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The Mother Magazine, Editorial

Issue 39, Mar/Apr 2010

Celebrity Mothers: are they a menace?

When I was in my teens, I was flicking through a women’s glossy and came across an interview with Australian actress, Rebecca Gilling, in which she said she sleeps with her baby, like the African mothers do. Something warm and almost indescribable filled my heart, even though I was a decade off motherhood. It reminded me of how ‘right’ it felt when I sometimes got to ‘share sleep’ with my mother as a child. So, years later when I read The Continuum Concept, it stamped a YES on that affirmative place already stencilled on my future parenting heart. It’s funny how when we hear the ‘truth’ it feels like an old, familiar friend.

A celebrity mother in the UK caused outrage amongst conscious parents for an interview which featured her baby’s diamond-encrusted dummy, and a formula milk brand prominently on show in all the photos. Well, that wouldn’t get my vote any more than the plastic breasts which have made her famous with a gullible public, yet absolutely redundant for the most important job in mothering: the giving of liquid love, any time and any place.

Another celebrity mother, who hosts a morning TV chat show, regularly writes in the ‘cartoons’ about homebirth being dangerous, and that babies should be weaned off the breast as soon as their teeth start appearing.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Celebrity Mother of the Year is a popularity contest, and that the only connection it has to mothering is that the women have children. It’s not about how they parent. The voting public, however, is led to believe that these women have mothering down to a fine art, and should be emulated regardless of how slack, dangerous, negligent or uninformed their parenting choices are.

I received an unsolicited review book, recently: the baby diaries of a famous UK television host. I enjoy her public persona and warm smile, so decided to read the book even though it’s not the sort that we’d review in The Mother. Unfortunately for the author, the publication launch coincided with her husband’s indiscretions becoming public knowledge. To be clear, I realise these are her baby diaries (no matter how artificial or contrived for commercial purposes), and not a parenting manual ~ however, when someone writes such a book on the basis of their fame (and let’s be honest, the book wouldn’t have been published otherwise), then the material within is completely up for scrutiny, especially when information presented as factual is misleading or downright wrong.

Shame on her obstetrician for this celebrity believing she experienced a natural birth just because her daughter came out between her legs. In fifteen years of being involved in the natural birthing movement, I’ve never heard of a cervical sweep (always the start of further interventions), prostaglandin gel, being tethered to a drip of syntocinon (synthetic hormones) and injection of an epidural being a NATURAL birth. Please! It may well have been vastly different from the elective caesarean section for her first daughter’s birth, but having her baby delivered from an anaesthetised uterus is not natural, and never will be. We don’t see this anywhere in Nature amongst the animal kingdom. Animals don’t shove their paws or hooves up a fellow creature to ‘move things along’ during birth, or administer anaesthetic to diminish the work of the labouring body, so why would anyone think it natural for mammalian humans? What’s natural is for a human mother to find a quiet, dark and private corner to give birth, without observers and without interference.

I wish I could have explained to this mother, that the fear of certain parts of her anatomy, and the very strange belief she has that men shouldn’t know women ever need to use the toilet (including your husband!?), are very big clues as to why her body couldn’t ‘let go’ and give birth. I’ll bet her obstetrician didn’t share that essential piece of body wisdom.

Our celebrity mother uses dummies instead of trying to soothe her baby with human touch. A baby’s sucking needs are met at the breast, not at the end of an artificial, lifeless, toxic device. She states that babies should be weaned off dummies before they start talking because they can interfere with speech. Again, this is ignorance disguised as wisdom. Babies are ALWAYS communicating, and dummies impact on dyadic communication from the moment they’re born, as well as short-circuiting oxygen to the brain.

She chose to vaccinate based on government information, and called this ‘informed’ choice. There’s not a single study in the world which proves vaccinations prevent disease or build immunity. How can one consider a decision to be informed if only one source of information is used? She states that vaccinations (aka toxins, chemicals, poisons) give a child immunity. What does she base this on? She’s not an immunologist of any description, but a TV presenter! How many families will she influence by these statements? Frankly, her book is a menace to naive and inexperienced mothers, who might well hang on to her every word as gospel.

