Over the past few months, I've developed a touch of baby fever. It seems I can't turn a corner without running into an adorable infant that makes my ovaries cry out in envy. I can hardly wait to rear my own little tikes, but I'm glad my womb remains unoccupied. Motherhood seems inordinately stressful. Not only must parents shoulder the responsibility of rearing a competent, confident human being, but they must endure the emotional toll of receiving constant, uninvited critiques.
Primary caregivers get no respite because in our culture, everything is up for debate - which makes little sense when it comes to something as personal and necessarily individualized as parenting. And moms seem to get the worst of it. My feminist consciousness tells me a woman's body is never her own, and now I'm seeing the bodies of new mothers become battlegrounds for what they call "mommy wars." Discussions of Beyonce's newborn and the recent Time magazine cover exemplify these needless disputes.
Leave Beyonce Alone
When reports of Beyonce nursing surfaced, breast feeding advocates rejoiced. But the conversation soon took a strange turn into which group, white moms or WOC, could claim victory in Beyonce's choice. Blue Ivy is the ultimate beneficiary, and though Bey invited some scrutiny through her public persona, the clamoring to politicize her body made me cringe. Then, of course, the same women who rushed to make her the BF poster child didn't waste time expressing their dismay when they learned baby Blue nursed for "only" 10 weeks. Moms can't win. They rarely receive simple empathy; they get judgement. I imagine that the superstar, like most new moms, wrestled with what would be the correct choices for herself and her baby. I don't even know the woman, but I'm resentful of the attacks she's received. Mothers who are not abusing their children have a right to autonomy even when performing practices we find disappointing or odd.
I admit that my first thought upon seeing a pre-schooler standing atop a chair suckling his mother was: "weird." It is an unusual and, quite honestly, uncomfortable sight. The editors of Time Magazine knew exactly what type of response the photo would elicit, and certain types of reactions are justifiable for images we're not used to seeing. The instant leap, however, from uncomfortable to claims the practice of "extended breast feeding" is unnatural illustrates our inability to acknowledge how our view of "normal" is shaped by our socialization and not by nature.
The picture of a quite natural act sparked outrage, disgust and claims of abuse. I had to interrogate what about seeing a woman with her child makes me squirm. There's no way, I would choose to breast feed my children until age 4 like Time's cover model Jamie Grumet, but she is not mistreating her kid, thus it's none of my concern.
I am staunchly pro-choice. For me, the label extends far beyond Abortion rights. I trust women to make the best decisions for themselves and their children. It is a recognition that some things are simply none of my business. In the reality tv centric world we live in, we've developed a sense of entitlement to dictate the terms by which everyone we encounter, whether face to face or by proxy, must live.
Ultimately, these discussions about what women do inside of their homes are fruitless. They produce nothing but shame and guilt. If we're truly concerned with nurturing strong mothers and resilient children, let's choose to provide moms the space and support to do what they feel is right for their families.
Kimberly Foster is the Editor and Publisher of For Harriet. Email her at Kimberly@ForHarriet.com with comments or find her on Twitter.