Parenting & Panic

Agnes Callard:

Parenting starts out lonely, because newborn babies do not know that you exist. No one in my social circle—grad students in their twenties—had children, so I joined a new moms group at my local hospital. You know the drill: sit in a circle, tell birth stories, swap sleep advice, etc. I quit the group after a few sessions, because everyone there was boring. So I started my own group, via Craigslist. But everyone there was boring, too. So I started another one. Were all the mothers in Berkeley boring? It was around the time I abandoned my third or fourth new moms group that I began to consider the possibility that I might be the problem.

The women in these groups had bent over backwards to be welcoming. They validated my childbirth choices; they praised my babywearing skillz; they made touching and concerted efforts to embrace my parenting idiosyncrasies. Let me give just one example. It was inevitable, in that world, that I would be asked why I was feeding my baby formula. My answer was not that I was unable to breastfeed, or that I was on some necessary medication that would taint the breast milk, but simply that breastfeeding didn’t appeal to me: “And there’s this other food available, so…” If you know something about the earth-mother babyculture of Berkeley in the early 2000s, you know that that should not have been an acceptable answer. And yet they accepted it, and me. (One woman praised me for having the “courage” to bottle feed in public, confessing she did not dare do the same!)