National Voices

Friday, Jul 13 2012 11:03 PM

Hey, let's leave mothers alone already

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    Esther Cepeda

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By ESTHER CEPEDA

I've never launched a viral phenomenon, but here's a suggestion to whoever can rightly be called today's reigning Internet meme generator: "Leave moms alone."

I mean, how about we push back at the stereotype of moms as the-root-cause-of-all-that's-wrong-with-children-today?

I've had enough of all the tired conversations related to mommyhood and the constant reminders that moms are at fault for their children's imperfections or worse: see Tanning Mom" or Casey Anthony or do a Web search on "mom accused of abuse/murder."

Do French women really raise their little darlings in a more enlightened fashion than do American moms, as this spring's version of the "Tiger Mom" book, "Bringing Up Bébé," suggested? I don't live in France, so I don't much care.

Is it true -- as the cover of the July-August issue of The Atlantic magazine proclaimed, setting afire the hair of every female on Twitter and Facebook -- that "Women Still Can't Have It All"? No, because this country is chock-full of moms who define "all" in more down-to-earth terms than that of a jet-setting uber-diplomat.

And double no, because pitting women against each other is a contrivance of magazine editors who adore the catfights they inspire when they put feminine controversies on the covers of their publications. Exhibit B: the late-May cover of Time magazine asking "Are you mom enough?" in reference to the very individual choice of long-term breast-feeding and attachment parenting. The only correct answer to that question is: "None of your business."

What really sets me off, though, are scientific reports. I love the overabundance of valuable picks from medical, psychological and sociological journals. I just hate the bordering-on-smug ones that unintentionally lay the blame of all childhood ills on moms.

Two recent examples: A team of researchers in Norway found that pregnant women who most feared childbirth when asked at the 32-week gestation point had an average labor 47 minutes longer than those who were less afraid. The fear was an independent predictor of longer labor, which can be associated with risks for a baby. According to the World Health Organization, 287,000 women died in childbirth in 2010, with the rate in the U.S. clocking in at 16.7 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. Sure, that global number has dropped about 50 percent since 1990, but it's still scary, so sue us.

Another study by researchers at Columbia University Medical Center found that children born at 37 and 38 weeks had lower third-grade reading and math scores than children born "on time" at 39 to 41 weeks.

It's true that there are moms out there who elect to deliver their children by appointment for a variety of lame convenience reasons. But a lot of us moms who did everything right but still delivered their babies long before the previously "safe" 38-week mark due to medical complications already know how disadvantaged our kids are. We don't need yet another set of headlines reminding us how much better it would have been if we'd had normal deliveries.

Yes, there are a lot of crappy moms out there. And yes, it's great to have spirited dialogues on the state of female achievement and data on how to grow better babies, but I've had enough for 2012. Someone please start the "leave moms alone" meme so we can give mothers -- and the constant mommy-related "news" -- a long rest.

Email Esther J. Cepeda of the Chicago Sun-Times at estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

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