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Gaining Insight from Peggy O'Mara

Peggy O'maraPeggy O'Mara


Holistic Parenting Magazine: Welcome Peggy! I am so excited to spend the morning with you today, and pick your brain about topics our readers are excited to hear your views on.

Peggy O’Mara: I’m delighted to be here!

HPM: Ok, I’m just going to jump in here and ask: We are all aware of the growing trend of women taking birth into their own hands. Do you perceive this movement’s growth due of lack of choices within the system? Lack of supportive health care providers? I am thinking of both women wanting VBACs, but also ordinary low-risk women who want to achieve an unmedicated birth.

P. O’M: Healthcare for pregnant women is so beyond what evidence suggests; when our Cesarian rate is three times what evidence suggests it should be–then women are basically being experimented on. Under these circumstances, it makes sense for a woman to make radical choices to act in her best interest. The statistics of VBACs and Cesarians are parallel. When the VBAC rates (which should be around 75%) decreases, the Cesarian rate (which should be at 10-15%) increases. Clearly this is about women’s choices, rather than faulty bodies. When I was giving birth in the seventies, I knew that if I went to deliver in the hospital, I had a very good chance of being strapped down, being shaved, having silver nitrate put in my baby’s eyes, my husband not being allowed in the delivery room… So, my friends and I were smart: we did our research and helped each other deliver our babies! I think this is like what we’re seeing today. I strongly encourage women to seek out midwives. I also know that unassisted births are on the rise, and I think this is partly due to lack of options, but also due to a strong philosophy about birth.

HPM: For most cases, giving birth is the initiation to parenthood. How does a traumatic birth impact a new mom?

P. O’M: We know that the experience of birth will stay with the mom forever. To downplay the impact of a traumatic birth by saying “at least you have a healthy baby” is a very myopic way of looking at it, in my opinion. Indeed, birth impacts both mom and baby. As we both know, having a natural, unmedicated birth creates this wonderful hormonal cocktail, which unlocks the dormant maternal intelligence. These hormones are supposed to help you be a mother, and when you don’t have the advantage of these hormones, you start parenthood with less confidence. If you start motherhood with major abdominal surgery, it’s hard to recover physically and handle a new baby, and emotionally your confidence levels are lower as well, and it’s more difficult to enjoy your new baby. This makes me really sad. And after birth, the new mom has very limited time to bond with her baby, figure out breastfeeding, etc, before she has to go back to work.

HPM: Do you consider birth and breastfeeding to be feminist issues?

P. O’M: Many women today tend to associate feminism with a certain stridency that they don’t want to be associated with. Let’s take a step back and ask, what is feminism? Feminism is social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. We don’t have that in this society.

Breastfeeding is a perfect example of this, and I think breastfeeding is the feminist issue of our times, because if we as breastfeeding women don’t feel that we can breastfeed in public, then who’s public is this? Are we less important than anyone else? Are our babies less important than anyone else?

As breastfeeding mothers, we are just responding to our babies’ needs. There is a conflict here: we have a medical establishment that tells us, “we recommend that you breastfeed your baby for at least one year,” and an economic establishment that says, “you cannot have paid maternity leave, and you must come back to work within six weeks.” This result is plummeting breastfeeding rates: some 80% of women say they want to breastfeed, but by three months they have stopped. In many cases, women do not have the choice to get breastfeeding established, and stay home a little bit longer to make it successful. We are really off the mark in this country in terms of social support for breastfeeding moms. One thing that drives me crazy is that we count the sale of formula in our gross domestic product: we consider a sign of economic prosperity to sell formula, but the production of breastmilk is not counted as it is in many other countries. Counting breastmilk production would add millions of dollars to our gross domestic product, as it has huge value. Women are finding themselves between a rock and a hard place.

HPM: Our readers are interested to hear your thoughts on the autism epidemic. We are all aware of the increasing numbers of children on the spectrum, but the causes are a little less clear. Some known causes are ultrasounds in pregnancy, vaccines, environmental toxins, and of course genes play a role too.

