I recently heard of a mum of a four week old baby, who had decided to place her daughter in nursery part time as she needed "me time". This was a much awaited and longed for child, yet only four weeks in mum was so overwhelmed she planned separation.
Marketing bods of course also recognise mothers are busy and desire "me time", and so design a whole host of tools to assist - from dummies that attach to the mattress so a baby can put them back easily without requiring a parent, to ready made bottles and then bottle holders to feed the baby, because clearly feeding is a chore that can be delegated to an inert third party.
But recently I began thinking about a book I read a while back, "Call The Midwife" - a recount of 1950's East End London from the perspective of a midwife. These women had up to 14 children, they had communal washing/drying areas, their husbands were typically working or at the pub (no sharing of house work) and I wondered when did they get "me time"?
Washing, mending, baking, - all without the many gadgets we have today; would they not marvel at how easy we have it in comparison? (and yes many mums work, but few do in the very early weeks) I wonder just how much "me time" these mothers had and how they managed without being committed to therapy?
Whilst I'm not suggesting we revert to 1950's style parenting, or implying any mum who has an interest outside the home is anything other than normal, but is it realistic to expect lots of "me time" with a young baby?
I began wondering does it in part come down to expectations? The reality is that first babies ARE an all consuming life changing experience - new parents often tell me how overwhelmed they feel and I remember being there!
Perhaps today's typically smaller families mean there's a lot less first hand experience when young of what younger siblings were like? Perhaps the more nuclear set up means many have no direct experience of life with a baby pre their own?
For whatever reason many parents pre baby believe he/she will just slot neatly into their existing lives, but this doesn't generally mean popping baby in a sling and taking them along. Instead it means their behaviours will be convenient to the parent - they will nap alone for X hours to give "me time", they will self soothe and cut night feeds ASAP so the parent's sleep is not disturbed. But 99% of babies didn't read the manuals their parents did; so they often need "training" or "manipulating" to conform; those that recommend this often failing to address longer term potential impact of their methods.
Breastfeeding and responsive parenting may be biological norms, but I think there is a huge chasm between this and social norms and thus expectations.
In order to come close to social norms, a whole host of books and gadgets may also be required - with parents feeling they are doing something wrong if they can't get their baby to fit! They can be told they are making a rod for their own back or must get tough - despite the fact this really is quite illogical! Which other mammal is born and fed by a holder (sometimes milk of another species), comforted by a plastic replica or cloth reminder of their mother, expected to put themselves asleep, and stay asleep for a specific amount of time somewhere away from their mother?
Yet in comparison to many mammals, humans are extremely immature; the newborn's brain is only about 25 percent of its adult weight at birth, while most other mammals are born having 60 to 90 percent of theirs. Think how soon after birth some walk!
James McKenna, Ph.D., professor of anthropology at Notre Dame University explains that when primitive women evolved to stand up on two legs, the shape of the female pelvis became narrower and resulted in human babies being born three to four months earlier, before their heads grew too large to pass safely through the birth canal.
This has led to many believing there is a "fourth trimester" once baby arrives - the baby's only real needs warmth, comfort and nutrition.
In some ways "baby rearing" is actually far more simple in less developed areas; mothers simply pop baby in a sling, feed them when hungry and they sleep when tired. No routines, schedules, expectations or rod making...It seems the more sophisticated our lifestyles become, the more we need time "off" to cope.