(but it will sell you the T-shirt.)
The other night I read an article about the “Ezzo Method” and this thing that has been bothering me about the ways Americans often treat babies finally clicked in a way that I can express competently and articulately to other human beings, rather than just being some vague feelings of unease and displeasure.
This post will not deal directly with the Ezzo Method itself, but with the more general concept of baby “scheduling” — the Ezzo Method is just one school of scheduling thought. Scheduling is one of the more detrimental parts of an overall movement away from natural, healthy, instinctive parenting methods towards ‘expert-approved’ methods which occurred during the mid-20th century. This is not to say, of course, that our ancestors had it all perfect. There have been a great many improvements over the last century as well. But things were taken too far, and with negative effects all around.
Even a quick perusal of the ‘natural’ childbirth literature tells the unfortunate story of how basically good advances in medical technology which have saved the lives of millions of women in childbirth have been taken to extremes where they begin to hinder, not help. Women no longer delivered babies, doctors delivered babies. Pregnancy has been transformed from a natural process to a disease to be treated and managed by doctors. Birth has become an event acted upon mothers, who are immobilized, sedated, and anesthetized for the benefit of their doctors. And as a result, the rates of unnecessary caesareans, inductions, episiotomies, and other interventions soared as one intervention led to another and because they benefited the doctors. (Of course, having had a natural birth, I am all for pain killers the next time around. Birth HURTS.)
After birth, babies were immediately taken away from their mothers to be weighed and measured and scored; boys were clipped and snipped to make them more ‘hygienic’; babies were stuffed with formula and shoved in a nursery — all ostensibly for the ‘benefit’ of their mothers, who were supposed to now ‘recover’ from the trauma and ordeal of childbirth. The mothers’ breasts were bound up and they were instructed on the importance of these new, ‘better’, more ‘scientific’ formulae to feed their babies, and their milk never came in.
And then the babies were taken home and put on a schedule — to be fed at their parents’ convenience, not when hungry. To sleep at their parents’ convenience, not when tired. And if baby should cry with hunger, or loneliness, or pain, or sleepiness? No comfort should be given. Comforting a crying baby would only encourage the ‘bad’ behavior of crying. Instead, crying babies were locked away in their rooms and ignored until they gave up and became ‘good’.
My grandmother still tells the story of how my biological father used to cry and scream all night long. When she took him to the doctor, the doctor gave her tranquilizer pills so she could sleep through his cries. And lo and behold, the baby, given no comfort in response to his cries for help, stopped asking for help. As it turns out, though, my dad had pyloric stenosis (as did I), a condition in which food cannot pass from the stomach to the intestines. If left untreated, the baby will literally begin to starve/dehydrate, and death is very common. My dad was quite lucky to survive.
But never mind that. With baby sleeping through the night and eating on schedule from the bottle, mom and dad were free to return to their corporate lives as quickly as possible, and since baby had no attachments to his caregivers, he could be popped from daycare to daycare, cared for at the cheapest price possible.
Who benefited from this new, modern way of doing things? Certainly not the babies, for whom the combination of cribs and formula led to a much higher risk of SIDS; who died of malnutrition and dehydration because their feedings were scheduled too far apart; who cried alone in their
cages cribs at night with no one to comfort or hold them; whose IQs suffered because formula lacked vital brain-building nutrients.
Certainly not the mothers, who suffered increased complications during labor and childbirth; whose postpartum healing was negatively affected by the lack of breastfeeding; who suffered far more breast cancer; who were denied critical bonding time with their children; who were pushed back into jobs before they’d finished healing because, after all, they didn’t need to be taking care of their own children. Anyone could give the baby a bottle of formula.
Certainly not husbands, whose lives haven’t really been affected by most of these changes.
And not your average families, whose net incomes have barely risen since the 1960s, despite women going into the workforce in tremendous numbers. If anything, the average American family is slipping, as new parents must juggle college loan debt, outrageous medical expenses and insurance fees, high housing costs, pay for two cars and the gas to power them, daycare fees, etc. (But don’t worry. The rich make it up for us so we can look good in comparison to other countries.)
So who has benefited? Corporations/capitalists/the wealthy.
Babies have to be on schedules so their parents can be on schedules. Thus we have created the “new woman”, freed from the tyranny of breastfeeding, freed from the shackles of caring for her children, allowed to sleep through the night and kept on a schedule, is free to return as quickly as possible to her corporate masters lovely job.
Babies are put on schedules for the same reason that the public school system was founded, to turn them into obedient little workers who will do what authorities tell them, when they tell them, without question. They go from feeding schedules to daycare schedules to school schedules to factory schedules. Any trace of independence, of individual human spirit, of unique needs or individuality must be quashed. The fact that one baby may simply need more attention than another baby — that different babies do, in fact, have different personalities — is merely an inconvenience. Scheduling eliminates these inconveniences, forces all babies into the same rigid mold, and prepares them for a lifetime of service to their corporate masters, while pushing their parents back into the workforce as quickly as possible. (Corporations have never had any issue with hiring women, only with paying them living wages.) And the more people in the workforce, the lower the wages are for everyone. It’s a game the owners win and everyone else loses.