P.O’M: Yes, I am very concerned about the autism epidemic, and equally concerned about the mean-spiritedness that is out there in the public conversation about vaccinations. This dismissal of parents who have vaccine injured children is unconscionable, in my opinion. These parents are left with so many expenses: the estimated cost of care for each child with autism is three million dollars. We now have 700,000 children under 18 years of age with an autism diagnosis in the U.S. When we discuss the causes here, I can certainly say, as a person in my sixties, I never saw this growing up; we definitely have an autism epidemic on our hands. What perplexes me is that vaccines are forced on children with a “one size fits all” policy.

Nowhere else in medicine, supplements, or food, does anyone say, “absolutely everyone can take this and everyone will have the same reaction to it (or no reaction at all).”

It’s foolish to say this because there might be some people who are sensitive to these things. We don’t know who they are–and we haven’t bothered to look–but vaccine injury and damage is happening, we can’t ignore these cases. Our government is only telling us what doesn’t cause autism; they aren’t telling us what does. I’m very curious about other contributing factors, even geographical: for example, New Jersey has an incredibly high rate of autism, and other states have much lower rates. Why? Researching genetic factors may solve the mystery of autism beginning at birth, but sheds no light on regressive autism, which develops later, in a completely healthy child.

I have studied this issue for many years now, and am convinced that vaccines are implicated in autism, whether it’s the thimerosal which has always been in vaccines, and is still there in trace amounts, whether it’s the number of vaccines at once, whether it’s the amount of mercury in the environment in addition to the mercury in the vaccines… It’s also interesting that Rh-negative mothers are more likely to have kids with autism. Rh-negative moms will get a shot or two during pregnancy to keep the antibodies down, and this shot used to have thimerosal in it (it doesn’t any longer). Maybe these moms had the shot, had induction of labor, then their baby was vaccinated according to the CDC very early on… maybe autism is the accumulation of all this. I look to other countries, where this is not the case: in Japan, for example, a sick child is never vaccinated, parents are given a little book to record any and all adverse reactions to vaccines given, vaccines are spaced out, especially live vaccines. It makes many of us in the natural parenting community wonder why the US doesn’t take such measures. We have a paradox in this country, where parents–understandably–don’t want to risk anything for their children, and the public health community wants 100% compliance, and considers the adverse reactions some children experience as part of collateral damage. But when it’s your child–no one wants their child to be sacrificed in the name of herd immunity. Let alone that real, lifelong immunity only happens when you have these diseases as a child, not through vaccines. There have been several recent cases of disease outbreaks within populations that were 100% vaccinated.

Instead of having a conversation where experiences and opinions can be shared, we just label people who question vaccinations as unscientific quacks. This backlash on unvaccinated families is a carefully sophisticated PR campaign, orchestrated by the pharmaceutical companies.

HPM: Let’s talk holistic parenting. HPM is inspired by The Continuum Concept, and Attachment Parenting principles. How do you envision holistic parenting in the 21st century?

P. O’M: I have a slight objection to the names we’ve given to parenting. When I was a young parent in the seventies, coming out of the Vietnam War, and going “back to the land” because we were disillusioned with society, we just wanted to live naturally. Personally I wanted to find the most natural and instinctual way of raising my kids. By doing this I found that in reality, the baby leads you on this path: by meeting your baby’s needs you learn to be a mother, you learn how to parent. When we call this practice names such as attachment parenting, it makes parents feel as if there’s a script, rules, dogma, and this is actually the opposite of what I’d like parents to think: I believe every parent is an expert of their own life, and what wells up from their own experience naturally is what they should follow and trust in. If they do follow their instincts, they will find the way–just as thousands of generations before us–to keep their children safe, and emotionally, physically, and psychologically healthy. If we do the best we can, and act out of loving kindness, responding to our children’s needs, we will get it right, most of the time! So I think the whole idea about holistic parenting is more important now than ever, because we live in a society where children’s needs are not met, and the next generation of insatiable consumers is created. Those of us who opt out of this consumer model are raising children who have had their needs met, have presence of mind, are emotionally and psychologically healthy. These children will go on to have more satisfying lives because of it.

