Childbirth was challenging, but learning to take care of my baby during those first few weeks was much, much harder. It would have been difficult even if I’d been in optimal physical condition, but my body was quite roughed up from giving birth. I was so tired that I literally couldn’t speak coherently for days, and walking was a struggle for weeks. If I hadn’t had Jeff around to help me, I don’t know how I would have managed. Jeff did all the household chores, including preparing meals, cleaning, running errands, and walking the dog. I was constantly asking him to fetch me things, and I definitely couldn’t have carried Dax’s car seat to and from the car to take him to his first two appointments with the pediatrician.
The learning curve for new parents is incredibly steep. I’ve learned so much about so many different things in these past few months that I cannot possibly share them all with you here. Therefore, I’ll limit myself to discussing the most important thing I have learned, which is that our government needs to do more to support the parents of newborn children. Yes, this blog post is going to be political. Sorry about that.
New parents need help! I knew that those first few weeks or months with a newborn would be challenging, but I had no idea how challenging. I don’t think it’s the kind of thing you can completely understand until you’ve done it yourself, which is why it’s such a problem that most of our policy makers are wealthy, older men! Even if they have children, the majority could probably afford to pay for help when their children were born and/or they had spouses who could stay at home. Most people can’t do that. Most people have to go to work every day to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.
According to the Huffington Post, the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that does not mandate paid maternity leave for mothers of newborns. Many countries do far more than that for new parents. The Social Security programs in Norway and Sweden, for example, give over a year of paid leave that can be shared between the mother and father. There’s plenty of evidence showing that more generous parental leave policies lead to positive outcomes for children that probably save taxpayers money in the long run. If you don’t believe me, look it up. Sorry, but now that I’m a parent, I don’t have time to search around for articles to cite in my blog posts, especially when I am certain that what I am saying is true.
I now know that just breastfeeding is a full-time job, and I can totally see how it’s not doable for many mothers in the United States. Considering that babies are typically healthiest when they (1) are exclusively breastfed for 6 months, and (2) have the opportunity to develop a secure attachment to their primary caregivers, it seems obvious to me that as a society we should do more to support that.
In many ways, I am lucky; I have a flexible job and a husband who can support me both financially and emotionally. But money is tight. We’re hardly living the life of luxury. And as someone who works multiple jobs, all of which pay by the hour, I didn’t get any paid maternity leave at all. If it weren’t for Jeff, I probably wouldn’t have been able to take any time off from work, though I definitely needed to take time off for the sake of both my physical and mental health.
I LOVE being a mom so far. Even at three in the morning, I’m delighted to spend time with my baby. However, I find it stressful to be a mom, teacher, doctoral student, and wife all at the same time. (Not to mention my other informal or optional roles, such as runner, reader, blogger, and “informed” citizen). Fortunately, I won’t be a doctoral student for much longer, but even without that obligation, I have doubts about my ability to balance the rest of life with motherhood. I feel like I’m not particularly good at anything when I’m trying to do everything all at the same time.
I don’t know how single mothers, low income families, and mothers who, for whatever reason, need to go back to work right away (especially if they have physically taxing jobs) can manage. When you think about it, it makes sense why some parents go crazy and do horrible things like shake their babies. To prevent that sort of thing from happening, we, as a society, should really do more to support families. If that means higher taxes, so be it. It would be money well spent, in my opinion.
And I’ll leave you with that for today. I promise that my next post won’t be at all political. Until then, happy learning!