It turns out that plenty of new mothers aren’t exactly forthcoming with Plunket nurses.
For people from outside New Zealand, Plunket is an in-home baby and new parent support service. When you have a new baby, and after you have left your midwife’s care, or hospital care, you sign on with a child and baby health support service. Someone from that service will visit you at home while your baby is tiny, to give you advice and assistance with everything from bathing the baby, to feeding it, to managing older siblings. Once your baby is a little older, you will visit the support provider’s rooms. The support provider will carry out a series of “well child” checks (height, weight, developmental milestones, general health). Plunket is the oldest of these services in New Zealand, and for a long time, it was the only provider of such services. It is much lauded, with good reason.
But… it’s very judgey, even when it’s not meant to be. You will breastfeed your child for six months. You will worry if your child is not lifting her head at 3 months. You will never let the baby sleep with you. All the rules for looking after small babies and children, laid down in black and white.
Here’s the problem. Even when Plunket nurses try not to be judgey, they are. You can be made to feel very small for having strayed from the guidelines in any way. And those guidelines turn out to be not very flexible at all. When my younger daughters were about 18 months old, I took them in for a regular checkup. They were doing well, but then I was asked how much milk they drank each day. About 400 to 500mls, I said. Neither of them were fond of milk.
I got the look. “You really should get them to drink more milk. They should be drinking about 600mls a day.”
My older daughter was with us, so the Plunket nurse took the opportunity to check up on her too. She was about four at the time. “And how much milk is Miss Four drinking each day.”
About 800 to 1000mls. She really liked milk. “Too much. She should only be drinking 600mls a day.”
So it turned out that the “guideline” was in fact a rigid rule, and any straying from that was not to be discussed in the context of the whole child, and what else she was eating and drinking.
I am a highly educated, middle class, white woman, and I felt intimidated, and judged. And really, even if I was doing all the “right” things, it would be hard not to feel judged. Health service visitors come into your home and assess what you are doing with your children. It’s very intrusive, even when it’s very helpful. My Plunket nurse was also a source of some great advice, especially with respect to managing twins. Even so, at times I found the advice, well, judgemental.
But for all that, take a look at the story about new mums not necessarily being honest with Plunket. It’s all framed as being a problem with the mothers.
Lying to Plunket nurses has become commonplace among first-time mums as they shy away from confrontation and questions about their baby’s milestones.
Let’s turn it around, and think about the source of the problems. How about…
Pressure from Plunket nurses is so great that young mothers feel they have to conceal things.
Then this becomes a story about how the support structures around new parents aren’t working, and a story about the need for better training of Plunket nurses and other health care workers. Simple stuff, like how to frame a conversation. For example, here’s a bad conversation.
Mum: I’ve started my five month old on solids.
Nurse: Really, she shouldn’t have solids until she’s six months old.
And here’s a simple way to talk about exactly the same issue.
Mum: I’ve started my five month old on solids.
Nurse: Okay. What was your thinking around that?
Mum: She seemed to be very hungry, and she’s a big baby for her age. It’s only a little amount of rice cereal, in the evenings.
Nurse: Yes, I understand that. Just take it gently, and try to keep it down to just a little bit for the next month or so.
Framing. It makes a difference.
This is a repost. I first wrote this post back in 2007, when I was starting out in on-line feminism.
The stories are fascinating, especially because they cover books I have read myself. But it made me think about where I learned my feminism.
The answer – at my mother’s knee. My mother taught me that I must speak for myself, that I must be able to support myself, and preferably, have my own income, that I was an equal participant in this society, that I had the same rights and responsibilities as my brothers (I don’t have any sisters), that women must be independent. All this from a convent educated married woman who was still at that time a practicing Catholic. Mum also opened my eyes to the misogyny in the Catholic church. She could see that I thought that it was deeply unfair that my brothers could be altar servers, but I could not. Evidently even a 10-year old girl was too unclean to be allowed near the altar. She also taught me that it was possible, and desirable, to live with and love men, as independent, free standing adults.
