Happy World Breastfeeding Week 2013! How are you finding it so far? Have you seen much promotion for it and read something new that will help you on your breastfeeding journey? I hope so, because there’s so much wonderful advice out there if you’re looking for help or trying to gather information. At the end of this post, you’ll find a selection of blogposts I’ve written myself about my own breastfeeding journey with my son. It was a wonderful 14 months and I look back on it fondly but it wasn’t without its bumps in the road and dark, long nights which we all have as parents, no matter how we choose to feed our babies. Continue reading What’s wrong with this picture?
Dear Senator White
I’ve sat on writing this letter for a week since I first read about your “Parental Leave Bill 2013” because I needed to chew it over.
Well, that’s not necessarily true.
As soon as I read this article on Journal.ie, I immediately tweeted
But then I thought I’d let it sit with me and evaluate its merits, after all I am 100% supportive of paid paternity leave for the benefit of families and Irish society as a whole.
Here’s the thing though. Your press release managed to successfully talk me out of supporting your bill.
This is what did it for me:
“The greatest challenge facing the country is to create employment to offer hope and a potential living to the 300,000 unemployed and the young people in our schools and colleges. The only way we can create jobs is to encourage new enterprise”
followed swiftly by:
“The biggest untapped source of enterprise is 50% of the population which are Irish Women who face multiple barriers in becoming entrepreneurs and developing business”
and then this corker, which to be honest, really pushed me over the edge:
“This flexibility in the maternal leave scheme would allow women entrepreneurs to devote more time to their enterprises.”
Are we noticing a theme here, Senator White? Jobs, enterprise, business, entrepreneurship. I thought we were talking about maternity leave – the time a mother takes out of the workforce to give birth to and nurture her tiny newborn. But reading your comments, I actually realise we’re talking about “the economy“.
Can we get real about your bill here for a minute please? Becoming a mother – be it for the first or tenth time – is a physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually challenging time. It is exhausting and all-consuming. Most new mothers may find that it takes months – not weeks – to adapt to their new role and I’m fairly willing to bet that unless they’re a participant in The Apprentice, getting all entrepreneurial and starting a business is probably the last thing on their mind. There’s two exceptions to this – 1. the woman who already runs her own business and you can be well sure she’s not taking 26 weeks maternity leave in the first place and 2. the woman who realises that, for her, life isn’t all about working for someone else Monday to Friday, 9-5 (or 6 or 7) once her baby comes along and she looks for a new working solution that will keep her at home with her family. The latter lady most likely only swings into action with this when the end of her maternity leave is fast approaching and the idea of having to go back into the workforce is a frightening and unappealing prospect.
You say women face multiple barriers to coming entrepreneurs. You’re right, they absolutely do, but one of them is not because their pesky maternity leave is just too long and getting in their way. Could I ask you to point out to me the women who are celebrating your proposal and shouting from the rooftops
“well thank God for Senator White. Finally I’ll have a bit of flexibility with my maternity leave so I can devote more time to getting back to work.”
If we’re all so desperate to get started on setting up a business, why do so many women lie about their due date so that they can work as late as possible into their pregnancy to secure those precious extra weeks with their baby at the other end? Why do so many families scrimp and save so that new mothers can take as much of their unpaid leave as they can possibly afford once their maternity leave ends?
Although I admire your efforts, your bill will actually impact negatively on new mothers and babies. What mother in the country is going to deny her partner the opportunity to take some paid paternity leave when their little one arrives if it’s something he really wants to do? How could we? After spending decades calling for paid paternity leave for our partners, how could we turn around now and say
“oh no sorry, you can’t have any of mine!”?
Women will be forced to cut their maternity leave short to accommodate their partners equal right to spend time at home with their child.
What impact do you think this is going to have on our already paltry breastfeeding rates? Once your bill is in, the pressure to wean babies to formula will be even stronger than it is now and many mothers will feel obliged to give up breastfeeding before they return to work even if they’d prefer not to. Breastfeeding support in this country is so bad at the moment that most women don’t know how to access the expertise to help them keep breastfeeding and return to work.
You call your bill “innovative” but you know, really it’s just sneaky. You’ve dressed it up as a modern, progressive, egalitarian proposal when it’s really robbing Peter to pay Paul and the State won’t have to invest a penny.
Here’s something really innovative. Why not take the brave step of suggesting that paid parental leave is extended to 12 months – or if we’re paying heed to the extensive, international research – 18 months and insist that fathers must take a minimum of three months of that? Our Scandanavian cousins have had huge success with this model. Look at Iceland, paternity leave is now a normalised part of society.
