My Child, My Choice

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?




  1. Denise P. says

    Can’t like this blog enough! You said what I’m thinking, and stated the tenets of what is wrong with this new policy. What hospitals and the WHO have forgotten, I their quest to increase breastfeeding rates, is that many of us start with the desire and hope to breastfeed. Where the rates fall, however, is not before mom and baby leave the hospital, but rather when Mom is forced back to work after a dismal maternity leave because of the lack of adequate paid maternity leave in this country. Also, when a mother isn’t rested, such as I was after a traumatic c section and lack of sleep, any good lactation consultant will tell you that under stress, the body will fail to lactate, as was in my case. So there are many reasons why this new policy is short sighted and will fail miserably.

    • Kara says

      Yes, it all just seems backwards to me. Babies need their mothers more than they need breastmilk. We should be prioritizing accordingly.

  2. Stephanie says

    I couldn’t have said it better myself! As I previously stated on the post (on Facebook) the birth of our first daughter was a truly wonderful experience. We *chose* to keep our daughter with us most of the time, but didn’t hesitate to ask for help when I felt the need for it. The nursery staff was absolutely amazing in every sense of the word, caring not only for her when I requested, but also gently and kindly suggesting I invoke their help when they sensed I was beginning to feel overwhelmed. Though the birth had been relatively easy, I was still exhausted, nervous and a little overwhelmed at the enormity of being a brand new, first time mom. I had already beat myself up over my inability to breastfeed and feared that asking for help would be seen as weakness, but a very kind nurse, a mother of 3 herself, gently reassured me that in reality, its the strong that know when to ask for assistance and never a sign of weakness. I still, to this day, feel that loving guidance helped me more than she’ll ever know. Unfortunately, our second birthing experience was horrid, to say the least. I had a c-section with her, and before I even regained feeling in my lower extremities, she was in the room with us. We were bluntly informed that the hospital was forcefully “experimenting” rooming in. I thank God for my wonderful husband, for without him, I honestly believe I’d have lost my mind those first couple nights. When we were finally discharged, we were all exhausted, I could still barely get around unassisted and he’d come down with a terrible cold (the room was horribly drafty.) Had we known before hand of their “experiment” we would have chosen another hospital post haste.
    You’re 100% right in your observation that mothers are often overlooked and forgotten in the whole experience. Like our health and well being matters less. It’s sad and desperately needs to change.

    • Kara says

      I couldn’t agree more! When it comes to initiatives like this, I think we have to be honest about what messages we’re sending. No mother should have to feel guilty for asking for help – especially in a hospital.

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