Category Archives: judgement

Expectations

One of the things that I think has played a major role in how I felt as a mother is the kind of expectations I harboured. These expectations were sometimes based on observations, many created while reading (I am also a member of the ‘you read too much’ club), other were naive ideas or assumptions that I had not questioned or even realised I had until closer examination, and also, my lack of ideas on what to expect. But all of these were important in constructing my experience as a mother, and of many of the mothers I know.

For instance. (I think I have read Mr Bump too many times, I am even copying its style!)

 Sleep.

 Baby sleeping patterns, or the art of not sleeping. I am a person that needs loads of sleep. Before having r., unless I had 10-12 hours sleep, I was not in the best of moods. However, for some reason, which now I don’t remember (might be because of my lack of sleep), I psyched myself thinking that we would probably not sleep much the first year. This was very important, and it helped immensely, even though I erred in my predictions and we are still not sleeping through the night (she is almost two and a half). Many of my friends expected that their babies would sleep better after a few weeks, and many of those suffered, while some lucky ones did actually get the sleep they expected.

Co-sleeping. Before having r., I used to think that I did to want to co-sleep. At all. When she was born, the only way she would sleep was on me. My midwife, different people and books I’ve read made me feel guilty and afraid of doing this, but reading a bit more, or shall I say, different books, and the everyday the practise made me more confident about doing it, and enjoying it. If there is a next one, this is going to be the plan for the start, no question.

Routine.

Oh! How I fell for this one. I was given a book before r. was born, which charted how babies would ‘work’ in terms of routine, which went something like this: feed, awake for a few hours, sleep, and so on, every three hours, and then after three or four months, every four. If this did not happen naturally, I was to stretch it myself. R. was born early, three weeks early, and she was tiny. Her pattern was more like feed-sleep, every two hours. Almost no awake time. It made me worry that she was not awake but for her feeding time, which was, say an hour. Writing this makes me laugh now at my innocence in a way, but it wasn’t so funny then. When she was a three months, she did not do the switch at all to longer time between feedings, and I could not do dreamfeeds, and I could go on on all the ways that neither r. nor I fitted the pattern set in the book. And stupidly, it made my question myself, feel guilty, get frustrated and flustered if I attempted to do what the book suggested. It was very unhelpful. I eventually found other books that confirmed what I was doing, and made me chuck the other ones, as well as release the guilt. Confidence in myself slowly grew too, but this was not instant, and not without that permanent questioning.

Breastfeeding.

Pain. I knew breastfeeding could hurt, because my mum had a rough time, and my sister-in-law, and many other close friends. Although books say it is not supposed to hurt if the latch is right, I think that is actually quite a crap thing to say. I think this is done to not put women off breastfeeding, but really, it is unhelpful for those of us who do get blood, sweat and tears over breastfeeding. One of the things that kept me going was actually reading that it took different women weeks, even six weeks, for it to pass. Even though breastfeeding was torture at the beginning– I dreaded the moment and the ever present comment whenever she cried, ‘I think she is hungry’. Thrush did not make matters easier, or having breastfeeding-ignorant GPs. But knowing that it would hurt, and that it might take time, pull me through (and well, my stubborn streak helped here too probably).

Frequency. I kind of expected that after six months, breastfeeding would tail off, while her food intake grew, as the standard advice seems to go. This never happened, at least not at six months, maybe more like 18 months. R. did follow my expectations of feeding every couple of hours for the first months, but at six months and onwards, she seemed to start breastfeeding more frequently, rather than less, though much less time each time. And this carried on, and even increased after her first year. It was almost every time I sat down. To give you an idea, booby is her second name at home. Everyone around me seemed to follow the other pattern, the books one. But me. And the weaning questions started to come. My expectations, as well as what if felt, the rest of the world, differed from what was happening, and it made me feel that I was doing something wrong – was the food I cooked bad? Was I doing things wrong with my approach to food (coming next)?Should I put limits on breastfeeding? Fortunately, the internet exists, and forums, and books. And I found a book on extended breastfeeding which put me at ease. It seems that her feeding frequently was quite normal, and that there were many benefits to ‘extended’ breastfeeding. Ahhh. I relaxed. And it stopped being uncomfortable, and frustrating. And it started to feel good, and, what it was, joyful (well, not always, but most of the times). It feels strange that I needed this external corroboration, but it helped. It helps to find your pack, it helps to find you are not so weird, or that you are, but in good company!

Food.

