Sunday, January 18, 2009

Get back to work, quick!

I was just reading about France's Justice Minister Rachida Dati, who was back working 5 days after giving birth earlier this month. She's 43. I think her age is a key indicator of this trend of women getting right back into it after having a baby.

Women who wait so long to have their first baby have already established their careers as being central in their lives. And when you have been working at a job so hard for so long, it becomes your whole identity. I think women also feel insecure about losing that identity when they have a baby so they fight their instincts even harder to push themselves out of the house.

Historically, women in many cultures would remain shut in with their babies for quite a long time.

I believe these customs were adaptive behaviors meant to facilitate bonding, establish good breast feeding practices, ensure that the baby thrived, the mother recovered and the newborn was kept removed from potentially dangerous diseases. Of course, today we have nannies, formula and vaccines, but women are still hard-wired to want to stay with their infants, no matter how exhausting.

The problem is, the support system to encourage moms to stay with their newborns has frayed.

Almost every culture throughout time had elaborate rites to encourage women to remain "confined" with their newborns. In Britain, women stayed confined for as long as a month, a celebratory time when new moms were fed special caudles and cocooned among their friends, outside the company of men. The women marked the changing of bed linens in a ceremony called "the upsitting", after which the mother would rest for another 10 days before moving freely inside the house. Even early maternity wards in the UK required 30-day confinements! Whether at home or the hospital, the British postpartum period would officially end with a "churching," a new mother's first trip outside. For that rite (which persisted in some areas until the 1950s) she donned a veil and was surrounded by her midwife, friends and family.

Leaving the house was a big event!

Things started to change when birth shifted in earnest to hospitals around WWII, as two weeks became standard for a lying-in period.

Today, with a vaginal birth in the hospital, lying-in is a day or two.

Birth is always a reflection of the time and place where it happens. In today's world, everything has sped up, even the time we take to recover from and enjoy having a new baby.


deliciousmelissa said...

So true! I was just talking about this idea with a friend who was unaware of the practice of mom not having baby removed from her arms for over an hour after birth. The bonding for both parties is essential. This sad reality of moms being encouraged (pushed) to "get out of the house!" as if it's an accomplishment to be proud of, like they're being lazy by staying in with their baby is heartbreaking. Enjoy it, savor those moments with your baby, you'll never get them back!

pinky said...

I am going to say something that is unpopular. Here it goes: Women were meant to start having babies in their 20s. It actually works a bit better that way. Wouldn't it be nice if women could stay with their babies and get their education on the internet while nursing their baby. Society has constructed this "have your baby after your career" movement. Sorry but biology didn't agree with it.

The Primip Woman having a baby at 41 is just around the corner from her first Cardiac event. Not a good scene. Older Women who have never had babies before are at an increased risk of all kinds of crap.

Also the first 2 weeks are a hormonal rollercoaster ride. Just ignoring that fact won't make it better. Many women agree with me postpartum, when I say "Do you feel like an emotional open wound?" It is a huge adjustment. So I do agree that rushing back to work and acting like giving birth is just like having your oil changed or grocery shopping does you no service at all. It is a big deal DAnm it!

I must disagree with bonding being essential at 1 hour of birth. Many women I know have bonded very nicely with their adopted children. Bonding can happen at many stages. Motherhood is a big deal no matter how you obtained your child. Sometimes it is even more special when you have tried 10 years to have a baby and finally have one. So I have to give a nod to the adoptive parents. They love their children just as much if not more.

ThinkingBean said...

That's really interesting. I wonder if the cases of post-pardom depression where lower as a result of that ritual? Meaning, did it help being cocooned in and surrounded by friends?

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