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What Does A Feminist Mother Look Like? Part 3

Continuing (belatedly) the series in which I answer the ten questions posted at Blue Milk concerning what a feminist mother looks like. Today is Part 3. You can see Part 1 here and Part 2 here. Since Blue Milk’s post went up in 2007 and I have answered the questions over two years, my answers may be a bit skewed. See something inconsistent or that make you go “huh??,” ask me about it. This is always on my mind.

9. If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?

This has forced me to do more difficult intellectual work concerning theories of difference. I hope I would have come to this place anyway but exclusive and extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and babywearing mean that my relationship with my children is different from their father’s who can not breastfeed and with whom they wish to do less of all of these other things. The acts of attachment parenting have made me look at what equality means and redefine it in a more nuanced way. “Equal” does not mean “exactly the same.” One can not measure the work of two parents as one might flour on a scale. If the other parent of my children were also female and were also breastfeeding, perhaps coming to equity would be a simpler task.

Also, Second Wave Feminism assumes my equality depends on my ability to earn the same wage as men. It does not value parenting as it does waged labor. I don’t think this devaluing of unwaged work is feminist. It is capitalist and feminism does not need to be capitalist. True equality and true feminism values my unwaged parenting as it would my waged lawyering.

10. Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given

Feminism has given mothers more than I could possibly list. It has given mothers the legal right totheir children. Prior to feminism, under common law men owned children and had the right to dictate what happened to them. “Father’s Rights Movement” rhetoric aside, they don’t have a clue how good they had it. Feminism gave mothers the vote. Feminism gave mother legal recourse if they are raped by their husbands. Feminism gave mothers greater ability to force the fathers of their children to provide financial support even if the mother is not married to the father.

Lady Gaga Asks Young People to Seek Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – Should They Be Taking Lessons in Activism from Her?

My 16 year old son just sent me this YouTube video (it’s long so I am placing it at the end of the post). It is a serious plea from Lady Gaga to call your Senator and ask him or her to ask for repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy. Specifically:

–Tell your senators to vote with Sen. Reid and Sen. Carl Levin in opposing the filibuster, defeat amendments to strike repeal, and defeat any crippling amendments.

–Senators should follow the lead of Sen. Carl Levin who will be managing the defense bill.

Working with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Lady Gaga has been bringing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and the hardship it causes, to the attention of young people a lot lately. She appeared at the Video Music Awards with a guard of servicemembers who have been discharged or resigned from the military because of DADT. One of them was a young woman who recently resigned from West Point and is interviewed here by Rachel Maddow.

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I have never had to explain the injustice of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or any other anti-gay policy to my son. I have had to explain that such bigotry exists because he couldn’t understand it. Gay and lesbian people have always been a part of his life. He knows his mother is bisexual, though that didn’t come up until he asked me for help when a friend of his was coming out to his parents. That conversation started with: “Mom, X is coming out to his parents this weekend and I told him he could stay here if his parents throw him out.” My son makes me very very proud.

When my son was 12, a much larger kid in the neighborhood was making remarks my son found offensive. When my son called the kid homophobic, the kid threatened to hit him. There were a few lessons that came out of that incident – lessons I learned myself as a kid. First, you can get beaten up for having a larger vocabulary than bigger kids. The homophobic kid didn’t know what “homophobic” meant and thought he was being called “homosexual.” Second, pick your battles because sometimes you can get your ass kicked for standing up for what you believe in. My son told me it was something he was willing to get his ass kicked over – fighting homophobia is that important to him.

But should your kids be learning political activism from Lady Gaga? Well, my hope is that my kids learn lessons about political activism from a wide variety of sources, though it starts with me. If Lady Gaga were taking a political position with which my son disagreed, I would be hearing about that – though critically.  My son sent me this video because he supports Lady Gaga’s efforts. And so do I.

Do you talk to your kids about LGBT issues? What do you think they are learning from their friends? How do you feel about pop figures teaching your kids about politics?

