Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A world where American mamas don't cry...

I read an article posted on FB about African babies not crying (really, NO babies cry in Africa? I find that hard to believe, but I digress). While the personal narrative experience of the author was nice and interesting, culturally, it wasn't a definitive study about how we mess up our kids and how to stop.

What it did was continue to propagate a MamaMyth, that if we were "better" our kids wouldn't cry as much. Nevermind that crying is just a form of early communication from babies who don't have a very wide array of verbal communication early on.

A commenter on the post tangentially mentioned that our culture will pay for putting kids in all day preschool (not the subject of the article). I debated commenting. After all, it's not the point of my friend's post. But I couldn't just let that comment sit there so that other mamas could either silently feel judged or collectively high five each other if they were able and chose to stay home with their kids.

Also, the article spoke about breastfeeding those "quiet" babies in Africa no matter what was happening. Okay, so there is no crying technically because there's a boob in the mouth physically. That makes sense logistically. And then I think about my experience with my baby.

I won't break down every moment where this concept ran through my head (and was used to emotionally flog myself because my kid didn't quiet when offered the breast). But as I started to listen to each cry and how they were different, I realized that I could solve most problems based on what was actually needed, not based on quieting my kid with boob/food. I learned what was an "attention" cry versus a "hungry" cry versus an "over-stimulation" cry. This really helped me learn my kid's world faster. It's not just crying, my son was telling me what he needed. And as a result, I have a really great communication system with him. I'm not saying my method works for everyone (I'm just sharing what I did), but I was trapped in the idea that every cry was a milk/boob-craving cry. And my kid didn't always want to nurse. Just like he wasn't able to be born vaginally and it wasn't my fault, I needed to listen to my reality, not just my idealism. And I needed to listen to myself and my kid.

As a new mom, it was hard to listen to myself. I had "no idea" theoretically, what I was doing. Other more experienced moms knew better, I was convinced. I read the books,  chatted with the experienced moms, and knew the studies. But one thing that no one considered: none of those people were looking at or listening to MY kid! And they weren't ME! So all bets were off, eventually. This was between me and my kid. I had a lot of information and support, but I needed to go through this struggle and pay attention to what was really happening. No amount of doctor recommendations or 30 peppy hippie mamas suggesting x/y/z could replace those moments when I was listening to my kid. And we forget to tell new moms that a lot. We're getting better about telling each other that what matters is what works for us individually, but as a culture, we still judge the crap out of everyone.

In the last few weeks I've hung out with some of my mom friends and I've been listening to not just what we all tell each other, but how and why.

There's a lot of confessing, disclaiming with "TMI, but I want to share..." (TMI=too much information), telling half-stories (to test the water and see if anyone will judge), and more clever mama tactics to make sure no one calls CPS, commits someone to a mental ward, or other damning actions.

It breaks my heart, honestly. My heart actually aches having the awareness and sensing that fear, anxiety, and guilt in other mamas. Because of course I am also doing this. I am also trying to make it look good, while inside or alone my experiences are confusing, isolating, and sometimes scary.

To think that one thing will be the demise of our culture is ignorant. Another friend pointed out that even if babies don't cry in Africa, there is a lot of violence, rape, poverty, submission, dictatorship, etc., so how can we look at the broader picture and not make one thing the definition of a culture? And frankly, putting kids in all day preschool isn't usually a simple choice. Would financial strain with one income be better? What about the sanity of the parents?

When I was done with maternity leave, I was eager to get back to work. Not because I didn't love my little one, but because there was a large part of me that was aching to stretch my brain, my creative desires, etc., again. Not just to have "adult conversation" (but that's valid, too), I wanted to keep offering my gifts...and I couldn't turn magically turn into a full time mom. It's not who I was, despite my lineage of stay at home moms (but now, I wonder if there weren't a few mamas in my line who wanted to do something else that just wasn't done back then). And honestly, motherhood made me cry a lot. For all the reasons one might expect, sometimes I just couldn't do it one more day, one more night. What then?

So while it's a nice story that one Kenyan woman experienced some relief and peace by breastfeeding, there are many other ways for mothers, especially here in the US, where tribal culture is different in many fundamental ways, to get help and support. Whether that means their child gets cared for by others in a preschool setting (which we are doing now expressly so that our kid has  more stability in his life, at least on a topical level), or the moms create a larger network of support in friends, family, and in-home child care givers, or they stay at home (or the papas stay at home), there are many ways to create a happy, healthy, sane family.

But what I can do is to shed light on the truth of my life specifically and hint at the larger group of mamas who struggle with their new role. And let mamas express themselves so that they don't feel alone. That isolating feeling in moms can create more damage than a crying child. Isolation kills people in reality. Moms that feel they have no recourse to a life of struggle often (yes, OFTEN) choose to end their lives. And if I could make the difference, by listening, by encouraging honest expression, by creating a system of support, then I want to focus on that. That's what raises healthy kids. A sense that an entire community is holding them, not just their parents. And we can do that without government advocacy (because we can't wait until that happens), without college education and co-sleeping and breastfeeding until two (or later). Yes, those things are nice and beneficial, if they work for the families, but if they don't, other things work too and families need to know that. 

I'd like to promote a culture where mamas don't cry either...


  1. Beautifully expressed, Becca. Thanks so much for writing this. <3

  2. This is such an important message. The judging of mamas by mamas is harmful to us all (and, ultimately, not good for our kids, either).

    When I find myself being judgmental, there's almost always insecurity lurking behind. (If another mama is doing it differently, does that mean I'm doing it wrong?) And, for me at least, there is SO MUCH insecurity with being a new mama. I've just recently (8 months in) been able to start articulating how this mama gig is hard on my self-worth. Babies develop so quickly -- as soon as I have something figured out, it changes. My career used to make me feel valued, but, for now at least, that's on hold. Not to mention all the judgment and "advice" of other people.

    So it seems to be a bit of a vicious cycle. New mamas are often insecure, at least in part because of this culture of judgment. Insecurity makes us more judgmental of ourselves and others. And the cycle continues.

    Thank you for putting these ideas into words. The more we all become aware of how supportive (or not) we're being of other new mamas, the more we're able to consciously choose to be another way.

  3. I love your honesty and willingness to call bullshit. <3 you always.



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