“But we couldn’t possibly afford it!”,
they’ll cry. That’s what they said when the European Union insisted we lift the marriage ban in the 70s. That’s what they said when the concept of maternity leave was introduced in the first place. Yet look at us now. All thanks to the outside influence of our European counterparts.
12 – 18 months of paid parental leave will mean children under the age of one will be nurtured by their primary caregiver in their own home, something that research has proven time and again is best for babies. It will mean that babies are more likely to be breastfed for longer. Just read this report from UNICEF UK to get even the slightest inkling of how much the Government would save on a reduced health bill if our breastfeeding rates increased just marginally. It would mean that society would accept that fathers have a place in the home caring for their children. If they all have to take time off work, then of course it’s the most normal thing in the work. If mothers have happy, healthy babies and they’re not worrying, worrying, worrying, I’d say the chances of them turning their head to setting up that new business are suddenly all the more realistic.
Senator White, please, please, can I ask you to take the summer months, give your bill some serious thought and change it before the Autumn session begins. Change it for the better. Do something good for Ireland’s babies, for its mammies and its daddies, for society and the economy as a whole. Take the long view. Look to the future and see the consequences of your suggestion and then mine.
Don’t rob us of our precious maternity leave to win brownie points in the name of equality.
You’re going in the wrong direction.
Mind the Baby
Mother of 1, Full time employee and budding entrepreneur.
I don’t know about you but I always have my iPhone within arm’s reach. It’s a desperate state of affairs really. On the rare occasions that I’ve managed to leave the house without it, it’s like I’m missing a limb. I sat on the bus the other day wondering what I should do to pass the time when the 3G network went down! And to think only a few short years ago, I used to threaten my husband that his love for his smartphone could be the end of us. His solution of course was to buy me one. I shut up fairly lively then. He’s like my crack dealer 🙂
Of course an iPhone is nothing without its Apps and I thought I’d share a few of my favourite parenting-related ones.
Okay, I am not the biggest fan of the What To Expect series of books. The pregnancy manual is useful for a quick reference guide to explaining aches and pains etc but the advice is very medicalised and weighs heavily on the side of interventionalist birth. The baby’s first year book is just a fright from start to finish. It gives appalling breastfeeding advice, questionable sleep training tips and tells you what your baby should be doing by each month.
ALL THAT SAID, they make good Apps!
The pregnancy one lets you pop in your estimated due date and gives you that whole cute fruit size thing as your baby grows. Personally, I loved the daily countdown – particularly when it got down to double digits and then single ones. It also gives you a weekly and daily update on your body and your baby which is lovely to read. A few of the daily entries about diet and exercise are just ludicrous but you can overlook those.
I found the WTE Baby App absolutely fantastic in the first few weeks when Pip was born. It helps you track breastfeeding (and bottle) feeds – which boob, for how many minutes, the gap between feeds – dirty/wet nappies and naps. When you’re just getting the hang of things, it’s great to just tap in the details and have it all recorded there for you, particularly if you have a midwife or public health nurse looking for specific details about nappy content and how many minutes the baby fed on each boob. It’s also handy to keep track of late night feeds. After a month or so when things have settled down and you’re not driving yourself crazy counting and measuring things, you won’t need it any more but it’s a handy little thing at the start. (Although a friend of mine was telling me that she witnessed a nurse manager on the post-natal ward shouting at a new mum for paying more attention to her texting than to her new baby when in fact the poor woman was just tracking her feeds! Madness! But that’s a post for another day…)
Both What to Expect Apps are available free for iPhone and Android.
Labor Mate contraction timer
I am very, very fond of this App. It’s just a simple stopwatch really where you tap the screen as a contraction starts and tap it again when it ends. As your labour progresses it tells you how long each contraction is and how far apart they are so there’s nobody messing around with a pencil and paper trying to subtract minutes and seconds. It also records the time, lets you add notes to each contraction if you wish and you can switch to other applications on your phone while it keeps going in the background. What I really liked about it was that there was no precision required on my part. In the height of my labour before the midwife arrived, I could just wave my hand in the general direction of the phone to start the timer and the same to stop it. I have a memory of me hanging off the kitchen counter doing exactly that. It does other freaky social media things like email your contraction log to people or posts updates to Twitter and Facebook. I couldn’t imagine anything more horrific but to each their own! It was lovely too a few weeks later to be able to look back and review the progression of my labour.