Baby-led weaning. When the time came to start thinking about feeding her food, rather than breast milk, at six months, I rather liked the idea of what is called baby-led weaning (BLW). I am glad I did, because no spoon would cross her lips. I had a very skilled spoon-avoiding baby. But I did not care so much, because I had another option. BLW implies feeding babies what you eat, and giving them finger foods, instead of purees, and letting them feed themselves, from the very beginning. At the same time, breastfeeding (in my case, bottle feeding instead), is kept up on demand. What I had not realised is that sometimes BLW comes with small print. Some babies do not eat and just prefer to toss all the food away after playing with it, and just go for the good old boobs when talking business. And not for the expected first months, but for much longer. And this happened until, well, she was more than a year old. Not that she did not eat at all, but very little. She still does eat little. But she has always been fine somehow. And I had to adjust my expectations once again. Once I did, I again, relaxed.

And after. This one is harder, because I cannot benefit from hindsight. For me, the natural step after BLW is intuitive eating. But I am still working at it, and get confused on the how to, and tinker with it. What I am trying to avoid is the struggle over eating, and the bribery and negotiations, the categories of good and bad foods that are so common, but not sure how this will pan out yet, as I still need adjustment myself. I find it hard though, as she eats little, and sometimes does not eat her meal, but does eat heartily her ice-cream, and I feel the questions coming – from within and from outside. Though many times, she eats both at the same time. And it is not so normal….

This rambling post had at some point a purpose. Hmmm….maybe that expectations matter, and adjusting them is painful, but powerful. And that there is no other way, at least for me, but to be attentive, to change, to be flexible, to read, to find my pack. This, in hindsight, is called to trust your instincts, but somehow, it feels more complicated than that, and more of a process of knowing what your instincts are in the first place.

Lucila

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The materials of mothering

Boyer, Kate and Boswell-Penc-, Maia, 2010, Breast pumps. A feminist technology, or (yet) “More Work for Mother”? In Layne, Linda, Vostral, Sharra and Boyer, Kate (eds.) Feminist Technology, University of Ilinois Press, 119-135. (Women, Gender, and Technology)

Boyer and Boswell-Penc enquire in this chapter whether breast pumps can be considered a feminist technology. I find this article interesting in that it focuses on one example of the stuff, that is,  the materiality, which makes up modern motherhood and examines what roles this technology play, what does it enable, and what are the risks that it brings, through analysing  the cultural context of its emergence but also by analysing its use in practice.

Their work focuses on the use of breast pumps in the waged workforce in the US, one of the countries where women have less maternity leave in the world. One of the questions which frames this study is understanding if the breast pump is a feminist technology or if it is it another device which, as Ruth Schwartz Cowan (1983) argues, creates ‘more work for mother’, as many other so-called labour-saving devices.

In this chapter they look at the cultural context in which the breast pump emerged – a time (60s-70s) where there was growing awareness and advocacy for the benefits of breast milk over formula, and a moment when higher number of women were returning to the waged workforce. The latter practice was due to different reasons ranging from economic restructuring, the need for double wages, and the fact that women were occupying better managerial positions. They describe how, in the 1990s, the technology evolved to be lighter, portable and cheaper, and jumped from being mainly hospital-based, to being available for retail.  

The argument for it being a feminist technology stems from the way that using this technology allows more mobility, more temporal and spatial freedom to the mother. The breast pump can bring a much needed break for mothers and it allows for mothers to break the cyclic time loop that new mothers who breastfeed are in – the two hour window to do things!- as well as the necessary proximity to the child. It also expands the choices that women have in terms of infant nutrition, as well as serve other important purposes, such as relieve engorgement in mothers who choose not to breastfeed, and help initiate breastfeeding for mothers who adopted an infant. Moreover, its use in waged workplaces could help push the boundaries of the private/public, by bringing to work an activity normally done in the privacy of the home.

However, these authors point out that much of its liberatory potential in terms of waged work is constrained by attitudes about pumping (and general lactation), issues about the technology, workplace design and the politics around actual pumping. Breast pumps, thus, have to be understood within its actual use, which is something that these authors delve into. They show how attitudes to pumping at work make women who pump, as well as the breast milk itself, feel ‘out of place’. The strong feelings that breast milk brings out is seen, for example,  in the case where women were fired for leaving their breast milk stored in the communal fridge. For women who pumped at work, the search for privacy and the sense of embarrassment around pumping, made them look for different strategies that would allow them not to be seen or heard (electric breasts pumps can be very noisy!), such as going to feed to the car, in the medical centre, in an unused office/conference room. Other constrains also include finding the time for it, as often employers do not structure extra breaks for this. What this shows is that the responsibility of finding a place and a time for this activity is down to the individual. Moreover, it highlights the reasons for the uneven distribution of its use, in terms of class especially, as the possibility of having this extra space and time is most likely to be in middle income jobs, rather than low income ones.