Could Your Six Year Old Be Arrested, Handcuffed and Shackled in School?

According to a class action lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) , a six year old boy was arrested and chained because he did not move when his teacher told him to move . No one was being hurt, no one was in danger, no crime was being committed. Little J.W. simply didn’t do as he was told. He didn’t follow directions.

While this same behavior happens every day in elementary schools across the country, J.W. attends an elementary school in the Louisiana Recovery School District (RSD). Created to accommodate the children whose families returned to post-Katrina New Orleans, unlike most elementary schools those in RSD have armed police officers on-site who follow the direction of school principals. In J.W.’s case, according to the SPLC Complaint:

On May 4, 2010, J.W. allegedly failed to follow his teacher’s directions. As a consequence for this minor misbehavior, Defendant Doe [a police officer in the school] arrested J.W. and transported him to an in-school suspension room where he was isolated from his peers and confined with much older students who taunted and teased him. Inside the in-school suspension room, Defendant Doe forcibly seized J.W. by chaining his ankle to a chair.

A few days later, J.W. got into an argument with another student about a seat in the cafeteria. This time a school police officer:

forcibly arrested and seized J.W. and dragged him through the halls to Defendant Principal Burnett’s [the elementary school principal] office. … Defendant Burnett ordered [the officer] to handcuff and shackle J.W. to a chair.

The lawsuit seeks relief for J.W. and all the students of RSD under the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. constitution for unreasonable search and seizure. As well J.W. asserts state tort claims for the physical and emotional injuries suffered as a result of this brutal policy and practice.

However, Louisiana is not the only state that allows corporal punishment in public schools. Do you know if the school your child attends allows school staff to physically restrain students and, if so, under what circumstances and with which methods? Can your child be held back from striking another person or can your child be chained to a chair and left unattended? Should a six year old ever be shackled?

Goodbye Henry Granju

Henry Granju died yesterday evening. His mother, Katie Allison Granju, author of Attachment Parenting: Instinctive Care for Your Baby and Young Child has been blogging about Henry and the circumstances that led to his death at her blog, MamaPundit.

While I hope to write more about addiction, a condition from which even the most dedicated attachment parent may not be spared, today I want only to express deep sadness that a mother has lost her son.

Here is a video by South African musician Johnny Clegg called Osiyeza or The Crossing.

Frontline’s War on Selectively Vaccinating Parents

A recent episode of the PBS program Frontline was called “The War on Vaccines.” The title alone should have been the tip off that the producers’ goal was to inflame and incite – to assume this was an entirely adversarial discussion between diametrically opposed viewpoints. But I knew that my colleague Jennifer Margulis, Contributing Editor at Mothering where I am Politics Editor, was interviewed on the program so I felt obligated to watch. I knew also the show would feature pro-vaccine zealot Paul Offit – as famous for his vehement opposition to all questioning of vaccines as he is for the money he takes from vaccine manufacturers.

Imagine I insert an ominous voiceover here. In case you don’t have time to watch the entire Frontline report, I can give you a feel for the experience. For all fifty minutes, you are constantly reminded the discussion – oh, just suspend your disbelief and accept there is a discussion – is life or death for every child. Make sure you are really worked up about dying toddlers because the Frontline producers want to make sure you have an opinion about vaccines at the end of the show that is linked to the images you see on the screen and hear in the voiceover. We are moved and motivated by the sights and sounds in film. Having worked in television production I know how this works but I think any discerning viewer can figure that out. If this were not so, we would all just read the paper.

One of the opening scenes in Frontline’s “The War on Vaccines” is about a helpless innocent baby coming into the world waiting for mommy to do all she can to keep her safe and healthy. You see through a car windshield the sign for Doylestown Hospital but, if you watch this online, the section is called “A Visit to Ashland, Oregon.”

