by Zsuzsanna Anderson, wife of Steven Anderson from her blog Are They All Yours? – Nightmarish Memories of Nursery Hell
(Zsuzsanna is speaking of her time at Jack Schaap’s church First Baptist Church of Hammond Indiana)
FBC Hammond has a strictly enforced rule of no babies or young children in the auditorium. By strictly enforced, I mean the ushers at each door act as bouncers, and physically stop any parent from bringing young children into the main auditorium. If this policy has changed since then, someone please correct me.
When we first started attending there, Solomon was almost 2 years old, and Isaac was 6 months. While we were not fans of the nursery, we also were not categorically against it. Isaac had enjoyed the old nursery back at our home church, partly due to the fact that Solomon was in there with him. In Hammond, however, nursery was not cozy and sweet as one might imagine – it was baby bootcamp. Crying babies were not tended to, unless the schedule said it was time to feed, diaper, or move them to the swing. In general, emotional needs were a foreign concept, and coddling babies was out of the question.
I could write post after post about how particularly terrible the facilities and staff at the Hammond nurseries were. For starters, the meanest, oldest, most-opposed-to-breastfeeding matrons were put in charge of the youngest babies. For a church with hundreds of babies, there were about one dozen old, dirty metal chairs with arm rests in exactly the wrong positions crammed into the back of a ladies’ restroom for nursing moms. Due to the seating shortage, nursing sessions were restricted to 15 minutes per mom/baby. Yet, I don’t remember the chairs ever even being maxed out. All the good, responsible mamas dutifully pumped a bottle for church services, so their 2-day old could be left from 9:30 am before Sunday School started, until past noon when the morning service dismissed. Unless, of course, the parents had a bus route to tend to all afternoon, in which case baby was left from before Sunday School, until after the evening service dismissed sometime around 8 pm or later. I actually knew many people who would literally leave their tiny newborn baby in the nursery for that whole entire day, every week. Makes me shudder!!!!
One time, Isaac was about 8 months old, I had the audacity to nurse him twice in the same morning. Once between Sunday School and the morning service, and then again when, on mother’s instinct, I returned a few minutes later to check on him and found him wailing miserably, laying alone in a crib, completely ignored. I briefly nursed him again, hoping he would fall asleep. I had to be back in the main auditorium before the preaching started, at which point nobody could come and go any longer. The nursery worker in charge of Isaac that day was a particular piece of work. She made no secret of letting on just how much she despised my permissive parenting of a baby. I hated having to turn Isaac back over to her. He was so tired, but too worked up to relax and go to sleep.
When I returned after the service to get him, I realized that the little number tag that we received in exchange for our child was left in my husband’s suit coat pocket. Even though this woman had twice that morning handed Isaac to me to nurse him without requiring the number tag, she was now refusing to hand him to me, just to teach me a lesson. She insisted I must produce the tag to be given my child. She knew who I was, she knew I was the mother, she was just a jerk. Had Isaac been playing happily, maybe I wouldn’t have cared, but he was screaming, beet-red, worked up and overtired, back in that same stupid crib, obviously having been ignored for the last 90 minutes. And this woman was refusing to let me have him!!! This is back before everyone had cell phones, so I couldn’t just call my husband and ask him to come over with the tag. There was no way I was going to find him in this tangled sea of thousands of people crammed in tiny back hallways. (This was all at the old, overcapacitated church buildings.) We had agreed beforehand to meet at Isaac’s nursery after he picked up Solomon from his, so I figured I would just stay put and wait for him to show up. I told the nursery worker I at least wanted to hold my child in the nursery to console him while we waited for the “golden tag,” but she would have none of it, claiming my “street shoes” (which she also was wearing) would contaminate their floors. Isaac wasn’t even allowed one foot outside the nursery. It took my husband a good quarter hour before he worked his way over there, having had to wait in line for Solomon, etc. The whole while, this monster is holding my screaming baby hostage. My blood still boils just thinking about it.
Even before this, immediately after moving to Hammond, Isaac (who had virtually never cried in his life as he was the mellowest, most content baby we have ever had) started becoming fitful and clingy. Normal at that stage maybe, but greatly exacerbated by the nursery “care.” He would start crying anytime he couldn’t see me, or if I put him in the car seat. He started being up at night. Both he and Solomon started being sick for months on end – I would miss as many services as I would be able to attend, thanks to all the illnesses being brought home from the oh-so-sterile nursery. Must have been all those street shoes (eye roll).
I felt like I had two kids in day care, and I wasn’t even going to any of the many little classes and events they put on for the ladies, which always included nursery care. The pervading notion was that the more often a mother would drop her baby off to “serve God” in some other capacity, the more righteous and godly she was. Wives of full-time college students were allowed so many college credits for free each semester, and there literally were women who would take one 8 o’clock class, just so they could drop their baby off in the nursery, and leave it there until chapel dismissed at 1 pm. This would give them all morning, from 9 am to noon, to be footloose and fancyfree. The cheap nursery laborers were college girls taking the “Christian Wife and Motherhood” degree. So they were not only cheap, they actually PAID college dues to babysit in the nursery.
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NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
‘Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce