I used to judge formula-feeding moms. I’d see them holding a bottle to their baby’s lips and think, you didn’t try hard enough. Sure, maybe you’re on meds you can’t nurse with, you can’t make enough milk, or your child has a terrible tongue tie — but that’s so few of us. Most women who formula-feed didn’t choose formula, I thought. Instead, they decided not to breastfeed. I sat up on my high horse, boobs bared, baby latched, and chanted: Breast is best.
I used to judge moms who made their kids cry it out. These people, I thought, put their own convenience before their baby’s needs. Cry it out spikes cortisol and irrevocably damages babies’ brains. Plus, not responding to a baby’s needs destroys their attachment to their parents. Insecure attachment makes juvenile delinquents. My baby slept in my bed. He was securely attached.
I used to judge moms who circumcised their sons. They’d tell me that yes, their son was circumcised, and I’d think, you monster. They’d follow it up with a stupid excuse, like penile malformation, a family history of tight foreskins, or AIDS prevention. Clearly, they hadn’t done their research. As a consequence, their kid had undergone a painful, unnecessary, permanently scarring operation. Good thing he didn’t bleed to death. My son was healthy and whole.
I used to judge moms who used disposable diapers. I managed to use cloth. I hadn’t spent more than $150 and didn’t slave over the laundry. When the moms told me their husband didn’t want poop in the washing machine, I figured said husband was a jerk. When the moms said cloth seemed gross, I rolled my eyes. Gross was keeping stinking diapers around ’til trash day. My son had a perfect pink bum swaddled in prefolds. We were saving the earth.
I used to judge moms who put babies in carriers. I had worn my son since the day he was born, and I knew how easy it was. Hadn’t those moms researched slings? They had condemned their kids to sit, untouched and ignored, while they drug around a giant seat. Didn’t they know the AAP recommended babies spend as little time in their carseats as possible? My son spent his days upright on my chest, his breathing synced to mine. He was a wrapped baby.
I didn’t trumpet these views to my mommy groups, of course. I wasn’t crass. But when a girl let her daughter cry it out, I decided the tot seemed a tad withdrawn. When a mom told me all her sons were cut, I nodded politely while thinking, she is so deluded. She made up a medical excuse for a pass on child mutilation. When I saw mothers in the grocery story, carseats in tow, I paraded by, baby in wrap, nose in the air. At least those moms could see another option.
All these things made me insufferable when, four months after my son was born, a family member had a baby. We showed up two days later. She struggled with breastfeeding and briefly resorted to a pump. I sat next to her, as she sweated over that hissing Medela, took my son from his wrap, and nursed as prettily as the Virgin Mary herself.
I changed my son’s diaper in front of my relative. I flipped open, shook out the fluffy unbleached prefolds. I fastened one perfectly and expertly Velcroed the cover. “See how easy it is?” I said. “And since he’s not circumcised I just have to wipe him down, like a finger. You didn’t circumcise, did you?” She had. I pressed my lips together, made some sort of politely disapproving hum. All in all, with my wrapped-up, suckling, intact babe, I may have committed the meanest postpartum visit in history.
But I didn’t realize I was mean. I didn’t, in fact, realize I was a judgy jerk. I had just had a baby. I’d done my research. And I’d gotten lucky: my boobs worked, my washer had a sanitary setting, my Moby wrap showed up before the baby. But I didn’t see that luck. I saw my planning. My decisions. And my decisions, I knew, were right. And if those decisions were right, it only followed that other decisions were wrong. We weren’t picking prom dresses. These choices would affect tiny human beings for the rest of their lives. And I was entrusted with the truth.
I had to be entrusted with the truth.
I had to be right. Because I had a tiny son, and I had to be perfect for him. I needed to give this precious baby the best start in life, this baby who breathed against me, this son who suckled at my breast. I lived in crushing terror I was failing him at everything. I didn’t know what I was doing, so I clung to what I could. I reduced parenting to good and bad, black and white, and put myself on the side of the angels.
When I saw a mother violating my perfect rules, I judged her — because if I didn’t judge her, I might have to judge myself. I worried constantly, and to fix that worry, I wrapped righteousness around me like a blanket. In truth, I didn’t care what other mothers did. I didn’t care if my relative used disposable diapers or bottles or the Moby wrap we’d bought her. I couldn’t see beyond myself. I saw motherhood as competition, and I had to be on top. If I converted someone, it was only more help for my anxiety.
As my son grew up, my hormones settled. My fear calmed down. I had another son, and then another. I talked to other moms. And I realized that while I parent the way I think is best, motherhood is not a competition. I grew confident in my own parenting, and I stopped judging other mothers. I didn’t need to.
I’m sorry for all the times I judged other moms. I wish I could take it back. I wish I could take back the mean looks, the disapproving grunts, the rolled eyes, the meanest postpartum visit ever. I realize now that, like me, those women were doing the best they knew how. I know, finally, that love trumps breastfeeding and baby carriers and cloth diapers.
And that love includes not just love for our children, but love for each other.More On