Sunday, January 04, 2009

20/20 - Making the Normal and Healthy Sound Bizarre for Kicks

I watched most of the 20/20 show on "extreme mothering" on Friday and seethed. Although they made an effort at letting people tell their own stories without too much added commentary, and I will give them credit for that, they employed very sneaky and nasty techniques to sensationalize things that should be seen as natural and normal and make them seem bizarre. That is so frustrating.

First, natural birth. It's really hard to get the sort of information and support that one needs to have a natural birth in our highly medicalized society, but most people who have been able to speak very positively of the experience. Birthing Marigold was definitely one of the major highlights and best, most enjoyable experiences of my life. Natural birth is safer for mother and baby in 90% of circumstances and our excessive medical interventions are making the U.S. the most unsafe industrialized country in which to give birth in the world. 20/20 mentioned none of this but talked about orgasmic birth the entire time it discussed natural birth. More power to women who have it that good, but most women who have natural childbirths do experience pain, as well as joy, and talking about orgasms alone just does make natural childbirth seem weird, no disrespect at all intended to those who do have orgasmic childbirth - and more power to them as far as I'm concerned.

Let's skip to home birth. The show mixed up talk about unattended birth, something that even I think is wildly dangerous (though I have and respect friends who have done it - and understand why they think it safer than putting themselves in the hands of the medical establishment) with midwife-attended home birth so that all home birth looks like some scary, irresponsible thing. They brought on doctors who said that the hospital was the safest place for birth, but did not mention that statistics say otherwise. I myself have always given birth in hospitals but the truth is that it is in hospitals, not home births, that mothers and babies are being lost due to dangerous and unnecessary interventions. The statistics show that a U.S. hospital is the most dangerous place to give birth in the industrialized world.

Those dolls were really weird, bless those poor lonely people's hearts.

On to breastfeeding - here's where the smoke starts coming out of my ears. Allow me to be clear - all true research done on the subject of human weaning shows that the normal human span for weaning falls between two and a half and seven years -that means no developmentally typical child should wean before two and a half or after seven, and most should wean in the middle of the curve - between four and five. Basically, a child should wean around the time that they start losing their baby teeth, which marks a certain maturity of the immune system.

There are lots of factors, and families are units in which lots of needs must be balanced so I'm not knocking mothers who would never dream of nursing two and a half years. Most U.S. mothers never would nurse that long, and I believe that most mothers know what is best for their family in their circumstances. It isn't fair, though, to say that what the way heaven has designed our biology is not normal - it is the very definition of normal, no matter how unusual it might be in our twisted, stressed out society. If we can give our little ones what they are designed to need, that is a good thing, not a bad thing.

The show portrayed a mother nursing a two year old as extreme (not even old enough to be weaned, according to human biology) alongside a woman nursing a kindergartener (within the normal span of human biology) alongside a woman nursing an almost eight-year-old (a bit outside the normal span). All of these things were lumped together as weird, when only the last is sort of biologically weird - and we don't really know if that child was or wasn't a developmentally typical child; there are all sorts of valid reasons she might have been nursing, even if it probably was just weird.

Then, while the show said that no study had shown any harm from "extended" breastfeeding, it got some ignorant psychologist to say he was concerned that the children would not learn to be independent. The show said "the jury was out" on "extended" breastfeeding when there are actually hundreds of studies that show both the health and intellectual benefits of breastfeeding for as long as possible within the normal span - and the show of course did not mention any of those studies at all.

Boo to 20/20 for mixing the healthy with the weird and misleading everyone.


Andrea said...

I didn't see the show, but it sounds like just another effort for the commercialized, medicalized childrearing industry to make anything that does not require expensive equipment or interventions just appear weird or wrong. (Although I do have to say my firstborn was over 7 when he lost his first baby tooth and I don't think I would have been willing to nurse him quite that long...but maybe in the great rift valley things were a little different). Thanks for a well-reasoned analysis (and I'm not sorry I didn't miss the show)...and please...tell more about the dolls.

Lone Star Ma said...

Some people buy these dolls for thousands of dollars that look just like real babies (except like dead ones in my opinion) and care for them like babies and like to take them out and about and enjoy the attention of people thinking they are real. Harmless, but sad.

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