My baby is now 12 months old. She is a TODDLER. A year ago, I pushed out a baby who has been a joy since day one. Honestly, I feel like I got away with a crime having a baby who eats anything, sleeps through the night, and loves to go out. Today, she got 5 shots and blood tests and didn’t say boo. I then took her to the store and then Starbucks without incident. She’s healthy, she’s happy, and she is thriving. I almost feel guilty sometimes having it so “easy” but I’ve also faced my own struggles.
Today, I was thinking about the stuff that really made me struggle and hate life as a new mom and what I wish I would change for moms coming into babyhood now. I’ve had some time to think and I’m pretty sure I’ve found some things that moms deserve:
- Stratified outcomes in maternal health. I’ve written about how women of color have much worse birth outcomes. We do not live in a country where people should be dying from childbirth on a regular basis. And the nature of your ethnicity or race should NOT raise your risk of maternal death.
- Rural women, too, suffer from greater levels of inequity. And, in the era of consolidation of health services due to funding issues and increasingly tough profit margins due to a country that is unwilling to invest in health care as a right, women are getting fewer choices. I’ve railed about Baby Friendly hospitals before but now our town may lose the only facility that gives you a nursery, the right to formula feed without signing a waiver which says you are endangering your kids well-being, and resources that are not openly-shaming WHILE promoting breastfeeding and supporting moms who are nursing. This is due to consolidation. I expressed my concerns to our ped this morning and he says it is something he plans to bring up when he gets to way in on this plan to change the service agreement. His concern is for babies that are miserable while mom is waiting for her milk – some women struggle longer than others – because this nipple confusion argument and the prohibition of pacifiers is no longer viewed as scientifically accurate. I’ve written about that before, too. Baby Friendly is misguided and while I think women should be able to choose any type of birth plan and facility, I worry for moms who will feel judged by these providers. I was even just having a 6 mo old have surgery at a Baby Friendly facility. I explained these concerns to our ped today. He said that worried him because moms have enough to worry about when choosing care for their sick kids. He’s on point. I wish more providers got this.
- A lack of mind-your-own business about sleep habits. If you are comfortable with the risks of co-sleeping and it works for you, I will not judge you. It’s not my kid. It’s not my sleep. It’s not my problem. We thought thought the risks were high in our circumstance. It did not seem to be viable for us. Our kid has slept in a crib since day one and it has been great. We’ve also sleep trained to great success. I have been light on fire for this in a similar way to how my friends who cosleep have been treated by family members.
- A lack of academic rigor and common sense explanations in so-called mommy blogs. This is why I started my blog. I was sick of the mommy wars and poorly written journalistic accounts of studies. It’s hard to talk about science without being literate in science. More of us in the research community need to be involved in outreach. My job is currently focused on rewarding this outreach on my campus. If you are in science, please educate and refute rather than pile on. Sadly, even academics are drinking the judgey kool aid these days. We need to know better, do better, for real.
- A focus on moms as the center of the home and family. This is reflected in leave policies, an insistence that Breast is Always Best, and in the general assumption that moms are inherently good at child rearing and dads are just “babysitting”. ALL parents deserve leave. Especially in the case while moms are breastfeeding, that support network needs to be STRONG. Partners are vitally important to this effort. And, as I’ve said before, I think a key reason American moms struggle with breastfeeding continuation beyond 6 weeks is due to crappy leave policies. We don’t set moms up to succeed. And, for the same reason, we need to be supportive of moms who do not think the benefit of breastfeeding with term infants outweighs the lack of sleep, labor costs, and inequal division of labor in the early days of motherhood. We need to stop saying breastfeeding is free. If we were to devise formal models here, there would be high costs to this activity in terms of time, emotional strain, and issues with a return to work. Finally, when we put the onus on moms as being better parents, we leave men out of the crucial task of raising babies.
- Leave policies that suck. ‘Nuff said. American moms get the worst deal in the developed world. It’s simply unacceptable. And fathers fare even worse because many states don’t include them in paid leave or even unpaid leave policies.
- The inability to get good mental health care as a new mom. I detailed how difficult it was to get prenatal support and a continuation plan. Most psychiatrists would not see me. Therapists seemed to think I should just wait until I had my baby to start a plan, too. The reality was, with a mood disorder, I was facing the toughest challenge of my life. If I had waited until I had had my daughter to get an appointment I could have waited months before I saw someone and got on much-needed medications. My OB was not comfortable providing anything but an SSRI, which, guess what, would have made things worse! The system is very broken. It needs to change.
- A lack of changing stations. These cost very little to install. We should have them in every bathroom. In the past year, I have encountered so-called “family” establishments that lack them or have no diaper disposal option. I’ve also had to change R in a men’s room at the large medical facility that houses my psych’s office. And, guess what? That appointment always runs late so even if I change her in the car on the way in, she’s gonna pee and need a change before we get into the office. There is a large bathroom in the office but, of course, it does not contain a change table?! The change table was broken in the women’s which was a floor away and a 5 minute walk with a kid. So, I invaded the men’s room. I complained to my doctor and she said she would get one installed. Moral of the story, complain. A lot of places are just clueless and not thinking this through.
- People who shame women who get epidurals, inductions, or c-sections. This is just stupid. If you see someone say this to you or someone else, tell them off. Having pain does not make you a magical unicorn mother. If you choose an unmedicated birth and enjoy it, I think that is great- FOR YOU. In the end, we all bring life into this world and should have choices.
- The stay-stay-at-home vs. working mom divide. Again, this is stupid. Do I think we should be taking into account the implications of losing earning potential in the future and retirement income. I also think women should not be default stay-at-home parents because, after all, men do stay home and are just as capable. Full stop. Working moms work their fingers to the bone and come home to, statistically speaking, do a ridiculously unequal amount of domestic work compared to their male partners (if they have them, obviously). Single moms are on all the time. Stay-at-home parents struggle to find a safe balance between being the default parent and ensuring that their partner doesn’t think the have the ability to do nothing with the kids. Either way, finding a way to “have it all” is so tricky. No one is perfect and we all do the best we can.
- The cost of childcare. Childcare is a necessity for most families – even those with stay-at-home parents who return to work after a few years or parents who work part time. It is an incredible luxury to find good childcare for an infant or a secular pre-school which has convenient hours as a working parent who is not religious. Finding these is like finding a unicorn and being able to afford it is a privilege I am thankful to have. It’s no joke. Raising productive citizens requires getting good care. That should not be a privilege. Affordable, quality care should be available for all.
- The culture that makes you think you need to spring for everything or your kid will be a murderer. Didn’t spend $400.00 on a bassinet sidecar? You’re a monster. Bought a basic pack n play? You’re evil. You aren’t getting your baby a play kitchen? You are unbelievable cruel! You still rent? Obviously, you are raising a serial killer. You shouldn’t feel bad for giving your kid necessities and a few good books and toys for their first year of life or buying stuff used. We bought most of our clothing used, encouraged doting grandparents to do the same, and our kid had about 5 toys she played with at any given developmental stage. She hasn’t killed anyone yet. If you want to buy them everything, of course, do so! But no one should be made to feel guilty for being frugal and practical about most parenting choices.
Being a mom is HARD, guys. I wish I could make it all better. The reality is I, alone, cannot. If we all work together, we can make life better for those around us. You shouldn’t feel guilty if things are going well but you should be able to reach out if you are struggling.