"Should you really be eating that?"
"Did you have an epidural?"
"Oh, you should totally try for a vaginal birth next time!"
"Why aren't you breastfeeding?"
"You're not going to give him the MMR shot, are you? He might get autism."
There is something about pregnancy and infants that makes everyone and their dog have big opinions, opinions they don't think twice about sharing with a large sprinkling of judgment. Society is increasingly, it seems, holding modern mothers to impossible standards, expecting them to be present and attached to their babies' bodies through breastfeeding, co-sleeping and baby-wearing 24/7, and even judging them for having a life-saving cesarean section.
Push Back is, Dr Tuteur says, "a challenge to all women to defy the madness of the natural childbirth industry and to reclaim that most basic of a woman's rights: the right to control her own body". Her book shows not only that your "good enough" parenting is fine, but also why the scientific-sounding claims of the natural parenting industry are often actually anything but evidence based.
Tuteur, simply called "Dr Amy" by friends and foes alike, is a controversial figure. Anyone who has ever immersed themselves in the somewhat cult-like online natural parenting world will probably simply know her as the OB who speaks up against homebirth, against vaccine rejectionism, and against lactivists of the kind who think that not breastfeeding is basically child abuse. Dr Amy has a sharp tongue and a half, but instead of condemnation, her new book brings a message of compassion.
If that sounds like music to your ears, you can run over to Amazon and get a copy of Push Back today. In the meantime, however, SteadyHealth spoke to Dr Tuteur to give you a little taste.
Olivia Maloy: There's no such phenomenon as the "daddy wars", and though fathers worry about the impact their current choices have on their children's futures as well, this is discussed only very rarely. Why is it that the way in which they do motherhood is still such a defining factor for 21st century women? Haven't we moved beyond that? Do you think the natural parenting movement, specifically, promotes misogyny?
Dr Amy Tuteur: The past 20 years have witnessed an ever-growing movement to moralize motherhood, from the endless restrictions on what pregnant women can consume (most of them, like the prohibition on alcohol, far outstripping any scientific evidence), the moralization of infant feeding and public pressure to breastfeed (once again far outstripping any scientific evidence), and the promotion of intensive mothering (attachment parenting) whereby the mother’s “real” work is to stay home and raise children.
There is nothing equivalent for fathers to the holy trinity of natural mothering (natural childbirth, breastfeeding and attachment parenting).
When was the last time you saw people claiming that “good” fathers demonstrate their love for their wives and children by killing game animals and dragging them home?
When was the last time you saw men escorted out of the delivery room because traditional societies do not allow fathers at childbirth?
Where are the restrictions on what men can consume, justified by the desire to keep their sperm safe for maximum fertility?
When was the last time you saw fathers harassing each other over who is the more natural father?
Never, right? And that’s not a coincidence.
Obviously any large social movement, like the movement to moralize motherhood within industrialized societies, is complex and multifactorial. Nonetheless, a significant impetus for the movement to moralize motherhood is to return to the olden days… for women, but not for men.
Olivia Maloy: Why is parenting in infancy such a dividing topic, much more so than parenting school-aged children and teens? Isn't there so much more we can mess up once our kids move beyond infancy?
Dr Amy Tuteur: I suspect that it is much easier to imagine that you have control over outcomes when children are infants. As they grow older, we realize that they are distinct individuals with their own personalities and they can and will resist how we attempt to mold them.
Olivia Maloy: What message do you have for young mothers who are being made to feel that they're doing it all wrong, because they can't breastfeed, can't or don't want to stay at home with their babies, or because they had a c-section?
Dr Amy Tuteur: Step into any classroom from kindergarten to college and pick out the children born by C-section, or the children whose mothers had epidurals, or the children who received formula. You can’t tell, can you? That’s because those choices don’t really matter very much.
Olivia Maloy: What was the best bit of parenting advice you received yourself? The worst?
Dr Amy Tuteur: The best parenting advice I know is this: don’t criticize your partner when he (or she) helps with the baby. It’s easy to get upset when your partner doesn’t do things your way, puts the diaper on backwards or dresses the baby in clothes that you wouldn’t have chosen. The truth is, though, that you want your baby to enjoy time with his father and you want your partner to enjoy time with the baby; both are necessary to build a strong relationship. Criticism can interfere with that relationship.
Olivia Maloy: Now that you are the mother of adults, looking back, what parenting choices you made while they were children and that seemed important at the time are now completely irrelevant? Which ones had a lasting impact?
Dr Amy Tuteur: Actually, many of the things that I thought were a big deal at the time (when to potty train? which pre-school?) turned out to be unimportant in the long run.