Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Keeping busy

It makes perfect sense to me that before they can walk, babies should be taken everywhere, preferably carried in a sling, and allowed to observe their mother’s everyday activities, without becoming the focus of these activities. I think back to the babies I saw in Africa, strapped to their mother’s back, while she fetched water, tended her crops, went to the market, prepared food, washed clothes, gathered firewood, and generally went about her busy life. I don’t think I ever saw a baby cry, who was carried in this way.

The difficulty for us Western women living in a Taylorist society, is that our lives have been organised to reduce our daily ‘chores’ to a bare minimum, so that we are better able to focus on our jobs. We have supermarkets and washing machines, running water and central heating. For many of us, most of our waking day is taken up by an activity – work – that we are then unable to share with our baby when he or she is born. I might have been able to resume a job that involved constant motion, since my baby would sleep for hours on the move, in the sling, but certainly not one that required sitting for hours on end, at a computer or in meetings.

This is why having a baby in our Western society is such a fundamental change, and for the mother in particular, a major shift in identity. Overnight, almost every aspect of your day becomes utterly unrecognisable. Even once the blur of endless feedings and sleepless nights of those first few weeks is over, and you start to feel ready to reengage with the outside world, it’s impossible to pick up where you left off.

So on the one hand, you’ve got a baby who’s happiest in the arms of a busy person, and on the other, you’ve got a mother, often isolated from her friends and family, who is desperate for stimulation and company. The result? In London at least, an amazingly endless stream of activities targeted at new mums: breastfeeding cafés, NCT tea groups, baby playgroups, baby massage, baby yoga, jelly baby (swimming), sing & sign (sign language), monkey music, baby theatre, little movers (dance), storytelling, and even ‘power pramming’… Not to mention all the free workshops: using ‘real’ nappies, weaning, dental hygiene for babies…

It’s the stuff that would have made me cringe with horror a mere 6 months ago, and yet it’s what has been keeping me sane and cheerful these last few weeks. And I must admit that O. loves it, if grins are anything to go by.

1 comment:

John said...

I for one am very happy to see the resurrection of Nayembi, although it seems it's taken me several months to find you again... But thank you for such a beautiful and thoughtful post! I'm sending the link to the mothers of my nieces and nephews.