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Natural Childbirth, Breastfeeding and Cloth Diapers Setting Women Back?

By ceridwen |

In France, a book entitled, Le Conflit, La Femme et Le a Mere (Conflict: The Woman and The Mother) is flying off the shelves. According to a profile in yesterday’s New York Times, the author, Elisabeth Badinter, is convinced that women are being corralled back into a limiting, retro-domestic sphere by trends towards environmentalism and a longing for “simpler times” and a revived interest in all things “natural” including breastfeeding and un-medicated childbirth.

Ms Badniter—a well-known French intellectual and provocateur—sees these trends as a lurking, pernicious threat; they exert themselves subtly through cultural pressure on women to be the “perfect” –home birthing, breastfeeding, composting, cloth diaper-cleaning—mother. All the tools of liberation– the epidural, disposable diapers, dishwasher and formula–are being tossed aside for something more authentic and morally superior… and out with that precious garbage goes a mother’s career and independence.

I’m so confused about where we are in the backlash to the backlash to the backlash cycle. Are we already back to formula and shoulder pads? I think I’ve got whiplash.

I have been a mother for going on six years now and I’m really familiar with these kinds of pieces. They are very seductive and–depending on what reductionist side of the fence the yelling is coming from– you’ll start to feel guilty for working, not working, breastfeeding, formula feeding, having a life, not having a life.

I don’t find them productive.

I love the title of this book and generally look forward to hearing any ideas about how diffuse pressure on mothers, but this argument— totally lacking nuance and from what I can tell, actual data– is not making me feel all that relaxed.  I know women who feel immense pressure to not get an epidural and women who feel immense pressure to go with the flow and have a medicated birth. I know women who have felt pressure to breastfed, and those who feel pressure to wean. I see pressure all over the place. Maybe in France there is a huge movement of women handing over their independence for a washboard and chunk of homemade lye. But, eh, I doubt it.

Perhaps Patricia from Birmingham, Michigan put it best in her comment to the New York Times:  Relax everyone; it is just the pendulum swinging back and forth.”

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About ceridwen

ceridwen

ceridwen

Ceridwen Morris is a writer, mother, and certified childbirth educator. She is the author of several books and screenplays, including (Three Rivers; 2007). She serves on the board of The Childbirth Education Association of Metropolitan New York and teaches at Tribeca Parenting in New York City. Read bio and latest posts → Read Ceridwen's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “Natural Childbirth, Breastfeeding and Cloth Diapers Setting Women Back?

  1. Aurélie says:

    Hi, everyone!

    I’ve read this book last month (I’m french) so I might answer some of your criticism on Mrs Badinter. By the way, I might say that the book review of the NY Times is more accurate than some others I’ve read in the english-speaking medias.

    E. Badinter is merely asking us : we fought so hard to be able to have good jobs and interesting lives outside home, so why are so many women opting out of this ? It jeopardizes the financial status of the SAHM while setting new high standards for the working moms. This question seems to be on everybody’s mind somehow (I’m a fervent reader of Motherlode where those issues are often raised).
    But Badinter is going further, analyzing many scientific and social datas (and yes, there are lots of numbers in her book). The conclusion of her book is that, due to the immense pressure for being a perfect mother, women tend now to opt out of mothering: they are more and more to choose not to have children at all (especially in the US, Germany, Japan and countries of northern Europe). In France, we are still fairly immune because of our “cult” of the mediocre mom. We seem to believe more than you that there’s no perfect mom so we don’t pay too much attention to what you feel like a huge pressure (to be a breast-feeding, cloth-diaper washing, organic food baking mom). She seems to have written this book to warn us of this coming threat and she does it in her always provocating way. But her interviews (where she expresses her opinions about drinking and smoking during pregnancy for example) are much more provocating than her book (which sticks strictly to the facts).
    I hope to be a mom myself some day and I thank E. Badinter for reminding me that there’s no perfect mom, that we should not listen to the narrow minded, holier than thou people (she’s very specific about the extreme lobbying of La Leche League…) and that being a mediocre mom is ok: most of our moms were and we all happened to survive and thrive even though.

