During the second trimester of my second pregnancy, seven of us formed an independent pregnancy group, with no agenda but ourselves, our pregnant feelings, hopes and fears. It was uplifting, strengthening and good. Now our babies are six or more mon
I think I know what is tearing us apart what, in fact, is tearing mother from baby and tearing each mother up inside. It’s the Return to Work. Whereas in the l950s a woman was expected to give up her job as she prepared to enter confinement, these days she is allowed up to six months at home before being expected to return to the office.
I was born in he 60s and raised in the 70s, so I know how delicate this subject is. For decades, women have fought for equal work opportunities and equal pay and are still fighting. Six months off and your job guaranteed seems like a reasonable deal on the face of it, and many first time pregnant women are delighted to take their 90 per cent retainer fee on these or similar terms.
What most of them haven’t reckoned for is the arrival of a real live baby. They didn’t know that they would be falling in love with this little bundle of helplessness, and that he/she would turn their world upside down. They didn’t expect to have l950s feelings in the l990s. These are women who trained at colleges, who timed their families to fit in with work schedules, who vowed they would never go all mumsy like their mothers once did.
We accept the company’s money, and they have us by the apron strings. To pay back that £l,000 because you’ve changed your mind and don’t want to come to work anymore takes a lot of guts much more than the average extremely vulnerable, post partum female is capable of displaying. So instead, she buries her emotions, and pours all her energy into the Big Return.
Ironically, many work mates and employers think of the six months as a holiday. Yet it’s not six months off anything. Worse, it functions as an emotional deadline. Mothers of newborn babies start worrying about weaning (so they can return to work), worrying about sleeping patterns (so they can return to work), worrying about childminders, nurseries (so. . . etc., etc.). And if ever they display a hint of uncertainty about the arrangement, it’s dismissed as personal weakness. “Oh, it’s just me,” they laugh.
One women whose child is in a “wonderful” nursery is now on antidepressants. Another is panicking because she has a fully breastfed baby and a job to return to in three weeks. All of us are dog tired. What we wouldn’t give for another six months “off”.
There is not space here to go into the dubious effects of daycare on small babies. It’s enough to say that studies which confirm the benefits of stay at home mothering are not so popular in the press as those which apparently prove that babies “do better” in nurseries. I’ve even heard it said that a mother is depriving her child of important socialization skills by not allowing him/her to enter a creche.
Just for now, my concern is for the mother. The one who is still high on hormones and having to live with a decision she made when she was still one of the boys. I gave talks in Austria recently, and there all women have two years off work with the guarantee of their job back. I noticed how relaxed and in control the mothers were, how they looked upon childrearing with the seriousness with which they considered their careers. They knew they weren’t going to have to hand over the responsibility of mothering to others months after giving birth.
Motherhood is not an illness to recover from, given a few month’s grace. It’s an altered state. I don’t think the government or employers know what they are doing to mothers when they give them this six month deadline. I believe the damage goes deep into the female psyche. We could spend decades trying to get over it.
Deborah Jackson is author of Three in a Bed (Bloomsbury Press)