Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Parenting Outside the Mainstream and the WWW

Once upon a time I was a feminist artist living in the big city. I got pregnant and planned from the beginning to have a homebirth, mainly because of all the feminist reading I'd done on the birth industry and what I perceived to be a misogynist birthing culture. I planned to nurse until my baby wanted to wean, and I planned to follow my instincts and parent my baby from the heart, instead of listening to our cultural messages about making babies learn to be self sufficient and independent through crying it out and sleep training.

I was amongst the first of my circle to have a baby. Those with kids had been teen moms, or lived far away. I found my support in my midwifery practice (and all the other moms I met there were either much older than me, from cultural enclaves that never abandoned homebirth, or were kinda freaky young people). Looking back I was a kinda freaky young person too, but I didn't identify with those I met. So I got my support in Mothering Magazine and in little zines like Compleat Mother. I felt, outside the mainstream, and isolated.

When Dark Mirror was a baby I got online for the first time. First with my local FreeNet and bulletin boards there. I was "aj982" at the Ottawa FreeNet. My brother Techwood set me up with a computer and an account. I still felt outside the mainstream but I met several people from that community bulletin board in real life who had similar birthing and parenting beliefs. They were still kinda freaky people, and I really didn't see myself as a freaky person. I had postpartum depression and my immune system had gone wacko with the pregnancy and I had developed something similar to Graves Disease http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graves-Basedow_disease,but it only affected half my thyroid. My marriage had started falling apart as soon as I got pregnant with Dark Mirror and I felt ashamed of what was going on and avoided old friends because if they knew, I didn't want them talking about it, or advising me to leave, or disapproving when I came back, or hearing everything that had been going on before I left was still going on. I felt, outside the mainstream, and isolated.

Then I discovered the WWW. Oh my goodness, I found all sorts of people who were like me, and almost all of us felt, outside the mainstream, and kind of isolated. We talked together, on line, about our sense of alienation. Combine that with being a stay at home mom and depression issues and it became really easy to use the web in lieu of any real community. The web was an outlet for all my academic feminist essay writing, and it let me discuss parenting in theoretical terms as well as dealing with the day to day stuff. It let me only expose my best self, the good in my marriage, the good in my parenting. I felt supported to hone my skills as a parent, and it took me even further away from the mainstream. Lots of people thought I was a freaky person, but lots understood me too. It was addictive. It took me out of the stream of my real life community all together, and caused even more isolation.

During that time there were several other moms who were way out on the fringes with their parenting. Some got put on a pedestal, others were demonized, all were, what the web thrives on - entertaining. I often think of Mangomama, of Hygeia Halfmoon, of Primalmom, of Nine, of Kashmir, of Earthmoon, of Mamakat, and others and how they became legends instead of moms. That takes you outside the mainstream, and is isolating too.

I broke my web addiction when something absolutely catastrophic happened in my life - I left my marriage for good when I was pregnant with Wild Thing. To survive emotionally I had to abandon some of the things I held sacred in my parenting and I learned to be a lot less rigid. I stayed off line for some time and made a real live community around myself, with people who had similar ideas about birthing and parenting. They had always been out there, I'd been locked away in front of a computer screen unable to find them. I got involved with Papa Pan, who was much more mainstream than me in many ways and a whole lot freakier in other ways. I got to teach him through example, the good in my parenting, and learn from him too. Outside the vacuum of my marriage I also had to address the really dark stuff going on with Dark Mirror and it was...liberating, and scary, and shook me to the core to have someone else say "This is not normal, this is not okay, and we'll get through it, but we need professional help" That support could only come in real life and it turned our lives around. It really saved Dark Mirror, and the rest of us too. We don't always agree on this parenting stuff and that's okay.

So today, as I was doing spring cleaning and preparing to tackle the mountain of laundry and recommitting myself to using our cloth diapers, and cloth wipes instead of toilet paper...I started remembering the discussions about using cloth wipes instead of toilet paper and how today, I don't even think its a big deal. I know several people who do the same for environmental reasons, to avoid rashes, because it makes sense for them. I don't even remember how the topic came up with them...but it wasn't an essay on the web, and it certainly wasn't a hill to die on...and that made me smile.

6 comments:

deb said...

Kerry;

Are you saying that you don't use TP but recycle cloths for wiping? I am sorry, but that just baffles me.

Mud Mama said...

yep for pee dabbing. I still use toilet paper for poops, but as I'm already washing loads of diapers, throwing in a few extra wipesisn't any kind of stressor, and my body really thanks me - I use reuseable cotton menstrual pads too.

deb said...

You are probably thinking that that was the only thing I got out of your post today...it wasn't but it amazes me that we come from the same gene pool..lol. Thank goodness for people like you, but I just couldn't do it.

zoom said...

Excellent post MM. I especially like your reflections on the value and also the limitations of online community.

Oma said...

Your last two posts have been wonderful ... deeply considered ... rooted in experience and love ... revealing that you are mature and that you live life by being present in it and by reflecting on it. And both are courageous posts as well.

monkey said...

oh, mud mama, i totally understand the isolation. when i found out i was pregnant, i looked online for my own community to belong to and was really disappointed. truth be told, i have experienced more disappointment in this journey than i care to admit. i am not the woman i thought i was and it's a struggle to be okay with that. your struggle made me reflect and smile. we all struggle. we all feel isolation. we all are not alone. *sigh* thank you.