"A question may be asked, ‘Will mothers have their children in eternity?' Yes! Yes! Mothers, you shall have your children." - Joseph Smith

April 22, 2008

Walther acknowledged the nutritional and bonding benefits of breast-feeding. "But every day in this country, we have mothers who go back to work after six weeks of maternity leave," she said." - Texas Judge Barbara Walther, as quoted in the Salt Lake Tribune

When my son was eight weeks old, I left him at the home of a total stranger -- a woman I had met only the day before -- in hopes that she would love him and care for him as I would. It was easily the most terrifying moment of my life.

When we decided to have a baby, we knew this day would come. I knew that I would only have a few short weeks with him as a newborn before I needed to return to work as our family's primary wage-earner. At the time we made this choice, though, we had no idea what it really meant. I suppose you could say that we did have other choices, but none of those were good choices - I could have quit my job and we could have sold the house and tried to live on my husband's salary alone, but we probably would have quickly ended up on welfare. My husband could have quit his job, but that would leave us with no affordable insurance option. We could have chosen not to have a child. (This last would have been the least selfish, from a certain point of view.) At the time, at that moment, on that first day, I was at peace with the decision we made, but as time has rolled on and I've realized all that my son and I have missed and lost I'm less and less comfortable with it.

Parents like us, with a child in full-time daycare, are actually a minority in the US. In 2005, 61% of preschool children spent some time each day in "non-parental" care, but only 36% of those children were cared for outside the home or by someone not related to the child (source). Of all the mothers I know with children under the age of 6, I am the only mother who is working full time and has a child in full time daycare. To say that I'm jealous of those other mothers is an understatement. Every day when E walks down the stairs to go off with his father to Sarah's house, its like a stone in my belly. He sees it as his normal routine, and can get flustered on days when he doesn't go. I die a little more inside each morning as I watch him leave.

Every other issue of the FLDS case aside, what has made me so angry about Judge Walter's comment as quoted is that she seems to view leaving a baby in care at 6 weeks as normal. You already know, of course, that in other (I was tempted to say "civilized") countries they don't give new mothers' six or eight weeks leave. In Canada I believe the standard is 37 weeks. In the UK, its 52 weeks. In Sweden, 18 months. In most countries in Africa, 14 weeks. (Wikipedia to the rescue - I don't have to list them for you, here's a handy chart.

Judge Walter, just because women do this every day doesn't make it ok and it certainly doesn't make it the best choice for any child. We do it, mostly, because we are forced by circumstances, just as these FLDS mothers are. Your comment, which has been published in just about every newspaper in this nation, reinforces to the public at large the ideas that a) breastfeeding is some kind of luxury; and b) that there is nothing at all broken about the current support system (or lack thereof) for mothers and families in this country. Perhaps your intended meaning was "it happens every day and kids survive it". Yes, they do. But the losses sustained for the mothers and babies cannot be balanced in any accounting.