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Feminism and the Needs of the Newborn and Beyond

Parents and their newborn baby.

Women have had a long struggle over the years to progress from being seen as a second-class citizen to the independence and equality enjoyed today. 

In ancient Greece when women demanded equal rights with men, Cato the Elder of Ancient Rome is quoted as saying, ‘if you allow them (women) to achieve total equality with men, do you think they will be easier to live with? Not at all. Once they have achieved equality, they will be your masters.’

The Suffragette Movement for Women’s Right to Vote began in the mid nineteenth century and was mainly peaceful. In the early twentieth century the movement became more militant and violent. Activists held campaigns and public demonstrations. Some women were arrested, even imprisoned and were force fed when they went on hunger strike to draw attention to their cause.

At that time women had an inferior status with no place in national politics which was considered the husband’s responsibility. Prior to her marriage the woman was ‘owned’ by her father and was ‘given away’ at the marriage ceremony to the custody of her husband. Wives were expected to take care of the home and children. 

Previously it was only middle and upper class women who could have an education and they could not pursue a profession as a doctor, lawyer, police, the military, business or any occupation that would be considered un-lady-like. She could be a schoolteacher, nurse or work in domestic service; and when she married gave up work to become a housewife, looking after her husband and family (when the babies arrived). Husbands were excluded from the birthing place and had to wait outside the room until after the birth, when they learned the sex of the baby. 

At the beginning of World War 1 six million men were enlisted to fight overseas, and women had to fill in for the men to support the war effort. They replaced men in employment, but continued with peaceful campaigns while they worked on the land, as nurses, in factories, sewing bandages, in shipyards, as plane mechanics and as spies’

On the 10th January 1918, women over thirty who met a property regulation, were given the right to vote, and in 1919 Nancy Astor became the first woman Member of Parliament.

The struggle for women’s rights and equality continued and in World War 2 once again women took the place of men who went away to war, some even joined the military and were actively engaged in the war, even undertaking dangerous roles as spies and undercover agents. At home they joined the Land Army keeping the farms going to help feed the nation. Women proved themselves as being capable of doing men’s jobs.

The lives of women a hundred years since women were granted the first vote has changed tremendously. Women can now be doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, engineers, plumbers, builders, police officers, paramedics, fire-fighters and just about anything they chose. 

Feminism has evolved and can be interpreted in many ways, as there are diverse opinions, and some women do not actually agree with feminism!  In its aggressive form it has made some men feel emasculated, creating a movement of Men’s Rights Activists (US), saying that feminism has radicalised its objective and harmed men and boys, and caused discrimination.

Men and women will never be truly equal, although they are entitled to equal rights. Women and men are physically different and are designed for different roles. Man is meant by nature to be the provider and protector. 

Women’s bodies are designed to carry and nurture the next generation of humans, to ensure the survival of the species. Women’s hormones, brains and physiology are specifically designed for this purpose.

Women and men’s strengths and weaknesses differ, to complement each other and provide a safe, loving, and secure home for the next generation. 

The whole structure of society has changed in the last hundred years. 

Due to advances in contraception fewer children are born and children do not observe the care and attention given to younger siblings or cousins from parents, as happened in the days of bigger families, with several siblings, cousins, playmates and older children helping to care for the younger ones. 

Families are sometimes isolated and no longer in close proximity to the extended family and the village of people looking out for each other. Very often couples starting a family are many miles away from family support. 

Many women delay childbearing and have to consider fitting a baby into their lifestyle and the possible effect of the change of income of two people, which they have enjoyed. Babies are expensive!

Some new parents may never have seen or held a new-born baby before. Their own baby may be the very first, and it is a daunting thought, babies being so small, helpless, and needy.

There is a bewildering amount of (sometimes) conflicting information for new parents to prepare for the new-born and hundreds of gadgets advertised for baby care and entertainment. Advice and information come flying from all directions, making the couple feel they know nothing, and feel inadequate.

Nothing completely prepares the new parents for the huge emotional impact and enormous change of lifestyle that takes place when a tiny baby joins the household, combined with sleep deprivation and anxiety. It is called Baby Shock!

The early weeks and months of parenthood is a learning curve, but somehow the love and happiness that comes with their new baby overcomes all and they survive.

There are many changes that take place in a woman’s body during pregnancy, giving birth and after the birth, such as fluctuating hormone changes and emotional feelings. These days (2020) fathers are more involved with birth and the care of mother and baby and frequently share all that is involved with this responsibility, sharing in much of the practical chores required.

A study carried out at the University of Michigan in 2014 found that men’s hormones also fluctuate, The study  ‘found evidence of changes in hormonal levels that make fathers-to-be more able to cope with the demands of fatherhood.’

When the ‘babymoon’ is over and the father returns to work the mother has to cope alone, very often when no family member or friend is available;  both parents will be sleep deprived and coping with the adjustment to the extra work involved in caring for this very small person. 

In past times new mothers were cared for to enable them to rest and to provide nourishing breast milk for the baby. In some cultures the new mother is isolated from the family members to enable the mother and baby bond to establish. Warm nourishing food is provided to allow her to recover and regain her strength.

Nowadays women are discharged as soon as possible from professional care and expected to return to normal daily activity very quickly.

Postnatal depletion and postnatal depression can affect both parents and can have serious negative effects on the wellbeing of the new family.

The most important needs of the new-born are to be close to his mother for food, warmth, and safety. These are basic survival instincts. The first months the baby grows and develops rapidly and is completely reliant on its mother for everything.

Despite all the changes that have taken place over the years, the baby’s needs have remained the same and he or she is unaware of history… only instinctive needs.

Mother and baby are a unit, supported by father, and the baby can get all his physical needs from his mother for at least two years and many more years after that. At a time, which is unique to each mother and baby a carer can take over if mother returns to work. The carer can be grandparents, registered childminder, registered baby and toddler nursery etc.

Trusting the most precious thing in your life to another person is one of the biggest decisions the parents will ever need to make. Depending on the mother’s job or profession there are many stresses involved in juggling motherhood and work. This also affects the father.

If a woman leaves it too long before returning to work, in some professions, it can have an adverse effect on how she progresses in her job and can affect the family economy. If family members or other close relations are not available to help with childcare, then a large proportion of the family income will be required for good quality baby and childcare. 

The emotional tug of breaking the mother/baby bond is painful for both and stressful.  All the planning and preparation involved in getting to work and a baby to childcare takes some organising. There will be times when baby or mother may be unwell and there is the dilemma of deciding the best course of action to take in these circumstances. Sometimes there will be a conflict between the mother’s need to work and the essential needs of her baby.

Some mothers opt out of returning to work after giving birth, at least for a few years, and some fathers take on the role of staying at home to take care of baby and the home. It is possible in some cases for one parent to work from home.

From the woman’s point of view there are those who will criticise her for going to work and leaving her baby and there will be those who will criticise her for staying at home. In this environment where women are equal to men in all matters including employment, they are expected to work. The woman still has to have the babies and there will always be the conflict between feminism and motherhood for most women.

Did the Suffragettes and the campaigners for women’s equality envisage what life would be like for women a hundred years into their future?  

Nobody wants to go back to the bad old days, but emancipation for women has brought its own unique inequalities.

For more, visit: https://www.maureengannonbirthbabyauthor.co.uk/.

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Feminism and the Needs of the Newborn and Beyond

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