When I was a few weeks away from having my first child, my midwife gave me a pep talk about the postpartum period.
“You know,” she said, “you’re not going to be doing too much in the first few weeks besides sitting on the couch, recovering from birth, and nursing your baby.”
I smiled and nodded, secretly thinking, “No, not me. I’ll be up and at ‘em in no time.”
My midwife peered at me from behind her glasses, knowing I wasn’t fully comprehending what she was saying.
“No, I’m not saying that you won’t be able to get back on your feet. I mean you shouldn’t. Midwife’s orders.”
I nodded and smiled again.
But I didn’t take her advice to heart. I felt energized after a relatively easy birth, and although breastfeeding was extremely challenging and did require me to be chained to my couch a lot of the time, I tried to stay as active as possible during those first few weeks.
I was always the kind of woman to stay busy and productive. Why should motherhood change that?
It turns out that my midwife was right. I totally wore myself out. My postpartum bleeding lasted for six weeks, and I spiraled into a period of postpartum anxiety.
I eventually healed and got treatment for my anxiety, but when I had my second baby, I followed my midwife’s suggestions exactly. I made my husband take two weeks off (unpaid), and I lay in bed doing nothing but resting and breastfeeding. It was divine, and I ended up feeling so much better, healthier in body and in mind, than I had the first time.
Having had two very different postpartum experiences, I often ask myself, “Why didn’t I take my midwife’s advice the first time?” I think the answer is complicated, but I think a lot of it has to do with cultural expectations we have for postpartum moms in America, as well as a dire lack of resources.
You get a ton of attention when you’re pregnant — regularly scheduled doctor visits, plenty of doting by friends and families. Then, you have the baby, spend a few days in the hospital, and you’re out on your own.
In terms of physical care, you’ll see your doctor in six weeks — that’s it. And in terms emotional support, now suddenly all the attention is on your baby, not you.
It’s no wonder women feel blindsided by motherhood. It’s no wonder they often feel as though they’ve been hit by a bus — both physically and emotionally. It’s no wonder that postpartum mood disorders are through the roof.
To put it bluntly, we are not taking care of our postpartum moms. And it doesn’t have to be this way. In other countries, “mothering the mother” is as important as taking care of new babies. There are cultural rituals as well as government-supported systems in place to provide this care.
In America, not so much.
In America, we don’t give a flying fuck about our postpartum mothers. It’s, “Hey, look, you just pushed a baby out of your vagina, or had major abdominal surgery to bring your baby earthside. We’ll give you a few days — a week, tops — to get your shit together. Then go out into the world, and give it your all.”
America, you and I need to have a talk. Because I’m done. I’m pissed. I’m ready for a change. We all are.
Here are a few things we need to work, okay?
1. Moms need FREE help once they get home from the hospital.
Do you know that many European countries believe that all new moms are entitled to free help once they come home from the hospital? Yep. They get help with baby care, housework, breastfeeding, and more. Here’s a cool example of one woman’s experience with the comprehensive postpartum care offered in Holland.
2. Professional breastfeeding help should be easy to find and ALWAYS covered by insurance.
You’ve probably heard that lactation consultants are covered by insurance, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Well, it’s a great idea in theory, and is totally, absolutely necessary. But did you know that many moms are denied coverage? Insurance companies love to find loopholes in the law, and they are unfortunately succeeding when it comes to lactation coverage. Shame.
3. We need actual paid maternity leave, like yesterday.
You probably know that the United States lags behind all developed countries in terms of paid maternity leave. Do you know what it’s like be sitting in the recovery room with your newborn in your arms, and already be worrying about the possibility having to leave your baby in the care of others? No woman should have to be thinking of that on day one. But it is the story of many, many moms. Fix it.
4. Paid paternity leave should not be an afterthought. DADS MATTER TOO.
America doesn’t just lag in terms of maternity leave; it falls short of other countries in terms of paid paternity leave as well. I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t have gotten through early postpartum days without my husband there with me. And I think the amazing bonds he has with our boys started then. He didn’t have paternity leave, so he took off time without pay, and we suffered financially because of that. That’s just fucking wrong.
5. Fuck the myth that women are supposed to bounce back to life right away.
Studies have shown that it takes a whole year for a woman to recover from childbirth. Yep, a year. But after your six-week check-up, it’s like “Okay, you’re all glued back together, and exactly the same as you were before. Bye!”
And forget about the fact that you’re sweating like a banshee, your hair is falling out, and you haven’t slept more than an hour at a time in weeks. Nope, nopedy, nope, nope. We need to start getting real about what it’s like to be the mom of an infant and give moms time to get their mojo back.
6. Let’s start REALLY supporting women who have postpartum mood disorders.
The good news is that more postpartum professionals are learning how prevalent postpartum mood disorders are. Even the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) called for all OBs to screen mothers for PPMD’s in 2015. But it’s a recommendation, not a requirement, and some health organizations have said that there isn’t enough follow-up with the mothers who score positively for a disorder.
Also, as you might have guessed, it’s not always easy to find quality care that is covered by insurance. These are serious, serious disorders, and can sometimes result in tragic consequences if they are not properly addressed.
So get your shit together, America.
You are the country I was born in, and where I was proud to birth my own kids. But I honestly felt like I’d been thrown to the curb after I’d given birth. Is this the way we should treat our mothers? Our babies? The next generation of humans who will rule the earth?
Put your money where your mouth is. Pool your resources. And my fellow Americans: Vote for elected officials who have solid plans to address these issues head-on.
Moms, babies, and their families deserve respect and care right now. We can’t wait another minute.