Labor Mate is only available for iPhone and iPod Touch and costs €0.79 or $0.99
The wonder weeks
I haven’t used this App myself but it was recommended to me recently and I kind of wish I had it at the time! Basically, this one gives you the heads up on when growth spurts and developmental leaps are due to happen. I”m fairly sure knowing this in advance and being prepared for the manic feeding sessions and broken nights might have helped to keep me sane when I thought I was losing my mind. Have you used this one?
The wonder weeks is available on both iPhone and Android for €1.79 or $1.99
Are there any parenting Apps that you’d recommend? I’m not a fan of the trying to conceive ones because I think they’d add to the anxiety of all for me but maybe they worked for you?
The further away I get from being the mother of a newborn, the more perspective I get on what a unique and vulnerable time in my life it was. It’s only really now that I feel like I can float above it, detach myself from the emotions of it all and understand what I was experiencing and moving through.
The intensity of every moment, minute, day and night of those first few months was in every fibre of my being and just living it was exhausting because I was always on. There were so many conflicting events going on in my mind and in my body. For a long time, I was physically and emotionally on a high. The exhilaration from giving birth was nothing like I had ever experienced in my life.
Adrenalin, oxytocin and prolactin coursed through my veins and put a tingle in my touch. Those hormones gave me a buzz that kept me up when I should have slept, and made me jumpy and sensitive. Every experience was huge. I was wide-eyed, hyper, frightened, giggly, teary, defensive, protective, touchy, panicked, nervous, ravenous, chatty, confused and totally head over heels in love. It was amazing but it was so hard. And everything was new. There’s no experience in your life you can draw from to compare to what it is actually like to give birth to and then take care of your own, completely all yours, baby.
I have often heard people talk about how susceptible a labouring woman is to suggestion, both positive and negative, and in my own experience I found this to be true. I soaked up the atmosphere and vibes humming from my husband and the midwife and responded to their direction and suggestions unquestioningly. Looking back at that delicate postpartum time, I think that susceptibility to suggestion stayed with me for many weeks afterwards.
I felt pressure. External pressure – real or imaginary, it was there – to get on with things, to be ready, to be coping, to be out and about. Internal pressure from myself to do exactly the same thing. I didn’t give myself a break and kept beating myself up about how well I was or wasn’t doing, how terrible I looked, comparing myself to perceived notions of how others were doing, all of those things. Some days I felt like my wrists were bound and I was being dragged along with my feet running to keep up but tripping and falling when I couldn’t.
I have regrets about not taking better care of myself. I wish I’d stayed in bed more and rested. I wish I’d gone to bed earlier. I wish I hadn’t let the influx of visitors into our home so early and so often. I wish I’d had the nerve to ask people to help out more or to ask them to leave when they were stressing me out. I wish I’d questioned authority more and I wish I’d said “no” sometimes.
Recently, I have really embraced this idea of acknowledging and marking the “fourth trimester” of pregnancy – those first three months after a baby is born and treating a new mama with the same delicacy and tenderness as when she was pregnant. This encompasses both others being mindful of her needs and supporting her and also a new mama giving herself permission to take it easy.
We treat expectant and new mothers so terribly in our culture really. We demand them to act as if there’s nothing out of ordinary happening when they’re growing their babies. They must work at the same pace and intensity as before, they must not show weakness, they must carry on as normal. When in fact, what’s happening to them is nothing but extraordinary and so very special.
We heap the same pressures on the new mother, who must bounce back and get out there as if nothing happened. Back to pre-pregnancy body, pre-pregnancy fitness levels, pre-pregnancy interests, pre-pregnancy social life. The glare of society down on top of you to get on with it is smothering. New mothers should be putting all of their energies into their new families and restoring their energies and their bodies, not trying to fit an unrealistic and unattainable ideology of supermotherhood because everyone else is doing it. They’re not by the way. They’re trying to figure out how you’re doing it. We’re so tough on ourselves, it’s awful really.
Of course, it’s very easy to say relax, just mind yourself, no one else but putting it in practice is another story. I promised myself that I would do all of the things that I now regret not doing but the reality was very different. In some ways I feel like I wasn’t allowed. Who was I looking for permission from, I don’t know – but I didn’t feel like it was given. That isn’t to suggest that I’m looking outside myself to allocate blame, my behaviour and my decisions are ultimately my own.
In the same vein, a little bit of me believes that if I was encouraged to take it easy on myself, then my extended susceptibility to suggestion would have responded. But who knows…
Tell you what though, at that exact time – not before, not after – I think it would have been really nice to hear this:
“Take it easy new mama. You deserve it, you need it and your baby will thank you. How many times are you going to have this special time in your life? Keep your eye off the clock and the calendar. Find your own feet and your own groove in your own time. Get your energy back, it will serve you and your family in the long run.”