Sweeten Her Maternity Leave, Make a Meal. She May Make Her Breastfeeding Goals

Maternity leave, what a challenge this time can be for so many families.  For single mothers providing for a family, maternity leave can seem like a high-class privilege instead of a necessity. I am self-employed, I run my business on cash and have no debt.  Our family finances are tight and I pretty much pay my business expenses and put the rest towards saving for taxes, then I take the rest home.

You may already know about my breastfeeding goals, because of that I chose another 12 week maternity leave.  My husband’s business does not cover all of our expenses, so things are very lean while I’m off work.  We used quite a bit of our savings for month-to-month expenses during my three month maternity leave.

meal train logo

My first doula, and dear friend set up meal trains for me.

We would not have survived the month of September were it not for our community supporting us with a meal train. Every person made a meal that served us for more than 2 meals, and they were all gluten-free and dairy-free!  For one-third of my maternity leave I didn’t have to shop, plan or prep meals, just heat and eat.  What a blessing!

Breastfeeding Baby

Breastfeeding rates for all babies in the USA drop from 79% at Birth to 27% at 12 months. These rates are approximately 16% lower for black babies

Breastfeeding rates steadily decline in the USA from birth to 12 months.

I was just thinking about how how drastically breastfeeding rates change from 79% at birth to 49% at 6 months to 27% at 12 months.  Many women return to work before the 4th trimester is over.  Did you know that the 4th trimester is not only important for baby, but also for mom?  Babies are designed to suckle not only for milk, but for comfort and that suckling sends a message to your body as it transitions from the hormonal regulation of milk supply to the “use it or lose it” regulation of supply and demand.  Short maternity leaves are a factor for many women having milk supply concerns.

Returning to work at 8 weeks postpartum with my first was one of the many obstacles that lead to my daughter weaning at a heart-breaking 9 months.  Even though I was able to pump at work, it was loaded with stress.  I could skip a client to pump or lose money and pump.  That combined with the fact that sometimes I made mistakes in my schedule led to less stimulation that I would have had with a real-live baby.

Do we need government intervention?

I’ve been interested in a petition I’ve seen advertised on Facebook to support families with longer paternal and maternal leaves.  I do believe the US stands alone in many family-unfriendly practices.  The government offers n0 leave, and only provides for an unpaid 12 week time off through FMLA, for qualifying workers.  Although this is a federal protection, many HR departments bully families into taking less time off.  Here are 10 things you should know about maternity leave in the US.

I don’t know how to fix our broken nation, so maybe we should just start with our hearts.  Maybe we should be the change we wish to see.  Indulge me in some imaginative questions:

What if, through the generosity of our hearts, it was the cultural norm to provide meals for families with a new baby for the first 3 months?  No rules or regulations, it was just “the thing we do” because it seems right?

Imagine your food budget.  What if it was completely covered my friends, family, neighbors and your place of worship?  How much money would that save you?  Would that be $600, $800, $1000, $1500, $2000 in savings?  Our diet is gluten-free when affordable and dairy-free (except at holidays, mmm whipped cream and gluten free biscuits!).  We rely on veggies and shop at a local co-op with some of the best organic prices in town.  For us it would be about $2000 in savings.

What might that look like?

Maybe mom can afford an extra month of maternity leave.

Perhaps she would feel more successful. Thanks to you, she saves about 1-2 hours a day NOT prepping meals.  She might not have to rely on take out, or less nutritive pre-packaged items.  She might have the wonderful feeling of feeding her family, with very little effort.  No meal planning, no grocery shopping, no chopping, rinsing or cooking.

Tired Mom Shopping

Save your friends from this hassle, make a meal!

She might not be as tired.

It’s possible that she would be less likely to have her bleeding increase from “doing too much.”

She might have time for more naps.

Showering can fit in to her “breastfeeding marathon” schedule better.

Perhaps she feels freer to play with her older kids, or help them with homework.

Maybe She could enjoy breastfeeding more, because she isn’t thinking about “all the things” she should be doing.

What does it cost to make a big casserole for a family, $25?  The blessing of that meal can’t be quantified, because it does so much more than replace the cost of grocery savings.

What if it was just the norm to make sure every new mom had all her meals covered for 3 months?

This post is not an emotional manipulation, but really a charge for change.  Our hearts should be ready to serve our neighbors, and what a simple way to make a difference.

A difference that could: curb triggers for postpartum depression, help support breastfeeding goals, fill bellies of older siblings feeling a little displaced with a new baby, make moms feel more successful, help meet a financial need.

What a small sacrifice, from a handful of people, to make such an impact.

 

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Post Partum Body

I read an article today from Scary Mommy http://www.scarymommy.com/the-luxury-of-not-giving-a-damn/  There is a quote that summarizes her point well.  “It’s a gift not to give a damn how my body and face compares to others.”

It’s a gift I long for, to face each day without thoughts about how my body is worse than another woman’s.  It sounds pretty awesome.

