Mothering, Choices and Consequences

Charlie - posted on 10/12/2010 ( 22 moms have responded )




We subscribe to the Sunday New York Times, and we love it. After reading it I feel all worldly and informed and stuff. The Ethicist, in particular, floats my boat. But last week, I read an article from Nicholas D. Kristof that irked me. Called “At Risk From the Womb”, it explored how factors such as exposure to stress, disease and toxins may affect fetal development. For example, it cites a study that found children who were in utero during the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War of 1967 were more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia as adults. And here is a quote about the perils of eating junk food:

British scientists … fed pregnant rats junk food: doughnuts, marshmallows, potato chips and chocolate chip muffins. The offspring of those rats turned out to have a sweet tooth as well: they were more likely to choose junk food when it was offered and ended up 25 percent fatter than rats whose mothers were fed regular rodent chow.
Kristof raises some good points in the article. I nodded my head when he suggested that studies like these should cause us to examine the chemicals we are exposed to in our daily lives. Certainly, if there are factors that we can control that will help ensure that our babies are healthy, we should try to control them. But many of these factors – like being pregnant during a time of war or famine – are outside of our control. And other factors – like what pregnant women eat – veer towards policing the actions of other adults in a way that I find inappropriate.

I have been pregnant twice. Both times I planned my pregnancies, and very much wanted my babies. I felt that there were some responsibilities that came with being pregnant. For instance, I chose to abstain from alcohol while I was pregnant, and I made my husband change the kitty litter. I realized that anything that I exposed myself to, I was also exposing my babies to, and I did my best to avoid potential risks where I could.

But there is a critical line to be drawn here. When I chose to pass up my beloved tuna sushi, that was my call. When someone else gave me the stink eye for drinking a can of Coke, that was another thing altogether. I was seriously nauseous throughout both of my pregnancies. I realized early on that I could either eat what I was craving, or I could puke. The very idea of leafy green vegetables? Highly unappetizing. I couldn’t even bring myself to go to the farmer’s market, knowing that there would be piles of veggies there. So instead of eating my spinach like a good pregnant lady, I ate a lot of white bread and french fries. And I didn’t even feel all that bad about it.

Pregnant women are still people. They deserve the same basic autonomy and the freedom to make choices for themselves that everyone else does. Whether they get the flu shot or not, whether they should be eating those Doritos or not, whether they exercise are not – these things are nobody else’s business.
As I became highly indignant reading about how my consumption of french fries probably doomed my children, I started to think about the way that many mothers react to studies about the dangers of formula feeding. I see definite parallels. In both cases, women are doing the best they can for themselves and their babies. In both cases, there are a lot of complicating factors that muddy the decision-making process. As I puked out of my car door yet again, I decided to give up on my prenatal vitamin. Should I have persisted in taking it anyway? Maybe. Do I think that I made the best choice I could under the circumstances? Yes. Do I appreciate someone else weighing in on my shortcomings? No way.

I can see a lot of value in studying how our actions affect our babies. These studies arm us with information and help us make the best choices we can. But sometimes, even with that information, we fall short. And when we do, and someone tells us yet again how we failed our child, it’s hard not to take that a little personally. Even though it’s not really about us at all.
I think that sometimes we need to give people space to feel indignant and affronted when their parenting choices are called into question. And we need to try to have the grace to let go when we read scientific studies that highlight our failures. After all, there area a whole lot of factors that go into raising a child. It’s unlikely that any one action is going to doom your child forever. As long as we are generally well-meaning and thoughtful parents, that has to be enough. In any case, it’s all that we can really do.

In the meantime, you can pry my french fries from my cold, dead hands.

How do you react when a study suggests that you have in some way harmed your child? Do you think that such studies are helpful or harmful? And how can we share information with people, without casting blame for actions that are long over? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Amie - posted on 10/13/2010





"My child never cried hour after hour begging to be fed what wasn't there. My child cried and he was fed. "

That is a slap in the face to every mother who tried their hardest to BF and their bodies failed them.

