The Mommy Wars


WHO KNEW MOMS were so hot?

The headline on the cover of this week’s TIME magazine was pointedly provocative: “Are you Mom enough?”

We weren't aware it was a contest.

The image: a slamming blonde mom nursing her three-year old son who is standing on a chair, his expression that of a child being made to finish his vegetables, or perhaps it’s just that he was being forced to strike a pose and vogue-nurse for the camera.  The only thing that could make people more uncomfortable than the image of a boy suckling at his mother’s breast (Tits are for wet nightgown contests, son, not nutrition! They belong in a centerfold, not in some kid’s mouth) would be to see a child in the state of heavy-lidded bliss, mouth agape. Or, both mother and son, in each other’s arms like opium addicts in a state of ecstasy.

Those folks pre-disposed to find the image of a woman nursing shocking and revolting, were shocked and probably threw up a little Big Mac in their mouths. Women are such freaks! While pro-nursing LaLeche Leaguers lifted up their shirts, unsnapped their nursing bras to expose the spouts in solidarity. We made the cover of TIME. Nurse on!  Women who never nursed perhaps stressed anew—Might Peggy have made the varsity cheer squad if she’d not been bottle-fed? Was the bottle to blame for Sammy’s ADD?  Can people tell by my expression that I didn’t nurse? Oh crap… Why doesn’t my doctor’s office have better magazines?!

Women who’ve had and nursed kids perhaps were reminded of how happy they are now that it’s over—the chapped nipples, being at a club when the milk lets down and having to run to the co-ed bathroom and let’s just call a teat a teat—squeeze that milk, that white gold, into the toilet. While a couple wait to get into the stall to fix.  Or maybe the one time nursers will recall, Hey, breastfeeding burns mad calories, and given the rise in school tuitions, wondered, Could I pick up some freelance wet-nurse work?

Some fans of the female body reacted the way they do when they see someone they judge as undeserving driving a really nice car, or using a fancy putter with some mix of jealousy and loathing. Oh man what a waste, that guy doesn’t know what he’s got! He can’t handle it. He’s going to ruin it. Fans of lacto-erotica, like Knocked Up and Milky magazine, were titillated. So rarely does TIME magazine throw them a bone.

And then there is the small, passionately pro-nursing segment of the population of men who, feeling deprived and peevish about their inability to nurse without the help of a device that pumps formula up through a tube affixed to their chests so to approximate the experience of nursing, sighed with longing. It’s not fair women get to nurse and we don’t. First menstruation. Then giving birth and getting to force an eight-pound weight out of an opening the size of a dime.

Oh gentlemen.

What the cover did was irk a lot of people. What a fantastic way to celebrate Mother’s Day, questioning the job your own dear sweet mum did raising you, and make women question their own ability to be a “good mom.”

The TIME story was about new “attachment parenting” a term coined in 1992 by Bill and Martha Sears in their groundbreaking The Baby Book. Notice that, despite the fact it’s called “attachment parenting,” it’s the mother we’re in a twist about. And only the mother who comes in for harsh criticism should she not choose, as the Sears preach, to nurse their child into toddlerdom, co-sleep, and until they can walk, wear them in a sling.

As Sears writes, “The more time babies spend in their mothers’ arms, the better the chances they will turn out to be well-adjusted children.”  This assertion, followed by “every baby’s whimper is a plea for help,” fans the flames of maternal anxiety. A plea for help? Seriously? Please give me a set of plastic keys to jangle so I might be saved from the tedium of this carriage!

Yes, babies are vulnerable. They’re naked, don’t speak the language, and have no money; of course they’re insecure. They also live rent-free, have 24/7 car service, a personal chef, and a wet bar.

Are Sears followers really practicing “progressive motherhood”?  Is it a triumph for feminism? An example of women empowering themselves by raising their kids the way they want?  Or is this some He-man Woman-hating plan to guilt women out of the workplace and into complete domestic servitude?

If babies are vulnerable, mothers today are twice so. Attachment moms are catching some flack now—mothers who aren’t raising “secure” children should feel insecure—but mothers who choose, or must to leave their kids during the day to go to work, don’t nurse them through the playground fence during recess and find co-sleeping akin to going to bed with a drunken rodeo clown, have long been looked down on by the culture.

Speaking of looking down, or rather askance, we will not speak of Alicia Silverstone, who is not breastfeeding her son, but baby-birding her son, pre-chewing his food, and then delivering it into his mouth in an act that resembles a bad pantomiming of French kissing. It reminded me of the first time I kissed someone and they slipped their lifesaver onto my tongue. Not exactly a maternal memory.

Full disclosure: I nursed. For how long is none of your business. What I will say is personally, nursing a child with the ability to request the breast, the dexterity to undo your buttons, and attitude—regarding the breast, which it sips at between bites of Tofu Pup, like it’s the house merlot—is not for me. I was not a Dairy Queen.

That said, nursing is marvelous. It can be a profound experience for mother and child. Although I can’t imagine it’s much different from bottle-feeding, except in the case of emergency “comfort nursing.” Recently on a flight from LA to New York I had the misfortune of sitting two rows behind a sobbing baby. If I could have shut it up by sticking one of my breasts in its yap, I would have.  Question is, if every time Ashton has a lousy day, mom whips out Mr. Nips and beckons him to suck his cares away, what will he do when Mom and her canteens aren’t over the next hill? Will he start hitting the bottle?

Straight talk: American society has two starring roles for mothers, and the culture enjoys pitting them against each other. Divide and conquer. In the right corner is that self-sacrificing beacon of perfect motherhood, Mildred Pierce. In the left corner, treacherous Medea ready to slit her children’s throats (if only psychologically) at the drop of a binkie.

No Happy Mother’s day for either of them.


Obviously the “choice grande” is the other thing on my mind this Mother’s Day. There is a reason that the nation’s largest women’s health care provider is called Planned Parenthood. Having motherhood foisted upon you, being bullied or coerced into becoming a parent, is an act of savagery.

Decisions are being made daily by unscrupulous legislators in the back alleys of state government the nation over, who hide behind scripture and Father-Knows-Best rhetoric. Some of those depraved fuckers are women and mothers. Jan Brewer, for example. As a gift to myself this Mother’s Day I’m not going to even touch that hideous hateful sow.

It’s ironic that women can’t be trusted to make decisions about their reproductive health, or choose whether or not to have a child, and yet can be trusted with raising a child. What does that say about how the conservative He-man Woman-Haters on the right wing view motherhood?

Something to ponder: women, mothers, make the best suicide bombers. We are passionate, focused, and if we’ve raised children through the teenage years—have already lived through hell. Seriously. You discount us at your peril.

Oh, and Sean, I adore men. The good ones. Yes, yes, the mewling defensiveness, and feel-sorry-for-me baloney that that the subject of women’s rights provokes in some good men is tedious, but on the whole you’re a swell lot. And if you are, as you say, on our side then put up your dukes and fight like a girl.

About Elissa Schappell

Elissa Schappell is the author of the short story collections Blueprints for Building Better Girls and Use Me. A former senior editor of The Paris Review, she is the co-founder and editor-at-large of Tin House magazine. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.
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