I was overweight when I got pregnant, each time.  I lost 15 pounds, 17 pounds and 10 pounds during the first trimester “morning sickness.”  From my lowest weight at the start of the second trimester, I gained 28 pounds, 23 pounds and 20 pounds.  I never lost all the weight in between pregnancies. I am currently 10 pounds above the “Healthy BMI range” and 17 pounds heavier than when I (re)met my husband. I think about that multiple times a day, I think about my weight.

My schedule changed, my priorities changed, my commute time changed (I walk to work) and my motivation changed.  My legs are not as slim as I’d like them to be.  My hips are a  little wider.  I can’t fit into my favorite dress, and never expect to wear it again.My tummy is not flat or firm, and my hair isn’t as enviable as it once was.  After Z weaned, I had acne for 16 months and had to go to a dermatologist.

I wish I could be where the author of this article is.  My body has done amazing things, but I just don’t know how to accept it.  I guess I am still reeling from the fact that I’ve always been insecure about my body, and my breastfeeding experiences didn’t heal that.  In fact, they made it worse.

I don’t want my girls to compare themselves to me, to each other, or heaven forbid someone who has a trainer and can work out 3 hours a day.  I want to be a good example of a secure woman.  I’m just not there yet.

How can I possibly feel joyful about this vessel, if I compare it to the gal who is size 0?  How can the woman who struggles with miscarriage forgive her body when she looks at her friend who is a fertile Myrtle?

I don’t know.  I am trying though.

I’m starting with my words.  I’m working not to let comparative or negative language pass my lips.

I’m working on my thoughts, policing the words is a great first step.  If I can stop a word, I can stop a thought too.

I’m replacing those messages with the truth and with gratitude.

It’s a small start, but it’s a start.

I gave myself bed rest

I ate a HUGE piece of humble pie this postpartum period.

I birth J on a Wednesday evening.

On Thursday, I took her in to the chiropractor and the doctor. I was exhausted.

On Friday, I walked to the ice cream shop with our awesome neighbors.

On Saturday, I made my husband stay home from work.

On Sunday, I felt great.  I walked to church, did some weeding in the garden and cooking.  Suddenly I felt massive pain when I flexed my hips or torso.  I had debilitating pain sitting up to nurse, moving from sitting to standing, from standing to sitting, side lying and walking.

My midwife texted me “doing WAY TOO MUCH”  I ended up in bed, bedsides using the bathroom, for more than 24 hours.  REst did the trick.  Unfortunately, it took me 3 full weeks to walk without pain.  At 8 weeks, I still have discomfort every so often.  I have pain if I walk more than a mile.

I reject these expectations on new moms; get back into shape, have it all, etc.  In theory I do.  Personally, I want that perfect image.  I want to “bounce right back” and earn bragging rights.

Well, my body can’t keep up with my ego.

I not only did myself a disservice, I hurt my whole family.  If i had simply rested from the beginning, we would all have had an easier time.

 

Maternal Health

 

Forty-seven countries have better maternal outcomes than the United States of America.  Based on data from 2010, the USA has 28 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.  Fifty-seven* have better outcomes for babies than the USA. This is despite spending 111 BILLION dollars  on maternal and newborn care that same year.

Why does the US have such awful outcomes for moms and babies, when we spend so much?

The short answer is, “I don’t know.”  I have a few theories, and I hope someday to delve deeper into the data.

Health Care Provider Bias

Racism.  The USA is deeply divided by race, and I have had the misfortune and eye-opening opportunity to see this play out in the a labor & delivery room.  It is sad to say, but race is sometimes a factor in the way a mother is treated by staff.

Single-parenting.  This again can be attributed to assumptions and bias of a care provider.  Sometimes, women are treated poorly when a husband is not involved in the birth. I have witnessed differences in the respect, informed consent even by the same doctor.  The single mom was treated with less respect, and received no informed consent versus the married woman.

Teen-parenting.  I have not yet witnessed this first-hand, but I have heard stories from other doulas.  How nurses and doctors talk down to teen moms, assume they should be treated like a child, as if she has no respect for or control over her own body.

Again, I would LOVE to spend hours digging into statistics on different demographics.  Right now, I have a two year old who wants to stay up all night watching Octonauts and and eight-week old who will be hungry again in a few minutes.  Based on my experience, I will say that physicians, nurses and other medical staff are human and cannot always filter out their own personal biases when they interact with laboring women.

Diversity Amongst US Women

There are so many ethnic, cultural, social, religious and economic groups in the USA, it would be foolish not to assume the differences in beliefs and practices did not impact health.

Access to Health Care

From the data reported above 93% of newborn and maternal care was billed to insurance of some kind (45% to medicade and 48% to private insurance), and 7% is not described.  I assume the remaining 7% are uninsured or self-pay.

As a home-birther, I find this to be an interesting story.  It is about home-birth safety, but it highlights that the means of the mother is a factor in maternal/fetal outcomes.