" I wasn't miserable, crying & dirty from lack of bathing (like some depressed people do). I was a mom. "

Again, there's no need for this. For some mother's BFing is very important. For them to be upset because they couldn't is no reason to make a blanket statement about depression and implying you were better because it did not fuss you to FF.

Ez - posted on 10/13/2010




Sharon, nutritionally and immunologically, formula IS second best. That is fact. For many social reasons, it may well be the best option for a specific family. I am not demonizing formula, or suggesting it's not an acceptable alternative. But in my case, where everything else was going well with BFing and the only issue was the supply, switching to formula did mean my daughter was getting less than the best option.

I think this is a prime example of how a piece of fact or research can be taken personally when it's just not necessary.

Ez - posted on 10/12/2010




This reminds me of the Baby Joshua saga Loureen :(

I think, generally, the vast majority of mothers have good intentions. Very few set out to intentionally cause harm to their child, or give them less than the best. But the reality is, that with further research, we realise some of us have. And it's a simple lack of awareness and information that is the culprit.

I experienced this first hand, with my failure at BFing. I had undiagnosed anaemia that developed towards the end of my pregnancy, and was exascerbated by a long and difficult labour. I needed a blood transfusion and my milk took a long time to come in. When it did, I struggled with low supply. After 6 weeks of trying everything, I eventually relented and started supplementing. I have to take some responsibility for that, because I had been feeling faint and just put it down to late pregnancy and heat. By failing to get it checked, I failed to BF my daughter beyond 6 weeks.

The thing is, everyone knows breastmilk is superior. I knew that by giving my child formula, I was giving her second best. But I don't get defensive or upset when reading articles about the benefits of BFing. I know what my daughter missed out on because my body failed. I don't take it as a personal attack, because I tried my best with what I had. It is what it is.

I have some fairly strong views on things like CIO and circumcision, and I must admit I sometimes wonder if things I post on my FB (or here) will offend others who I know believe differently. But by speaking out about certain aspects of parenting which I view to be negative, I am not condeming of demozing those who have made those choices. It's not a case of 'you do ____, so you're a shit mother'.

Ez - posted on 10/14/2010




The point is, we should all be able to post or talk about research of scientific evidence without judgement being presumed. When I said formula is the second best option, that is not just my opinion, that is fact. It was not a loaded statement. It wasn't intended to inflict guilt or regret. If I say inductions increase the risk of c-section, or dummies/pacifiers decrease the risk of SIDS.. again, these are things that have been studied and concluded to be true.

Sharon, you have an issue with BFing advocates (and yes, some are extreme and their tactics unnecessary) so you immediately jump on the defensive any time the issue is raised. It's important to separate fact from opinion though. If someone says 'anyone who doesn't BF is a terrible mother who doesn't love her child', then sure, slam them. But if it's an article about BFing reducing the risk of cancer or BF babies being less likely to get asthma, there's no need to take that personally.

[deleted account]

I am very sceptical towards new studies. One study isn't enough to prove something. I can't see why I would feel bad about what I have eaten. Studies say we shouldn't eat junk food fullstop but people do...

Anyways I'd say what you feed your child during weaning is more likely to have an effect on their preferrred diet. If you feed them crap all the time they'll become used to eating that and will refuse good stuff later on.

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Amie - posted on 10/14/2010





I've been on both sides of the fence. I BF but to a lot of people I could have done it a lot longer. Judgment reigns on both sides and there is no need for it.

I've stood up to extreme BFing advocates. I've called them BFing nazi's if I've felt it was warranted, some of them are it can't be denied. They do their cause a disservice by being so anal about it.

The other side does the same by jumping to the defensive each time. Not all BFing advocates are horrible people who can't see past their own nose though. As Erin said, it's important to separate fact from opinion. If someone is calling you a bad parent, then by all means, have a go.

Sharon - posted on 10/14/2010




Take it as you will amie. I did what I did and the titty nazis aren't going to make me feel bad about it. Sacrifice pain& torture. Yeah breastfeeding rocks (heavy sarcasm). I'm fucking sick& tired of the breast nazis trying to make everyone feel inferior.

Stifler's - posted on 10/13/2010




I don't drink when I'm pregnant. Or smoke. Or use bleach or other harsh cleaning products.

