America loves authority. We have authorities for our bodies, authorities for our behavior, authorities for our thoughts and opinions, authorities for our feelings… you name it, and I can name a field of expertise in charge of it.
It’s not hard to see why we would love it. There is far less reliance on community than there has been in the past and as there is in some other cultures. People are often alone in navigating their world. The world has been thrust into a technological revolution that has brought us further away from our instincts, reflexes and common sense than ever in history. And this is no truer than when it comes to parenting.
New parenthood is scary. It’s usually the most vulnerable time of our lives. And there are so many rules, styles and contradictory “research,” it’s no wonder we often go looking for the man in charge to tell us what to do. But how helpful is this, really?
Many people are surprised to learn that breastfeeding, nutrition, birth, sleep and many other areas that are common concerns for parents are not a part of medical curriculum. But parents often hear from their doctors that their body is not capable of childbirth, that their milk is not enough for their baby, that formula is equal to breast milk, that they need to supplement, that they must wean their older child, that breast milk is rotting their baby’s teeth, that their baby needs solid foods, that they need to leave their baby to cry alone, that their baby will die if they sleep with mom… and on and on the list goes of information being handed out at doctor’s offices on a daily basis.
The problem is that this is all terrible information, although it is extremely common medical advice. This information destroys breastfeeding relationships, causes lifelong sleep problems and invites unnecessary medical intervention. We’re so confused, misinformed and accustomed to authority that we don’t question what is being told to us.
The truth is we do not need to do what anyone tells us to do. Our bodies, our babies, our families, our lives belong to us. We are in charge. We are the ultimate authority. I found this out way late in the game. I was told that my body could not have a baby without an epidural because I would be “bouncing around too much from the pain.” I was told that I had to lie flat on my back to get the baby out. I was told that the tests and assessments along the way were all mandatory.
I did everything the doctors told me to do from the moment I got pregnant, and it got me a traumatic birth and a terrible start to breastfeeding and parenthood. I did not take the lead in my life, and I was never in a room with anyone who offered me choices.
I never questioned anyone. It wasn’t until my first son was about 6 months when it started to smell fishy. I often left doctor’s appointments crying. We were struggling, and I was looking for answers. I was told to calm down and stop asking so many questions. I walked out of that doctor’s office for the last time and decided I would never go back.
The most influential people in my parenting life have been the friends that I have made. I went to my friends and told them what was going on. They said, “Oh yeah, that happened to me too. I just smile and nod.” And, “It’s just their opinion, you don’t have to worry about that.” As well as, “that’s none of their business, it’s not even a medical issue.” It was like a lightbulb went off in my head. These people work for me! They are not in charge. And then I used this community of women to find an amazing pediatrician in my area.
Today, we skip to our checkups. We see an amazing doctor who understands that his role is as a support to our family. He is not in charge of us. He listens to our concerns. He discusses our options and accepts our final choices in the matter. He has valuable education and experience that I need when making decisions, but I don’t need his authority. Any doctor who tells you that your body is broken, that your milk isn’t enough, that your instincts are wrong is garbage.
Question everything. If it seems wrong, then it is wrong. You are the ultimate authority. Anyone who makes you feel less is not worth going back to.