About a week ago, I attended my first pre-natal yoga class. We started by rolling ourselves into a sharing circle and took turns describing our pregnancy experiences. Stories of puking, leg cramps, the creeping chill of panic as labour dates approached. So far so good.
Then we began the chanting portion of the class.It wasn’t the chanting itself that bothered me. I can respect a good chant, even if I can’t always bring myself to fully participate. It was the content that caught me off guard.
Most of the women in the group knew the words, and all together, as one voice, they exclaimed, “A woman’s power is discovered through birth.”
The singular “a woman” was standing in for “all lady-folk everywhere,” of course. I thought about the women I know who have chosen not to have kids, and those that are unable. This sacred script implied that childless women are somehow power-deficient because they lack progeny. I was now attending my very own annoyance- yoga class.
It also reminded me of “Attachment Parenting”(AP), and how its views on child development have percolated from the pages of dog-eared, 1970’s-fonted secondhand bookstore stacks into the mainstream (you know its in the mainstream when there’s a reality show about it.)
Basically, AP theory believes that “sensitive, available parenting” helps the child to form lifelong attachment patterns, which fosters “a child’s socio-emotional development and well-being.” The image is now iconic – a kid old enough to fully articulate his preferred juice brand suckling at the teat. The terms have been popularized. Co-sleeping, baby-wearing, baby-led weening.
At the heart of AP is “attachment theory,” developed by British psychologist John Bowlby. He argued that the way to foster emotional health is for one caregiver, preferably the mother, to meet the needs of infants immediately until they are three. (It’s the “until three” part that I’m uncomfortable with. I plan on using AP techniques for the first few months of my baby’s life, when s/he’s basically still a fetus on the other side of the uterine wall.)
Subscribers to AP insist that there is a lot of room to move within these parameters. For example, women can work. They just need to hire a nanny who is also a follower of AP. But, for most new moms, the thought of being able to afford a nanny is laughable. Unless a caregiver (at an unregulated daycare, being paid $12 an hour) can duct-tape 12 babies to her person, this isn’t going to happen.
Of course I want to help my baby develop into an emotionally healthy kid. But I’m skeptical of any practice that completely strips away a person’s autonomy. I am my kid’s first introduction to a real-life, grown-up lady. Is it really healthy for the kid if I foster an expectation of butler-like availability?
But do you know who really doesn’t like AP theory? French feminists. French feminists, such as Elisabeth Badinter, are all up in arms. They lean a little too close to “all breast feeding is a prison” for my liking, but have a number of good points. This essay sums up the argument well.
They question the amount a woman is expected to give up of herself, of her own life, for her children, and see this expectation as a reversal of the the last 40 years of feminism. They also rally against the guilt that’s used to saddle women into the these kinds of roles, and which turns moms against each other. And a number of studies coming out now question how much of an influence we really have over our kid’s future selves.
It’s all leaning dangerously close to “a woman’s power is discovered through birth.”