Friday, 23 January 2009

Mother's Milk, Maternity Leave, Machines and The New Yorker:

Just as Facebook has a fit over pictures of mothers nursing their babies, The New Yorker publishes an interesting article about the commercialization of breastfeeding. High class breast pumps are now part of the must-have paraphernalia of new mothers, it seems. Because many woman must go back to work well before the age recommended for weaning babies these days (no earlier than six months,) ways to store breast milk for feeds when Mom isn’t around are necessary.

The subtext of the article is that maternity leaves should be more generous in the US, where a woman is lucky to get two months off. In Quebec working women can claim unemployment benefits amounting to 15 weeks sick leave, 15 weeks maternity leave and 20 weeks parental leave (Dad can share this) for a total 50 weeks. The figure is slightly different in other promises, but still much better than south of the border. Maybe this is something the new First Mom might take up as a crusade.

More generous maternity benefits are liberating for women and good for families. I always said that nursing was the lazy woman’s way to feed a baby—no formula to lug home, no bottles to fix, a good excuse to sit down occasionally. Even with another small child around you could read, although frequently it was only Good Night Moon for the Nth time.

The New Yorker was my favourite reading material during that period of my life, however. It opened nicely and could be held in one hand while you held the baby in the other arm. It also gave you the impression that you were still part of the larger world. As for breast pumps in those days, they were reserved for hospitals: if you wanted to express milk you had to do it by hand. But given the complete absence of maternity benefits, at least you ended the post-partum period with a new skill-- dairy maid.

3 comments:

lagatta said...

Another distressing counter-example was French Minister of Justice Rachida Dati, who returned to work one week after a delivery by caeserean. France has long provided generous maternity leave and daycare (inspiring Québec's) but it seems Sarkozy, who is mad for "efficiency" and in love with the US workplace market of a sandwich at the desk and back to work for mum's who are still tender in the nether regions, put a lot of pressure on Dati.

Many French feminists, trade-unionists, and ordinary mums and dads are aghast.

Not to mention the longterm health benefits of nursing - and although the antibodies in women's milk, suitable for human babies unlike those of our fellow female mammals' play a part in this, think the process of nursing itself also plays a significant role.

Martin Langeland said...

U. Utah Phillips once addressed a graduating high school class saying:
"You are about to be told you are are the greatest natural resource... Think what they do to natural resources! ... Run, kids, Run!"
So why not pay all -- those who wish to do so, as well as those who have to -- to make the home? Raising children is important. Keeping the home fires burning is important. Yet we pay minimum wage bozos more than we pay stay at homes.
Lessen the work week to 32 hours at the same annual wage as 40 and achieve full employment and a robust economy.
As Julie Andrews said in "The Americanization of Emily": "Dear me. What an outburst."
--ml
P.S. Her autobiography, "Home", is beautifully written.

Mary Soderstrom said...

The case of the French justice minister is very peculiar. Is she trying to cling to her job, or is she making a statement about the power of women? As for how good maternity benefits are in France, from what my daughter's sister-in-law says, although the child care network is pretty good, she would have had more income and more time off in Canada.

And yes, I agree completely, Martin, the work done by the member of a family who looks after the children should be remunerated. Note that I carefuly said "member." There's absolutely no reason why fathers can't be the caregiving parent. In fact, Sophie's Dad did that for most of teh girls' childhood. Bravo for Marc!

Cheers

Mary