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.
I had a huge amount to get through at work this week – study material that simply must be prepared and loaded onto websites and ready to go a week ahead of the second semester starting. The second semester doesn’t start until mid-Juiy, but there are two weeks of school holidays first, and my part-time job means that I don’t work then. As well as masses of work, I had two rehearsals for my choir, and a concert at my daughters’ school, and a meeting for a trust board that I am on. On top of all this, as is reasonably common, Mr Bee was away some nights, for work. I knew that the week would be frantic.
And then, on Monday morning, Miss Ten the younger came into our bedroom, looking very pale and droopy. She has a sore throat and sore ears, and really was quite miserable. She spent two days aawy from school, but by Tuesday evening, she was looking much better. Good, I thought. I can have three really good days in the office.
Except that by Tuesday evening, Miss Ten the younger was getting paler and paler, and clearly getting sicker and sicker. She was away from school on Wednesday and Thursday, and again today, ‘though by late afternoon, she had recovered.
I didn’t get a single day in the office all week.
There are some things that make managing sick children easier for me than for many parents. I have an office to myself, which is standard practice for academics in universities, and it’s large, so I have a sofa in there, which is ideal for sick children. I had meetings on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday that I didn’t want to miss, so on those days, the girls came to campus with me, and languished on my sofa, with books and my iPad to keep themselves amused. My work can easily be done at home, although it’s a nuisance not having ready access to the resources in my office, and not being able to wander down the hallway to consult a colleague over a problem if necessary.
But working at home has its limitations, notably with respect to my laptop. By Thursday I had sore arms and hands thanks to the height of the dining table where I was working, and the clunkiness of my laptop’s mousepad. I could solve both those problems (mouse instead of a mousepad, swapping to a different table), but the ergonomics at home are not nearly has good as my desk in my office. And try as I might, I never get as much done at home as I do in the office.
It was been a tough week. But even then, for me, as a working mother, it has been comparatively easy. Academic jobs are one of the few jobs that are output oriented instead of input oriented. My employer doesn’t really count the hours I put in. Instead, I am measured by the number of students I teach, and the amount of research I do. If I happen to do my work in the middle of the night, that’s just fine. Obviously, I have to turn up for the classes I teach, and as a rule, I ought to be in my office and present in the department during normal work hours, but if I need to work from home, I can. And I am not a sole parent. Because Mr Bee has a Big Job, we have consciously decided that I will work part time, so that we can manage childcare.** However, even though I end up taking most of the childcare responsibilities, if the sky really fell down, I could call on Mr Bee for help.
But what say you have a job where being present is what matters? How many bosses are going to be happy with an employee taking a whole week off to care for sick children? And here’s the thing about children: they are little repositories of disease. They get sick, with winter bugs and illnesses, and sick childen cannot go to school or daycare. That means that you cannot go to work.
And if you are a sole parent, then by definition you do not have a partner with whom to share childcare. This is why the National party’s plan to make sure that all those sole parents are out working will fail. It’s not that that parents don’t want to work. All the evidence shows that the great majority of people who are on the DPB are only on it for a few years, and move off it when they are able too. Many of them find employment precarious and difficult to manage – witness Paula Bennett’s struggle – but they are willing to work. The problem is the lack of jobs where employers are happy for employees to take leave to care for sick children. Add to this the need to take leave for school holidays – 12 weeks school holidays each year, but most employees only get four weeks annual leave – and the minor detail of most jobs running for eight to nine hours each day, while school runs for only six, and trying to find work that enables a sole parent to work suddenly looks very difficult indeed.
It’s Saturday now, and at last, everyone is well. With a bit of luck, I will get a whole clear week in the office before the school term ends on Friday. Fingers crossed….
* Working in paid employment
** Yes, this might create issues in many careers. As it turns out, in an academic career, I should be able to go back to fulltime work fairly easily once my children are old enough. Also, I no longer have a career. I just have a series of jobs which do well enough for the time being.
Earlier posts on the National Party’s policies for sole parents:
- Get those sole parents working
- Keeping its promises
- I did it, so why can’t you?