“A new life begins,” says the ominous voiceover. Little Rachel Murphy is coming into the world. But wait. Mommy is on her back in an operating room at Doylestown Hospital with a curtain between her and the birth. Yup, she is having a cesarean section. “It’s a girl!” says a member of the team pulling Rachel out of her mother’s uterus which has been surgically lifted from her body. “AW!” says Rachel’s mother who can not see her own child. The very serious narrator comes back and explains that little Rachel had been born into “a world filled with countless germs.” Then we have a series of camera shots of Rachel being handled by medical staff, in a cart being wheeled down the hall, getting her first vaccine at an hour old (according to the ominous voiceover) for Hepatitis B (a form of Hepatitis contracted primarily through sexual intercourse or I.V. drug use, so use of this vaccine assumes either Rachel’s mother is infected or Rachel has been pretty busy in her first hour outside the womb). Some time more than an hour after all of this has taken place away from Rachel’s mother, we finally see a camera view of Rachel and her mother together – her mother still flat on her back post-surgery.

Wow. The joy of birth in America. Strangers will handle you, wheel you around, and pump you full of chemicals – some of which are toxic – before you even get a chance to meet your mother. That world full of countless germs? Well, that would be the hospital. Some of Rachel’s protection against these germs have been washed off of her before she can get a whiff of her mother’s breast where the colostrum is waiting for her. A hat has been put on her head which she does not need because her mother’s body could provide warmth and the exchange of scent between Rachel and her mother could help an already challenged breastfeeding relationship.

Next we have some Centers for Disease Control party line on the benefits of vaccination followed promptly by, with a dark lowering of the voiceover’s tone, the announcement that some communities in America are resisting the CDC advice and have much lower rates of vaccination. I could be wrong about what appears to me to be a misleading connection between little Rachel Murphy’s birth and Ashland. If you didn’t see the hospital sign, you don’t know where Rachel was born. I think one could easily think, hearing Ashland, Oregon named as a pocket of vaccine renegades, that Rachel was born in that community. So in case you were confused, here is a little geography lesson Mr. Ominous Voiceover omits.

Doylestown Hospital is in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Doylestown is about an hour north of Philadelphia. Now I don’t necessarily have a preconceived notion about any particular hospital’s c-section rate. And I will look carefully if a hospital offers a birthing center. Birthing centers often (though with decreasing frequence nationally) have midwives and lower rates of c-section. However, if you hit the home page link on the Doylestown Hospital website for what purports to be that hospital’s “birthing center,” you come to a page with a huge graphic of people in white coats and surgical scrubs under the headline “Maternity Care Reinvented.” Below the cluster of white coats and surgical scrubs is the tag line, “Doylestown Hospital Welcomes CHOP Newborn Care at Doylestown Hospital.” CHOP, for those of you closer to Ashland, Oregon – that renegade town that is 3000 miles away from Doylestown – is Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia, the professional home of … you guessed it, Paul Offit.

As a not so amusing side note, I glanced over at the “birthing center” physicians to see the name of the surgeon who cut my third son out of me at a different hospital. I have two profound memories of that man. One was the frightening tower of formula cases behind him in his office. He was such an unpleasant man I tried to mentally will the boxes to fall and crush him. I asked him about all that formula and whether it wouldn’t be better to encourage women to breastfeed their babies rather than assume they will formula feed. He snarled his response: “Would YOU want to nurse quadruplets?” He was a specialist in multiple births (the reason I had been coerced into being seen by him). I replied, “I certainly would want to try.” He made a disgusted sound and refused to discuss it with me anymore. The other memory I have of that doctor is what he shouted to me as he was scrubbing in for that dreaded third c-section. “This is a tubal as well, right?” He and I had never had any discussion of his performing a tubal ligation and I had hoped to have more children. “NO!” I shouted back, more than a little frightened that he might have asked this question after I was unable to respond. His response was his usual sneer. “You would do this again?” I think I will remember forever glancing over at the array of scalpels a nurse was counting while I was being prepped, thinking violent thoughts along with “what an asshole.”

