Recently I attended a reading event here in town, and while normally I love these things, I left this event fuming. I am surprised smoke was not coming out of my ears.

At one point in the evening, a charming, obviously pregnant woman stood up to share a story of her own. We’d already heard from her introduction that she once toiled away in corporate America – because, obviously, writers only do corporate America in one way, and that’s to toil in it – until she’d thought better of the whole prospect. She was stressed, and admittedly out of her element, working, I mean toiling, in an industry for which she had no passion, expertise or familiarity. And to top it off, after she’d given birth to her first child, she had no place to pump breast milk but in a coat closet.

The coat closet bit killed me. All I could think about was how unfortunate it was that she had to endure that experience. It seemed so degrading and humiliating, and immediately I thanked God for my private office and all of my breast-feeding-friendly coworkers. And heck, even if I didn’t have my own office, we have private rooms so women can pump their breasts for their children!

So she had me, she did, until she followed all of this with digs at her coworkers, some of them deservedly from the sound of it, and then made a crack about all of them having nannies and wondered how it was that these unfeeling, uncaring, money-hungry corporate drones could call that parenting.

I felt my entire body flush with heat and tingle. I almost had an out-of-body experience. No joke. I turned to my husband and rolled my eyes so hard I’m pretty sure they were in danger of being lodged permanently into my skull.

My name is Erin Shea. I am having a baby next year, going on maternity leave and then hiring a nanny so I can go back to work, in corporate America, full-time.

Long before this reading, I’d already been stewing about how horribly we all treat each other when it comes to the subject of parenting and babies. I recognize that I’m new to this, but I’m certainly not new to how women in particular behave when it comes to parenting decisions. I’ve told more than one person that despite my long-standing love and adoration for online communities, I wasn’t heading anywhere near any “mommy boards” or forums for that reason.

We have yet to find a way to express our own decisions without resorting to bashing those of someone else in order to validate those decisions. Because, perhaps, we’ve all led ourselves to believe that somehow our families, our children, will ultimately win the race of life if we hold ourselves up and think our choices superior to that of someone else. AND THEN MAKE SURE THOSE FUCKERS KNOW IT.


Here are some things I wasn’t going to share but am going to anyway:

1) We’ve hired a doula.

2) I’m going to breastfeed, and try to do so for a year.

3) I’m intending to have a drug-free childbirth, but I recognize that something might happen where I’ll need or want medical intervention.

4) We start hypnobirthing classes next month.

5) We’ve decided against using cloth diapers, but I have to admit I wish it was something that fit into our lives.

6) Yup, we’re hiring a nanny.

7) We’re not going to co-sleep or family sleep.

8 ) At some point I’m going to look into making our own baby food.

9) We believe in vaccinations.

10) We will try and work to have our daughter on a sleep schedule that fits in with our family.

Any one of these things seem to set people off like a cheap firework. What’s worse, really, is that the histrionics seem rooted in the notion that whomever made the statement – “I’m not going to breastfeed,” for example –  could not possibly be more educated or knowledgeable than the person who now feels it’s his or her duty to tell them that their decision is wrong or misinformed.

The other day my friend Leah posted a link to this blog post: “The Similac Formula Recall is Not a Punchline.” It’s brilliant, if for no other reason, it gives those women and men who use formula some support from a pro-breast-feeding mom who knows that now is not the time to advocate by being an asshole. My favorite part?

Life happens. Formula happens. You know who formula happens to, in particular? Women who can’t breastfeed. Fathers caring for babies on their own. Adoptive parents caring for babies. You know what those parents don’t want to read? Shitty, spiteful comments about how ‘well if you were breastfeeding, you wouldn’t have to worry about feeding your kid beetle parts.‘”

While I recognize that this post is topical and timely, I think it’s a sound argument for anything parenting-related. When we make gross assumptions about, say, breast feeding, and are so passionately vocal about that position that we cease applying tact or a filter to our words, we’re just assholes, and we’re not doing the cause – whatever the cause – a lick of good. Often we don’t even know the circumstances of those for whom this vitriol is aimed.

There seems to be an idea floating around that there are women who feed their children formula who do so out of sheer convenience, ignoring the benefits of breast milk. I’ve yet to see the topic come up where someone doesn’t mention this matter of “convenience” though I have yet to encounter a women who, as my friend Claire put it, “[doesn’t] want to be bothered to put down their martini to pump,” because that’s the image that’s conjured up when someone makes the convenience argument. Just the same, I’m baffled as to why this is my business anyway. Even more baffling to me is why, to my friend Jackie’s point, people feel “duty-bound” to “educate” others to the point where it’s intrusive and rude.

Or, you know, they’re advocating by being an asshole.

Here’s the thing about advocating by asshole: the people who you have no hope of converting think you’re an asshole. And the people who you do have a chance of converting think you’re an asshole, too. And everyone who agrees with your position wishes you’d just shut up or at least learn a modicum of manners.

We’ve made our above choices because we’ve done a lot of homework and research and figured out that these things work best for our lives, for our family. And I’ve thought about not sharing these things because I really didn’t want to start fielding “well-intended comments” from people who feel because of their own experience and research it’s their business to interject into the decisions of my family.

All of you parents out there are probably out of appendages to account for all of the “If you want my advice…” comments you’ve received since becoming parents, none of which you’ve actually asked for in the first place. And most of it is harmless and, truly, well-intended. Most of those people wish they would have known then what they know now. The problem with that, of course, is that I’m not them then. I’m me now. And if I asked for your advice, that’s one thing. But if I don’t ask you whether or not putting my child on a sleeping schedule is a smart idea, you should probably just keep your mouth shut if you don’t have anything nice to share.

So I’m sharing these things, and I’m trying to be particularly mindful of how I share them, lest I seem to be doing anything other than sharing my experience. I look back now even at my post about being a strict parent and worry that my words had some unintended consequence, despite the fact that the majority of the people who commented agreed with me. Just the same, I promise to be more mindful of what I say here. I want to continue to share what’s going on with our lives, and the only way for me to do that without adding to the nauseating cacophony of crazy is to stick to that promise.

I don’t know that woman at that reading, and she doesn’t know me. Maybe she thought it was safe for her to assume that a literary reading didn’t include an audience with a proud member of corporate America who planned to hire a nanny and go back to work. But it did, and she doesn’t know me from a hole in the ground. She doesn’t know that I grew up with a mother who was, by and large, a generally unhappy and miserable person, and that I vowed never to be that for my children. She couldn’t have possibly known that I grew up truly scared and frightened much of the time, worried about money and security, and I vowed that my children would never know that kind of fear. She couldn’t have known how supportive and kind my corporate workplace is, and how excited each and every person is about my daughter’s arrival, sometimes seemingly more so than I am. She couldn’t have known that her poorly chosen words, used simply to illustrate her own choices, could come off so silly and trite.

I am going to fuck up royally, and it’s unlikely our daughter get through her life without blaming me and Scott for something in her life. None of these things we do will completely buffer that from happening. All it can do is, hopefully, help us get through each day, and help her to become a better person.

And maybe let Mama and Daddy get some sleep.