I do crave McDonald's when I'm pregnant and eat cheese burgers when I'm too weak to abstain any longer.

I doubt french fries will doom our children to a life of obesity. The studies are helpful but I honestly believe it's more what happens after they're born. I didn't have the healthiest pregnancy with Logan, I was healthy but I ate so much caramel slice from the bakery and cheese burgers in the first 14 weeks it was insane.

Sharon - posted on 10/13/2010




Oh and feeding my child "second best". FUCK THAT SHIT. My child never lost ground. My child never cried hour after hour begging to be fed what wasn't there. My child cried and he was fed. I wasn't miserable, crying & dirty from lack of bathing (like some depressed people do). I was a mom.

I fed my kids and they survived. They aren't sickly. They are honor roll students.

I fail to see the "negatives" everyone keeps telling me that will knock my kids into the dregs of hell of failure and poor health.

[deleted account]

I generally take studies with a pinch of salt, if you look hard enough there are studies for EVERYTHING. I parent in the way which feels right to me so I guess I parent from my instinct. I research things if I feel I want more information, and do read any negative information on the subject then I weigh up if my instinct/ method is the correct way to go, if I have seen information which makes me think the method is not the way to go I use a different one. Every family has a different dynamic and so different techniques are needed, which is why they exist and have studies backing them up. I'm not offended by a study contradicting my parenting I am very confident and comfortable with it.

[deleted account]

I like having guidelines, because like any mother, I want what is best for my child. I know I'm not supposed to have caffeine, but my body craves it. Sometimes I can't get going without my morning coffee. Sometimes I just like a coke with my meal when I go eat out. So while pregnant, I pay attention to how much I'm consuming, but don't feel guilty when I do. If I can make it through the day without it, great. But I don't beat myself up when I do enjoy my cup of coffee. I just make sure I limit my caffeine intake for the rest of the day. I fully believe that those little babies are protected more than we can ever know, and it takes a LOT of mistakes to harm them. So I like the studies so I can make sure I'm not make too many of those mistakes, and so that I can make informed choices about which "mistakes" I'm going to make that day.

[deleted account]

When I was pregnant I did what felt right. I ate what my body was craving (mostly meats), I drank my glass of pepsi when I wanted it and fueled on salted crackers and carbonated water...

I don't feel guilty about it since I was confident in my body's ability to tell me what I needed. I needed protein and iron and that's all i craved. I could not even look at tomatoes and could eat a crate full of oranges (hello heartburn).... I did all of that but I did not drink, did not smoke, moved out of my apartment because my roomate wouldn't smoke outside. the smoking and drinking were the 2 things that would NEVER happen during my pregnancy. I stuck to my word and I have no regrets.

I do regret that I could not breastfeed as my milk supply was low and I kept hearing that it should be SO EASY to breastfeed... well turns out it was a nightmare and my son was losing weight. I turned to formula as my only option after my milk dried out. I don't feel guilty about giving formula but I feel guilty about not breastfeeding (does that make sense?)

I regret some of the parenting techniques I used when Shawn was a baby, I did use CIO a few times and it felt wrong... I don't care what study tells me that it's right, it felt wrong to me.

I try to disregard research and articles about how bad of a mother I am and how I have doomed my child because I did not breastfeed. I try to disregard articles that tell me my son will be a complete idiot because I ate a banana split at DQ while I was pregnant...

I understand the importance of research and I am glad that we are getting more knowledge about different issues. My problem resides in the amount of information that is shoved down our throats at any time of day or night... wherever we are. I also feel that a lot of the articles/shows, etc are laced with propaganda to benefit certain companies. i also think that by following all that information too closely, we lose sight of what our bodies are made to do and what our instincts tell us. Our bodies are incredible systems that will let us know what we need and when in most cases. I think we need to trust ourselves more and go with our gut.

Sharon - posted on 10/13/2010




Well if that study was real then its a failure. I ate cheesecake galore with my oldest - he can't stand cake. He does like cheese cake but doesn't like things that are overly sweet. Like icing. I LOVE icing.

Kids are sentient. They do what they learn. If their mom sits on her ass eating buckets of fried chicken and never gets off her ass, then thats what they do.

