Is it possible to say that one of those agreed responses we all have in life, could be on those occasions where we read in the press that a mother has died in childbirth, leaving a surviving baby? Do we all think this is a particularly, viscerally, devastating family tragedy? All untimely death is a tragedy for the loved ones left behind, of course it is, but don’t we feel a specific profound sympathy for that vulnerable little new-born baby who was so quickly deprived of its mother’s presence? That vital and uniquely precious bond between mother and child is permanently severed, before it has even had a chance to begin. Surely it must be amongst the greatest sorrows that can befall someone.
These thoughts may have influenced why I reacted so strongly (and this is a personal reaction only) to a headline recently that read “Hire a nanny and get back to work, new mothers urged” (My highlighting). This article wasn’t about encouraging a new mother to gradually, over time, find her way back to the human race, the work place, and separation from her child, after exclusively being that mother at home for a while, but was particularly addressed to the ‘new mother’ – thus my reaction.
The article extensively quoted a lawyer in her late sixties. She, in turn, quoted her own mother as saying “When a baby is born it needs to be fed, bathed and diapered” – the lawyer then herself added the following “An 18 year old girl can do that. Your job is to get the money to pay the 18-year-old girl. When you have to be there, is when the child gets smarter than the nanny.” So this very senior, highly respected, professional woman was sending out the message to all who read the article that, in reality, a baby doesn’t really need the constant, close, loving nurturing of an emotional attachment with the mother during the early months at all: an untrained teenager can feed, change and bathe it instead.
Any concept of a baby’s emotional wellbeing is being bypassed here and, in addition, a woeful ignorance of early brain development is clearly displayed. Is this really the message for mothers today? You don’t matter to your baby very much any more. Anyone can do your job. You are interchangeable.
The context of this disturbing article addressed to new mothers, was ‘How not to lose your job, your salary and your status: and how to prevent your place in the pecking order there from slipping’ – and maybe it is indeed true that if you return to your job very soon after giving birth you will probably progress to promotion quicker – what an impossibly difficult dilemma facing all those who, in any case, have a crippling mortgage or rent, and other financial responsibilities weighing them down as well. Naturally these burdens have to be dealt with, and indeed some prefer to get out of the house and off to work in any case. But how has society today arrived at a situation where there is now not only subtle social pressure, nor even ready acceptance, but actually strong encouragement for our smallest and most vulnerable little infants to manage without their mothers during the working week so early in their dependent lives? And equally, so much pressure on loving mothers to try and manage without their beloved babies?