Babies in the House of Commons

As a working mother — aren’t we all? Ok, let me try this again… As a mother who happens to work outside the home in exchange for a pay cheque albeit not nearly as hard as I work inside the home for no pay and a lot more stress… I feel like I owe the universe a post on the baby-in-the House-of-Commons kerfuffle. Then Andrea sent me this link and asked if I would be interested in sharing my opinion on the topic… Well, since you asked!

The issue has been handled in the media as one of mothers in the workplace, and rightfully so, although there is the narrower issue of whether babies belong in the House of Commons. I am not only an employed mother, I am incidentally employed by the House of Commons. For more on my somewhat-less-than-glamourous political career, you can read this post (in French): Je travaille pour un député à la Chambre des communes.

Do babies belong in the House of Commons? Frankly, I don’t see why not. For all the hand-wringing about proper decorum I must ask two questions: “What decorum?” and “Is a baby a worst offense to proper House decorum than, say, Justin Trudeau’s “piece of shit” and Vic Toews’ “You’re either with us or with the child pornographers” quips? If you yearn for proper House decorum, why not start with Question Period and questioners who don’t ask real questions? (a Liberal specialty: “Is the Minister lying or simply too stupid to see what’s going on?” You expect the Minister to answer that?) or with members of government reading from prepared statements instead of answering genuine questions about policy or governance?

You must see the House as it really is, with people coming and going, thumbing their berries, writing greeting cards, excusing themselves to the lobby for a quick bite or a meeting with staff. The House is a happenin’ place. Throw in a baby during a vote; it would have been a regular day at the office if it weren’t for MPs taking pictures and causing a commotion.

To the question do babies belong in the House of Commons my answer is “Why not?” I agree with the Globe’s editorial:

Mr. Scheer’s ruling is a clear demonstration that, even in the most august settings, mothers must always be able to bring their babies to work with them when emergencies arise. It is not a legal precedent, but it is certainly a moral one.

Which leads us to the wider issue of women in the workplace and whether or not giving them leeway to manage their family obligations while working is indeed a moral precedent. Naomi Lakritz from the Calgary Herald certainly thinks it is not:

Ladies, the world isn’t going to hand itself to you on a silver platter. It may offer you some things and may make some concessions to your status as mothers, but you’ve got to rise to meet the world halfway. You’ve got to do the rest. And you’ve got to understand and respect the idea that there are some places where babies simply don’t belong.

According to Lakritz (read the entire piece here), by asking for accommodations working mothers are acting like whiny wusses. This is a widespread view among some women. A few years ago I wrote a post for ProWomanProLife where I lamented the absence of creative thinking when it came to accommodating working mothers. A reader wrote back something along the lines of “I never thought of you as whiny and high maintenance…” Others believe that women “want it all on Thursday”: for everything there is a season and you can have it all but not on the same day. And let’s not forget the childless — by choice or otherwise — who wonder why, for the same pay, they have to pick-up the slack from  their procreative peers. And all the other mothers who were not given any breaks and wonder — almost jealously — why others should get one.

All this to me is almost irrelevant. As are the reasons why women work, whether they are seeking parity with men, self-fulfillment or a pay cheque. Do we have a societal obligation to make it easier for women, as Naomi Lakritz suggests? I don’t know. But what I do know is that if we don’t owe anything to Sana Hassaini, we owe the world to her son Skander-Jack. We fail children when we look at women in the workplace in isolation. We should be encouraging parents to develop strong bonds with their infants. And in our government-supported healthcare system, we should be pulling all the stops to make sure that infants are breastfed and spend the least amount of time in institutionalized daycare. (If you think I’m making too much out of the common cold go ask any healthcare provider at the Children Hospital of Eastern Ontario how their month of February has been so far.) And maybe your point is that mothers of young infants — and possibly mothers writ large — shouldn’t be working. But I would answer that this horse has left the barn some time ago. And while you are chasing it, may I ask what you suggest we do about the children?

Skander-Jack’s place is with his mother, regardless of where his mother thinks her place is. I’m glad that Skander-Jack was with his mom in the House rather than a nanny in Verchere-Petite-Patrie. What are we supposed to tell him, all 3-month-old cutie? Suck it up, it’s not our problem that your mom wanted to change the world during your formative years? I work for a MP and I can guarantee you that his mom will miss plenty of his most important milestones over the next 4 years. Why don’t we let him this one?

Pregnancy outside the womb

An item published earlier this week on LifeSite News announced that a UK academic was arguing in favour of ectogenesis (pregnancy outside the womb).

