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After my wife delivered our daughter on June 20 and my mother survived a major stroke on July 3, I spent some hours thinking about the possible beginnings and endings of lives.

single mpom

Our daughter is now six weeks old and, so far, healthy. My mother is recovering and began the return trip to her home on August 2.

During a month and a half of days, I observed the work of the staff members in multiple units in two hospitals—Passavant in Jacksonville and Memorial in Springfield, Illinois—and started a crash course of on-the-job training in parenting. Due to the wonders of modern technology, I was able to search for the answers to various questions as they occurred to me.

These experiences taught me a lot, and undoubtedly I learned more than I currently comprehend. Here are a few preliminary conclusions that comfort me and also generate new questions.

The nurses at both hospitals were superb, and on behalf of my family, I wanted to express publically our debt of gratitude toward them. We do not praise or support the right targets frequently enough in our society. We often overlook or fail to reinforce the people who actually are succeeding and pulling their social weight. Too many people delight in public displays of unfair criticism, and too many citizens consume this pornography of cruelty.

I witnessed numerous instances of competence and compassion from doctors, rehabilitation therapists, social workers, and housekeeping staff. The positive benefits of years of education, training, and experience were omnipresent among the professionals who cared for my family members.

There are many problems with our health-care system, and given the amount of money we spend on it, our country should be getting better results. Read Steven Brill’s disturbing article “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us,” in the March 4, 2013, issue of “Time Magazine” for an enlightening overview of the mess that we have made.

Our problems, however, are primarily structural and systemic. The people who work within our health-care “industry” generally are among the world’s best practitioners of their professions. They deserve a better system in which to deploy their talents.

As practical advice to any young couples, I offer two suggestions. First, if possible, buy a house or rent an apartment that is close to a good hospital and a good pediatrician. You will appreciate the convenient location when expected or unexpected chaos appears in your life.

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Second, if you decide to use disposable diapers, you quickly will discover that some well-known brands are clearly superior to others. After ninety-six permutations, I conclude that one brand does not hug a baby’s bottom as tightly as it should and that this is one area in which you want to spoil, so to speak, your child.

Finally, one serious conclusion burns with such bright clarity that it is impossible to overlook even when you are deprived of sleep. Raising a child well takes enormous amounts of time, effort, and money. I doubt that my wife and I are the first couple to wonder incredulously, at 3:30 a.m. as we smile down at the wide-awake infant in our arms, how in the heck this species is surviving.

Yet almost every time our society decides to have a “national conversation” about a public-policy issue, such as poverty or food aid, some citizens apparently feel an irresistible temptation to demonize single mothers, most of whom—I believe—are doing the best they can at a brutally difficult task. Our suspicion of single mothers is widespread; in 2011, the Pew Research Center found in a survey that 69 percent of Americans said “the trend toward more single women having children is bad for society, and 61% [said] that a child needs both a mother and father to grow up happily.”

I understand that you can always find examples of bad parents or irresponsible adults. Anyone who watches television sees many examples every day. I know, though, that most single mothers or functionally single mothers (e.g., wives whose husbands are deployed overseas or who work long hours for our “family-friendly” corporations to support their dependents) need a society that will provide help—ample funding for parental leave, prenatal care, child support, and day care.

We would, of course, provide this help if the majority of us truly believed what we told the Pew Research Center. Unfortunately, we will not admit that the single mother is often in a bad situation made worse by a male deadbeat, and the opportunistic bashing of these single mothers, a behavior ranked somewhere beneath contemptible, goes on and on.

nick capo

Meanwhile, I still have many unanswered questions, and fortunately, as the proud parent of a newborn, I only vaguely remember the concept of “uninterrupted sleep” and have plenty of time to explore them.

Nick Capo

Nick Capo, associate professor and departmental chair of English at Illinois College, writes as a public scholar and private citizen.

Republished with the author's permission from the Jacksonville, Illinois, Journal Courier.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013