Have you ever felt that the kind of work you do defines you? If what you do is synonymous with who you are; then where does that leave you if you’re not earning money? What is your contribution to your family, to our society? Some people feel that if what you do does not generate income, then “it” (what you do) and “you” have no value. If you have no job, or if you are unable to take care of yourself; might you even be considered worthless.
Mothers have always worked. Working while pregnant; working while caring for our other children; working while nurturing and nursing an infant in addition to other tasks associated with making a home. Most mothers today work outside the home for paid employment or in exchange for some product or service because they have to and want to. Rent and the cost of housing, health insurance, job stability, and social connections are often associated with your employment and where you work or lack thereof. Who are your peers? Are you around other mothers like you?
Woman’s work is mother’s work and then some. Breastfeeding your baby is a decision you make based on how much time you have to be away from your baby, who will care for the baby in your absence and how well can you tolerate separation from your baby. If you don’t work, and you don’t know how you will eat or pay rent, breastfeeding and extending the period of pregnancy and direct connection with your baby is deemed a luxury you can ill afford. It is not a solo activity; though it may appear to be at times. Several things and several people had to have some important things in place to allow you to be connected with your baby for an extended period of time.
Today many workers where neon, brightly lit safety gear, logo driven. They can be easily seen and they definitely stand out. Do we wear neon to show we are nursing mothers? We make ourselves visible when we nurse in public, or in shared spaces where our breasts are visible and the true nature and connectedness of our intimate relationships with our infants are visible to strangers and family alike. If breasts are either sexual objects or bait for cancer, then how does nursing an infant fit in to our constructs about seeing breasts connected to nurturing, comforting, and nutrition in the public space outside of the home. Is the work that we do, that we enjoy or the work we can get paid for compatible with being a nursing mother?
As housing costs rise and young families pay way more than 30% of their income toward housing; having a baby who you are able to nurse requires shared spaces where your spouse, or family or friends can share the cost of housing and paid or unpaid childcare. Who might watch your baby while you are at work? Does your required income mostly go to pay a caregiver, babysitter or nanny to watch your baby so you can comfortably leave for short or extended periods of time away from your baby and go to work? Who is the mother substitute, the surrogate in your absence for an extended pregnancy? How is your status at work or school affecting you and your relationship with your baby? How are you valued as a nursing mother?
Imagine if you will, that pregnancy the developing connection is not just 40 weeks long. When or how soon do you know you are pregnant, who do you tell? How long is it a secret? Is it a private family matter from your first missed period? What if the period of pregnancy, attachment and connection with your baby was really an additional 52 weeks, or 365 days? Let’s do the math… 280 days, the 40 weeks of pregnancy, plus 365 days is really 645 days. If there is no surrogacy for pregnancy, what if there was no true surrogacy for your postpartum period for the first year of connection with you and your baby?
Could you commit as your first bold act of mothering to be as close to your baby as possible for 645 days. Seriously, what is unique about gender that is truly role specific? Who would “work” with you to support you through that time frame and see the primacy of that relationship and sacred mother-baby couple connection. If it is not the father of the baby, who then comes in to your life not just to “help” out with the baby, but how do individuals, family, friends and community support you as a mother-baby couple? Where we seem to understand the biological connection of the placenta to be essential to both mother and baby; what if the connection outside of the womb as a transitional space for both mother and baby was equally critical for the initial development, happiness and growth of mother, child, father and society.
Please tell us your story. What would make it possible to maintain the connection between you and your baby as the mother baby couple for 645 days or an additional 365 days after the baby’s birth. The cord is now cut with your baby able for the first time to live independent from you outside of the protected sphere of your womb. Is this the right time for the hand off-change of shift? How is the plan for shared mothering developed in your world?
What is the impact on the mother of experiencing a premature birth? A baby too small and immature to live outside the womb that remains in a neonatal intensive care unit while her mother goes home and back to work for months and weeks? Ask a mother who had to leave her baby before she was just quite ready.