I once took a farmer to task, accusing him of cruelty.
He'd separated yearling calves from their mothers. The cows were in uproar all night long. One traversed four fields, jumping fences to be reunited with her offspring. "It's brutal," I said. "Why do you do it?"
He said if he left them together, when the mothers dropped this year's calf they'd walk away with the yearling, abandoning the newborn.
I remember thinking that could never happen in human life. A mother would never abandon her baby. But then I was pitting the new baby against a toddler sibling. Clearly it's a different matter when a mother's choice is between her new baby and her career.
Or so it seems. There is a new super-smart trend in today's workplace. It's called micro maternity leave. It means being back on your Blackberry almost before you're out of the delivery room and back at your desk before the umbilical cord drops off. This we call progress.
You have to wonder why these career women bother having babies. It's not as if the world is short of them. Why carry around a growing foetus for 42 weeks if you are going to leave it in less than 42 days?
Look at the saga of Amanda Holden. The judge on Britain's Got Talent had a miscarriage last year. The press covered her distress and then celebrated her latest pregnancy. She was photographed looking pretty and happy and glamorous in vertiginous heels hours before the birth. Bit risky, I thought, but each to their own.
Real life asserted itself when Holden lost 13 to 15 litres of blood and almost died during the delivery. Yet only three weeks after the birth of her daughter she was back at work looking skinny in a short straight dress. Is she mad?
If so. she has plenty of company. Multi-millionairess Victoria Beckham tweeted before the birth of her fourth baby: "Maternity leave. What is that?"
Dr Helen Wright, headmistress of girls' school St Mary's Calne, had a baby in December 2009 and was at her desk by lunchtime the next day.
These women are in leadership roles. So what message are they sending to young women? Are they saying a baby needn't change your life? Who are they kidding? A baby will turn your life on its head – always presuming you plan to be a half-decent mother.
These women are exceptions. Most of us take months to recover from a birth. Dr Wright lives in the school grounds. Beckham and her ilk can afford to employ an army of nannies. The trouble is they set an impossible standard for those in the real world. They make it seem like failure to recover gently from a birth and spend time bonding with a baby when nothing could be more right.
Few women have a choice about going back to work before their baby is a year old. They constituted 24% of new mothers in 1981 but 67% by 2001. In today's economic climate their numbers must be rocketing.
You can read their comments on mother and baby websites. Even when they enjoy work they say they are "guilt ridden" and "broken-hearted" when they hand the baby into daycare and head for the office.
Not so Katie Hopkins, former Apprentice star. In April she wrote: "Being fulfilled as a mum means being fulfilled intellectually as a businesswoman." She has no desire to become "a bloated, brainless version" of her former self "spending endless days pureeing carrots. Just look at the gaggle of new mums slumped in Costa, breastfeeding in elasticated trousers, discussing the blandest details of their dull lives.
"They may be scoring earth mother points with their cracked nipples and recycled nappies, but they will always smell faintly of the cheese at the back of your fridge."
It's not what young women need to hear when they are struggling to enjoy motherhood. Maybe they are revelling in the only few months of adult life when they have a valid excuse to relax in elasticated everything.
Ask yourself, if you were the baby which mother would you prefer – the one sharing nipple cream with the mothers of your contemporaries or Mrs Tungsten Steel who did a 12-hour day on the eve of her first baby's birth and returned to the office three weeks later having discovered "the joys of formula and hired help".
Katie Hopkins wrote, "I was back in my suits ready to talk to smart people in the real world about real things."
I suggest you read that last quote again. Juxtapose it with a baby development chart which shows, for example, that in the second month of life babies discover their own voice, smile at their mother or father when they smile and look at their face when they talk.
Every day is a step along their physical, social, emotional and language development. Isn't their world the real world? Isn't their development a real thing?
There's lots of evidence to show the importance of the first 1000 days of a child's life – from conception to their second birthday. This is when the physical and emotional foundation stones are laid. Yet too often it's a job delegated to a hired help.
According to childcare expert Penelope Leach: "It's easier for a child to catch up on cognitive skills later on but they can't catch up on insecure attachment."
For the first 18 months, she says, they need lots of attention from a carer who thinks the baby is the cat's whiskers. It's less important that the person is trained than that they are warm, responsive, talkative and funny. Isn't that most likely to be a mother or a father?
It's when babies are in daycare from dawn till dusk that my heart breaks. However good the establishment, I find it hard to believe they get the sort of response to their cries they would receive at home.
Without a speedy response when they cry, they are flooded with cortisol, the stress hormone. Neuroscience studies show that too much can be toxic to a developing brain.
Successful women, whether they are singers, designers or business tycoons, understand the need to rise early, go to bed late and put in the hours that make the difference between an OK job and a superb performance. They understand the reward more than repays the effort.
Well, raising a baby is a job. It can be a lonely, repetitive and monotonous one. You start early, finish late and never get a day off. These days it's a fortunate minority who can afford to do it themselves.
They don't need a suit but they will mix with people real enough to understand that macro, not micro, maternity leave is the smart choice.
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