The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

More Useless Advice Regarding Pregnancy and Childbirth

I was prepared for some of this, and I know that Kaylia is getting it worse than I am, but I am growing increasingly tired of the sheer volume of pregnancy and baby-related mystical nonsense and dubious and dangerous pseudo-science being pushed our way.  It began as a bit of a trickle, but the waters are rising, and I suspect it will be a full-on deluge before all is said and done.

As I say, it started small, but early, when Kaylia wrote on Facebook that she had eaten a few Chicken McNuggets early in the pregnancy for the wacky reason that they were about the only thing that her body wasn't making her vomit up. This received a huge amount of criticism, accusing Kaylia of "poisoning your baby!" as the people commenting on it demonstrated a complete and utter lack of comprehension of reality by confusing their culturally-conditioned notions of what is "gross" with more objective standards regarding what is actually dangerous.

Since then, we have received routine advice from well-meaning but ill-informed people about the value of such quackery as homeopathy and power-balance bracelets in dealing with pregnancy related problems.  As the people offering the advice usually have the best of intentions (and in the case of homeopathy, have typically been misled by the way that that particular quackery is marketed, and aren't aware that it is literally just water or sugar pills), we sometimes argue the point and sometimes just let it go, but have so far not followed any of it. 

As we have moved farther along in the pregnancy, we have been further drawn in to the absurdity that I call the Breast Milk Wars.  Now, to start, I should state the following:  I am well aware that the data supports breast feeding as an excellent way to ensure that the child is well-nourished and healthy, and may also provide psychological benefits for both the mother and child.  Moreover, I am not bothered by women breast-feeding in public.  So, people who find breast feeding repugnant, frankly, do seem to be pushing away a healthy practice, and people who get bent out of shape about children being fed in public places strike me as remarkably silly, often bordering on misogynistic.

However, breast milk is not magical.  While it may be the healthier choice, it is not an alchemical elixir that will solve all ills, and I have become more than slightly tired of smug, arrogant (and, it should be noted, generally privileged white people) attempting to stretch the actual data beyond all recognition in order to vilify or otherwise look down upon mothers who are unable or unwilling to engage in breast feeding.  Moreover, not every mother is capable of breast feeding as often as they would want, or their child would need.  In addition, we live in a world in which physical reality trumps all, and if the mother is away when the child needs to be fed, someone other than the mother is going to have to do it. Some of the logistical problems can be dealt with via a breast pump, but if the mother is unable to produce enough milk, even the pump isn't going to help.  Nonetheless, I have seen and heard more than a few rants lately in which the speaker (who while typically female is, interestingly from a social standpoint, also often male) rants about the evils of forumla, breats pumps, and any other thing that doesn't involve the child directly drinking from the mother, and about how anyone who would use such materials or devices is clearly either deluded or evil.  These rants are usually followed with "but I would never think to judge the decision of a woman who does differently than I."

In fact, for almost every one of these types of things that we have encountered, at least one person delivering a rant, pitch, or insane ramble is followed by them stating that they are not judging parents who do not act as they did.  Sorry, folks, but when you have just made your judgmental nature clear, you don't get out of it by claiming that you are not being judgmental anymore than a KKK member gets out of being racist by announcing that they aren't racist.

And the list goes on.  Recently, we were informed that choosing to have our child in a hospital (you know, those institutions with trained medical staff, each of whom has years or decades of experience in dealing with the myriad of potential complications involved in childbirth, on hand to deal with emergencies - AKA the institutions that mad the phrase "died in childbirth" something of an anachronism) is "sad."  No, it's not sad to want to have our child in a place and with people who can make sure that both our child and Kaylia are well taken care of.  The notion that we have committed some grievous wrong or are otherwise doing something bad in choosing to make a wise and prudent choice for the health of Kaylia and our child is what is sad.  No, actually, it's not sad, it's disturbing.

Oh, and, of course, there's the lunacy of people who think that vaccines are some big corporate conspiracy.  Vaccines.  You know, the things that made measles, polio, and rubella largely things of the past - though they are coming back due to the foolishness of the fore-mentioned privileged people who have never had to actually see the effects that these diseases have on children and communities.  Let me tell you this:  I have seen, first-hand, the long-term effects of some of these illnesses, and those who are choosing to avoid vaccines because they belief in the insane propaganda pushed by ideologues and fools are irresponsible and should be deeply ashamed of themselves.  But, of course, they won't be, instead they'll continue to put their communities and their own children at risk in the name of their bizarre and paranoid ideologies.

And all of that is the stuff that gets aimed primarily at Kaylia.  Let's talk briefly about the bizarreness that is aimed at fathers.

It came as little surprise to me that the majority of popular books on pregnancy and childbirth subscribe to the antiquated "dad, the idiot" model.  While the information in these books for fathers is useful, it is typically written in the most astoundingly condescending manner possible, and often verges into the realm of the mind-numbingly obvious.  For example, I have been informed that my partner may not be interested in sex when in the throes of morning sickness (if a man doesn't recognize this fact, then he has some issues that pre-date the pregnancy and likely render him unfit as a human, much less a father), that my partner may need emotional support while going through the pregnancy (what?  She might need emotional support while going through massive physical changes and alterations due to hormonal changes?  If you didn't already know this, how did you convince a woman let you get close enough to get her pregnant?).  Likewise, while these books do provide useful information on infant care for both mothers and fathers, they again adopt the attitude that childcare should be left to the (female) adults, and that the children (anyone with a Y chromosome, regardless of age) should just run along to their workplace to play and not worry their pretty little heads with the responsibilities of a caregiver.

