My journey into attachment parenting and mothering-as-activism began long before I became a mother. I have been into alternative living since I can remember, choosing vegetarianism at 12, shaving my head for the sake of Buddhist-style simplicity/punk rock style at 15, and moving away from home to attend an alternative art school at 16. I’ve been fiercely passionate about equality, anti-racism, anti-sexism, and pro-LGBTQ rights since I was a young teen, when I started attending peaceful protests. I started learning about healthier lifestyles at that young of an age, because it fit with my interests. Moving from my smaller hometown of Fargo, ND to the larger city where my school was located, Minneapolis, MN, exposed me to a plethora of information about health, wellness, sustainability, and culture in general. I also saw my first babywearing and breastfeeding mothers there. I supported myself by babysitting as a teenager in Minneapolis, and I remember having an intuitive drive towards gentle communication. I learned that children generally respond well when treated with respect and empathy, rather than punitive punishment and controlling discipline. I experienced positive results from getting on kids’ level (physically and mentally) and talking to them like humans, rather than treating them like nuisances, as our society would often have us do. I learned that instead of demanding obedience, we should teach children to love and respect everyone, and that doing so has the potential to create a more peaceful world.
At 17 I got a job as a nursery coordinator at a Quaker church in Minneapolis, and this helped solidify my views about caring for children. The Quaker beliefs about children are lovely, and similar to Attachment Parenting in that they believe children are worthy of empathy and compassion. They also believe that kids, in their raw, unfiltered, innocent form are closer to The Divine/God/The Universe/whatever you wish to call it, and thus deserve as much respect and honor as any other living thing.
It was around the time that I started working with kids at the Quaker church when I began providing childcare specifically to low-income parents, particularly single mothers. Even though I wasn’t a parent yet, I had an innate understanding of child development, a kinship with kids, and a desire to help mothers be the best moms they can be. Sometimes all it takes to break generational parenting patterns and cycles of violence is some outside perspective and assistance.
My journey into health and wellness has been the result of a combination of experiences, including numerous family members with serious health issues, including multiple sclerosis, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. I have been drawn to clean eating and vegetarianism since I was young; my parents could tell you stories about me rescuing bugs as a child, and wanting to adopt every animal I saw. Not eating animals simply fits with my nature and dietary needs, so I embrace it, although I read a lot of information about traditional food, Nourishing Traditions, Weston A Price, GAPS diet, bone broth, organic/free-range meat, etc. I am able honor my own desire to abstain from eating meat, while respecting the medicinal aspect of animal products as high-vitamin foods. My son and I both consume free-range/local eggs and raw dairy.
As a young teen in my hometown, I had a hard time finding healthy vegetarian options and I had no concept of real, whole food. But when I moved to Minneapolis for school, I was introduced to the world of organic food co-ops, namely the Wedge—one of the US’s largest organic co-ops. I learned for the first time that there were more than two kinds of apples—I had only had Red Delicious and Granny Smith before. In the city, I tried a wide variety of amazing, delicious organic apples that were sustainably grown, and I got to read all about it on the labels at the store. That sparked the beginning of my journey into non-GMO, organic, ethical whole foods, and natural living in general. I soon got a job at the Mississippi Market in St. Paul, MN, where I learned more about organic food, farming, gardening, juicing, non-toxic beauty products, and natural medicine. I worked in the juice bar at the co-op, and there I learned about juice fasting, which has stayed an important part of my health routine.
It was also at the Mississippi Market where I found Ina May Gaskin’s book Spiritual Midwifery. This book blew my mind like no other ever has. I began thinking of birth in completely different terms than the way I had been programmed by my childhood, the media, and our culture to think of it. I was still four years away from becoming a mother, but the door to natural parenting had already been opened.
Then in 2007, I was living back in my hometown, working at a library, casually dating someone when I missed my period, had super tender boobs, and took a home pregnancy test. It was positive. My very uncertain future came crashing down on me. It quickly became clear that the person I had been with definitely was not interested in being involved, although I desperately tried to work it out for a while. It was a one-sided effort, and in hindsight I am so thankful my efforts didn’t drag on for too long. Embracing my role as a single parent is the most empowering thing I have ever done.
