Being a mother is lots of things. It’s enjoying the snuggles and sighs of your newborn infant; It’s long, grueling nights of hoping your baby will sleep for more than a few hours at a time; It’s playing the same games and reading the same stories over and over again; It’s sacrificing weekends with friends to be with your sick toddler; It’s rarely ever getting a thank you. It’s also often suffering in silence, going without to feed your kids, and having to jump through hoops to get any help. Society could do a lot more to support new mothers (hell, any and all mothers) and yet, the collective "we" seem to do a good job undervaluing them and taking them for granted.
Mothers are often criticized for how they raise their children, what they feed them, how they discipline, what schools their children attend, and whether they raise their kids with religion or not. They are constantly under an intense amount of scrutiny from strangers, the media, friends, other mothers, and even themselves. Then, as if the aforementioned wasn't daunting enough, they also have to contend with bigger issues, especially if they are minority mothers. White mothers, for example, don’t have to worry about the safety of their children to the same degree that mothers of color do. For example, most white moms don't worry that their children will get shot by police officers for wearing a sweatshirt or playing with a toy gun, but mothers of color with children of color, unfortunately and constantly, do. Mothers who are citizens don’t need to worry that they will be deported and their children, especially children born in the United States, will be taken from them. There's no denying that every mother struggles and her own sets of worries, but mothers of color or mothers in same sex relationships could (and do) have an entirely different set of struggles that our society only seems to cultivate.
As a society, there is much we could do to help not just some, but all mothers. There are changes we could be making and conversations we could be having that make mothers an inclusive, supported member of society, rather than a constantly scrutinized one. There's a start, society, so feel free to take the next step.
Offer Mental Health Support Throughout Pregnancy And Postpartum
Prepartum depression is real. Postpartum depression is real. Birth-related PTSD is real. There are so many mental health issues that surround motherhood and not nearly enough resources available. Pregnant people should have mental health support readily available to them from the moment they become pregnant to, at least, the year following the birth of their child (and potentially longer). There should also be mental health support for mothers who lose their babies due to miscarriage, stillbirth, prematurity, or other issues.
More Cooperation Between Midwives, OB/GYNs, And Hospitals
With unnecessary c-section rates skyrocketing and many mothers-to-be wanting less hospital interventions at their births, it would make sense for midwives and doctors to work together for the sake of mothers and babies. In my experience, though, OB/GYNs and midwives are not all that happy (or willing) to work with one another. This polarized way of thinking and behaving places mothers in a dangerous predicament. Midwives and doctors need to find a way to work together to give their patients the births they choose, whatever that looks like.
Make Diapers A Part Of SNAP and WIC Programs
Disposable diapers can cost roughly $800 for the first year of life. This is not only difficult for the average middle-class family to afford, it’s nearly impossible for low-income families to afford. President Obama and the White House recently partnered with several non-profits to address the “diaper gap” via diaper banks, but it isn’t enough. A real solution would be to include provisions in Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP) and Women Infant and Children (WIC) for diapers (disposable and cloth) of any brand (as some babies are sensitive to certain types of diapers).
Add More Formula Options At WIC
While efforts to support breastfeeding mothers at WIC offices are going strong, mothers who formula feed are often left behind. WIC only signs contracts with a limited number of formula makers at a time, meaning that parents have only these specific formulas to choose from. Often, a baby does not respond well to a certain type of formula and needs to be switched. Sometimes, the baby simply rejects the new formula and then parents are left having to figure out how to go without meals or new clothes or toys for their babies in order to afford the right formula. Changes at the state level need to be made in order to allow parents to purchase any formula necessary for their babies to thrive without having to starve themselves.
Support DACA And Immigration Reform
Undocumented mothers in this country are suffering by the thousands, terrified not only of being arrested but of being deported to countries they left behind for a better life. With the recent Supreme Court ruling on immigration, including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), it is more important than ever to fight for immigration reform. To support all mothers means to support immigration reform that does not separate mothers from their children and allows mothers who came to this country to remain in this country and continue to provide for their babies.
Extend FMLA Benefits To All
The current Family and Medical Leave Act doesn’t cover all working parents. For example, parents need to have worked for a minimum of one year prior to their leave, and have racked up at least 1250 hours at their current job. Their employer must also have 50 or more employees. This leaves many part-time and small business employees in a lurch, often causing them to lose their jobs as a result of having children.
And Improve FMLA Benefits As Well
Currently, the FMLA guarantees eligible employees three months of unpaid leave (meaning they will be able to return to their job after three months). But not everyone can take three months off without pay, so many mothers often return to work earlier than they'd like or they should. Mothers (and fathers, and all parents, really) who have a new baby should be given a minimum of three months of paid leave, with the potential for extension (especially in cases where the baby has special needs or is in the NICU).
Affordable Child Care For All
Countries like Denmark and France have regulations in place to make childcare extremely affordable. Yet we somehow expect parents making minimum wage or even low wages to afford full-time child care, which will cost them about as much as their paycheck. This leaves little incentive for many parents to return to work once they have children. Quality child care should be made affordable for all families, and not just the privileged.
Stop Shaming Mothers For Their Choices
This is an easy one we can all do. Don’t fight mothers on whether they choose to breastfeed (or not), co-sleep (or not), use carriers versus strollers, make their own baby food versus buying pre-made, etc. All mothers do the best they can and what they feel is right for their families. Unless the mother is asking for advice, stay out of it. Simple, right?
Fix The Gender Wage Gap And Raise The Minimum Wage
It’s no secret that mothers get penalized at work for having babies. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, but being a mother makes it more difficult to get hired, to maintain employment, and to earn raises. We need to close the gender wage gap and eliminate the bias against working mothers. We also need to raise the minimum wage, which can and will affect millions of moms working low-paying jobs who simply need to support their families. No one should struggle financially the way many mothers do.
Hold Police Officers Accountable And Stand With Black Lives Matter
Black mothers (and other mothers of color) are suffering at alarming rates in this country. Just recently, another black man died unnecessarily at the hands of police officers due to excessive force. This man, Alton Sterling, had a mother (and a wife who is the mother of his children and currently suffering). Samaria Rice, mother of Tamir Rice, lost her 12-year-old boy when a cop unnecessarily shot her baby. And then there are the mothers of Sandra Bland and Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner and Michael Brown and the list goes heartbreakingly on and on. To support mothers is to support the black lives matter movement. To support mothers is to stand with the bereaved whose babies (no matter at what age) are being systematically murdered by those who are sworn to serve and protect.