Furthermore, these authors also highlight some of the risks that this technology can bring to feminist struggles. By providing a technical and individualised fix to the question of how to combine lactation with work, it might keep employers off the hook in terms of providing other, and maybe better, alternatives. In addition, as these authors show, this technology has something in common with other technologies, such as communication technologies, in that they give more mobility, more spatial and temporal freedom, but it also raises the expectations of what can be done. The authors show that as much as this technology increases choices and provides flexibility, there is a risk that it could be used against efforts for longer maternity leave or on-site care, for instance.

What I found fascinating is that this article makes me think about the different things that make up the practices of mothering, and how each of these things are performative in more than their utilitarian sense. They work to highlight questions of race and class, as it has been shown in this article. I would say that things and technologies also play a role in identity formation, as they act as markers of inclusion in certain groups. In a sense, I think that they are also part of the ways of evaluating a mother’s performance – I am thinking here of the pressure I felt the first times I tried to put up or down the buggy in public, for instance!

We are surrounded by stuff in our practices as mothers: buggies, breasts pads, sterilisers, cots, nappies, dummies, bottles, special clothes for breastfeeding, high chairs, car seats. And the list can go on and on. Leaving out the stuff of motherhood would impoverish our understanding of the politics of motherhood/parenthood, which is why I find what these authors do, that is, questioning the theoretical possibilities but also the complexities that seeing and thinking these technologies and things in practice bring about, is a crucial exercise.

Measuring mothering

Rebecca Kukla “Measuring Mothering” The International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics, Vol. 1, No 1, 2008, pp. 68-90.

In this article  Rebecca Kukla examines how mothering is measured according to certain standard points in time at which mothering is considered to be of paramount importance: for instance, at the first ultrasound test and when making choices about the birth and about feeding the baby. Kukla argues that mothering is a lifelong process and that mothers cannot be judged according to how they behave at certain moments that are culturally and socially constructed to measure their emotions and reactions to their babies. As Kukla points out, measuring mothers’ behaviour at certain given moments can hardly evaluate their behaviour as future mothers.

Although I agree with Kukla’s analysis up to a point , I feel that certain matters need to be disentangled. First, the question of measuring in relation to judging; second, the question of bounding v. controlling; and third, the cultural construction of the ‘good mother’.

Concerning the first point, Kukla rightly uses the term measuring rather than judging when she refers to mothers. According to the Oxford Dictionary, measuring means assessing the importance, effect or value of something, whereas judging refers to forming an opinion or a conclusion. Although I sympathise with the effort to remove judgement from the debate, the fact is that women are judged rather than measured when it comes to their mothering. 

When talking about mothering performance, the issue is still much around forming an opinion rather than giving a value, as Kukla shows when referring to “good mothers”. For this reason I believe that the whole discussion would more appropriate if it considered why mothers should be measured or judged at all rather than whether good mothers can be measured by their behaviour at certain given moments. The problem is that mothers are measured/judged by social and cultural constructions that are later endorsed not to empower women but to make them feel insecure and dependent.

Second, the question of bonding v. controlling: according to Kukla, the first ultrasound in pregnancy has moved from a being required medical protocol to being a social and cultural activity where future mothers’ reactions to this first picture of their baby are observed and measured. Although I agree with this statement, I also think that the first ultrasound event is very much the result of paranoid Western control of every single aspect of nature and birth. As Douglas and Michaels shown in The Mommy Myth, the industry of controlling, protecting and providing all types of safety gadget for babies and toddlers grew dramatically in the 1980s, forcing parents to endlessly evaluate their children’s activities, almost exclusively according to safety criteria. This paranoia places mothers as the only experts responsible for the health and safety of their children. Admittedly, the first ultrasound screening poses a question of measuring v. bounding, but also one of control, increased paranoia and fear of life.

Finally, I must confess that I was surprised to see how Kukla refers to good mothers as mothers who give birth naturally without any sort of pain relief. This is definitely a cultural and class construction belonging to the Anglo-American middle class experience. In Spain, the country I come from, people considered my option to have a natural birth “stupid” (really!) and “masochist”, and I was not in the least considered a better mother than my friends and family members who had epidurals and bottle-fed their babies. In fact in Spain natural birth options (especially home births) are seen as dangerous, and those who choose them, freaks. In sum, the narrative of a good mother is a social and cultural one in which women are subject to fashion and dominant opinions at a given place and time.

This brings me back to the question of why mothers should be measured/judged at all, and most of all to how and when the battle to make the personal political turned into a blaming and scrutinizing game in which my personal becomes public. I feel that there is a need to go back to basics and revise the feminist slogan that the personal is political, because somewhere and somehow our beliefs that were stolen,. Bringing problems and issues that were considered private (reproduction, mothering) into the public arena suddenly became bringing public judgement on our private lives. In my view, the question remains very much why there is so much measuring and judgement of mothering.

Natalia