A new mum has shared an update on Twitter direct from the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) where her baby is being cared for and it’s sparked some understandable anger among other parents.
“Makes me sad”
“I’m on SCBU with my 5 day old,” Dr Ash Cottrell wrote. “This poster makes me sad.”
She included a photo of the poster in question. It reads:
Mummy and Daddy …
Please look at ME when I am feeding.
I am much more interesting than your phone.
To some people this may seem reasonable enough. They may assume that parenting involves staring at your child at all times, prioritising that baby over everything else, the parent giving themselves over to parenting entirely.
But guess what? Parenting is such a big job that parents often need to do other things WHILE THEY PARENT. Who knew?!
I’m on SCBU with my 5 day old. This poster makes me sad… pic.twitter.com/GYDgcgUtN2
— Ash Cottrell (@dr_cottrella) January 5, 2020
Support beats shaming
In this case, we’re talking about under-stress parents with unwell babies. These quite rightly stressed-out parents are stuck in the hospital with their precious little people, isolated from family and friends, and all while trying to get used to looking after their new bub.
What can help to ease the isolation, overwhelm and confusion? Making contact with the outside world, chatting to friends, researching what’s going on with their baby, keeping informed about their own mental health, making plans for going home …
(In fact mothers of premature babies are MUCH more likely to suffer postnatal depression.)
So, with all that in mind, how do parents do all that when they are spending long days and nights in hospital waiting for their child to be well enough for discharge? By sometimes using their phones, people!
A culture of compassion?
This poster, however well-intentioned, ignores the nuanced reality of being a parent, instead judging mums and dads. To add insult to injury it’s been whacked up in the special care unit, a place where parents as well as babies need support and understanding.
It’s hardly going to engender confidence in the parents who are spending time in the unit and may even discourage new mums and dads from seeking the advice and support they really need.
People on Twitter were upset about this poster too.
“What is this thing that we have to find our children ‘interesting’ at *all times*?!” one wrote. “I love the bones of mine, but frankly they are sometimes quite far from scintillating – and esp when infants. You’ve had a baby, not a lobotomy. You’re allowed to still be you & scroll sometimes.”
“Gosh, that is so wrong of them to suggest it’s ‘bad parenting.” another Twitter user posted. “Phones are a lifeline to well wishes, normality and so much more when you have a newborn / are in hospital. Wishing you well.”
“Yea babies are much more interesting than our phones but we also need advice or support or connect with other people when feeling very lonely in hospital,” someone else pointed out. “Babies are super cute but not great conversationalists and the middle of the night can feel very overwhelming.”
“Oh no! Awful poster,” yet another parent posted. “I was in SCBU with a five day old and my phone was a lifeline. I was isolated and frightened (we’d been readmitted) and my phone meant I could stay in touch with people and read up on what had happened to us.”
— ABC Melbourne (@abcmelbourne) October 23, 2019
This poster is reminiscent of the 2019 Leunig cartoon which, quite rightly, raised similar ire and sparked a national debate in Australia.
“In the offending cartoon I drew a mother with her eyes glued to a phone and wheeling a pram from which her baby had fallen completely unnoticed,” Leunig later explained in a piece for The Age.
“The child lies abandoned on the footpath behind mother, wishing that he was as interesting as her phone. Black humour indeed but making a worthy point about the perils and disasters of the phone addiction which is spreading across the world like a plague.”
But lots of people called it out for what it was. Not black humour, but rather an attack on mothers.
“For men like Leunig once women become mothers all they’re supposed to do is stare adoringly at their child 24/7,” commentator Jane Caro said, echoing the words of the mums above.
“I bet you never spent hours walking babies around in a pram, feeling isolated and alone and terrified,” author Clementine Ford wrote in a tweet response to Leunig.
It seems that — sadly — this conversation is going to be on repeat for quite some time.