My initial reaction upon reading the LifeSite item – beyond the initial oh my… was that I could probably have poked holes in her arguments when I was a bona fide ethicist myself but recovering as I am from the physical and mental demands of a multiple pregnancy I … wait… did I just prove her point?

I think we should all calm down.

First, all academics, including UK ethicists, are under constant pressure to publish new and innovative material. Arguing in favour of ectogenesis is a little out there but not entirely surprising given this particular ethicist’s research interests. Secondly, the ethicist is a philosopher looking at pregnancy through a sex inequity lens, not a medical doctor announcing upcoming experiments in his newfangled hatchery. I can’t think of a western country who has a healthcare buck to spare on this type of research and experiment, can you? Thirdly, go rent a National Geographic In the Womb video and remind yourself of how wonderfully complicated conception is. Decades of research have only marginally improved outcomes for very premature children. There is very little we can do to replace the womb environment, even for fully formed infants.

Growing a human being from scratch outside the womb? Nice idea (I mean it, I’ve been pregnant seven times) but not a chance.

Medical research and innovation has not been able to beat the flu yet. Let’s not forget that.

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Andrea adds: This is Véronique’s post, for our Facebook readers. In case it isn’t abundantly clear that I have not been pregnant seven times!

Reduced

Call me a cynic but my first thought when I read a piece like this one is “This has got to have been written by a pro-life commentator to show the overall menace of an unqualified right to choose…” But I’m afraid I may be wrong.

As an expecting mother of twins, this article hit close to home. But in trying to think of all the reasons why reduction is wrong, I could not come-up with arguments that were not already applicable to abortion in general. In the words of a so-called “reduction pioneer” – there’s a title you want to hang on a shingle — quoted in the article:

“He consulted his staff, all women, and they concluded that if a woman can choose to end a pregnancy, she can reduce from two to one. Besides, in this case, the team would be saving a fetus that would otherwise be aborted.”

What is more immoral or unethical about reduction than straight-up abortion? What this case illustrates is one of the steps down the slippery slope of commodification, that even with a wanted live baby kicking and growing inside you, you may still view your children’s lives not as something you created but as something you own. The tone of the article, all about the women and their doctors with a passing mention of children as being disruptive and twins as being hell, shows very well that when it comes to so-called reproduction rights, it’s all about the grown-ups.

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Andrea adds: This quote took me by surprise. “If I had conceived these twins naturally, I wouldn’t have reduced this pregnancy, because you feel like if there’s a natural order, then you don’t want to disturb it. But we created this child in such an artificial manner — in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me — and somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice. The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control.” It’s so forthright about what happens when we make reproduction into a choice. Almost as if to act as an example of what not to do.

Feeling the guilt

Here we go with another “Tyranny of mother’s milk” article. Listen here, I am not opposed in principle to formula. I have even fed it to my children. But I have several issues with rants such as this one, the first one being that hard cases make bad law. A mother felt that her breast milk was not sufficient to nourish her infant and some healthcare providers with inadequate or incomplete  formation on breastfeeding made it worse. Can we really draw a public health conclusion about this? As someone who struggled through a similar challenge, I will tell you exactly what the problem was: inadequate follow-up by a nurse with inadequate formation. What we need is more research and information about the root causes of the inability to breastfeed (no, everything is not linked to a poor latch). As long as we have health care providers (whether they are doctors, nurses of nursing consultants) blaming everything on a poor latch, we’ll have situations like the one described in Wente’s article.

But that wouldn’t make a rant, would it? Much better to blame it on an evil patriarchal scheme to oppress women using their own children! Let me try to make something perfectly clear to those who hope that formula-feeding will liberate them from the tyranny of baby: human infants are needy and helpless. The well-meaning nurse who told you that formula-fed infants slept longer, she lied. If that makes infants oppressive, then so be it: human infants are oppressive. It’s not an evil scheme to oppress women, it’s just The Way Things Are. Unlike horses, our infants are not expected to stand-up and flee danger within their first hour of life.  Why does liberation have to mean liberating ourselves from our own children? Why do we have to deny motherhood and the fact that we are able to respond to our infants’ needs to be liberated women?   But mark my words – I have 6 children and I am expecting 2 more – if you think that formula-feeding will liberate you from your children, you are in for a big shock.

