By Morgan Messick
This is not a piece about postpartum in the time of covid, difficult as it is, with less human contact and access to resources. No, unfortunately the postpartum period at any time, under any circumstances is woefully under-supported in our society and it’s a big problem. We read about the magical policies of other countries, where families are supported and granted parental leave for sometimes up to a year (or more!). Fathers are encouraged to be at home with their new children, sometimes even required to be! In these foreign lands, mothers walk away from their delivery with baby boxes full of all the postpartum and baby supplies they could possibly need. Magic money appears in their bank account allowing them to transition more easily during this fresh new phase of life.
Not in America. In America, it feels like a dystopia where decisions are being made on behalf of our mothers. Oftentimes, by individuals who are not mothers themselves. In this, my homeland, mothers are being deprived of basic needs and support for things like breastfeeding and lactation. Not only that, but we’re being given mountains of paperwork to fill out after traumatic births, being shuffled out the door with a bill that will break the bank, and then being asked “hey, when are you going back to work?”.
You’ve probably heard that birth is a business, and sometimes it feels that way. And when the contractual business of having a baby is done, our society stops caring about the mothers. Instead, new mama’s are thrown out to fend for themselves physically, mentally and emotionally.
The amount of appointments you attend while your baby is in utero can feel clunky and excessive at times. Some moms are constantly going in for check ups, trying to juggle life, kids and so much more while attending back-to-back appointments. We check on our unborn babies a whole lot — and that’s a good thing! But, once that baby emerges, the appointments slow down, and the focus shifts.
The mother is no longer looked after. Her body and mental state is no longer regarded as a priority. When we go into the postpartum period (#fourthtrimester), we may have 1-2 check ups from providers, but often the most we get in those appointments is a series of paper surveys gauging whether we are experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression or anxiety (the Edinburgh PostNatal Depression Scale). Even with proper evaluations, the onus is on the mom to reach out and circle the number that screams for help. There is an immense mental and emotional burden that mothers are bearing on their own, and it’s a big problem.
So, we don’t have support in America. But not only do we not have support, we’re often exploited for work so quickly after birth, it’s staggering. This might be upsetting for many people to think about, but if you’ve actually birthed a baby and experienced postpartum first hand, it’s mind-numbing to think of women getting back out there (some on their feet all day) weeks, or even days after giving birth.
We are being asked to work like we don’t have children, and mother like we don’t have jobs. Being a parent is a full time job, having a job is a full time job, and keeping a home in order is at least a part-time job. Add in those who have pets, or other family to care for, and – in this pandemic – possibly homeschooling and MORE. Many new moms are being thrown into some combination of these circumstances the moment they give birth. It’s overwhelming. It’s unmanageable. It’s horrible, and it’s sad that it’s not at all shocking in our country.
I’m a first time mom, and I am 11 weeks postpartum while I write this. Here are the resources I was able to tap into for my journey:
- I had the best prenatal care available in Austin (shout out to the Austin Area Birthing Center)
- I had adequate postpartum care through six weeks
- I had a doula to support me before and after birth
- I have an amazing partner, committed 100% to co-parenting with me and sharing the load
- I had an astounding amount of maternity leave by US standards (took 12 weeks, partially paid)
- My partner was able to take 12 weeks of paternity leave (PAID) and has been by my side the whole time
- I left my birth center with an enormous support group (thanks to the Centering Pregnancy program) that I am able to reach out to 24 hours a day through a group text
- I am able to buy the best baby products available to help my baby eat, sleep and live her best life
- I have had access to free lactation consultants through my insurance to help me wade through breastfeeding difficulties
I have some really great support right now, and I STILL find myself drowning in the day-to-day new parenting moments. Even with all of this help laid at my feet…it hasn’t been enough. From this mountain of privilege that I am lucky enough to be on, it’s not enough for me and the vast majority of new moms get much less than what I have to work with.
I am just about to return to work, and I am devastated inside with how difficult this is going to be for me. I am so anxious about what it all will look like, and how I will be able to cope, and how in the world I’ll get it all done. It’s not a contest for who has the most problems to contend with, but rather a bleak outlook for all mothers. No matter how big or small our troubles or successes: we are all in this boat together, and the boat has been sinking for years. We could all use more support.
When it comes to postpartum care, we are looking at a systemic problem in our country. The system is broken; mothers are treated very clinically during their postpartum time and we don’t proactively prepare women for what this period can be like. Instead, women are given statistics like “1 in 10 women will experience postpartum depression.” “According to some experts as many as 70-80% of women will experience the baby blues,” and “Many will go on to experience more severe conditions such as postpartum depression or anxiety, and it can hit at any time during the first year of your baby’s life.”
We are given this information to carry — on top of carrying the emotional weight of a new child, being sleep deprived, having a body that feels wrecked and generally tired in so many ways. We are asked to contend with the possibility that we may end up being a part of these statistics, and we may or may not be able to get the help we need — either way, it feels like it’s up to us to navigate on our own.
So, we become our own teachers, and through this we get lost in our roles from day-to-day and the moments fly by, self care is thrown out the window and before you know it you’re back at work, or it’s laundry day again, or you forgot to feed the dogs. Time is a thief, and sometimes it’s hard to catch your breath.
New as I am to motherhood, what I know is this: There’s so much trial and error, and sometimes it can feel like a stack of failures have piled up around you. And Mama, there will be moments that feel like failures. Wear them like a badge, because failing so much, so often, is not a sign of not succeeding, it’s a sign of love, effort, and a path to victories. It means you care enough to persist, to be resilient, and for that you’re the greatest mom in the world. And Mama, know that you’re not measured by the amount of ounces you can pump or whether you feed your baby formula (fed is best) or the hours of sleep your baby gets or how many dishes are in the sink or how many pounds you lost after the baby was born or or how many milestones your baby is hitting a month or how much work you are able to get done outside of mothering. You are measured in the love in your baby’s eyes — and they do love you so much!
We are thrown into a new world, given (less than) the bare minimum of support and we are coming out the otherside. Postpartum is hard, motherhood is hard, but we can do hard things.
They say it takes a village, but we don’t get one. (America, let’s do better M’kay?) In the meantime, find your supports where you can get them, Mama. Reach out. Ask for help. Join local groups online (in person, when it’s safe again!).
You’re strong as a mother, and I believe in you!
Morgan Messick is a first time mom to baby girl Marlo Jean, just coming out of the fourth trimester in Austin, TX. She’s a marketing professional with a passion for her dogs, fantasy, pop-culture content and crushing the patriarchy and systemic inequities. You can follow her blog MorganizedMess.com for all the things.