The End of My Love Affair With Natural Parenting

Kale: It Always Comes Back to Kale

In truth, I still continued to flirt with natural parenting off and on up even through the birth of my second child.  In fact, in the hospital I had a near breakdown when the pediatrician suggested a teeny squirt of formula from a syringe to ensure my daughter wasn’t dehydrated. Bitch. In my defense, I hadn’t slept in twenty four hours and, oh, I had just given birth.  In that moment it seemed nothing could possibly be worse than feeding my baby formula, and I wasn’t even sure why.  I guess natural parenting is one of those I just can’t quit you types of relationships.  The end is always messy.

Back when I was a newly minted mother of an infant, I was certain in my belief of all things natural.  It began once I successfully breastfed my son.  Not at birth — that would be after 8 weeks of pumping and many bizarre attempts at getting him to latch – including the one called rebirthing.  I talk about rebirthing during my Bad Mommy Moments piece and what is telling is that people laugh as soon as I say the word rebirthing.

I don’t even need to explain what rebirthing is, though I do, because it’s funny, but unlike me, everyone else knows as soon as they hear the word that it’s a bad idea.  But I was desperate for success.  Actually, after a miserable pregnancy and bout with pre-eclampsia ending in delivery at 32 weeks, I was probably actually desperate for a literal rebirthing.  I know, it’s such a cliché.  In any event, rebirthing was a bust, but eventually a lactation consultant made everything right in my world.

In fact, though I never had that magic birth experience, I suppose I had the closest thing to it in the lactation consultant’s office that day –the perfect latch (well, with the help of a nipple shield), baby suckling away, tears of joy…And it really was right. It felt so natural and easy, like I wanted pregnancy, birth and, ultimately, mothering to be.

I don’t even recall how I went from happy breastfeeder down the rabbit hole to complete, err, crunchiness (my dad to me, upon first hearing the term: Crunchy? Like granola?).  I started with those gateway words – it’s just easier.  The classic argument.  It’s easier to co-sleep, breastfeed, wear your baby (better than a Gucci bag!).  Yes, yes, it is easier if you have a baby that isn’t squirmy when he sleeps, don’t experience any difficulties breastfeeding (at first) or have to pump (later), and have a baby that likes being worn.  Easy. Peasy.

Then I started reading the mothering dot commune.  And at first I loved it.  I mean, I just clearly have an ongoing love of hippies.  I don’t know what it is.  I love the idea of serenity and I love a good Indian tunic but my reality is always more Frank Costanza than Deepak Chopra (again, follow him on twitter @DeepakChopra).  Still, I felt inspired by the recipes for kale and silken tofu smoothies, and enjoyed the tales of parenting that made it all seem magical.  You know, the ones that say something like I practiced child-led elimination communication/weaning/sleep teaching/fill-in-the-blank-here and it was glorious because all children are perfect and glorious.

When you are a first time mom of an infant, yes, they are perfect and glorious.  And, actually, now, as a mom of two slash old hag, I still find them perfect and glorious but in a crazy challenging awesome fiery explosion that I am constantly trying to contain and yet respect kind of way.

So I recall the first moment when it began to dawn on me that my romance with natural parenting might not in fact end with happily ever after.  I was moving right along in gooey newborn perfection, and then wham my baby hit that fussy stage.  I now know that the fussy stage hits at about 6 (or is it 8? I’ve already forgotten!) weeks after their due date if you believe Dr. Weissbluth, and I absolutely do (pediatrician, to me: you know, there isn’t a manual. Me: The hell there isn’t!).  But if you have a preemie, there are all of those extra preemie weeks when your baby just sleeps, so when they actually hit their due date and then, quickly, the fussy stage, it’s like someone snatched the solid ground right from under your feet. And I hadn’t heard of Dr. Weissbluth – yet, yet, foreshadowing! – so I had no warning.  The fussy stage felt really epic.  Like plenty of new moms, I decided to buy a swing.

A swing! Sounds amazing – you can put the baby down, you can take a shower, you can take a nap.  Sounds pretty great, right?  Until I read the truth about these foot soldiers for satan on Mothering dot commune.  “I don’t want a mechanical mama holding my baby!”  Mechanical mama?  That sounds terrible!  Who would want a mechanical mama? Actually,
now that I have some distance from the postpartum haze I can admit that the idea is actually sort of intriguing.  Maybe she would be like Rosie on the Jetsons?  Who hasn’t joked about cloning themselves?  Or, for that matter, getting a Mormon second wife? Just me, huh?

Well, I digress…So, upon reading this public shaming of the derelict mothers who allow their babies to be comforted by the cold arms of a mechanical mama, my reaction was –oh, no, I can’t get a swing! Swings are obviously terrible.  But-but-but- really?  Really? It seemed questionable that a baby would suffer from spending a few minutes or even a few hours in a swing.

Suddenly, everything that made perfect sense about natural parenting was crumbling before me.  There was the insistence that schedules are cruel torture that should be reserved only for brutal dictators or, perhaps, formula feeders, but routines are wonderful.  Babies thrive on routines.  Isn’t a schedule just a routine that happens to coincide with various appointed hours throughout the day?  Then there was the claim that letting your baby cry it out would lead to brain damage, based on a study that showed that when babies cry they have elevated levels of cortisol.  Obviously prolonged elevated levels of cortisol would be a bad thing, but five minutes? Ten minutes? I felt like I had just seen my lover for what he really was: a fucking idiot.

I mean, the comparison of the bars of a crib to the bars of a jail cell by Dr. Sears is really quite bizarre.  What kind of babies do you have, Dr. Sears, that they are familiar with what a jail cell looks like?

And then my baby turned six months and promptly put himself on a nap schedule.  In fact, he put himself on a schedule for the entire day –woke up at the same time, pooped at the same time, played at the same time and napped and went to bed at night at the same time.  And, you know what?  The schedule made both of us happy.

Then, the final kicker, he rolled over at night and co-sleeping became miserable.  So after multiple threats to leave the house and a moment of hysteria where I actually crawled into the crib, I did the unthinkable to any decent natural parenting type: I sleep trained him using the Ferber method.  Suddenly, I had a happy baby who slept through the night.

And, actually?  I didn’t have a baby at all.  I had a toddler – who could be cranky, crazy and complicated.  Problems could no longer be fixed with breastfeeding, co-sleeping or baby-wearing.  For the life of me, I couldn’t understand people who still waxed nostalgic over any of those things that once seemed so magical.

It was over.  Babyhood was over and so was my time with natural parenting.  It wasn’t you, it was me, but still, the affair was over.  And I was okay with that.  It was time to move on.

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About Mamalicious

Playwright, storyteller, producer, blogger & #skeptical mom of 2 living in #HStNE DC. Blogging since 2009 unless you count Livejournal and nobody does.
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