Two of my three children are November babies, one born when I was thirty and the other five years later. November has always been my favorite month of the year, and having these blessings arrive so near Thanksgiving still thrills me to consider.
I might have been slower, less into pondering than most thirty-year-olds because although I felt reluctant to leave my precious infant at First Baptist Church in Conway, I knew she’d be fine—safe, fed, cuddled. And besides, I picked her up mid-afternoon each day and made sure she knew that I loved her. Her father thought she hung the moon, and her older sister was smitten, too.
Five years passed before our son was born, and by that time, I’d begun to question the wisdom of leaving a child in daycare so soon after birth. I mean, he was only six weeks old when I returned to the workplace! I began to wake in the night dreading the very thought of taking this precious infant into the cold January weather and driving fifteen miles to leave him at FBC in Conway. He was my baby, my responsibility. When a kind neighbor who loved babies offered to let him stay with her for a week or so, I said yes.
Still. I began thinking something ain’t right. Thoughts of going back to work before my body had healed and putting my children in someone else’s care cast a pall over the Christmas holidays.
On the plus side, I was fortunate. I had a job I loved with regular hours and great benefits. The children had an excellent doctor. So did I. And we had insurance. And the daycare at First Baptist was excellent. My daughters still talk about Miss Irene’s beef stew and share fond memories of Mema.
We took down our Christmas tree, packed away the decorations, and at some point during the first week of January, I put on my big girl pants and waltzed back into the classroom. My daughters were in kindergarten and third grade by then, but the baby was with a neighbor. I tried to push the thought out of my mind, not because the neighbor was unsuitable but rather because I was his mother and wanted to be there to watch him breathe.
If I had to describe my mindset and behavior, I’d say I was more like an automaton with lots of energy rather than a thinking, philosophizing person. I knew women who went back to work when their infants were a week or two old, often leaving them with their mothers or a friend. Their choices were more limited than mine. When their children were sick, the moms missed work, and if they missed too many days, their employers found more reliable employees. I was fortunate. I had some sick leave I could use. Once a “friend” was rumored to have said, “And then there’s Jayne, out with a sick child again.” Ouch.
My awakening began the semester I began teaching Human Growth and Development. I recall the instant I realized that most European countries valued babies, children, mothers, and fathers more than we did in the USA. And the Nordic countries were especially generous. Their family leave plans were amazing, and some countries paid mothers AND fathers. When I think of free health care for the families in other countries, I feel sick and relieved at the same time—sick that so many families in America have nothing, nada, zilch and relieved that I have Medicare…and downright gleeful that some places in the world provide childcare, maternity AND paternity leave, and free medical care.
An hour ago, I looked up some stats and was floored to learn that parents in Sweden are entitled to 480 days of paid parental leave when a child is born or adopted. Brace yourself. “The United States is the only industrialized country that doesn’t offer paid leave….While some companies offer this benefit, only about one-quarter of U.S. workers have access to it.” www.theskimmcom Dec 22, 2021
And lest I forget, maternal and infant mortality rates are still high in America. Despite being one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, children and mothers continue to suffer. Earlier this week, I read an article in The Guardian predicting that maternal mortality rate will rise without Roe.
I don’t have answers to these dilemmas, just thoughts and concerns and questions. Can a person be pro-life and yet turn away from the one of seven Americans who go to bed hungry every night? Can a person be pro-life and anti-immigration? Does pro-life include taking care of the homeless, volunteering in soup kitchens, and donating to organizations like No Kid Hungry?
I’m no longer an energetic automaton but a curious, pondering senior citizen, one with lots of questions, very few answers, and a willingness to learn.