Back to Frontline.

Jennifer Margulis has written a blog post I highly recommend about what she sees as the failings of “The War on Vaccines” and I highly recommend you read it. At least two of her complaints are mine as well. All of the doctors and government officials shown in the final cut of this Frontline are opposed to any variation from the CDC recommended vaccine schedule. The conclusion one is forced to draw is that there are no physicians – particularly no respected physicians – who challenge the statements made by Offit. Not only is that untrue but if you read Dr. Jay Gordon’s blog post concerning this Frontline piece, you find out that he was interviewed for hours as was Dr. Robert Sears. As Gordon describes in great detail, the producers made a deliberate choice to exclude these respected doctors who offer a different viewpoint from either extreme presented by Frontline.

Another dangerous and professionally irresponsible choice made by the Frontline producers was to entirely exclude discussion of the ideological space in between Offit’s “all vaccines on the CDC schedule no matter what” position and the “no vaccines ever under any circumstances” position erroneously attributed to Margulis. There are many parents and professionals, like me, who believe that every parent must examine each vaccine and each child and decide whether the benefits of a particular vaccine outweigh the risks. This is called “selective vaccination” and I have been practicing it with my children since my eldest son was a year old.

I allowed doctors to vaccinate my now nearly sixteen year old son on the CDC schedule when he was born. There were many fewer vaccines on the schedule back then, I trusted my carefully chosen pediatrician and did as I was told. But, as is my nature, I did my research and as I read more studies I began to question whether he needed all of the shots and whether he needed them at the times they were being given. Tetanus may have been the first one I questioned. I have a particularly violent physical reaction to the tetanus vaccine so I was worried that he might as well. I researched how one gets tetanus and wondered whether my child, with his access to clean water, disinfectant and a tetanus shot if he has an injury so deep one can’t be sure washing alone will protect him – well, why did my son need to risk the reaction I get to the vaccine? Then I read a study about the MMR vaccine. I don’t even remember what it was about but I remember it was in Lancet, a journal one’s pediatrician should be expected to read. I asked my pediatrician a question about the study and he said he knew nothing about it. I wanted to discuss my concerns with him before making the decision to give the vaccine to my son. The pediatrician was surprised I thought the decision was mine to make. And then he said it. With a patronizing laugh he said, “Your Medline privileges should be revoked.” I was not amused. That was the day I decided my children would be selectively vaccinated. I would be the one who decided whether my children needed a particular vaccine at a particular time. I would do something public health officials can’t do. I would look at just one child in his own unique environment with his own unique biology and family history. I would assess the risks and benefits of each vaccine for each child.

If you let the imagery and ominous tone of Frontline’s “The War on Vaccines” wash over you, you would never know that parents could make intelligent and safe decisions for their own children. You would never know there are doctors who support parents’ ability to do this. You would think that I make my parenting decisions based on what I see on YouTube. In fact, I chose selective vaccinating before I had even heard of YouTube. I read peer reviewed medical journal articles and consider the advice of a wide range of medical specialists including Dr. Jay Gordon and Dr. Robert Sears. The Frontline producers would have you believe that parents taking control of the medical care their children receive is a bad thing.

In between the interviews portraying extreme and irreconcilable views, along with the frightening images of sick children, there is interspersed B roll of children in a gymnastics class. Hmm. Is gymnastics there to lighten the mood by showing happy children at play? Or is it there to suggest the metaphor of risky behaviors parents encourage their children to engage in? After all, the chances of my child dying of chicken pox is far lower than the chance of my child being seriously injured as a gymnast. Or are the producers trying to leave us with that uncertainty – is that child flying through the air going to land safely or break her neck? Regardless, it is just manipulative.

So what do you think? I am not going to give you a poll and don’t encourage you to participate in Frontline’s two choice poll. On my blog as in life, you have more than two choices. I’d like to hear how you make your decisions about vaccination. If you saw the Frontline episode, I’d like to hear how balanced you think it was. And if you just want to to write about vaccine decision making and/or how media portrays it, let’s hear it.