There are additional benefits to corporate America from the industrialization of babies, of course. With rare exceptions, they can’t sell you breastmilk — but they can sell you formula. They can sell you cribs. They can sell you daycare. They can sell you medicine to help soothe your baby’s stomach after the formula makes her ill. They will sell you all manner of unnecessary things, all the while telling you that this is how you show your love. Or at least, that these things will make your life better, and don’t we all want that?
Let me reiterate that this is not to say that all of these things are bad. Hospitals have saved the lives of many women in labor. For parents who cannot make milk, formula is a godsend. Some babies sleep better in cribs. And the right to a good job is extremely important. It is the systematic promotion of these things *together* in a way that hurts babies for the sole purpose of getting women back into the workforce more quickly that is bad. (While some of us may like our jobs and return to them eagerly, for many of us, work itself is fairly unpleasant — we would much rather be hanging out with friends, reading a good book, or even just watching TV. We work because we need to.)
Scheduling hasn’t been promoted because it allows us this glorious world where women are freed from the shackles of the patriarchy; it’s been promoted because it benefits corporations. Birth and babies have become industrialized. You are part of the corporate machine, and if you aren’t, you’re doing something wrong.
On the Discovery Channel, I recently saw an episode of “How It’s Made” in which they showed the industrial production of baby chickens. It was, to be honest, quite horrifying, even though there was no obvious cruelty of the PETA-Propaganda sort. The newly-laid eggs were immediately removed from their mother chickens, collected, and put into big egg cartons which were stacked in a giant oven. Every so often the cartons would automatically tilt from one side to the other, to simulate the mother chicken’s care. A machine then drilled a needle into the eggs to vaccinate them (I wonder how many chicks died from a needle accidentally going into their brains?) and then the eggs hatched on a moving conveyor belt. The newborn chicks were dropped between spinning rollers to sort them from the eggshells — not even worth the effort of a human hand, just cold mechanical steel rollers, then tumbled down chutes to be sorted (sexed) and tossed (by hand) down more chutes, where they were packed in with hundreds of other baby chicks to be shipped and sold.
The horrifying part of this all was the total lack of creature comforts; they never saw their mothers, never had a protective wing to nestle under, nor felt the warmth of her belly. They were incubated in an oven and born on a conveyor belt. They were not living creatures, they were ITS, they were industrial products being produced. They were just things.
But they weren’t things. They were babies. They were lost and confused and their mommies had been taken away from them.
My grandmother’s ranch was the sort of place you read about in children’s books. The goat kept climbing on top of the house; the geese chased me around; and the chickens (and rooster) had their run of the yard. For many years we didn’t even have a chicken coop — the chickens just nested in the shed. My grandmother showed me how to hunt for nests, look for eggs, and trick the chickens into laying eggs by putting golf balls in their nests to make them think they’d already laid one. (Chickens aren’t too bright.)
The baby chicks we gathered into a baby swimming pool (better to keep an eye on them and keep them out from underfoot.) And my grandmother showed me how to comfort the chicks, by holding them under my chin. This way, they felt like they were nestled against their mother chicken, safe and warm.
The point of this trip down memory lane is that baby chicks want their mothers. They draw comfort from their mothers and their mothers take care of them and those babies had been separated from their mothers and were all alone.
Of course, we may easily brush aside the feelings of baby chickens — they’re not, after all, human. They’re food, and if we want cheap, abundant chicken meat and eggs, this is how it’s got to be done. But how different is this from how we were taught to treat our own babies? Whisked away at birth to be weighed and measured and washed and snipped; swaddled and fed formula rather than their mother’s own abundant and more nutritious milk; put into nurseries and denied love and comfort until they finally give up on asking.
The only thing we’re lacking is the conveyor belt.
People in ‘primitive’ societies do not practice scheduling, nor was it ever practiced before the modern age — people without watches do not concern themselves with whether it’s been two hours yet since baby last fed. People who do not have to be at a factory job at 9 AM every morning do no care if baby keeps them up a few extra hours.
When people hear of my baby’s night-owl sleeping habits (he used to regularly keep me up past 5 AM, though he did thankfully scale back to 3 AM fairly quickly,) they often respond with, “Oh, you’d better get him on a schedule,” and perhaps some nonsense about babies waking up early early in the morning. Why on earth would I want to put him on a schedule like that? I don’t wake up early in the morning — why should he? Then I’d just have to get up early!
Except, oh right, I’m supposed to be heading off to work at 9 AM. So of course he needs to be getting up at 7 AM so I can get us ready and drop him off at daycare before heading into the office. Right. And if I don’t drag my sorry butt out of bed at obscene hours of the morning, I’m spoiling my baby and not realizing my full potential as a woman.
Sorry, folks, but corporate America doesn’t give a shit about feminism. It employs women because we’re useful and having us in the workforce keeps down wages, not because it wants to help us fulfill our potential. And corporate America does not care if your baby suffers in daycare, because babies are not useful to it unless they can sell us something for them. Formula companies don’t care that their products and sales tactics result in the deaths of thousands of African babies. Corporations only care about your money and your ability to make them more money.