I unfortunately had nowhere near the community of wise mamas I now have, so I felt very alone during my pregnancy, but I am eternally grateful that my life had already turned me onto the path of natural living, which made transitioning to natural parenting feel easy. I had a dear friend who was three months ahead of me in her pregnancy, and she introduced me to the term “attachment parenting.” I read everything I could find on the topic. The book The Attachment Connection was profound. It discusses attachment theory, and how studies of children in hospitals and orphanages show the necessity of children forming a strong, healthy bond with an attached caregiver. It documented the outcomes of children who were treated with respect and gentle discipline in the home versus children who were raised with controlling, harsh discipline. My intuition was more correct than I had known– the effects of violent, punitive parenting can leave lasting negative scars, including higher risks of low self-esteem, addiction, and future violence. All of which we already have far too much of in our culture. I grew to see attachment parenting not as just a sweet way to mother, but as a profoundly important part of changing our world.
I was blessed to be doing childcare for an awesome family, the mother of which is a doula. Both parents are also acupuncturists, which introduced me to another world of natural medicine. Through my doula I was able to do some art therapy from the incredible book Birthing From Within,which helped me process some of the emotional weight I was carrying, which in turn helped prepare me for birth. My doula lent me homemade cloth diapers and a sling, and that kind gesture again changed my life. Not having to worry about spending money on these incredibly valuable objects made my goals as a parent so much more attainable. This is why we at MotherWise want to form a donation fund to help provide cloth diapers and slings to mothers in need.
I chose to give birth in a hospital, although I had been reading a fair amount about homebirth. I was living in an apartment that I didn’t feel comfortable birthing in, and I thought about asking my mom if I could give birth in her home, but at the time I wasn’t well-versed enough to make a case for it. I felt scared to ask, not knowing that my intuition was actually supported by evidence that homebirth is as safe or safer than hospital birth for low-risk pregnancies. I thought I had prepared well for being in a hospital environment; I had a detailed birth plan, my doula, a lot of empowering information, and confidence that my body could do its job. But I still felt pushed around by the medical system. I had a long labor with a number of different nurses coming in and out, although I had asked for privacy. I had tested positive for Group B Strep, so I was convinced I needed to be on antibiotics, not knowing there are other options. People were barging in and making my job as a laboring woman very difficult. My doula was excellent support, especially when it came to pushing. A nurse was trying to direct my pushing, and her timing was completely off. My doula told me to listen to myself, and gave me the perfect encouragement to get my son out by saying, “Your baby needs you to push him out right now! He is ready to meet you!” She later told me she could see the “birth team” getting forceps ready, even though there was no real need for them. My body had taken over and was pushing my baby out in a wonderfully animalistic way. I soon had my baby in my arms, and I said to him, “Welcome! You are so beautiful! Welcome to the world!”
In my birth plan I stated I did not want my baby removed from my sight unless there was a true medical emergency. I had all procedures done bedside, after we had time bonding. And because my doula had been such an excellent advocate for children by asking me, “You’re not going to circumcise, are you? I think it’s torture. I’ll have to show you a video,” I rejected all unnecessary procedures for my son. I was impressed that although I was in a hospital in a small city in the Midwest, not one nurse or doctor mentioned circumcision to me. In fact, I had two different doctors during my pregnancy speak out strongly against it. I am brought to tears with gratitude for being informed about the issue of routine infant circumcision before my son was born. I know far too many parents who learned the truth only after the surgery was done, and it’s devastating. That is why our MotherWise team works so hard to inform parents about how unnecessary and harmful circumcision is.
I was also blessed with information about breastfeeding, and even though I had a few odds stacked against me, my breastfeeding relationship with my son was more than I ever could have hoped for. I was a new, scared, single parent; no one in my family breastfeeds past a few months, in fact the first time I really saw breastfeeding was when my doula nursed her kids around me. I hit a few bumps in the road, mostly serious pain in the beginning due to a bad latch. I wanted to give up at some points, but I had read enough information about the risks of formula that it wasn’t an option. With the help of my doula, nursing videos, a visit with a lactation consultant, nipple butter, and a brief use of nipple shields, I went on to breastfeed my son for over three years. I feel positively triumphant about it, and I look forward to helping other mothers reach their breastfeeding goals. I will be getting doula certification this summer in order to make that dream a reality. My doula eventually introduced me to one of her doula friends– our very own blogger Crystal! Crystal is one of the only other breastfeeding moms I had in my life in those early years, and her support (amongst her many other amazing gifts) has had a tremendous impact on my life.