If their mom eats fried chicken and engages in moderate exercise, then thats what they do.

We aren't rats in a cage with only the options someone else selected set out in front of us. We can make choices. So can our kids.

Its up to US to help them learn how to make the right choices.

So what if your kid is born with a sweet tooth? Do you feel bad if your genetics passed on a predisposition to diabetes? Or is it just what it is?

I'm not bothered by studies like those. Whats done is done. In the future try to do better, IF you can. But I puked from virtually the moment of conception till birth and AFTER. I ate whateverthefuck would stay down. When they perfect the REAL petri dish baby, then we can all start out with the "perfect" baby.

[deleted account]

I like to be informed but it doesn't always mean I'll follow these recommendations 100% or even at all in some cases. Like Tara I parent by instinct and the gathering of useful information.

I did get a kick out of the junk food part and rats with a sweet tooth. I craved sweets all the time with all 3 of my boys, caramel, chocolate, even coconut cookies and I hate coconut. With my daughter it was red meat and veggies, didn't even eat fruit at all with her because it was too sweet. My daughter has the sweet tooth not my son.

[deleted account]

While I do feel that studies are interesting, I usually have a feeling of indifference. I could take 'em or leave 'em. I certainly don't get offended when someone or some article suggests I've done something wrong. I think, unfortantely not everyone is confident with their decisions and people often get upset or offended instead of taking it for what it's worth. There's a ton of things that I might do differently if I have another child but I'm certainly not going to sit here and feel guilty about past decisions or parenting choices. We learn from our mistakes.

Tracey - posted on 10/13/2010




Worrying about what you are eating is probably going to stress a baby and cause more harm in the long term than eating a few chips/french fries. My doctor to me to eat sensibly and if my body craved it to eat it as it meant I needed a vitamin that was in that food. As the only craving I had was for beetroot in custard I'm not sure that meant I was lacking.
If you can't go back and change something don't waste your time fretting over it, stay healthy now and hope your good eating encourages your kids.

ME - posted on 10/13/2010




"Pregnant women are still people. They deserve the same basic autonomy and the freedom to make choices for themselves that everyone else does. Whether they get the flu shot or not, whether they should be eating those Doritos or not, whether they exercise are not – these things are nobody else’s business."

Exactly!...I agree with Krista too's not necessary to take everything personally...information about what is healthiest for a pregnant woman or a baby is JUST information...there's nothing wrong with knowing it...if you are able to do it, do it...if you CAN'T...then it's better that you knew and tried your best...but it's not the end of the world if you can't follow every suggestion out there...

Tara - posted on 10/13/2010




You wrote all of that so well I don't feel the need to respond. ;)
But I will, lol
I agree wholeheartedly with you. And like so many other people I applaud when a study confirms what I am doing or have done as a parent and when it contradicts what I am or have done than I usually ignore it lol. But truly it doesn't affect how I parent my children. I parent based on instinct and the gathering of useful information.
Great post!

Petra - posted on 10/13/2010




I think we need to keep things in perspective - 30 years ago, when my mother had me, there were very different views about what could/could not harm your child and parents then did what parents do now - the best they can with what they have. I think always making an informed choice is the best you can do. A lack of knowledge, and a lack of desire for knowledge, is what often results in poor choices being made. That's partly why I like this site so much - you hear a lot of different sides to the same story and you can take that knowledge with you when the time comes for you to make that choice.

Louise - posted on 10/13/2010




I think studies are important for the future health of the nation but at the end of the day what is done is done. I have to agree with part of this survey. I had a craving for Fondant Fancies with my first child and at 3 in the morning my poor husband would trawl the street to find some for me. With my second and third child I had a craving for fruit oranges with my son and pineapple with my daughter. My eldest now 19 has a very sweet tooth and would choose puddings over main meals any day. My second son loves salads and fruit and so does my 2 year old daughter. I do think what I was eatting in pregnancy has had an affect on them all.
I watch the news every day and see new studies about what you eat and life style choices, how they shorten your life or give you cancer. If I listened to all of this then I would eat nothing and go nowhere. I select the information I can use and ignore the rest.

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