In our industrial capitalist society, even the creation and care of babies has become industrialized.
I am reminded here of Karl Marx’s theory of alienation. Now, I am no Marxist (if anything, I lean towards the opposite,) but this doesn’t meant that all of Marx’s theories are trash. Klarfax (whose knowledge of Marxism is limited to the first few pages of the Communist Manifesto read back in highschool) has often come home from work and begun ranting about how the “owners exploit labor” and how alienated he feels from the products of his labor, and I pat him on the back and say, “Congratulations! You’ve just re-invented Marxism!” (Klarfax, it should be noted, is also decidedly not a Marxist.) But he observes these things happening at work.
Marx describes four types of alienation:
* alienation of the worker from his or her â€˜species essenceâ€™ as a human being rather than a machine;
* alienation between workers, since capitalism reduces labour to a commodity to be traded on the market, rather than a social relationship;
* alienation of the worker from the product, since this is appropriated by the capitalist class, and so escapes the worker’s control;
* alienation from the act of production itself, such that work comes to be a meaningless activity, offering little or no intrinsic satisfactions. (As I write this, my husband is complaining about this one, though he’s never read the theory.)
Marx further expounds, “Let us suppose that we had carried out production as human beings. Each of us would have in two ways affirmed himself and the other person. 1) In my production I would have objectified my individuality, its specific character, and therefore enjoyed not only an individual manifestation of my life during the activity, but also when looking at the object I would have the individual pleasure of knowing my personality to be objective, visible to the senses and hence a power beyond all doubt…”
To translate into ENGLISH (damn turgid Germans, damn you, too, Hegel and Weber), “when you get to do your own thing, work is more fun and the things you make reflect your personality.” When you work for the owners, work is boring and dull and you can’t even say at the end, “I made that.”
The mother, in our modern society, has been alienated from the product of her labor, that is, her child. We do not labor (give birth) as people, individuals; we do not breastfeed like other mammals, but feed our children machine-made products, like calves separated from their mothers and raised in industrial feedlots. Mothers are encouraged to do nothing that would allow them to bond with their babies — no breastfeeding, no cuddling when they cry, none of that — so that they can be as unattached as possible. So that the mother becomes interchangeable with all other potential caretakers. The care and keeping of babies is no longer regarded as special, but just a job hired out to the cheapest workers available.
And the babies themselves are denied their essential humanity. It is easy to see why people might be tempted by these theories — I myself did not recognize the humanity of babies until I had one of my own. I didn’t think of babies as people with their own personalities. I thought of them as screaming little pee and poop machines, with the personalities emerging over time as they grew older. But babies do have personalities. I saw the signs of Link’s personality even back when he was a wiggly little fetus in the womb, doing backflips for the ultrasound machine. Babies are people, but through scheduling they are forced to conform to a rigid mold, preparing them for their lives as workers in a world which does not care about their needs or wants or souls, but only their ability to perform as a cog in the corporate machine.
If you haven’t seen Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” yet, well, you should! It’s an excellent, funny movie. The beginning is the best/most important part.
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9.
The crux of the movie is the story of the exploitation of labor by the owners, the alienation of the worker, and how factory life damages men and drives them mad.
We are all part of the system, and even our babies must be made to conform to the factory schedule.
Thankfully, thankfully, the excesses of the twentieth century have been recognized and the pendulum has begun to swing back to a more sensible path. We now know that breast milk is better than formula, and in most hospitals, mothers are encouraged to breastfeed. The rate of unnecessary cesareans is going down. Doctors now recognize that scheduling is bad for babies, as is being left alone to ‘cry it out’. And circumcision rates are falling. People have begun to recognize that babies need to be nurtured, not disciplined into ‘good’ behavior.
Unfortunately, many of these advances are still unavailable to poor babies. I have the luxury of avoiding the corporate machine (and it is truly a luxury,) but most mothers (and their babies) do not. Poor mothers forced back to work too early and too long are going to be naturally attracted to the idea of baby sleeping through the night. People are not willfully ignorant–information is expensive. For poor, hard-working people who may not even be literate (or speak English,) the time and expense of gathering information on modern parenting theories is often more than they can afford. So they do what they’ve heard is best, generally relying on information made publicly available by large corporations. Unfortunately, there’s no money in advertising breast milk. So the poor are mislead into wasting thousands of dollars on formula, put their babies on schedules, carry them around in car seats, etc., all the while trying to do their best for their children.
Our society does not value infant nutrition (no child left behind my ass!) enough to provide women with the necessary resources to care for their children. Pumping and working is *hard*, and many women are ignorant that it is even possible. If we, as a society, truly gave a shit about “women’s issues”, we’d stop whining about how porn ‘exploits’ and ‘objectifies’ women and instead work towards real gains in the quality of women’s lives and the lives of their children. And we would stop promoting a system which only benefits our corporate masters, and work instead towards a more balanced system based on the needs of humans.