I plead guilty to being part of the pre-tech generation, so that may be the reason I had a hard time with a January 24 Personal Tech article in the N.Y. Times business section. Titled “Apps and Devices Assist New Mothers”, a new mom describes some apps, devices and Web sites “to make life a bit easier during those first few months of sleepless nights and days spent cooped up at home.”
Among these devices and happy apps, the author discovers the joys of reading on a Kindle while nursing her baby (she could turn the pages with a finger), and streaming Netflix on the iPad during the 3 a.m. feedings if too tired to read. Then there is a training club iPad app that will enable you to exercise in your living room while the baby naps or watches you from the bouncer chair. There are also apps to make “Thank You” notes easy and to take pictures of the baby to send to grandparents. Even better, an app for video calls with the grandparents along with a special case that enables baby to hold the phone protecting it from dropping, drooling and biting. (How old is this baby?)
The author recommends giving your old iPad to your baby after downoloading a white noise app that plays all night. There are still more apps that do still more things – too numerous to mention, Perhaps the most useful are the website links for companies that deliver diapers and other necessities often overnight. Also, what sounds like some gourmet meals, in case you are too tired to cook. In conclusion, the author mom writes, “Suddenly, it seems reasonable to hire someone to do things you never would have dreamed of doing in your pre-baby life.” And what of the cost in your post-baby life?
Several things struck me while reading all this, aside from what seemed to a non-techie like the insurmountable complexity of using all these apps. The mom writing this does conjure up some of the unexpected realities of having a newborn. But somehow, in the service of promoting the utility of all these apps, she makes new motherhood sound rather grim. In addition to mentioning “sleepless nights and days spent cooped up at home”, getting rid of extra weight through exercise seems like an impossible feat, “even when we can comfortably walk again.” Not to mention not having the child care or time to go to the gym. Life with a new baby begins to sound like a round of unending chores and fatigue.
Much is written for expecting parents about pregnancy and birth, and yet they are given little preparation for life with an infant in the early months. Perhaps no one can be truly prepared for an experience quite unlike anything earlier in one’s life. But the issues that are most significant – and not solved by apps – are the dependency we confront in a new way as mothers, and the emotional haze we find ourselves in during those early months of motherhood. Aside from the sleepless nights and resultant fatigue, which are certainly there, one is in a motherhood bubble that surrounds mom and her baby, which seems to take over the totality of one’s life and interests.
Recently, I spoke with a new mom who was also a rather newly minted doctor. She told me that she was just starting to feel a desire to return to work and reconnect with her practice as a physician. She described how during the first months she wanted only to stay home with her baby, and in fact was troubled by the idea that she had lost interest in the profession for which she had spent so many years and so much effort preparing. She spoke of feeling very glad now that she had done nothing irrevocable about leaving her practice and was thankful to friends who had children before her who alerted her, not that the bubble would burst – but would expand to include the rest of life.
The other thought I had reading about all these supposed motherhood apps, is that the intrusion of technology into interpersonal relationships that has been noted and discussed so much, is reaching down into the most basic mother-child interactions. The idea of reading a Kindle while nursing seems to turn the whole experience into a mechanical feeding operation, with no reference to the opportunity for communication between mother and child. In the description of the functions of the apps, the feeling one gets of motherhood in the early months is all about obligatory things to get done, with no awareness of the baby and his or her emerging senses and increasing connections to the world.
Will going through life with earphones attached begin at birth?