I woke up this morning shaking from a nightmare. My jaw hurt from grinding my teeth. My palms were sore from clenching my fists.

I knew immediately that it had been a bad dream but it has been difficult to shake off. In it, I was in a hotel room in a foreign city with my eldest son and a man from my past. An abusive, disturbed man who remembering still makes my skin feels as if it is not my own. In the dream I was struggling to find all of my son’s and my clothing so that I could us sneak away. For some reason, my son and this man were going somewhere together and, again inexplicably, I thought this would help give me a chance to gather all of our things. But when the man returned my son was not with him. He said that my son had taken too long to get in the car so he had left my son on the street.  During the rest of the nightmare I was screaming my son’s name out of the window and walking the streets searching for him, bellowing his name in hysteria. Finally, in despair, I went back to the hotel where I found my son had returned. He didn’t know I had been looking for him and he just wanted to tell me what a good time he had had meeting new people and seeing new things. It was a reenactment of a conversation I have had with him many times in real life but in the dream I could not stay calm as I hollered about not disappearing without telling me where he is going, not staying away for more than twenty minutes without calling, how frightened I had been, how dangerous the world is.

And then I woke up. Realizing my son was safely asleep upstairs and that this man from my past is long dead did not help me with the panic attack I suffered for several hours.

No consultation with Freud is necessary to understand why I had this nightmare and why I had it when I did. Tomorrow my first born, my baby, will turn fifteen.

My son is bright and engaging. He chats up anyone who stands still long enough. He wants to know what you are passionate about and he wants to tell you about his favorite architect, the local community feud about the election of township commissioners, the quality of programming on BBC (we live in the US). My son trusts people until they show they can not be trusted.

When I was fifteen, the long battle between my divorced parents over who wouldn’t have custody ended with both refusing to keep me. I was on my own, hiding from the social workers who would put me in foster care if they knew. From the age of fifteen, until my son was born sixteen years later, no family member gave me shelter.  Most of the time no one in my family even knew where I was and, as far as I can tell, none of them cared. My children are the only blood relatives I have lived with since I was the age my baby boy will be tomorrow.

I don’t spend much time feeling sorry for myself or dwelling on my childhood. It was, I am, it is (thankfully) over. But it has been difficult comparing myself at fifteen to my son at fifteen. He is a curious and independent child (like I was). He can do his own laundry and cook himself most meals (as I could). But he has not seen pure evil. He has never had to worry about where he would sleep. He has never … many things no child should do or see or know.

Most days these differences between us make me feel relief.  I have spared him these things. But on days like today, covered with the sense memory of dreams like last night’s, I fear for him. Who will he trust in his innocence? Have I, in keeping him safe, left him exposed?

Like many mammals, my son’s trips away from me are in larger and larger circles. He proudly reports the miles on his bike odometer and I pretend I can breath. Tomorrow he will be the age I was when I was utterly abandoned by the people who were supposed to keep me safe. We will have cake and go out to dinner. And I will continue to worry how safe he really is.

This is What a Nursing Toddler Looks Like

Top Hat over at Its All About the Hat suggested a Breastfeeding Blog Carnival called “This is What a Nursing Toddler Looks Like.” [This is my first blog carnival so I will link to the other participants as soon as I figure out the rules of the game – UPDATE: I have added some links at the bottom to other Carnival participants.] Luckily for me, the Carnival theme left a good bit of room for interpretation since I don’t currently have a nursing toddler. I have many fond memories of nursing my kids when they were toddlers and so do they. I and they remember how important it was that they could nurse when they were sick or hurt or needed comfort. We nursed when they needed some time with mom. We nursed when they were getting used to sharing mom with a new sibling. We nursed when they were hungry. We nursed to sleep. We nursed standing up and sitting down and in positions I used to call “Olympic Freestyle Nursing.”

