The blog post below was written in Hebrew by Esther Pelled, author of the blog Unedited. She is responding in part to a report on Channel Two News last Saturday evening, which claimed that the Israeli health ministry puts too much pressure on women to breastfeed.
Thanks to Julie Rosenzweig of Walkable in Jerusalem for helpful suggestions to improve the translation.
My comments at the end.
Mothers and Fathers, 2013, by Esther Pelled.
The report tonight on Channel 22, for and against breastfeeding, and the attempts by the Health Ministry to encourage mothers to breastfeed, and the maternal outrage regarding this pressure.
So here it is: Mothers need to give birth, they want to give birth. They want more than one child. They want to work. They have to work. Most have to work because they have a financial need to work, and others have to work because there are no other cultural options. Not working means being erased from the social map. Even those mothers who strongly identify themselves as mothers and not career women cannot imagine not working: Whoever does not work, does not exist.
So we have a mixed message, if I am seeing it correctly, that is, in a blur. The more mothers I meet, the more I see that they are trapped, trapped in the feminist revolution, the industrial revolution, and the cultural revolutions. They need to be a developing and developed subject [MiI: I’m not clear on this phrase, so I translated it literally], and they need to be a devoted mother, breastfeeding, real. And this is true even though most mothers are part of the middle class, meaning they don’t have enough money to live, so much so—and it’s impossible not to say it—that devoted fathers forget their babies, Dear God, they forget their babies in the car.
Something is rotten in a state in which mothers are expected to be career women who breastfeed, and fathers forget their babies in cars. It’s so terrible, this forgetting, that one cannot lay blame, and one can only wonder a deep wonder and think how it happened here that this happens here, that parents are so torn apart that they forget babies in their cars, while the health ministry is sending strong messages about breastfeeding, and the employment ministry is encouraging mothers to go out to work. In other words, be a mother as if you are not a working woman, and be a working woman as if you are not a mother. As for fathers, they don’t have the problem of contradictory messages. For them nothing is mixed: They are just exhausted, they simply forget, they forget the babies in the family car.
In case I am not being clear let me say it directly: I am not blaming these fathers. It’s so terrible what happened, and happened once more, that I can understand that it is a question of inability, inability to stand up to what life in this culture demands. To educate women to breastfeed and to create a market that requires them to return to work after 3 months, self-righteous capitalism in other words, is a deep sickness, a contradictory social message. The cultural subject is free, free to fulfill himself, meaning, to work so hard that he forgets his baby—not someone else’s, his own—in the family car.
My daughter, today: “Ima, how is it that you pick me up every day from gan at 1:30? How is that possible?” Indeed, how is that possible? I currently know of one young woman, only one, who stops working after birth, for more than 3-4 months. There are too few babies who stay with their mothers after six months. There’s no reason to take a six-month-old baby from home, to a stranger’s arms, no reason as far as the baby is concerned. As for the mother, if she doesn’t return to work after six months, it means that she is a problem, that she herself fears returning to work, that she is a “nervous mother.” The underlying cultural assumption is that the babies are truly ready for this separation at six months, some even at three (people say that 3-month-olds are too young to understand, meaning, they can be fooled), and therefore mothers must also be ripe for this (the mothers are also fooled, really). This is of course completely ridiculous. Babies can handle separation at a year, if they are forced to. In this matter most people simply lie to themselves, because the culture in which they live taught them to lie because of market demands.
So this is the situation. Breastfeed and work, work and breastfeed. And be careful not to forget your babies in the car, because it’s hot. And live in a rented apartment because you have no money to buy a house, but be embarrassed by this, although it’s not your fault, and then go out to work for more than ten hours a day to buy a house even though you can’t, but don’t forget to nurse, and don’t forget babies in the car. In general, if you can’t live up to this, don’t have children. On the other hand, have children, because we are Jews, and family and children are our top priorities. In other words, accept all of the paradoxes and remain sane, even though it’s hot and you have no house, even though the mortgage on the house you have eats up your life, even though the combination of the mortgage and the gan finishes your salary, that’s why we have told you, it’s best that the mothers work, but better that they should pump milk before going out for nine working hours a day. When you get back, if you haven’t forgotten your child in a car, be a happy family, cultured, in which both adult subjects presumably fulfill themselves and the children presumably get everything they need, yes, between 4:30 and 8 PM each night, usually with the presence of one parent, because the other is still working. Perfection. And let me end by wishing a good salary to all of us, Esti P.
Pelled has touched on the inherent conflict between the needs of babies and the demands of modern life, particularly in Israel. An American friend told me that she doesn’t feel that being a stay-at-home mother takes her off the social map. But since the early days of the State of Israel, mothers are expected to go out to work. Back then, it was a matter of survival. It seems that it may be today, as well. I agree that the phenomenon of leaving babies in cars (3 have died in the last month or so in Israel) reflects the stress placed on many young parents.