The other thing I would like to mention – and I choose my words carefully – is that healthcare providers, especially doctors, are in the business of making us feel guilty for our unhealthy choices. Read that again and think about it. Do you think that any OB/GYN worth his salt has a fleeting remorse about making a pregnant smoker feel guilty? And let’s not even approach the topic of overweight people, especially pregnant ones. Human milk is the best nutrition for human babies. You may choose not to breastfeed for a long list of reasons but it does not remove the fact that human milk is best for human babies. Once again, this is not an evil scheme to oppress women, it’s just The Way Things Are.  Any doctor or nurse who pretends otherwise or avoids mentioning it for fear of triggering guilty feelings is not doing his job. I had to be transferred to hospital for complications following a home birth (baby was fine, I was not). Do you think the duty OB/GYN held back from lecturing me about the dangers of homebirths? Not for a second. Did I feel guilty? Yes. That was the whole point.  We start our pregnancies avoiding everything from soft cheese to caffeine and once the baby is out, we’re supposed to avoid finding out that breast milk is better for them? Fight the tyranny, demand proper information!

Split personality

“After all, religion is the only reason you all seem to cling to this idea that a fetus is a baby or a human.”

This is a quote from the letter Andrea posted yesterday. It reminded me of a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while and here we – finally – go!

I am currently taking a journey in the unexplored confines of our society’s split personality when it comes to abortion and the status of the fetus. Last February, I found out with great surprise that I was expecting. For those who are keeping count, that would be number 7. Oh well, thought I, we’ll have one for each day of the week. Our children were ecstatic, people thought we were crazy (same old same old). Except that 3 weeks ago, we found out – with even greater surprise – that 7 days wouldn’t be quite enough. I am expecting twins. If I ever thought I had heard it all with my large family, expecting twins takes the cake. I now qualify as a bona fide circus animal. I should have known from the tone of pessimistic disbelief in the ultrasound technician’s “…well, you seem to be taking it well…” that I was in for an interesting ride.

Reading everything I can put my hands on, I learned a few factoids. Twinning rates have been increasing steadily for the last 20 years, partly due to increasing maternal age (check!) and assisted reproduction technologies (uncheck, just in case you’re wondering). This means that my search for the best double-stroller has lead me to countless assisted reproduction message boards and Internet sites. In the ART world, gametes are babies. They are loved and expected from implantation, a time when mothers like me don’t even know they are pregnant. They are mourned and remembered when implantation fails, a time when mothers like me just have another period.

Every book about twins starts with a detailed chapter about twinning and early conception. With quotes like “this is when your babies’ cells start specializing”, “this is when your babies’ hearts start beating”, “by so-many-weeks, your embryos are now fully formed and will only get bigger and bigger until they are ready to be born…” there is no grey zone. But then, the whole gig gets positively weird when it tackles selective reduction or the selective abortion of some fetuses in a high-order multiple pregnancy (usually triplet and more). Presented as just one more medical procedure, it balances out the advantages (higher chances for the remaining fetus(es) to be born at term) with the risks (higher chances of mortality following the procedure for the remaining fetus(es)) in a cold medical calculation and barely touches the psychological impact such a decision must have on the parents. You may think that it must be because there Is no psychological impact but I once met a woman whose ovaries had been over-stimulated through ART. She was only told that she could be expecting as many as 8 babies and should consider selective reduction. She spent the following week in a complete state of shock at the thought of having to choose which babies to dispatch after spending years struggling with infertility. A simple risk-benefits analysis it was not. Thankfully, only 2 embryos implanted and she carried healthy twin girls to term. Ten years later, she still cries when she recounts this episode.

And so this is my journey at the heart of our collective split personality. On one page, fetuses are pint-sized human beings with all the bells and whistles of personhood, the next page, they are subject to reduction, like a wart or a tumour. When the pendulum stops swinging, I hope it will be on the side of the baby.

A life lived

I wrote my Masters’ Thesis in bioethics on neonatal bioethics. While I didn’t write on neonatal euthanasia, I read plenty about it. Euthanasia is omnipresent in any intensive care litterature, especially neonatal intensive care. The great majority of theoretical case-studies supporting neonatal euthanasia and withdrawal of treatment overwhelmingly use two specific diseases to make their point. The first one is Tay-Sacks disease. The second one is Epidermolysis bullosa. I think these diseases are considered to make life so futile and painful as to not being worth living.

I love it when they are proven wrong.

See the life story of Alice Ervin, published in this morning’s Ottawa Citizen. It moved me to tears. There is no doubt that EB must have caused Alice great pain and suffering. But her worth and her dignity as a human being were not defined by it. I am glad to have met her, even briefly, through the pages of a newspaper.

Confession

Isn’t it ironic that I was not able to post anything on International Woman’s Day, me, the busy working mother of 6? So consider this my Woman’s Day well-wishes, symbolically one day late and rushed (I have 10 minutes, having finished lunches early this morning).