A nursing toddler can also go hiking and he looks like this:


But with my kids getting older, I am seeing more of what a nursing toddler looks like when he is no longer nursing and is no longer a toddler. That can be someone who really understands how important it is that kids get to nurse and mothers get to nurse their kids. A former nursing toddler isn’t fazed by seeing women breastfeed wherever they are.

A few years ago my then 12 year old son saw me helping to organize a nurse-in. I explained that a woman had been quietly nursing her baby on a bench in a shopping mall when a security guard ordered her to stop and move. She refused, saying she needed to finish feeding her son. Soon she was surrounded by security guards who engaged her husband in a shouting match and left the woman terrified. When the mom shared her story and the shopping mall management refused to respond to her complaint about her treatment, a nurse-in was planned.

My son was confused – why would anyone think there was something wrong with a mother feeding her baby? Then he was mad – this was wrong. He asked if he could come to the nurse-in. When he saw me making signs, he asked if he could create one for himself. I told him that we expected press coverage and there was a chance his friends would see a photo of him from the protest. He was adamant that he wanted to be seen.

Back to the Carnival theme – This is What a Nursing Toddler Looks Like. He looks like a proud breastfeeding activist.


UPDATE: Other What Does a Nursing Toddler Looks Like Carnival participants.

A Breastfeeding Toddler Photoshoot, Escaping to my Controversial Place

The Joys, Humors, and Struggles of … , The Mother’s Lamentation

Nursing a (and Around a) Toddler Creates Cute Stories, Melissa’s Place

I Never Thought I’d Nurse a Toddler, The Prudent Woman

The Pros and Cons of Breastfeeding a Toddler, Breastfeeding Moms Unite

Nursing an Older Toddler, Musings of Mommy Bee

My Nursing Toddler Story, babyREADY

Beautiful at Any Age, A Piece of My Mind

This is What A Nursing Toddler Looks Like, Three Girl Pile-Up

This is What a Nursing Toddler Looks Like, Permission to Mother

This is a Nursing Toddler, Gaze Into the Heavens

This is What a Nursing Toddler Looks Like, My Seaside Retreat

Nursing a Toddler in a Ring Sling, PhD in Parenting

This is What a Nursing Toddler Looks Like … , Mama’s Apple Cores

What is Sustainable Mothering?

Sustainable Mothering is a blog, an idea, a goal, a journey. We will discuss and examine how the many acts of mothering must be supported and embraced by culture and society. It is not about mothers condemning each other. It is about freedom and educated choice – true choice which only exists in an environment with options.

When I became a mother nearly fifteen years ago, I knew nothing about mothering.  I knew stereotypes about motherhood. Some women stayed home with their children. They were women without imagination, without goals for themselves, without income or independence. Other women had children and returned to their productive lives in the real world.  I didn’t actually know mothers of either variety.  I didn’t know mothers at all really. None of my friends had children.  Most of my clients had children – people in crisis whose lives I did not want. I didn’t even particularly like children. At the age of 31, I suddenly had an overwhelming desire to have a child after a lifetime of certainty that I didn’t want any.

In this blog I will write about my exploration of the difference between motherhood and mothering, what I left behind when I made the mommy morph, the bigotry and ignorance I encountered when I attempted to enter the world as a woman with a child, and I want to hear the thoughts of others on all of this and more.  So far the mommy wars has led to more war – it sets women against each other who might be working together to fight the sexism underlying any statement that a decision about my mothering should be made by anyone other than me.  Mothers must live in the public world so the acts of mothering must be done in full view of the world when the mother chooses and needs. Forcing women to be isolated in their homes, to give up the work they love, to leave their children behind, to live in fear, to starve, to be dependent on the whims of the more powerful – none of these allow mothers to be healthy or participate in society or raise daughters who want to be mothers or raise sons able to shape fathering.  So – onward to blogging.

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