The baby leads you on this path: by meeting your baby’s needs you learn to be a mother, you learn how to parent.

HPM: When we were debating what to name our magazine, we chose Holistic Parenting versus “The Holistic Parent,” so that it doesn’t become a club, where you are either a holistic parent or you’re not–we wanted Holistic Parenting to encompass many different styles, and what brings us together is that we are all following our inner voice, our parental instincts, simply loving our kids.

P.O’M: Yes, and parents today are bombarded by experts and may feel insecure about their instinctual wisdom, but our children themselves motivate us to be better parents and learn to trust. I myself, as a young mother had a fierce protectiveness of my children, but also a fear of authority. In the beginning as a parent,

I didn’t talk like I talk now; I whispered, I wasn’t as confident, but my children motivated me to learn to be confident: my third child was born with a birth defect and I had to advocate for his emotional health. So I think, you just begin this process, cultivate this trust, and get inspired by being around people who parent the way you want to parent. You want to place yourself within the community of people you hope to emulate, and simultaneously you want to give yourself time to cultivate your expertise as a parent and to believe in yourself, because you do get better over time. There’s always a shift: once you feel confident in parenting a toddler, you face parenting a six year old. Now I’m parenting adults with children; it’s always a process, it’s not an end game! I trust in the expertise of parents: this is the only thing you have to fall back on. Twenty years from now you’re not even going to remember the name of the person who gave you parenting advice, but you are the only one who is going to be living with the consequences of your parenting decisions. We all make mistakes, and it’s better to be able to say, “I did the best I could with what I knew back then,” rather than say, “I didn’t even know I had a choice!”

Twenty years from now you’re not even going to remember the name of the person who gave you parenting advice, but you are the only one who is going to be living with the consequences of your parenting decisions.

HPM: And our kids learn from our mistakes, too. It’s important for us to be able to approach them with humility and say, “I’m sorry I messed up here, I am learning too.”

P. O’M: I love that. We want to teach our children that we all fall down, but how to get up again, too! The home should be a place where people can fall apart and come together again, express their vulnerability, learn from their mistakes…

HPM: Absolutely. Any last thoughts you’d like to share with our readers before we conclude this interview?

P. O’M: “Freedom is a constant struggle”. This quote is from the Civil Rights movement, and I love it. The revolution happens from within the home.

HPM: Thank you for spending the afternoon with us! All this is very interesting and I’m sure will inspire many of us to continue evolving as parents.

P. O’M: Thank YOU, Holistic Parenting Magazine, for carrying on the tradition. Back in the initial Mothering days, we were the only voice advocating for parents to follow their instincts. Now the community has grown so much, and folks coming across your magazine are more likely to breastfeed, carry their babies, co-sleep with their children, and grow as parents. This is so important for shaping the next generation. We do have reason for optimism, and I am so grateful to HPM for carrying on the torch.

Thank YOU, Holistic Parenting Magazine, for carrying on the tradition.


Peggy O'Mara Photo: Painted Skies Photography


About the Author
Peggy O'Mara
Author: Peggy O'MaraWebsite:
Peggy O’Mara was the Editor and Publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011. In 1995 she founded and was its editor-in-chief until 2012. Peggy’s books include Natural Family Living, Having a Baby Naturally, and A Quiet Place. She has presented at Omega Institute, Esalen, Bioneers and La Leche League, International. She is the recipient of the La Leche League, International 2001 Alumnae Association award, the International Peace Prayer Day 2002 Woman of Peace award, the National Vaccine Information Center 2009 Courage in Journalism award, the Holistic Moms Network 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award, and five Maggie Awards for public service journalism from the Western Publishing Association. Peggy is on the advisory boards of Attachment Parenting International, Best for Babes, Holistic Moms Net- work, Infant Massage USA, Intact America, and Oak Meadow. She is the mother of four adult children and grandmother of two. Peggy has lived in Santa Fe, NM for 30 years.

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