Interestingly, one of the few books I have so far seen that accepts a significant role might be played by the father after fertilization is the "Husband Coached Childbirth" (AKA the Bradley Method) approach which, as far as I can tell, is not specifically religious in nature, but has earned a degree of popularity amongst the various religious-right sorts that I have met.  While it does have some really good ideas about how to reduce medical interventions during labor and delivery, it was written largely as a response to now-discarded practices from the 1940s and 1950s, and as such, its creators' anti-intervention stance should be more critically examined than it seems to be.  The culture of the Bradley Method is also so thoroughly steeped in pseudo-science and anti-medical rhetoric that, while it may have some useful ideas for the role of fathers, I have to admit that I have had to hold my nose when thumbing through the book.

So, the more "traditional" books seem to regard the father as an expendable amateur.  Surely the progressives will recognize the importance of both parents and encourage the father as a nurturer both to his partner and to their child, right?

Well, sort of, some of the time.  When it doesn't interfere with mystical thinking.

Many (though, it should be noted, thankfully not all) of the self-described "progressive parents" with whom I associate seem to have developed very clearly defined and inviolable roles for men and women in their minds, and these roles seem to typically play very much into the standard gender stereotypes with which Pat Robertson et al. would be very comfortable:  The father goes to work, brings home the money, and has only a limited role in childcare; the mother does all (and I mean all, no exception) feeding, most (if not all) basic care (bathing, changing, comforting, etc.) of the child, and is responsible for early childhood education.  Kaylia has been informed that she should not allow me to feed our child (even if I am using stored breast milk), and I have been often informed that, as I lack a uterus, I am incapable of reaching any sort of informed decision regarding childcare.

The difference between the religious right version and the progressive version of this seems to be centered around the idea of whether men or women are more valuable.  The religious right holds that the man is the head of the household, and all within it must submit to him.  The progressives hold that women are magical (though they will usually use terms such as "natural caregivers and nurturers" rather than "magical", but the use of the term "natural" might as well be substituted with the word "magical" for all of the actual meaning that it has), and fathers are doofuses who shouldn't be entrusted with the well-being of the child.  Us men are either dominators or dorks, and either way, we don't have what it takes to be anything other than either the breadwinner or the disciplinarian. 

Both sides will, of course, insist that they aren't claiming either gender is superior, they just have different roles.  Both sides are, of course, actually claiming that one gender is, in fact superior, and the other worthwhile only within a particular confined role.

Anyway, I have no more to say at the moment.  I'm just irritated and annoyed. 

On the upside, I will be a daddy soon, and I am looking forward to pissing off all ideologues by taking an active role in every aspect of my child's life.


Lisa said...

I was about to write how sure I am that in a couple of years you will be offering advice to others about pregnancy/babies but then it reminded me how someone told me that soon I would understand why it was necessary to spank my children - and I never have. We all may be different, but everyone takes this whole parenting thing very personally.

Evan Davis said...

Don't get me...Ok, you've got me started. You think this is bad? Well, it's probably the worst as far as frequency of advice, but it never stops.

Spanking - We don't spank. We have heard so much advice on this from both sides. My favorite responses are "wait till they're 2" or "just wait till they're 5." They're currently 10, 10, 7, 4 and we still don't. Not because we are violently opposed to it, but because it's never seemed necessary.

Pedophile - I have to stay within an acceptable range of my children and force them to interact with me when they are at the park. If I don't mothers will make note of my presence and adjust behaviors accordingly. Usually I interact with the kids at the park, but they are not always in the mood to talk to dad. The same goes for any childrencentric location. Men, by default are pedophiles.

Non-Parents - It's amazing how much people who don't currently have kids think they know about raising kids.

Over-Achievers - These smug folk are at every school, park and other child related place. They're not labeled so watch out for them. They say things like "we only feed our child Hebrew National hot dogs" at only $7.50 for a pack of 8, "we home school our children" in a quality school district when they don't have any educational credentials, "we don't let our son play with guns, they encourage violence" right before their child hits our kid and my ever favorite: mention something like "I saw that actor on Yo Gabba Gabba" to which they respond "is that a TV show? We don't let our children watch TV" in a way that makes you feel like a bad parent" until you realize the opposite might be true.

Other Kids - When your kid comes home and says something racist, profane or pornographic you wonder what you did. I watch all the shows they watch to make sure the content is good. I don't use any of those things in my speech. The teachers are not talking about it. Nope, it was a friend. What's worse is when your 9 year old comes to you crying about how they were made fun of because they haven't seen Transformers or has nightmares for a week because a parent decided to show The Dark Night at a birthday party (again for 9 year olds).

Sorry about the rant, but it's hard to raise kids when everyone else is not on the same page.

Anthroslug said...

Lisa - I actually am happy to hear advice from you. While it has been many years since I last heard you talk about parenting issues, at the time, your positions were always well thought-out and consistent with reality. From what I have seen and heard, not only from you and Evan, but from others as well, you are both very good parents.

What bothers me isn't unsolicited advice, but, rather, the amount of it which is either at odds with reality, or flat-out dangerous. And there is alot of both of those types. However, I doubt that you would give any of either.