I applaud her breastfeeding for a year, but was dismayed that she introduced solids at five months, as this flies in the face of even the most conservative mainstream advice of six months minimum. She weaned at 12 months, and says she’ll wean her second baby even earlier. What is she basing this on? Again, the World Health Organisation states breastfeeding should take place for a minimum of two years. I’m appalled at the lackadaisical attitude of the publisher (Vermillion, an imprint of Ebury) for not adding the WHO recommendation! Such a book only adds to the massive amount of social ignorance which exists around a baby’s biological needs and expectations. It’s also very telling that the book has plenty of photos of her babies with dummies and bottles in their mouths, but none of them breastfeeding. I came away from the book feeling that it was the story of detached mothering, rather than someone innately tuned in to primal parenting. To be fair, this mother isn’t to be blamed for her parenting choices ~ she’s both a victim and an example of the disconnected and dysfunctional culture we live in.

Quality mothering isn’t about giving your kids vacations in first class resorts, or £300 shoes, or having the best nanny in town, or pretty pink decor in the bedroom. It’s about being there whether your children are sleeping, playing, vomiting, bored, tired or happy. It’s easy for an adoring public to see you as a ‘yummy mummy’ when the BBC is dressing you to the nines, and giving you a makeover whenever you step out of the door, but does that make you a good mother? No. Wake up, people! This isn’t real. How deeply disturbed the cultural psyche is when it buys that as an image of ‘what children need’.

Jools Oliver swears by the Gina Ford parenting method of leaving babies to ‘cry it out’. This is cruel parenting; it’s child abuse. If adults were treated in the way Gina Ford-raised babies are, the person responsible would end up on all sorts of charges of neglect and grievous bodily harm. But babies don’t matter, do they? We can leave them with anyone, at any time, and as long as the mum is dressing up in beautiful clothes, and being photographed in the media, then she’s a good mum! And, she’s even considered a parenting expert, even though, ironically, she’s not with her own children very much or personally attending to their biological needs!

Parenting is a serious business. We must dig deep, examine our drives and agendas, and bring consciousness to them. Despite the seriousness of parenting, it’s a place for humour, joy and fun, but it’s not something you do for celebrity status. And authentic mothering isn’t something a nanny can do for you.

Many celebrities ~ actors, performers, TV presenters ~ are in that position because they need the limelight to fill a troublesome gap in their psyche. It’s so very easy to enjoy your children when you spend limited time with them. There’s no baggage hanging around. Most mothers make the mistake of thinking that going to work makes them better mothers. No, it means that they don’t have to face their inner demons. For a lot of celebrity mothers, it’s not about what’s best for the baby, but what’s best for them or their career.

We don’t usually accept the average person on the street as an authority on the ‘rights and wrongs’ of childbirth, breastfeeding, vaccination and child rearing, so why do we gulp it down like the Last Supper when it comes from a pretty TV presenter? Why are we being given information from an amateur on one of the most important topics ever written about? For those who work in the media, work can be all-embracing, highly demanding ~ it’s almost always ‘all or nothing’, which leaves such a person in no position to parent a child as Nature intended, so of course they’re going to justify their lifestyle by echoing comfortable phrases used by most people to explain their detached parenting choices. We’re all compromised in our parenting by the nature of modern life, it’s just that some of us draw the line in a very different place. Celebrities are in a uniquely powerful position. However, by speaking uninformed words, they provide a balm for anyone else who is trying to justify a less than holistic way of raising children.

I’m so thankful that Rebecca Gilling was around to plant sensible seeds in my teenage mind, and that my parenting wasn’t shaped by the likes of Tess, Lorraine, Jools or Katie. Very thankful.

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