What do extended breastfeeding, extended rear facing, and extended babywearing all have in common? They are all annoying terms used to describe totally normal parenting choices, which obscure their normalcy and isolate those that practice them as somehow deviant.
In my youth, I was happy to be divergent. I went through various stages from raver, to goth, to vegetarian (and later vegan). From speech geek to co-oper to outspoken lesbian activist… I have forever been in a state of being consumed by the causes that are very important to me, and have always enjoyed it. The more I stood out, the more that I was noticed for being out of the ordinary – the more I thrived as an activist and human being. It isn’t that I ever expected everyone to subscribe to my personal system of beliefs, as I am very much a proponent of individual choice. I just wanted those without voices or those being silenced to be heard – loud and clear.
I guess that theme still permeates a lot of my current activist work. You see, babies cannot speak for themselves. They cannot advocate for their future mental and physical health. They cannot make wise decisions about what is in their best interest in later life. Our role as parents is to be an advocate for them. For many parents who have never had something they were passionate about come under attack, or others who were taught not to make waves and to trust the establishment… they may find it difficult to advocate for themselves and their children in the face of so much scrutiny. Especially if it is regarding something that seems so normal in the first place. Many new parents find themselves subscribing to parenting practices that feel completely contrary to what their heart and instinct is saying… because they are acceptable practices and they will not be criticized or questioned by society for employing them.
My work as a lactivist and a babywearing educator helps me to empower other parents to do what is most natural and right for a baby. It allows us to share information so they can learn to listen to and use their most primal parental instincts – to nurture their baby at the breast and wear them close. With these time honored parenting traditions being less and less mainstream, many parents don’t realize how normal and natural these things actually are. They have been completely removed from the model of society that once would have shown them how to parent this way from the time that they were born. They have been denied the order of watching others in their community parenting in this manner. We have created a society where it is suddenly considered aberrant to practice parenting techniques that have been around since the dawn of time. People look at you like you have three heads if you are wearing a toddler on your back in the grocery store. God forbid you try to nurse that same toddler in a public place. You risk being publicly ridiculed and even being forced to remove yourself from communal sight. How have we gotten to a place as a society where something that has sustained human life from its very first moments, is now somehow being so obscured that many women don’t even make it out of the hospital breastfeeding their baby. This infuriates me.
I am incensed. I no longer wish to have “extended” tacked to beginning of all of the completely safe and normal child rearing decisions I make. I don’t want to have to defend my normal choices on a daily basis, against strangers and fellow parents, against well-meaning family and friends. I want to live in a world where me and my child are not stigmatized for celebrating what feels right and beautiful in our relationship. I don’t want to be a pawn in the media driven mommy wars, a butt of conservative jokes, the subject of covert female body shaming. I am exhausted of advocating day in and day out for things that shouldn’t need to be advocated for. What a waste of time.
I want to be normal. I want to nurse and carry my child in the most ordinary and loving ways without the side-eyes or the snide remarks. I want to completely be enveloped in the love and beauty that is motherhood without all the judgments and trepidation that comes along with it. I don’t want to tiptoe around in mommy groups worried I will offend someone and come under attack, or be saddled with the “stigma” of making all my decisions based on some textbook definition of a parenting style. I don’t want my daughter to be ridiculed on the playground some day because she naively shares with someone that she nursed past 3 years old.
I don’t want to be a deviant anymore. I want to be a mom to my daughter, and for this to just be OK with everyone. I just want to be me.