I had quit my job at the library due to our country’s terrible maternity leave rate; I just couldn’t imagine leaving my 6-week-old baby with someone else every day. I was willing to learn to live with almost nothing in order to stay with my son, and I did. I learned to make all my own cleaning supplies, greatly simplify my life, stop spending money on things that aren’t completely necessary, and of course breastfeeding, babywearing, cloth diapering, and cosleeping helped me save a lot of money often associated with having a new baby. I also decided to go back to school. I had tried going to college before to study art, but I never dealt with schedules and deadlines well. This time I had a new purpose. I have been studying fine art, painting, illustration, gender studies, and nutrition since 2009. I am almost done with my certification as a health coach, and I will hopefully be graduating in 2013. I have taken a lot of online classes, which has allowed me to “stay at home” with my son. I currently trade childcare with trusted caregivers when needed. My life has been transformed by my journey into education, particularly in terms of the art I have studied, and the knowledge I have gained from Women’s Studies. I met our blog manager, Ashley, in school and she has been a major blessing for myself and my son. I have felt like an academically successful person for the first time in my life, and I love it. I strongly believe in self-education, and I will continue with it forever. I recently learned how to encapsulate placenta, and I will be adding that to my doula services. I am studying illustration with plans to create children’s books, and I hope to attain yoga teacher certification someday. I believe people should be free to investigate, learn, and practice the things they love to do most.
Reflecting on my own experiences in school compelled me to approach homeschooling my son. My son was 16 months old when I started college, and at first I had him in the Early Education Center on campus. The class for the youngest children was great. The teachers were lovely, attentive, and safe, and I only had him there for a couple hours at a time. When he transfered to a class for toddlers the next year, I started to get uncomfortable with the stricter atmosphere. It seemed less understanding of child development, with more demands that children be working on specific activities, rather than allowing the free play that is appropriate for that age. So I pulled my son out of there and put him in a Montessori school. I love the philosophies, but I quickly learned that not all Montessori schools are the same. To put it plainly, some of the teachers were mean and I didn’t want them around my son. It reminded me of my experiences in middle school and highschool, where I felt completely failed by the system. I had a terrible time in school before college, because of the bullying that I experienced, but more so the harassment I witnessed. Some teachers were advocates, others were not, which only adds to the damage some kids end up with. I also suffered a lot academically, because I have always been an artist and a writer, and I had zero motivation to apply myself to other subjects, especially with the way they were taught. What I saw in school paired with what I saw my son and other kids going through cemented my decision to homeschool, and I called on my small community of mamas here to help me achieve that goal. Taking back my power to educate my child has been one of the most empowering decisions I have made yet. We are now unschooling, which fits perfectly with my son’s personality. He is very creative and energetic, and he needs several hours outside every day, preferably exploring nature, in order to function at his best. My ultimate goal with his education is to continue to find ways to make unschooling work as a single parent.
I never had a computer until I started college, which is when I found the magical world of crunchy moms on Facebook. I feel so fortunate to have accessed all the parenting info I had before I even knew so much more of it, and such a community of support, was available online. I quickly met a number of lactivists and intactivists who helped me feel more secure in my activism and advocacy for children’s rights and mothers’ wisdom. I contacted Mothering Magazine to ask them for more information geared towards low-income single parents, and they offered me a position as a blogger for that very topic. I am still in awe that I am blogging for a magazine that I had read voraciously throughout my pregnancy and motherhood.
I met our amazing Jackie through the intactivist world, and we bonded instantly, over many issues aside from circumcision. She has become one of my closest friends although we haven’t met in person yet, and the idea for our MotherWise Facebook page developed quickly. I knew anything we created would be successful because Jackie is just such an amazing force in the world. We soon needed more admins as our fan count grew, and I thought my friend Nicole would be perfect. She is incredibly smart, with a very clever mind that is quick to investigate and understand new topics. I knew Nicole in Minneapolis several years before, where I became close with her and her son. She was one of the single parents I did childcare for, and learning about parenting alongside her has been something I’ve loved even before I became a mother myself.
Eventually we needed another admin, and we decided our wise mama fan Amanda would be a great fit. She always left informed comments, and she has such an enthusiasm for life, we knew her passionate nature would be in tune with ours. With our community of wise mamas continuously growing, Jackie and I started contemplating the idea of starting a blog where we could share important knowledge, document our own research, collect recipes, and have a hub with an archive of all our valuable information. Ashley fit perfectly into our plan with her aesthetic eye, website design experience, blog managing and writing skills. My dear friend Crystal was an obvious choice because of her impact on every life she touches, with her wisdom, positive energy, health and wellness expertise, and patient mothering skills. And thus we formed our blogging team!
I read a beautiful quote recently: “If you get, give. If you learn, teach.” Our MotherWise team believes strongly in this motto, and we want to give and teach everything we have been blessed to learn thus far on our journeys. We will continue to grow and learn alongside our wise mama community, and with excitement in our hearts, we look forward to providing information, support, and our various areas of expertise to our wonderfully supportive readers. Thank you all so much for coming along with us on this journey.