    Thank you for your interesting blog.
    Aurélie

  2. ceridwen says:

    Thank you for this great comment, Aurelie. My question would be: why do the women have to adjust to fit the existing (arguably sexist) work structure? Can’t we make some changes to the workplace? I don’t know enough about what is going on in France–and I’m glad there are some data in this book and look forward to reading the translation. But the best arguments I’ve read about the work vs home debate have less to do with opting this or that and more to do with the options we don’t have.

  3. Aurélie says:

    You’re absolutely right. Options are the key.
    We’re particularly well off in France about options to balance work life and family life. I know it makes US residents scream but we do have a law reducing the official work time to 35 hours a week (and if you work more than that, your employer has to give you more vacations), we’ve had the “congés payés” (paid vacations) since the 1930es (currently 5 weeks a year minimum), women have 16 weeks of paid maternity leave (6 before birth, 10 after, more if you have twins or if it’s your third child and up).
    Most of the women I know who have kids are currently or have been working partially when their kids were young (the favourite pattern is to have your wednesday off since kids don’t go to school that day). Daycare isn’t great but it’s there (if you register your child when you’re 3 months pregnant, you’ve got some chance for him to have a place in daycare when your maternity leave’s over… But it depends a lot on where you live.).
    But I don’t know any SAHM and I don’t know any woman who voluntarily won’t have any children. We have the option to be part parents, part professionnals, there’s no reason to opt out from anything. But even with those options we can’t be perfect parents. And I think this is what’s worrying Mrs Badinter: if the pressure goes up while the support of the state goes down (with our dear Mr Sarkozy and the help of the economic crisis) what will we chose then ?
    I think (and I think a good majority of the french people would agree with me) that the solution to this is an unconditionnal support of the state towards families. “Socialism” seems to be a rude word in the US but we’ve had a large culture of socialism in France and its what gave us all those social advantages. We must protect this and you should team up to create this too. Medical coverage is a first step. I don’t know of the other aspects of social politics in the US but I hope you can fight for it.

    While waiting for the translation of “Le conflit : la femme et la mère”, I recommend the reading of one of Mrs Badinter previous book: “L’amour en plus” (“Mother love: Myth and reality : motherhood in modern history”). She published it 30 years ago, in 1980 and her new book is kind of a sequel to this one. It’s denser but it’s very enlightning about the position of the mother throughout history (XVII – XX).
    Have a good read !

  4. Jaime says:

    Oh my, this is frightening. Aurelie, your comments are a clear reminder that socialism has the best “goodies” that are a wonderful incentive to have children. But, that explains also why France is no longer a world leader economically, and when once a stronghold of freedom and ally of the United States, is now being sucked into the control and limits of the nanny-state. Goodies lead to demands, and demands lead to dictatorship. Please, Americans reading this post, do not forget that we live in a very different society than France. We don’t have the goodies, but we don’t restrict our worker’s hours, and as such, earning potential. We don’t have the government telling us who we can and cannot hire. Our destiny is our own to decide. This ideal, sadly now uniquely American, is the real basis for the entire book and concept that striving for the best for our children is not only somehow impossible, but also naive and reprehensible. Come on, now friends and historical allies whose friendship made the American Revolution possible, give back the goodies, juggle, balance, and struggle and take back your potential and freedom. Thank you Aurelie for this insightful commentary about the mindset of many French people (not sarcastic). God Bless President Sarkosy, especially on the days he has a backbone. His election is evidence enough that the French are fed up with 35 hour workweeks and are hungry for freedom. http://biglittledays.blogspot.com

  5. Lyn says:

    I’d love to hear what Badinter’s children think of her as mother and her theories.

  6. Aurélie says:

    @Jaime : since when United States equals stronghold of freedom ? This

    seems like some easy nationalism. Three words for you : slavery, wars,

    firearms.
    We aren’t perfect either but we do our best to protect our freedom and the other’s too. I’m sure you do too, but I’m not sure I really understand how you do it and why you do what you do…
    I don’t know if I’m translating this rightly but we’ve got a saying : “Our

    freedom stops where the others’ freedom begins”. You can’t be *absolutely*

    free. You must interact with other and respect their liberty. And it looks like the US are very good at forgetting this (Afghanistan ?).
    I don’t think many french people care about being the allies or not of the US. We don’t define ourselves in our relationship to your country. We have different views on many topics and we fight for it. No ill-feeling intended.

