I can speak for myself and I know I speak for a number of my friends when I admit that we mothers of increasingly large families think--or at least act like--what we do is not important. Perhaps we've become very accustomed to taking care of babies, as they come along regularly every one, two, or three years, so taking care of a baby becomes somewhat of a background activity. Taking care of the baby becomes an "of course," a part of life as regular as eating meals or washing laundry, while we tackle important questions arising from raising older children, being in more mature marriages, or becoming more involved in our communities.
And at the end of the day, when a mama like me has changed ten diapers, wiped snotty noses innumerable times, replaced too-messy outfits, and nursed again and again and again . . . I collapse into a chair and feel that the day was wasted, I got nothing done, and ask what the point was of it all.
I know from tearful confessions how many of my friends feel the same, so I presume a wider audience struggles with the same.
Sure, when asked, we say we know that caring for the babies is important, but when we sigh and cry and say (even out loud, in the hearing of older children) that "I got nothing done today! What a lot of lost time!" we are acting like what we do is not important. And we are communicating that to others.
Several weeks ago, when I was traveling in California and Oregon, I got to witness the absence of good baby care and I was distressed to my core. This helped me see with my own two eyes that we I do is important.
To see the absence of loving baby care reveals its importance.
We had stopped for lunch at a fast food restaurant and I was seated facing a young couple with an infant. I can't know for sure, but they appeared by various clues to have purchased just drinks in order to sit at length and use the free wi-fi signal for their laptop computers. I sat transfixed during our lunch to see them give what I realized was the most minimal of care to this baby.
The baby was clad in only a diaper, and the diaper was long in need of changing. I kept thinking of his tender baby skin rubbing roughly on the car seat in which he was left, and how the air conditioning vent was blowing on his bare body.
Mamas, when you change your baby's diaper and lovingly wipe him clean, when you use that moment to do some loving baby talk, and when you refrain from ugly faces or talking about how yucky his eliminations are, that is important. When you dress your child in something some and comfortable, something appropriate for the weather and when you give him a fresh outfit if he's simply too soiled with play dirt, spit-up, or food, that is important.
The baby sat alone in his car seat placed on top of the table. Nobody made eye contact with him. Nobody made eye contact with him for the entire 45 minutes we were there.
Mamas, when you look away from your computer or electronic device or television, when you stare into your baby's eyes, when you speak words to him in the motherly sing-songy voice, that is important.
At first, I thought the baby was a newborn, but by observing his head control and bodily movements, I came to think he was a few months old but with the skinniness of a newborn, not having the fad pads of a growing, well-fed baby. A baby bottle of water was on the table. The mother was feeding her infant water containing no calories at all.
Mamas, let's set aside the breastfeeding versus formula-feeding debate to recall how dangerous it is to feed water to a baby until he is consuming a goodly percentage of calories from solid foods because he will fill his stomach without receiving any calories. Whether you breastfeed your baby or feed him formula, the fact that you feed him regularly and sufficiently, at expense of time and money, that is important.
The baby boy began fussing out of hunger. He began wailing. The parents made no acknowledgement of him with words or look, but went to the drink machine and filled the bottle with ice water. They didn't ask the restaurant staff for some warm tap water. The mother mixed the formula powder with the ice water and shook it minimally, such that I could see even from ten feet away that the formula was clumpy. Still without holding her baby, she left it in the car seat and held the bottle stuffed into his mouth so the formula would start flowing. The cold plastic filled with ice water touched his bar skin at times and I thought how that must have startled him. The mother's eyes didn't leave her computer screen as she held the bottle pushed into her baby's mouth off to her side. She held the bottle at a steep angle so the formula flowed too fast: the baby's eyes bugged out with tension and alarm as the milk flowed into him, but he was so hungry that he accepted it anyway. (But could he even have jerked his mouth away with how hard she was holding the bottle into his mouth?) Clearly this baby was accustomed to being fed this way.
Mamas, when you nurse your baby at your bosom or when you carefully make your baby's formula just warm enough, not too hold or too cold, that is important. When you cradle your baby in your arms while you feed him and you talk to him, laugh, crinkle your eyes, and tickle his toes, that is important. When you let him take pauses to breathe, when you burp him every so often for his comfort, that is important.