As the son of a scientist (Mum) and policy maker/economist (Dad), I was fascinated by James Taranto’s Wall Street Journal interview with Erica Komisar on her book “Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters.” Komisar is a self-described New York liberal who supports a year of government mandated maternity leave and a further two years of flexible, part time work. Moreover, her years of research, study and recent book on the importance of new mothers being there for their baby ought to make a compelling case for such a policy. Instead she found herself in the odd position of being shunned by NPR and much of the New York media establishment.
As the interview describes, her book looks at various elements of a baby’s early development, from their central nervous system to their and their parents’ production of different hormones. From her studies and from experiments she helped conduct, she concludes that babies are “much more neurologically fragile than we’ve ever understood”. In addition, because men and women aren’t biologically identical, producing different amounts of hormones critical for a baby’s neurological development, mothers and fathers aren’t fungible. Thus her conclusion that “mothers are biologically necessary for babies” because they are essentially a baby’s central nervous system until a baby fully develops its own.
She makes a fairly compelling case. The shame of it all is some of the reactions she’s received from agents: ‘No, we couldn’t touch that. That would make women feel guilty.’ And from a conference: ‘You are going to make women feel badly. How dare you?’ The obvious parallel is with the way in recent years some speakers are uninvited or not invited at all to college campuses. Her book might have it all wrong. However, the proper way to establish that is to debate it and invite opposing views.
But if she’s right, then she’d make a great ally for those who support mandatory maternity leave. As the interview concludes:
“If we defend the idea that mothers are not necessary,” she asks, “what chance do we have to get a maternity-leave policy?” As important as her insights into child development are, her policy proposal seems destined for the political orphanage.