Managed Health Care

Few doctors have the practice of supporting physiological birth.  I once attended a birth where the midwife asked the mother’s permission to bring in a student for delivery.  The mother consented because after 7 years of nursing and midwifery education, she had not witnessed a birth with no interventions.

There seems to be mounting evidence that interventions used without medical indication cause more complications.

As a home-birther, I find this to be an interesting story.  It is about home-birth safety, but it highlights that the means of the mother is a factor in maternal/fetal outcomes.

Lack of postpartum care

This article got me thinking about this topic today.  I talked a little about this in several posts, but the way we regard the postpartum period in the USA is illogical, unkind and unrealistic.  When you consider the number of moms who birth via major abdominal surgery, the notion that a woman should be ready physically return to work after 6 weeks is insane.  Nevermind spiritual, mental or emotional readiness.

Lack of Maternity Leave

The USA stands alone in the developed world.  It does not mandate ANY paid maternity (or paternity) leave.

What do you think impacts the USA’s pathetic fetal and maternal outcomes?

 

Do you think maternity leave and postpartum care are factors in maternal and fetal mortality?

*I have no idea why, but these two lists have different numbers of “countries” reporting.  I put countries in quotation marks because I noticed that both Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands, for example, are listed as reporting locations.  They are commonwealths of the United States of America.  I cannot explain why the data is reported this way.  I just want to make sure you understand why the lists have different total number of locations reporting.

 

Sleep When Baby Sleeps

#write31daysDay 20And other nonsense we tell new moms.

 

Sleep when baby sleeps

This does not really work for me for a few reasons:

Suddenly my older children have insomnia.

Sometimes, I want to shower.

On occasion, I need to lift a finger and do some housework.

Sleeping while toddlers fend for themselves is frowned upon, because it is dangerous.

My children deserve my attention too.

My family likes to eat food, and my toddlers cannot cook.  Although, they would love to just eat apples all the time.

Have your partner help

This one annoys me.  It assumes that my husband does nothing.  He helps, quite a bit.  Taking over most of the responsibility of the older kids so that I can cultivate a strong nursing relationship and bond with our daughter, is no small feat  He does a good chunk of the housework, and is CONSTANTLY refilling my water glass and setting up donor milk bottles and SNSs for us.

Ask for/Hire help

Admittedly, I could ask for more help of friends.  The trouble is, once I realize “I could really use a hand.”  It’s way too late to ask for help.  Why? Because other people have lives,  many of my friends are moms.  They probably need help just as much as I do.  It’s not willingness, it’s availability.

Hire help, yes. Brilliant.  I had a postpartum doula when C was born.  She offered her time for free, we couldn’t afford it.  She is an angel.  Sure, some moms could afford extra hands to clean, or care for the baby.  This is out of reach for many moms. Paid maternity leave is rare, and I am self employed, no work = no money.  Saving up for it would be ideal, but how many of us live that close to our ideals?

Wear the baby

Yes, I do this often.  Some things are VERY HARD to do safely while baby wearing: cooking food on the stove, taking laundry out of the dryer.  Baby-wearing can be a lifesaver, but  not everything can be done with a baby carrier.  An awesome tool, but not magic.

All of these things aren’t nonsense, but they can be very far out of reach for many women.  What are the single moms to do?

I challenge myself to this.  Instead of saying, “sleep when baby sleeps”  offer to come over and take out the older kids or hold the new baby so mom can shower, or go to Target alone.

Instead of saying “have your partner help” to someone who isn’t single, ask how the partner is doing.  Maybe that person is just as overwhelmed!  To the single mom, ask her what you can bring over while you are on your way.  Bring her a latte, or a meal and then pop over and do some chore that will take you 10 minutes (because you have two hands) but will take her 2 hours alone.

 

Embracing Imperfection

My day was not too hard.  It was not too busy.  It was not perfect either. I caught a cold and feel lousy.

I struggle with having unrealistic expectations of myself, and my family too.  This postpartum season is certainly challenging me here.  I need to be challenged, because I need to offer more grace to myself, my husband and my children.

This post is meant to be short, because the message I am getting today is to embrace imperfection.  I don’t need to write the perfect blog post.

The sermon at church challenged and inspired me to be more like Jesus. I got my bangs trimmed and my eyebrows waxed (oh and my upper lip too—sad day).  I bought new shoes for tomorrow’s modeling stint.  My kids were pretty well behaved and I had fun playing with each of them.

What didn’t happen?  A shower.  I didn’t wake up to a clean house.  I didn’t post my intended story today.  I didn’t read all my e-mails.  I didn’t vacuum. I haven’t done my weekly planning, and the dinner dishes are still in the sink.

I did nourish my baby, like every hour and a half! I made a delicious dinner, I read God’s word. I snuggled my husband in bed instead of waking up early.

I am embracing my imperfect day, instead of wishing it away.  Instead of feeling anger over my shortcomings, I feel thankful.  This is an intentional choice, and it doesn’t come naturally.

This is the day that the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

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