A research finding, recently reported, said “Babies don't suffer when mothers go back to work”

Having run a crèche for a short time, I have witnessed quite a few, heart -breaking scenes between mothers and babies as they parted every morning. The screams could have pierced anybody's heart and the poor mother used to hide behind a pillar, a hedge and wait in the driveway before she could gradually tear herself away. And the baby? As soon as the mother was out of sight, would suddenly stop screaming and merge with other children in the nursery. So, who do you think suffered the pangs of separation more, the mother or the little termagant? I'm sure the mother suffered guilt pangs through the day.

When the maternity leave permitted is only three months, the women who have to return to work have many problems. If some part of the leave is used up before delivery, the time after delivery becomes too short. I know of women who returned to work by the 45th day. They had to start the baby on a formula feed by the third or fourth week so that both of them had time to adjust and for the baby to accept the change in diet. The natural flow of breast milk would continue providing pain physically and emotionally to the mother. Women know that even the thought of the baby makes the milk flow out and this can be embarrassing at the workplace. A woman doctor was given night duty as soon as she reported for work after maternity leave. The baby used to be taken in a rickshaw to the hospital for the last, night feed! So, who suffered here, the mother or the baby? Then what about the other family members who were acting mothers at home?

The World Health Organisation had not brought in the compulsory breast-feeding-only- for-6-months rule then. On what basis can such rules and judgements be made by a world public body, which threatens severe punishment if not followed, when the mother-baby relationship is so personal and individualised?

If good quality mothering with love is available for the baby, whether at home, or in a day-care centre, and if the parents can afford to leave the baby in good hands, the baby may not suffer at all. Collecting and refrigerating breast milk is possible for the feeds during the mother's working hours. No need for the rikshaw ride! However, do ask the mother her problems at work.

An elderly aunt (who had 13 deliveries, by the way) used to entertain us with hilarious escapades of life after child-birth. The mother and child were ‘imprisoned' in a small, dark, room, the ‘sambrani' fumes after bath would give pleasant smells but woe unto them who could not bear the smoke! They were given a lime-sized ball of ‘hing' to swallow, everyday, presumably to initiate the uterus to contract and get back to its original fist size. These contractions brought back the pain and discomfort of labour pains which most women forget when they have a healthy baby in hand. Further, hot water bath, nearly at boiling temperature, was splashed on the poor woman's stomach for the same reason of contracting the uterus! Please don't forget that women were having babies at a very young age, at that time. And yet, they preferred being pregnant to escape the shameful treatment during the monthly ‘outings'!

Returning to the present, it is the mothers who face the music, even if there are a few advantages of economic improvement, affordable, high quality childcare, nutritional care and social networking. The nuclear family situation, being away from close family members, travel expenses and none to help when the mother is sick are major stress creators. Added to this are older children/child and their care can be tedious if help is not available at home. True, the young father may share responsibility, but not everybody pitches in. The working hours and the attendant problems are also there and differ from woman to woman depending on their careers.

I'm sure that generalisation is not possible in this area of mother and child. Each situation and bonding is unique and beautiful!

(The writer's e-mail is: malathimohan00 @yahoo.com)

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