My eldest daughter turns 13 next week. At this time every year, my mind goes back to those weeks before the delivery. How anxious and how tired I was, how unprepared I felt. Her birthweight was forecast at a neat 7 pounds. The thought of birthing even that much baby was terrifying.
Out of superstition, I delayed buying anything such as nappies, baby grows, or vests until I had passed the 36-week mark. I wouldn’t be unique in that respect. No expectant mother wants to tempt fate.
Two weeks beforehand I trotted (well, waddled) into town to pick up the few bits. 7 pounds. What size to buy? I diligently read the labels on the impossibly tiny articles of clothing and decided on ‘Newborn: 6 to 9 pounds’.
She tipped the scale at eight pounds, thirteen ounces. I don’t know why I am still surprised by that - neither her dad nor I would be described as ‘dainty’.
After wrestling her in to her first baby grow, she looked shrink-wrapped. Her daddy and I laughed at our newbie error, and he picked up a few 0-3 month vests and baby grows in the supermarket the next time he went to buy nappies.
Approximately 450 first time mothers give birth in Ireland each week. They bring their hopes and their strength to the labour wards, and they leave with their babies, and the title Mother.
It is exhilarating, and exhausting all at once, and the same joys and fears that visited me thirteen years ago will visit 2,700 women in the six weeks of this level 5 ‘lockdown’.
But this tribe of women will have already gone through a ‘lockdown’ pregnancy, attending most hospital appointments alone, some receiving bad news alone, staying in hospital after the birth alone (except for the baby, who, let’s be fair, won’t be very supportive). And now, a new problem.
If they have had any sort of a surprise with their new baby - bigger than expected, smaller than expected, earlier than expected - it won’t be a matter of popping to the shop for clothes. Go to your local supermarket and you will glimpse the baby grows walled off by selection boxes and crisps.
When challenged, those in power wave their hands and say ‘clothing is not essential’. They say that in the interest of fairness (to businesses), clothing must not be sold in shops.
When challenged further, ‘online’ and ‘click and collect’ are offered as placatory sound bites. Those options make many assumptions- internet access, a bank account, transport to collect goods, the ability to wait for a busy postal service to deliver the goods.
Babies don’t wait for anyone. When they need something now, they mean NOW.
To be in the midst of a global pandemic is a surreal and stressful experience for everyone. But, in Ireland, pregnant women and new mothers seem to have borne more than their share of restrictions.
What is fair to them? Is the work of childbearing and child rearing not essential?
Denying mothers access to infant clothing is small potatoes in the litany of injustices this state has perpetrated against women. But perhaps, by opening up the baby clothing aisles, this government could show that at least, and at last, they can hear us?
- Niamh Lynch is a Consultant Paediatrician in Cork.