I’m a huge fan of the Outlander books by Diana Gabaldon. I totally geek out over the time travel aspect, the theory of which actually hurts my brain, but I love how the principal character journeys back to 18th century Scotland. I am not only obsessed with the depth of the characters but also the vivid portrayal of their daily lives: their clothing, use of language, responsibilities. One of the areas that has been of particular interest to me is the portrayal of motherhood. Oh man, sometimes I think my life is hard now, but then I see how much harder it was then.
I often compare our current social perspectives to those of the 18th century, and it offers quite an interesting contrast. For example, when I feel like complaining about doing laundry, I think, “At least I’m not doing it by hand!” Or when I’m frustrated with the cost of my utilities, sometimes I have to remind myself, “At least I have electricity and running water.”
Recently, this mental comparison has me thinking about mom shaming. I’ve been thinking about all of the actions that moms judge other moms for because they are not adhering to the “natural” way of doing things. If we were to talk to moms 300 years ago, would they encourage us to use their ways or our newer ones? Sometimes it makes be wonder if the “natural” movement is moving us backwards or forwards.
I don’t believe we have everything figured out, and there have definitely been casualties from our modern advancements. We have given up quite a bit of face-to-face contact in exchange for technological connection. Interpersonal skills can only be cultivated by a reduction in technology, but are we giving up other luxuries unnecessarily? Let’s take the epidural for instance. Many moms today are passionate about having their children drug free, but I wonder if a mom from the 18th century would respond differently. Would she deny these magical pain inhibitors, out of a desire to feel all of the pain? Is it possible the epidural has become a spurned gift?
Would we baffle the women of our past for ignoring some of the advances we have at our disposal? Like cloth diapers. Would these women have given anything for the ability to just throw a diaper away? I understand that disposable diapers are not as eco-friendly as cloth diapers, but we can’t do everything perfectly as moms. Sometimes we have to choose our sanity over our perfectionist ideals. How do we prioritize these choices?
Here are four topics that moms today are shamed for, juxtaposed with a little 18th century perspective.
- Hospital Birth: Some women have very strong views on children being born at home or birthing centers instead of in a hospital. It makes me wonder what the women of our past would say about that. Hospitals are equipped to handle surprises that arise in childbirth, many of which used to kill women. Home births have been around much longer than hospital births, but maternal and infant mortality rates used to be much higher. Is is possible that transitioning to hospitals has saved more lives than it has taken?
- Formula: Breastfeeding is hard now, and we have a lot of resources (pumping, nipple shields, special pillows, ways to increase milk supply). We have some real breastfeeding warriors who condemn other moms for formula feeding, but the truth is, many babies died before the creation of formula. We are so lucky to even have formula as an option. I definitely think that Breast is Best, if it works for you. I think we all wish we could give our children breastmilk, but for many women, formula is best for them.
- Medication: Some moms are very against medication and can list several homeopathic remedies for varying physical and mental health disorders. Although I believe that medication should be used sparingly, isn’t it a wonderful advancement? Should moms be shamed for giving their kids infant/toddler Tylenol while teething? Should moms be shamed for taking anti-depressants for PPD? I wonder what a woman from the 1700s would give for a pill that treated her symptoms of postpartum depression, so she could care for her newborn child and the rest of her household.
- Vaccinations: Dare I even bring this up? This one always has me thinking about the 18th century women. Would they take the chance that there might be adverse effects to a vaccine, when this shot could almost 100% guarantee that their children would never catch specific deadly illnesses? What would they have risked for this sort of protection?
The most important part of this discussion is not about what side of the argument you’re on, it’s about the fact that you’re even able to choose a side at all. We have so many wonderful opportunities available to us that women historically never had. Why are we shaming moms for simply using their resources?
Although I think we have acquired many gifts with industrialization, there have definitely been losses. There is beauty to nature’s way, but there can be great hardship. We have choices and opportunities now that were never available to us before. By imposing our views on fellow moms, are we not curtailing some of the progress we’ve made to empower women? These motherhood and childcare advancements give us options. Why should anyone be able to take them away from us? By stripping other moms of their choices and reducing all answers down to our own, we are missing an opportunity to support and love each other through some of the greatest trials of our lives.