    Inspite of being a forceful atheist, I’ve gone to cathechism and I vividly

    remember the “Good Samaritan” story. I still try to live up to this and I

    think that this is what socialism is all about. We don’t want to fight

    only for our family. We want every family to be able to have a decent

    life. Aren’t the US a country full of christianism ? Aren’t all your

    political leaders always refering to god-this, god-that ? So why don’t you

    try and live politically this wonderful idea : love your neighbour as if

    he were yourself, take care of him and his children as if they were yours.
    All capitalism is doing is dividing people between the ones who earn

    enough to support their families and those who don’t. What socialism wants

    to do is asking the better-off to help the poorer ones. Because you don’t

    know on which side of the barrier you’ll end one day. Young people help

    paying for the retirement of the elderly. Working people help paying for

    those without jobs. Everyone gives what he can to the state and we all try

    to have a better society. Of course there are misuses and profiteers. But

    if you have a hard time, if you’re sick or if you need daycare for your

    kids, we won’t let you down.

    By the way, you can work more than 35 hours if you’d like. The point of

    this law is that your boss can’t make you work more than that if you don’t

    want to.
    What is more important : being an economical leader, full of tired workers

    and suicidal employees (I’m thinking of Japan) or try to live the time we

    have at the best we can, supporting each other and building a better

    society for our kids ? Personally, my choice is made. I won’t ever be a

    multimillionaire but I intend to live a life full of joy, love and care.

    And I hope my fellow human-beings will too. It’s just a question of

    priority.

    Thank you very much for your very interesting commentary (no sarcasm there

    either). It’s always nice to exchange views with people having other

    ideas. Life would be so boring if we all agreed all the time !

    @Lyn : E. Badinter had three children but they never express themselves publicly (as far as I know) and their mother never speaks of her personnal experience as a mother. She’s a philospher, not a blogger.

  7. lynn says:

    Oh for Pete’s sake.

    WHY CAN’T WOMEN MAKE OUR OWN DECISIONS?

    How come everything is due to societal pressure when it comes to women’s choices? You don’t see this kind of crap spewed about men. But every time there’s a change in a tread for women, everybody wants to point out all the societal pressures that are “making” women do things. And behind this all is the assumption that, given REAL free choice, just as many women as men would choose the stress and frustration of being both parents and full-time workers.

    Nevermind that men and women are fundamentally different in the ways we think and operate. I’m not talking about intelligence or goals; I’m talking about the way we think, and if you think men and women think the same, you should go chat with transsexuals who have undergone hormone therapy as part of changing their sex to match their gender. Every one that I have had the opportunity to ask questions of (probably about 4-5 people so far) has told me that they think and feel differently during and after hormone therapy. So why is it so freaking difficult to imagine that fewer women than men, who are conditioned by evolution as well as society to provide for their offspring (while women are conditioned by the same forces to nurture our offspring), might choose to go out and work instead of staying home with the kids?

    I am not making my choice to use cloth diapers based on societal pressure. That choice is due to one thing: money. And that’s assuming that it works out, because I may very well find that it’s worth the extra cash not to have to wash the diapers. I want an unmedicated birth because I don’t like the fact that the medications reach the baby. I plan to breastfeed because it’s better for the baby (and the immune boost means the kid’s less likely to get sick, which is a major plus for me!) and because it’s free and helps to get rid of the baby weight. These things have as little to do with societal pressures as anything possibly can.

    Do other women make different choices? Of course. Are their choices also valid? Of course! But women are in charge of our own lives just as much as men are and I’m getting really tired of the message that we’re slaves to the pressures of society.

  8. laura says:

    Aurélie, it is so refreshing to read informed and thoughtful comments. Thank you for your input.

