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Note: this blog references the sensitive topic of infant feeding. I must therefore state at the outset that no one at The Minimise Project judges, or even cares, what milk you feed your baby. In fact, we wholeheartedly endorse every word of this blog post.
Before I had kids, I reckoned I’d like to try to breastfeed. I’d heard from various sources that breast is best, and while I knew it could be difficult, I figured it was worth a shot at least. So once I was five or six months pregnant, I went to a few breastfeeding groups and joined a few online communities, to try to get some tips before I started this journey myself. What surprised me more than anything about these groups was that none of them used the phrase “breast is best”. They either casually mentioned that breastfeeding is the biologically (if not societally) normal way to feed an infant, or else they didn’t mention it either way.
In fact, no breastfeeding advocate worth their salt will ever use the phrase “breast is best”. There is however one surprising place you are guaranteed to see this phrase, or some variant of it: on the back of a tin of infant formula. This is because the phrase “breast is best” is a fantastic marketing slogan for – formula. For a detailed explanation of why, check out this blog post. The short version is, by saying breastfeeding is “best”, formula gets to be standard. Normal. Expected. Breastfeeding becomes something extra or special – which is exactly what I had thought before I had my own baby. If, however, breastfeeding is normal, then formula becomes inferior. Nobody wants that for their baby. Better stick with “breast is best”.
I have seen something similar going on in pro-life discourse. Pro-life advocates often highlight how motherhood is overlooked, underappreciated, or even demonised in society at large. The contributions of mothers to society are definitely not given sufficient recognition, and pro-life advocates are right to point that out. Sometimes, though, I worry that we go too far in the direction of glorifying motherhood, and pregnancy, to an unhealthy degree. It is not uncommon to hear pro-life people say that motherhood in general, and pregnancy in particular, is “awe-inspiring”, “breathtaking”, “mind-blowing”, “the greatest thing a woman can do”. Let’s try this on for size instead: motherhood is normal. It’s a standard, healthy thing for a woman to do. Pregnancy is the way that every single person to ever walk the earth came to be, and until we manage to make artificial wombs, that will continue to be the case. If that’s not the definition of normal, then I don’t know what is.
This is a hard balance to strike. It is very important to recognise, and celebrate, motherhood and pregnancy. And it is mind-blowing to think that an entire human grew, from scratch, inside a woman. But let’s be cautious about our language. If we put motherhood on too much of a pedestal, we run the risk of telling women that maybe they should steer clear. Maybe they’re not quite able to take on the awesome burden of motherhood. Maybe they’re not quite up to the task of being Supermamma just yet. Maybe they should stay as a normal woman: not pregnant, not bossing it as a mother. Just a bog standard woman. And maybe we need to make sure that, if someone finds herself facing the unexpected, staring motherhood in the face before she wanted or planned to, she has a way out. After all, motherhood is so awe-inspiring, it’s not something to do on a whim. It’s not something you should take on before you’re ready.
Let me be clear: I am not trying to suggest that by changing the language around pregnancy, we’ll automatically make someone more likely to keep a pregnancy. However, a shift in language may help bring about a shift in the general narrative around parenthood in general and motherhood in particular. Right now, the general narrative is that motherhood is so momentous, and therefore abortion is so necessary. Abortion is, and will continue to be, required as a normal, standard, prudent response to unexpected pregnancy. Therefore, if we could change the narrative around motherhood and pregnancy, it stands to reason that the narrative around abortion should change in response. Or, at the very least, it’s worth a shot.
So let’s try to normalise motherhood a bit. By all means, when you hear someone is pregnant, congratulate her! Make a fuss, show her how happy you are. But don’t let pregnancy and motherhood define all your interactions with her. Make a point of treating pregnant women, whether you know them personally or not, normally. Don’t go out of your way to filter everything they say and do through the lens of their pregnancy. And while motherhood is a fantastically important part of their life, it’s not the be all and end all. Motherhood is a huge part of who many women are – but it’s not who we are.
The other side of this story of course is that motherhood really does get very negative press and pregnancy is truly pathologised, unjustifiably so. These are important topics – so I’ll return to them in future blog posts.