Six seconds into my tweet, I realized the following sentiments far exceeded 140 characters. I don’t often chime in on controversial subjects but every so often I find myself with an opinion demanding a voice. This is one of those times.
Consider yourself warned.
Yesterday morning I read this article about doing away with hospital nurseries in an effort to “promote breastfeeding, bonding, and parenting skills by having mothers and healthy newborns room together around-the-clock.” The movement, which is spearheaded by the World Health Organization’s Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, is gaining national momentum – an unsettling prospect that implicitly removes mothers from the postpartum equation.
We live in the only developed country that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave. If we want to support bonding between mother and child, eradicating nurseries isn’t the way to do it. Not only does it ignore the bigger picture, it also undermines maternal choice. Like the infamous mommy wars, it replaces open compassion with prescriptive expectation. The thought of parenting pressure shifting into the hands of medical professionals makes me sick with concern, as the repercussions of such a decision ripple far beyond the choice itself.
As mothers, we’re made to feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness. This movement not only reinforces that idea, but also has damaging potential to initiate it. Requesting superhuman strength from a woman who’s just been ripped or sliced open is not only downright ridiculous, it’s the perfect recipe for failure that, left unchecked, can easily morph into postpartum depression or anxiety.
We can’t support maternal mental health with one hand and back an initiative like this with the other. If we want new mothers to be successful, we have to trust their decisions, even – and perhaps especially – when those decisions involve asking for assistance. I’m all for healthy babies, but let’s not forget the unparalleled importance of healthy mothers. You can’t have the former without the latter.
I wouldn’t dream of imposing my decision to send my daughters to the nursery on another mother, and I can’t in good conscience let the opposite happen. Someday those daughters of mine may be mothers themselves – kind, beautiful mothers with infinite love and impeccable instincts. I want them to trust those instincts and have faith in the decisions they generate – to know that they never, under any circumstances, have to be martyrs to the glorification of maternal sacrifice.
The article states that “many postpartum specialists now believe that nurseries, long a life raft for recovering mothers, is not the best, or most natural, way to provide care.” Is this really as far as our eyes can carry us – to an end goal in which “natural” is the ultimate attribute? When are we going to stop fixating on that damn word? Giving birth in a cave may be natural, but it can also be dangerous for mom and baby. When our quest for primitive caretaking begins to override our basic logic, we’re doing something wrong.
The truth is that at some point in our cultural progression, we forgot that mothers are people too. Somewhere along the line, their value altogether vanished. We do everything in our power to meet the varying needs of our children, including acknowledging their choices with love and respect. Why can’t we extend the same treatment to the women who are raising them?