- Making those slappers cross their legs
This is what the Transit of Venus looked like from my backyard in Greenhills.
(Description: grey cloudy sky behind tree)
I didn’t see it at all, and given that my next chance to see it is in 2117, my guess is that I won’t be seeing it at all ever.
On the other hand, my brother saw it in full glory in Brisbane. He had a set of welding glasses – the proper sort – and he spent a good part of his day on the roof of his workplace, looking. More than just looking. He dragged many of his colleagues up there to take a look, explaining to them what it was all about, and why it is so important in the history of New Zealand and Australia. Some of them really didn’t care at all, but others were intrigued, and keen to learn more, and still talking about it hours later. My brother was buzzing about it, when he rang me to brag tell me about his day.
Oh, go away, I said. Laughing. I’m so pleased that he had that experience, and that he was able to share it with his colleagues.
I enjoyed all the stories on the news last night, about people watching the Transit in various places around New Zealand. The best story came from Tolaga Bay, where people were on the beach and gathered at the local school, and everyone was excited about it. What a great way to get kids enthusiastic about science, and history, and our world. Fantastic stuff.
My parents gave me that sense of joyful curiosity about the world when I was a child, and I am busy passing it on to my daughters (see for example, one of the earliest blog posts I ever wrote, about a total eclipse of the moon). It’s great to see children and adults all around the country being excited about science.
My little bees love porridge for breakfast, and these days, they make it themselves, for all of us. This is Very Convenient.
We use ordinary old rolled oats. None of these fancy microwave versions, which look too processed for my liking. I’m happy enough to eat other processed cereals, but somehow processed porridge seems to miss the point. Our recipe is a parts recipe: one part rolled oats, one part cold water, and two parts hot water. About half a cup of rolled oats per person seems to be about right in our house, so when the girls are making porridge for all five of us, the ingredients are 2 and 1/2 cups of rolled oats, 2 and 1/2 cups of cold water, and 5 cups of hot water. Plus a pinch of salt, to lift the flavour. If you are in Australia or New Zealand, make sure you use iodised salt, because our soils are very low in it, and we run the risk of goitre with insufficient iodine.
The rolled oats go in the saucepan first, and then the cold water. NEVER ADD THE HOT WATER BEFORE THE COLD. If you do, you will end up with a horrid lumpy mess. Trust me on this. Stir the oats and cold water until they are smooth, and then add the hot water and stir it in. Put the pot on the stove, add a pinch of salt, turn the element onto high, and stir gently until boiling.
(Description: pot on stove, filled with oats and water, child’s hand stirring it with a wooden spoon)
Turn the heat right down and let the porridge simmer for a moment, and then serve.
(Description: three shallow bowls of porridge)
Excellent porridge. Not too thick, not too thin, and very tasty.
And it is even better with a sprinkling of brown sugar on top.
(Description: three shallow bowls of porridge, brown sugar melting on top)
We always add milk before we eat it, partly to cool it down a little, and partly to round out the flavour.
Variations: some people make porridge with milk, or with half and half milk and water. Some people use just cold water, but we use some cold and some hot to speed up the cooking process. Some people sprinkle cinnamon on it instead of sugar, and others add sultanas or honey for sweetness. Whatever takes your fancy, really.
Once the porridge is served, put the saucepan and the stirring spoon in the sink, and fill the pot with cold water, to the brim. The scrapings on the side of the pot will wash out very easily, with no scrubbing, if you do this. I promise.
It’s fairly cheap to make. A bag of rolled oats cost about $6 or $7, and it seems to last us for about a week. If we have porridge every morning, then breakfast for five of us for the week would cost us about $15 at the most, allowing for brown sugar and milk and a bit for energy costs. Not too bad at all. It’s a sustaining breakfast: a bowl of porridge seems to see me through the morning better than other cereals. And it’s very warming in these cooler days.
Best of all, my ten year olds can make it all by themselves, and they do so with pride. They take turns making it, and they know that they are making a real contribution to the household. I’m very grateful to them.