Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Practice Babies

When I became a first time mother at the tender age of 35, I didn't know beans about how to care for a kid. I'd never baby sat or worked with little children, nor did I have younger siblings to raise.  My three years younger brother was too close in age and my mother would never have left me with him.  All we did was fight.

I had no idea what to do with my new baby. I was thrilled but clueless. Dr. Spock became my go-to guru after I wore out my welcome with day and night phone calls to the nurses at the hospital where I'd delivered. Hell, they had to put my son on my breast and teach me how to get him to latch on. That was  painful.

And I thought motherhood came naturally.                   

It doesn't.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that, once upon a time, there were "practice babies" borrowed by colleges for their domestic classes for young women. The babies were routinely borrowed from orphanages and given to a small group of young women, housed in a practice setting, to help them prepare for parenthood. This was commonly done between 1919-1969. I took an early "Women's Studies" class in 1973 and I'm shocked we weren't told of this practice. Oh the ridicule it would have received.

My local NPR station aired a podcast about this today and if you want to know more, take a listen. It's only 8 minutes and is fascinating.


I can honestly say, in retrospect, I wish they'd had these classes when I was in college.  It would have saved me a great deal of grief. 

Trouble is, I would have been too smug and/or stupid to take one.

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16 comments:

Life As I Know It said...

wow - I've never heard of that practice. Interesting!
I would agree that the mechanics of caring for a baby may not be innate (how to change a diaper, what a fever means, etc...), but the emotional parts are.

Stephanie said...

Interesting! I too had no experience with babies when my daughter was born. I was 30 so a bit younger than you! She just turned 29. Let's do the math...

Baino said...

Hmm not sure about the ethical side of lending orphans for 'practice' when they probably need to bond with someone long term. I do remember my mother when studying her midwifery late in life being given very lifelike 'newborns' to practice on.

California Girl said...

Life As I Know It: It would have been a tremendous help to know the daily needs of an infant and understand the mechanics.

Stephanie: You and I are the same age. Let's just not add the figures, k?

Baino: It doesn't sound ethical on the surface and I was appalled by the intro to the program. But if you listen to the feature, (only 8 minutes) there are interviews w/ women who experienced it and found it extremnely positive and address the issue of the babies.

DJan said...

I think it's actually a wonderful thing to have practice before having to be the one responsible person for a new life. Thanks for this segment, since I had also never heard of it before. Very enlightening.

Grandmother said...

I was a nurse before having my daughter but still felt inadequate when it came to being so totally responsible for this tiny, needy human being.
I like to think that those orphan babies profitted from more skin to skin contact and extra nurturing. Interesting post!

Nancy said...

I remember being shocked when the nurse woke me up at 4:00 a.m. to feed my first daughter - it was like whaat? don't you know I just had a baby and need my sleep....!!! I was 29 at the time and very used to only caring for myself. What an eye-opener, huh?

Deborah said...

Astonishing! This is the first I've ever heard of such a thing - now I'm curious to know if it happened in Canada.

And not a half-bad idea, either...

Mbabazi said...

lol at "tender age of 35" wish i could get me one of those when im pregnant to prep for the suffering ahead.

Rita@Goldivas said...

I agree with Grandmother, it was probably a very good thing for the babies. When I see modern parents keeping babies in carriers most of the time, I wonder if the babies suffer from lack of skin contact.

Also, as we have moved away from extended families, it is common for the parent's first experience with babies and young children to occur with their own children. These parents may have completely different expectations of the parent experience, and this can lead to very negative results. Years ago, some schools taught home economics as required courses for both boys and girls. I think they used dolls for babies, but at least there was some instruction that is missing nowadays.

California Girl said...

DJan: I'm guessing there are many women like me with little or no practice caring for a baby. I know there are two sides to this practice but if done correctly, legally & with careful monitoring, it seems beneficial to all.

Grandmother: I've often thought I'd like to volunteer to hold and rock orphaned babies in the hospital. I'm guessing that practice is still prevalent?

Nancy: an eye opener is right! I didn't close my eyes with the first one for the first ten weeks and he was EASY compared to son #2 who cried non-stop for the first five months. He just would not be consoled. I had him sleep in bed with us, his body against my side, as I lay sleepless, afraid of crushing him.

Deborah: I know! I'd never heard of it either.

Mbabazi: Welcome to my blog and thanks for leaving a comment. Yes, it would answer the questions that come up after the baby is born, like "Why is she/he crying?"

Rita: Welcome to the blog & thanks for the perspective. They use dolls in high school which is better than nothing. The show "The Middle" did an hilarious take on the eldest son bringing home one of those. He basically took the doll apart trying to get it to stop crying.

Susan said...

Fascinating! You know, if they would re-implement this practice, there would probably be a lot fewer babies ending up brain-damaged or dead from frustrated young parents who can't stop the crying.

Cole said...

hmmm...would you have lent out either son as a "practice baby"? And not just when they were screaming ;-)

California Girl said...

Hi Susan: You mean like "shaken baby syndrome"? I wonder if using practice babies would lower the rate of motherhood in general (LOL)?

Cole: No. I would never loan my baby out as a practice baby. These were orphaned babies. I know it's controversial but it serves a need if handled properly with alot of due diligence on the part of the agency in charge.

Cole said...

You're setting a double standard. One for your own babies and another for those babies not fortunate enough to have been blessed with loving parents. Not a large leap from there to the justification of a ruling class, based on circumstances of birth.

California Girl said...

Cole: you make a very good point and I know it's a slipper slope with pros and cons on both sides. The podcast contains firsthand experiences of women who were involved in one program. I would imagine the book goes into great detail as to how the practice fared over the fifty years it was in place.

Christina

Christina
by Cole Scott