What did I do yesterday? I drove children around while listening to a CBC radio panel on the status of women (listen to it here)  The comments of the 25-year-old gave me hope. After the usual milk run of school and preschool drop-offs, I headed shortly into my part-time job on Parliament Hill, having recently downgraded from full-time work in a effort to bring more balance into my life. I say “shortly” because I was just picking-up a few work items to bring home: my toddler has been fighting a string of bugs since January and was feverish. Again.

So what did I, a highly educated female in my prime earning years, do on International Woman’s Day? I was living the dream! Caught between my work and family obligations, missing work to care for a sick child as I have done at least once a week for the last 6 weeks, happily sabotaging my professional ascension to better pay and more serious responsibilities. You may wonder what my husband was doing and why wasn’t he taking time off work to care for the sick child? The reason is simple: he makes, oh, about 10 times more money than I do. To use round numbers, if a day off for me costs our family $10, my husband’s days off cost us $100. And the nature of the beast is that as long as I keep missing work to tend to my family, I will keep making $10 while my husband’s earnings will keep increasing. It’s not rocket science home economics. It’s just cold hard reality. And no government policy, national daycare program or pity pay-outs will change it.

Here’s your International Woman’s Day wisdom from the trenches, one day late and rushed between making lunches and wiping runny noses with my power suit: children need taking care of. Bosses need taking care of. There are 24 hours in a day. Choices have consequences. They are either work-related or family-related. Sort it out. Then deal with it.

You’re welcome.

What kind of mother are you?

Since we all learn to parent from popular culture, I thought it important to spend a minute of introspection figuring if we are more like “Amy Chua” — of Tiger Mother fame — or “Betty Draper” — Mad Man Don Draper’s long suffering wife. (I’m still in season three so shush already!) 

Where are the positive parenting models asks  this piece from the Huffington Post. Well, I see plenty all around me. But I don’t spend my time in front of a TV screen. Maybe that’s why.

8 days a week

The article Why Chinese Mothers are Superior has been a hot topic in Internet-parenting circles, blogs and news sites. The response to the article has been heated to say the least. I enjoyed reading this level-headed analysis for a change.

Anybody who has children in violin or competitive gymnastics  knows that Asian children are, on the whole, better. They are emotionally stronger under pressure and technically superior. To say that we, as “Western Parents,” are not ready to go to the lengths of hard work that “Chinese Mothers” put their children through is obvious. Equally obvious is that any skill requiring technique to succeed, like music or gymnastics, will be mastered through repetition. Practice makes perfect. It’s a  fact, not only a convenient catch phrase. Natural talent will only take you so far.

So what? If I have learned one thing in my parenting career, it’s that there is 24 hours in a day for everybody. The sun sets everyday for Western, Chinese or Questioning mothers. What you do with your 24 hours is up to you. I have accepted the fact that my children will never be as good as those who practice their music 4 hours a day; as rested as those who sleep 12 hours a night or as literate as those who read all the time. On the flip side, my children are more pleasant in society than those who read all the time; have more friends than those who practice their music all the time and are more helpful around the house than those who sleep all the time (chores oblige…). I have chosen to raise well-balanced children and steered away from extremes: they will never be known for their prowess at anything but they will likely grow to become competent, responsible, considerate, and generous men and women who are committed to live by principles of integrity (h/t to educator James Stenson for the catchy phrase).

That’s what I do with my 24 hours. How about you?

This is your brain on children

A recent blog post linking to a Slate article asks if parents’ brains are different than child-free brains. Off the top of my head, I would say that parents’ brains are non-existent. Actually, AWOL more accurately describes it: used to have a brain. In fact, I sometimes re-read things I wrote in University and am struck by how clever I was. Now, I stare at one of my children and call every other sibling’ name – including the dog — before I can remember the child’s name. A child I named myself!

One of my friends has a theory: what they call the placenta is really half of our brain. After six children, I’ll let you figure out how much grey matter I have left. But oddly enough, while I did lose short term memory and attention span with the “placenta” <wink, wink> I also lost the need for sleep and the ability to sweat the small stuff. Last night, at 2 am, when I was comforting my 2-year-old newborn baby, I marvelled at how relaxed she was, poured into my arms like warm milk; I marvelled at the complete trust she had in me, that the monsters of the night would not harm her if I only gave her a hug; I marvelled at the intelligent design of a child’s head, how the softness of the hair and the curve of the head was always a perfect fit for a mother’s neck and shoulder.

I don’t mind losing half of my brain as long as it is replaced with half of my heart.