  9. Jaime says:

    Lynn, I was so distracted by Aurelie’s comments about the benefits of socialism, I forgot my real purpose in commenting. You really said it for me, too! What a ridiculous thing to thing these personal choices are because we’re damsels swayed by what’s in vogue! For shame. Just wrote about how the pressure for a nursing mom is always in favor of weaning these days, too. http://biglittledays.blogspot.com/2010/06/hardheaded.html

  10. Jaime says:

    Aurelie, I can see our differences are fundamental. While I do follow Christ, I also know that the story of the Good Samaritan,even on a secular level, is about individuals sacrificing. Public good has very little to do with the practice of socialism. Socialism is comforting on the surface, but is really just a front for government control. As you understand it, being opposed to socialism makes you opposed to “doing unto others as you would have done unto you” , making obeying your government a moral issue. But, even true socialists have a level that makes them say “no, that’s too far.” What’s yours? 20 hour work weeks? 2 years off for maternity leave? Siezing a company’s assets when their product has too big a carbon footprint? The government owning all food production? Paid vacations to the coast for every family? It’s a very slippery slope. Freedom also seems to be a flimsy excuse to you, but to me, it’s a real word that encompasses my life. The opportunity to live wherever I find a job, to work as much or as little as I choose, to make sacrifices to feed my family, to be responsible for my children’s health care, to find the best schools to educate my children in, to drive the car that meets my family’s needs, to know my government is not greater than its people. Freedom means that success is wholly my own. As it stands, my husband works from January 1 until the middle of April just to pay our taxes. Why should anyone else have a right to our earnings? I have many organizations that I would give to more generously that support my family’s belief that a hand up is better than a hand out (shared pregnancy, the food pantry, therapeutic horseback riding, Compassion International, etc.) If the organization squanders our money, I will stop donating. They know that, and they spend my money well. What recourse do *you* have when the government doesn’t spend your money well?

    I do appreciate the thoughtful response, though.

  11. Aurélie says:

    I’m just answering Jaime final question: “What recourse do *you* have when the government doesn’t spend your money well?”. But I’ll be back later (if you will), I’ve got many other things to say…
    I am very surprised of your use of the word “obey”: “obeying your government”. We don’t obey to our government, we obey the laws passed by the parliament.
    I’m sure everybody knows that French people are professional moaners. That’s especially true regarding what we think of our governments. We’re rarely satisfied. But here is the recourse we have when we feel they’re passing stupid laws or don’t spend our money well: we vote and we strike. I do feel really involved in politics, even if I’m not elected to any board or if I don’t have my card to a political party. I get information about what’s going on, I debate of it with my co-workers and my friends, I express my opinions and try to convince others (like here…) and most importantly, I vote for the people believing in the same ideas than I and I strike when I feel it’s necessary.
    Isn’t voting the most essential part of democracy? Someone said “we’ve got the governments that we deserve”. That is so true. *We* elected them, what they do up there is our responsibility. It’s certainly not a perfect system, but that the better one existing. And I do want this imperfect government to act socially toward its people and to protect us. We vote for it, we pay for it, we’re earning it.
    But if they cross to many lines, people go on strike and make them understand. That’s not always very efficient, but, as a country, we’ve rectified many big “mistakes to be” by going on the streets and expressing our disagreement. In 2006, up to 3 million people were on strike because of an idiotic reform of our school system. We’ve got around 45 million adult people in our country. So that means 1 in 5 adult was there, pressuring the government on that particular problem. And we won. We earned the right to strike (your employer can’t fire you while you’re on strike, the right to strike is in our constitution since 1946) and we’re using it to fight for what we feel is right.
    And if an unfair law is passed anyway, we still have “civil disobedience” (its happening everyday, regarding the illegal immigrants that Sarkozy wants to send back even if they’ve worked here for years and sometime even pay taxes…). But that’s more exceptional, I do agree.
    Coming back to the money we give our government, we monitor it closely: you can freely access the budgeting of the state and the reports from the “cours des comptes” (http://www.ccomptes.fr) to know exactly what’s going on. Do you have such transparency in the US? It would be really interesting to compare how the money is spent in both countries.
    Moreover, we can’t live together without a government, without taxes. I’m not even talking about social politics. But your taxes, like mines, allow all of us to drive on good roads, to be protected by cops and by the army, etc. We already have the system making it all work, why not using it for social purposes too? I’m always proud to pay my taxes – even if the numbers make me cringe sometimes. I like to think that I’m paying for the schools and the retirements, for the garbage management and our public television (which provides us with high quality programs – and its independence from government is closely monitored and debated publicly, if you wondered).
    By the way, I don’t know if you’ve got that in the US, but a big part of our taxes are directly paid by the employers, by slicing directly into our salary before it gets to us (around 20%, up to 30 if you’re a superior executive, as far as I know).
    Well, the point that I wanted to make is that we have the same recourses than you do regarding our government. Do you use it too? Have you got the right to strike?

