Choice & Respect: words we have forgotten in the mummy-shaming wars

I found an interesting article yesterday on the Huffington Post about how hospitals in America have to ascribe to a certain set of guidelines in order to be registered as Baby-Friendly. One of these guidelines was a rooming-in policy; mothers and babies stay in the same room from birth. This is to promote bonding and increase the levels of breastfeeding in the country. All very positive you would think but then you read on. The real life experiences of mothers were less than ‘friendly’ with some women having to beg to be allowed a few hours of sleep. Nurses now have to ask why the baby is being brought to the nursery and then record the mother’s answers. They are also required to then tell the mother about the benefits of rooming-in. I am not debating a system that encourages bonding and mother/child time but I would very much question a system that does not take into account a mother’s need to rest and recharge after the demands of labour or surgery.

I, once again, made the mistake of reading the three hundred plus comments; not all of them – I don’t have that much time on my hands – but a selection. Some were quite moderate, spoke of their own experiences and said they believed it should be a matter of choice. Most women appreciated time with their child but would have liked the option of sleep (free from new mum anxiety) just to help with recovery. Then came the shamers. Why, oh why, are there always women out there who seek to shame the choices made by other women? They didn’t believe that a woman should be allowed the option of a rest, after all as the mother of a newborn they wouldn’t get much sleep at home would they?

The problem with their argument is that a hospital does not represent a realistic home environment. Your baby isn’t sleeping in a plastic cot for one thing. You are not attached to monitors. You have friends, family and a partner around you to help. You can sleep while someone else watches the baby. One particularly scathing woman wrote that women need to adjust to bringing their newborns everywhere – settle them and then go have your shower. This woman does not take into account the levels of anxiety many new mums feel when leaving their infant. She clearly expects us all just to get up and get on with it – pull up your bootstraps new mums, you have a job to do! Ignore that new anxiety weaving its way through your stomach and just put on a brave face.

Some mothers may find it easy to adjust, some women cope better with pain and with a lack of sleep. But some mothers don’t. That is why we need to be given a choice. It is neither fair nor realistic to judge each other by our own experiences. I had a fairly easy elective section; should I then judge another woman who found her elective section tough? No because that was her experience; just because we went through a similar procedure it does not mean that we will cope with it in the same way. Our bodies are different, our mentalities are different and our life histories are different. All of these combine to make our overall experience of the same event poles apart.

I believe (or I would like to believe) that the impetus behind the Baby Friendly policies in America has to do with empowering women in their new roles as mothers (I will ignore, for now, the fact that the rooming-in policy does help with staff shortages). However, if we are to feel empowered this can only come about through choice. Choice to make the right decision for ourselves and our child. And that choice should not be ridiculed or criticised or shamed. Nobody is a bad mother for needing some time to adjust to life as a new parent and nobody has a right to shame you for needing this.Respecting others choices is surely the best way of empowering women.

Respect and choice: two words that seem to have been forgotten in this new era of mummy-shaming. Let’s try to put them back where they belong.

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