I’m teaching Introduction to Human Services right now. In this class, I emphasize systems theory and the complex, dynamic interplay between people and the environment. I cannot stop being a birth activist, nor can I stop being a social worker, so of course, one of the examples I use in class is adequate parental leave. Yes, parental leave. We talk about maternity leave more often in the U.S., but I consider it practically criminal that so many workplaces expect fathers to return to work within a few days after a baby’s birth. This isn’t fair to babies, mothers, fathers, or to workplaces or communities. As I explain to my students, we place people into abnormal situations and expect them to cope normally. When they don’t cope “normally,” we decide they have a disorder and need some medication or possibly parenting classes (or even removal of children). I also make sure to share this quote: It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society (Krishnamurti).
For Natasha Long, who was back three weeks after her third child, Jayden, was born in 2012, the worst part was missing out on bonding time with her son.
Long, who was 29 at the time, was determined to make sure Jayden got breast milk. But the factory where she worked, ACCO Office Supplies in Booneville, Mississippi, didn’t have a lactation room. So when she was on breaks, she had to run out to her truck. She sat in the cab, worried that someone might see her, and pumped, while tears rolled down her face and over the plastic suction cups attached to her breasts.
Long cried because she wanted to be holding her baby rather than sitting in the parking lot of a factory in her old Yukon Denali. But exhaustion clearly also played a role in her emotional state. Her job was simple—to place stickers with the company logo on the bottom right-hand corner of plastic binders and then box up the binders. But the shifts were long—from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.—and she put in four or five a week. Because the factory was an hour’s drive from her home in Okalona, Mississippi, Long had only 10 hours left in the day to do everything else, including tend to her three children, spend time with Jayden’s father, and sleep. By the time she got back in the evening, her children, who were being looked after by her father during the day, were on their way to bed. To pump breast milk before leaving for work, she had to get up at 4 a.m.
After just a few days of this crazed schedule, Long began to develop strange symptoms, including a headache that never seemed to go away and a choking sensation that left her feeling breathless. She started biting her fingernails to the quick—something she’d never done before—and crying a lot. “I felt like I was alone,” says Long. “I wanted to fall off the face of the earth.” Long had never been depressed. But when she went to the doctor, he surmised that her physical symptoms were rooted in her mental state, which was itself rooted in her schedule. When her doctor said he thought she was depressed, Long worried that if child welfare authorities found out, they might take her children away. She had seen other people’s children put in foster care. But when her doctor prescribed her antidepressants, she took them.
The issue here is not women’s inability to cope, it is that society’s expectations are disordered.
Here is another good article about the perils of no paid leave in the U.S.:
“I was in the car with my candidate with my brand new baby, a first-time mom, and I was driving to a fundraising meeting to shake somebody down for some cash,” Spradlin said. “I mean, I’m still bleeding. So I’m like, well, what pants do I fit into that are black, just in case I bleed through them. And these are not reasonable ways to behave. I mean, postpartum hemorrhage is a true and real cause of death of women.”
Spradlin is now a lactation consultant, a health-care professional who helps women having trouble breastfeeding. Too often, she said, “trouble breastfeeding” is really just a symptom of a deeper problem—a system that denies too many women the chance to heal and bond with their babies because they can’t afford to take more unpaid time off of work…
I’ve mentioned several times before that in my ten years in breastfeeding support, I’ve more often marveled that a woman continues to breastfeed, than I’ve wondered why she doesn’t.
I feel like almost every woman I meet or every one I speak to online is seeking community. We’re looking for the “tribe,” we’re looking for the village. We don’t want to do this alone.
The truth is, creating a village sometimes just isn’t possible and there have been many times as a mom a “break” isn’t realistic. Balance, thriving, creating time for you — sometimes, those helpful tidbits tossed out to drowning moms just make me feel like yet another thing I’m failing at…
The problem I note with self-care advice to “ask for help,” is that most people are in similar situations–it is hard to ask for help when the people you ask, also need help!
As we muddle our way through our own home-based life, often “too busy” and “too chaotic” and “not enough time,” I absolutely loved this article about messy importance of the every-day, the real, and the complicated:
…Joy will be there waiting when we’ve adequately tidied our lives, is simply another disempowering cultural story. A story that has an entire generation of humans (and particularly mothers) feeling bad about ourselves, scrambling to “keep up,” and futilely spending billions in attempts to find solace…