The nominations for the Total Defence Award 2008 is open. I hear the call on Power 98.0FM rather frequently to nominate employers who have "enable[d]...NSmen employees to fulfill their NS obligations with ease" because of their "strong support and commitment." Each time the call comes on, my toes laugh. Sarcastically. And then my mind automatically replaces the words "NSmen" and "NS" with "breastfeeding" and "parenting". I return to work next week, then everything goes into full-swing the week after the school holidays. Don't get me wrong. I'm looking forward to going back to school, to returning to the classroom. I love teaching. But there are things beyond the classroom that I'm concerned with, I worry about and am miffed at.
As has been rightfully pointed out to me by a health care professional, schools, for having the highest number of female employees next to hospitals, show the least understanding towards (breastfeeding) mothers' needs. And here is where I pause to let my toes guffaw. You would not believe the things that have been said to me and by whom in the name of "understanding mothers' needs". The irritation that pulsates through my nerves when I recall statements that have been passed with regard to pregnancy, mothers, work and the related, particularly when they come from women themselves. Someone I know recounted a lunch time conversation with a colleague who said that she was bored after her first week in confinement following the arrival of her baby. A quick retort came in response to that. "You must not have been a breastfeeding mum!" *Clap* *Clap* *Clap* Bravo! There is no time to be bored, much less rest, when your baby needs to feed from you every other hour.
Which is precisely that. Your baby needs you. She needs your touch, your care, your time, your love. There are those who would then of course say, "In that case, be a stay at home mum. Don't work." But that's not today's reality. So quit making suggestions of the archaic form. Move on with the times. Get with it sistah!
So the government wants more babies. Singaporeans are becoming extinct. And money makes the world go round, or so they think. That's just how it is, isn't it? If they don't want you to do something, they take money away from you. If they want you to do something, they give money to you. But it doesn't work that way! As an acquaintance said to me, "Baby bonus? Can't even last you a year to meet baby's basic needs." I'll tell you what would be a far more practical and encouraging incentive - nursing/lactation facilities at the work place. Nothing fancy. Just a simple room with chairs and a steriliser. Is that too much to ask? A friend's wife is in the teaching service. She expresses her milk for her baby in the toilet. Let's move the school pantry into the toilet as well. I'd like to see if anyone would like to pour themselves a glass of milk or make themselves a cup of tea in the toilet. Her baby has to drink milk she prepared in the toilet! I'm almost in tears for my friend's baby just thinking about it.
Then, there are meetings that last past 6pm. Worse yet, called at 6pm. My friends share their frustration with me. "Don't they have kids they need to get back to, or pick up from school?" They either don't, or have their parenting obligations hived off to someone else on a regular or permanent basis. In preparation for my return to work, Little Lauren has been put on bottle feeds (of expressed breastmilk) from about 8am to 5pm daily. She has been reverse feeding for the last 2 weeks, which mean she drinks less in the day and waits for me to come home so that she can feed direct and feed more then. She doesn't fuss in the day, but essentially, my little 14 month old baby is teaching herself to go hungry until mummy comes home. So the later I get home, the longer she stays hungry. Breaks my heart to know that!
"Total Defence is about the different things that we can do everyday in every sector of our society to strengthen our resilience as a nation." Let's start with having a nation. Mothers are providing the basic resource to even have a nation. So let's try this again. Recognise the role played by employers to support your employees who are parents (let's not forget the dads here) to fulfil their parenting obligations with ease. Then nominate these for the Total Defence Award. They would be the ones worth recoginising.