  12. Rye says:

    I would hardly view it as a trend. Considering that the cesarean rate is up to 60% or higher in some areas of the US, few women even have a vaginal birth at all and of those even less have an epidural-free birth. Perhaps more are opting out of the epidural for other, less risky pain management because of the strong connection between the epidural, slower labors and cesareans? Or because they realize that birth isn’t the hysterical, death-by-pain torture that TV makes it out to be?

    Only something like 13-22% of mothers are still exclusively breastfeeding six months postpartum. Formula hardly has to worry about not having the lions share of that market. Perhaps women are opting to breastfeed because of the economic state of affairs at the moment? Formula is expensive.

    And I would be surprised if the percent of parents who exclusively cloth diaper is even in the double digits at all.

    Either way, not everything is a ‘trend’ that women are following and not everything needs to be a competition for women to ‘prove’ themselves useful – either against men or against each other (working vs homemaking). I think the point has been made – women can work. Now some of them want to go back home and be mothers and wives. Not a national travesty or tragedy.

  13. Judith says:

    I agree with Aurélies and Lynn’s post wholeheartedly, especially Lynn’s passionate ‘just think clearly about this’ post (LYNN COMMENTED ON JUN 17 10 AT 12:46 PM) strikes a true note.

    Here, in the Netherlands, we’ve got a 50-50 devision in births taking place at home vs in the hospital, thus the amount of natural-vaginal births is higher than in the US. Ceasarean sections are medical procedures, however way you look at it. Someone cutting in flesh. And really: who of us ‘tough moms’ actually takes that serieusly and really rests for 6 weeks, which you would do with any other abdominal surgery? I’ve seen it happen with friends too: for whichever reason (they feel they are taking less risk for the baby perhaps) they actively choose for a CS, which of course you can here if you’re baby is inversely-turned (don’t know the proper English term, sorry) or if another medical condition warrants this intrusive procedure (although I think you could choose for it just because you want it perhaps, don’t know, I’ve never heard of anyone actively choosing to never even think about natural birth as an option), they all don’t take the aftermath serious enough to actually recover. Noooo… after the 10 days of maternal care (a woman comes in at least 24-40 hours to take care of the baby, the mom and other kids of needed) they just get up and go and usually don’t recover well because of that. Its one thing to do this if you’ve given birth vaginally, but quite another to expect this from yourself after a CS. And, weird but true, as you are responsible for yourself, people accept this around you. Because in effect its a thing those women do to themselves, and as they do, they actually make it ‘normal’ and generally expected.
    My point in giving this example would be that, here, in the NL, I experience the pressure thing predominantly self inflicted in the end. And realizing this, I try to make more ‘me’inspired decisions. And I choose to read scientific lit for that, but who am I to comment on people who choose to listen to aunt Annie telling her that her boobs give bad milk and thus mom should stop feeding/’denying her child proper nourishment’: hey if you choose to listen to that, that’s what you choose to do and it’s all good. Just don’t hit me for choosing not to.

    In the end a child is best off when his or her parents are fully convinced about they’re method of upbringing (ofcourse, within limits of sanity and legal things, true). It would be nice if more women and men realized this.

    well that’s my two cents.
    (as you might notice: the NL are a country of whining moaners too, it’s a ‘get it off your chest and move happily on’thing, I guess :) )

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