DIARIO DI MAMMA
Back in the day, dads – or papas as we Italians call them – did not join mamma in the delivery room or at the changing table or bathtub or feeding rocker. Papa’ went to work and patted junior on the head upon his return. If mamma suggested junior had misbehaved, he might step in to discipline him. Really, in Italian homes many a mamma took care of that kind of business all by herself. Frankly, it was mamma – and her wooden spoon (you Italians know what I’m talkin’ about) that put the fear of God in you. Things are very different now. Papa’ is quite involved in parenting and has a hand in just about everything (moreso here in the United States than in Italy, but it’s changing there, too). And mamma would go to jail, or at least face judgment by DYFS, if she actually used the wooden spoon on you; that doesn’t mean she can’t still wield it to get your attention. Just sayin.
Anyway, in 1978, when my parents were expecting my arrival, the doctor handed my father the pamphlet, “Useful Facts for the Father-to-Be.” It’s a beauty in all its 1970s sepia tone glory and replete with Dorothy Hamill hair on both mom and dad on the cover. That bassinet, with its fluffy, frilly pillows and sheets, are banned today for being baby killers. Luckily, I, and other babies of the era, survived. The words of advice speak to the times. This was the post-pill, post-Women’s Movement late 1970s. Many couples had the luxury of planning their families, which is addressed in the pamphlet.
Of course, many moms and moms-to-be were working outside the home. Still, sexism reared its ugly head even in the context of encouraging mom to keep her job. “…a husband is very wise if he encourages her to keep it. Not only can it help financially, but the continuous activity is often beneficial to a woman’s morale. Working speeds up the waiting period…” Sounds good so far, no? Wait for it. “…And encourages a woman to keep up her attractive appearance.” There it is. Even the feminist idea of having your wife continue to work and carve her own successes outside the home is rife with the sexist idea that she should do so to stay pretty, as if becoming a mom means becoming a frumpy, unsexy, asexual beast. This is a theme in the pamphlet. Later, in discussing the budget for maternity clothes, the pamphlet writer advises, “Though your continued warmth and affection is the best morale booster in the world, any woman feels a little better when she knows she’s looking her best.” While there’s some truth to that, the implication is always that woman’s worth comes from her looks as opposed to anything else, even the miraculous capability of carrying a child in her womb.
There are some signs that times were changing, however. Besides suggesting women could work outside the home, the pamphlet tells dad to get his own breakfast while mom is dealing with morning sickness and the like. It also tells pop to take mom’s fears seriously and to refrain from belittling her when she expresses them. I should hope so!
The time capsule aspect of this is the description of labor and delivery, which has dad hanging out in the waiting room mostly. But, in the end, the writer of this little book makes an astute point worth mentioning. When mom asks if the baby looks all right (yup, dad usually saw the baby first because mom was sedated), dad should reply, “Of course, the answer to the question is, ‘The baby’s marvelous!’ And so it is, just as all new mothers are beautiful.” Finally!
Tips on calling up diaper and housekeeping services, and leaving flowers, for mom and baby’s arrival at home were unexpected nice touches. My Italian family had the flowers (grown in our garden) but diapers and housekeeping was for nonna and mamma to do. Period. No one was spending money on those extras around here. That hasn’t really changed. Hmmm.
My favorite part of the pamphlet is the very last line, “For the second time around, you will probably be able to write your own book.” I think every parent the world over could agree with that.