask for help.