So when I read books such as The Female Eunuch and Man Made Language, although some of the ideas were shocking, the whole thesis was not.
Thank you, Mum. I promise to pass the torch on to my daughters.
Also today in pig-headed ignorance, and today in ignoring science, and today in failing to think through consequences, and today in hating on children.
A CHILD’S weight should be included in their school report as part of a radical plan to tackle the obesity crisis, according to [Professor David Penington] who led Australia’s successful response to the AIDS epidemic.
I find this mindblowing, not just for the complete disregard for science, but for the astonishing idea that it’s a good thing to shame children about their weight, and that somehow, magically, this will make them thin and happy. It doesn’t work with adults because (a) shaming just upsets people and (b) shaming does not result in weight loss and (c) weight loss does not lead to better health (just google “obesity paradox” and you will find the evidence), and it works EVEN LESS with children because….. (hold your breath, here’s a giant reveal that seems to have escaped Prof. Penington), CHILDREN DON’T GET TO CHOOSE WHAT FOOD THEY EAT.
As parents, we impose our own lifestyles on children. The children in my house? They’re great at argument (conceptual, inferential, evidential, you name it – they argue it and yes, this is a problem from time to time), but sports, well, whatever. They play a bit and we go and cheer them on, but really, it’s just not a big deal. That’s because in our house, discussion is a Big Thing. But they miss out on sport, which is a large part of many families in New Zealand, because it’s just not a big deal around here. They are deeply influenced, and the patterns of their living set for a long time to come, by the way that Mr Bee and I live.
And the type and amount of food they eat, and the exercise they do, or don’t do, is deeply influenced by us. They have no responsibility for what does into their lunchboxes. That’s MY responsibility. I’m the one who buys the bread and the sandwich fillings, makes the muffins, ensure there’s some fruit and some yoghurt on hand, so that they can make their school lunches.
So when Prof. Penington sets out to shame children, not only is he doing something that is completely ineffective anyway, but he totally missed his target.
I’ve had enough of teachers and doctors and (alleged) experts filling the school curriculum with do-gooding nonsense, which only leads to children coming home and trying to get their parents to change. But exactly how much power do children have to change their parents anyway? Very little indeed. It’s an intolerable burden to place on children. I think Prof. Penington must hate children too.
Mr Bee and I went out dancing last night. When we got home, we found notes from our daughters.
I hope you enjoyed your dance, and that you managed to talk to other people at least a bit.
Clearly our daughter understands our curmudgeonly introverted natures all too well. For the record, we *did* talk to other people there. And we even danced.
We are fine (no fights).
A fairly minimal standard of being fine…
I hope you had a good time too (I also hope Mum’s feed aren’t too hurt because of Dad’s footwork.
Also for the record, my feet were just fine, and Mr Bee didn’t tread on them at all.
We are all mourning for Margaret Mahy, so very sad that our magnificent story teller has died. I recommend Jolisa’s and Craig’s tributes to her: “Glory! Glory! There’s the salt!” and OPEN HOUSE: Margaret Mahy, The Storyteller in The Meadow.
I loved her writing too, because it worked for me, as an adult reading picture books to my children, and as an avid reader of her fiction for young adults, because actually, it’s excellent fiction for not-so-young adults too. But something I’ve been reflecting on since the news of her death is the way that she wrote about good and effective parenting and partnering. I’m thinking of the mothers in The Lion in the Meadow and The Witch in the Cherry Tree, who both calmly carry on with their work, incorporating their small children’s imaginings into what they are doing, even entering into the imagining, and through it all providing security for the little ones, should their imagination become too frightening. It’s a beautiful model of how to work with and respond to children. This is yet another reason why I loved her writing so much: she helped me to learn how to be a better mother of young children.
Yes, of course we have baked gingerbread witches using the recipe at the back of The Witch in the Cherry Tree. And thrown the burnt ones outside for any witches that might happen by.