The Great Mom Debate
This is a topic I have wanted to write about for some time, as it is such a hot button discussion right now. I was once one of those who touted that I could do it all- when in fact, it has taken me years to realize, I cannot do it all by myself.
In past generations, our children were raised by a “village ,” comprised of family, friends, and other local stay-at-home moms. However, as we approach 2020, due to the increased cost of living and the progressive rise of the modern day woman in the workforce, we have slowly and progressively created the expectation that we can completely and independently do everything ourselves.
To make matters worse, the load of responsibilities that is required to achieve this has only continued to steadily increase. Expectations increase. Workload increases. And somehow, amidst all of this, our support systems seem to be decreasing.
As opposed to our parent’s generation, the majority of modern day households now require that both parents are employed in order to make ends meet financially. In the 1970’s, that statistic was closer to only 30% of families. Therefore, the vast majority of families functioned with one parent, (usually Mom or a female family member), who was always at home. As much as we pretend that the drastic change in this statistic doesn’t matter, it actually very much does.
As the tides have shifted, and women have taken on more and more of the financial responsibilities of providing for families, the expectation has become that we can also continue to financially, emotionally and physically support our families and continue to maintain our household and childbearing responsibilities exactly the same way we would as if we did not work at all- but with 40-60 less hours per week to do so.
What I have learned, through years of my own childbearing, and experiencing both sides of this very emotionally charged debate, is that we ourselves actually seem to be creating that very unrealistic expectation. We strive to prove that we can do it all, and that we can do it all perfectly and consistently. We, both the stay at home moms and working moms alike, more even than society in general, have set an impossible standard.
When I find myself falling into that pit of self-criticism and angst, it is often because I feel disappointed in myself for not being able to keep up with the standard that I have created for myself. Regardless of whether that standard is realistic, I hold myself to it, and I tear myself apart when I feel as though I am not fulfilling it. I then project my criticisms, apply them to everything around me, and intertwine them into whatever is happening in my life. Suddenly I can’t do anything right and I have become a failure-but only in my own eyes. So of course, if I am a failure in my own eyes, I must also be seen as a failure to everyone else, right? Therefore, in this twisted logic I have created for myself, society therefore considers me a failure. But is it really society that is causing me to feel this way, or is it the fact that I, as a BOTH a career woman and a mom, just continuously expect far too much of myself? And if that is the case, WHY do I expect so much of myself?
To begin with, there is a very distinct issue with the way our country both views and supports our women, I am certainly not in denial about that fact. This is especially relevant in modern day society, where women make up more than half the workforce. (That’s right- we outnumber you, guys!!) Given the drastic change in that statistic, we really need to reevaluate as a country how we support women after childbirth, and we need to consider our expectations of women in the workplace who need and want a healthy work-life balance. That is NOT currently happening, I have been on the receiving end of that very unfair treatment in multiple different roles that I held over the years, and it is a long term goal of mine to be a part of the change that needs to happen to fix it.
However, even more than we need support from the workplace or society as a whole, we NEED to support EACH OTHER. This is what I see as one of the most significant problems with this debate- regardless of what role you have, home, working, children, no children, married, not married, straight, gay- I don’t care what you consider yourself- we need to be more supportive of each other. Too many women feed their own egos by tearing others down. Too many women judge each other for whatever choices we make. We can request all we want that society support us, but why should they, when we don’t support each other?
When I went back to working two jobs at 5 weeks postpartum with my very first baby, very blatantly in the realm of undiagnosed postpartum depression, there were many factors that created the situation I found myself in. Yes, financially I had to work, because we needed both incomes to pay our bills, and I also carried our health insurance. Additionally, as a full time nurse in an obstetrical setting, I did not have maternity leave coverage. Yes, you read that correctly. I worked in a maternal health obstetrical setting and I personally did not receive one single penny for maternity leave. My employer was also working mother, and it was a small private practice, therefore this was a direct result of her choice not to provide that as part of our coverage.
I didn’t recognize my own depression the first time, and I didn’t recognize it the second time. Again, I worked in an obstetrical setting for my entire career- no one recognized this as postpartum depression, because it wasn’t common practice to even look for it at the time. It was an afterthought, a discussion that often didn’t take place in the exam room unless a patient was crying or obviously not well. With my second delivery, it was my beloved pediatrician- the same pediatrician who cared for me when I was growing up- who recognized the symptoms. I’m not even sure how, other than that he knew me so very well. I was there with Grace for a six month check-up. I don’t remember what triggered it- but he looked at my face, and asked, “are you okay?”
That was all it took.
I started bawling my eyes out right there in that moment.
“No,” I said. “I’m not okay.” Even I couldn't explain what I was feeling, but it was not okay.
I started Zoloft. It did help, but it was masking the actual issue, which was the fact that in both of these situations, I wasn’t allowed to mother my babies the way I needed and wanted to, and I wasn’t allowed time to heal and adjust to being a mother to them. I had to work, I had to keep going, I had to drag my breast-pump everywhere and be chastised for taking too long while pumping in the exam rooms at work. With my second, I had a two hour commute each way at minimum. My role was in high risk obstetrics (maternal-fetal medicine), and it was a very busy and stressful environment. Factor in pumping and commuting, and I barely saw my baby at all during the week. I remember taking her to bed with me just because I selfishly wanted to hold her while we slept, because that was the most time I had with her during the week. I am blessed and fortunate that my parents live locally and have helped raise my children, so I do not feel regret for the choices I made, because I know my children were loved and cared for when I was working. But it’s time I will never have back. Certain things would sting. If she rolled over, or said her first word, I wasn’t home to hear it. But my parents were there for those milestones, and I am very grateful for that.
At least I do have a village.
By the time I had my third, I was both working full time and entrenched in graduate classes for my Nurse Practitioner degree. I was already an emotional trainwreck by the end of that pregnancy, so I fully expected the wrath of the anxiety and depression to hit when I delivered. This time, I knew what to watch for, and sure enough, when the hormonal roller coaster began soon after my delivery, I put myself right back on Zoloft. But this time, there was one very big difference.
This time, I didn't have to go right back to work.
I had partial coverage for maternity leave, I had some savings, and I had a second income supporting me. This time, I was fortunate enough to be able to spend three whole months at home with my baby. It felt amazing. Three glorious months of cuddling, snuggling, and watching her grow. During those months, I didn’t work, and I took a semester off from school.
I had 60% maternity leave coverage for a duration 6 weeks at home, and then I took a loan out against my retirement to supplement the rest.
Yes, you read that correctly.
I supplemented my own income to be at home with my baby.
I was working full time in a high-risk obstetrical setting, and my maternity leave coverage was 60% of my salary for just 6 weeks. That was the state standard, that was the norm anywhere you looked. I felt grateful to have even that much, given I had zero support after my first delivery.
In order to support myself after having a baby, I had to borrow against my retirement.
Just let that sink in for a minute.
This is how we currently support our women in the workforce, and not just our women in the workforce, but our women who work in this very field. My job, my role in society involves caring for, supporting, and helping childbearing women- but even I lacked support after I had my own children.
This is the most significant issue we have currently to address in the realm of maternal health- we do NOT adequately support our childbearing women in the workforce., physically or mentally. We aren’t doing it. It simply doesn’t happen.
And I was one of the fortunate ones.
My husband could work from home, and I have supportive family all around me.
Most aren’t as lucky as I have been to have the support that I have had to help raise my children- in fact, many are doing this entirely alone.
I went right back to full time employment and dove back into my graduate classes at 12 weeks postpartum.
Again, I was back to driving endlessly long commutes, spending full days away from my children, and dragging my breast pump with me everywhere I went.
At home, I was desperately trying to keep up with my household responsibilities, studying until 2 in the morning and waking up at 5am to do it all over again.
I was never just "home."
During the day, I was pumping in the car, in bathrooms, exam rooms, wherever I could because for some reason in my head, I justified the need to keep pumping, as if I was making up for the time I wasn’t at home by giving my baby breast milk.
Even when I learned Sophia had a milk protein allergy, I restricted my diet and kept pumping.
I contributed to my own anxiety and depression by setting impossible standards for myself.
It feels like a lifetime ago, and she’s only four years old now.
It has taken a great deal of personal growth to learn to love myself.
Finding a better balance has helped me.
My family has helped me.
Medication has helped me.
Yoga has helped me.
My friends have helped me.
Taking care of myself, putting my own needs before everyone else- learning how to do that, has helped me.
I still struggle with that part. When I have 76 emails to catch up on and the sink is full of dishes, and my kids want to play, I struggle to turn it off. But now I am more mindful of my choices.
Dishes can wait- time with my children is something I will never have back.
Self-care matters- it is NOT a chore.
I practice a blend of holistic and modern medicine because that is what our society needs- a better balance.
Not just drugs and unrealistic expectations.
More preventative care, more wellness, better mental health access.
My take-home message, in all of this sharing of my own personal experiences, is that because I have lived through it, both personally and professionally, I see so very clearly the vast lack of support for our women, but on so many different levels.
It isn’t just society lacking in supporting us and setting unrealistic expectations.
It’s also the expectations we set for ourselves, the standards we hold ourselves to, and the unwillingness we have to just be supportive of one another.
The default is to tear each other down, rather than to build each other up.
Not only are women not adequately supported in the workforce, or in childbearing, but we are not even supporting each other the vast majority of the time.
Many of us preach it- empower women, support women- but do we actually practice what we preach?
In my experience, most of the time, we do not.
We have the power to change that just by supporting one another.
It’s that easy to start making the change.
Individually we are strong, but together, we could be powerful.
Sadly, I feel confident saying again, we have a long way to go.
But something must be done, because one thing is for sure.
The statistic has already changed, and women are not backing down.
I hope the concept I have created with KatMula Wellness is just a small start, in both promoting wellness and in providing support for women locally, right here in this community.
We need that mindset to spread across our nation.
We need to create the ripple, and watch the effect we can have.
The Future is Female.
Get on board.