Being a new mom is difficult, not only because you're sleep deprived and attempting to learn and adapt to the drastic life change you've just experienced, but because society isn't very kind to you. Whether you feel pressure to lose the baby weight, quickly return to work or you feel the astounding guilt of not making the decisions everyone thinks you should be making, society and the people who comprise it can be rude, vindictive, and downright dangerous to new mothers.
Society has created a hostile environment where moms are forced to navigate a complicated web of no-win situations: If you have a "natural" birth at home, you put your baby at risk trying to prove you're strong; If you decided to have an epidural in a hospital, you put your baby at risk because you're weak. If you choose to work after having a baby, you're selfish and missing out on your baby's life; If you choose to stay home with your new babe, you're lazy and probably don't do very much of anything during the day. And, of course, while you're handling the never-ending judgement and shaming, you should be losing the damn "baby weight" as quickly as possible.
It's no wonder an estimated 10 to 15% of women will experience postpartum mood disorders in their lifetime, and that is just the number of women who will come forward and seek necessary treatment. Many women's postpartum depression, anxiety and/or psychosis goes undiagnosed, as (you guessed it) women who admit to experiencing PPMDs are heavily stigmatized and shamed.
Simply put, society doesn't take care of new mothers. We, as a country, do not support motherhood nor the women who make the choice to enter it, and the collective decision to be more hurtful than helpful (whether it's a conscious one, or not) has hurt new moms and the babies they brought into the world. Here are eight of the absolute worst things society does to new moms, because the first step towards changing negative behavior is admitting it exists. It's time we do better for new mothers, everywhere.
Making New Moms Feel Guilty For Working (Or Not Working! Guilt For Everyone!)
Many new moms are made to feel guilty for choosing to return to work after they have a child. Society has turned motherhood into a subtle home arrest sentence, in which we expect women to stay inside and make motherhood their one and only job. On the other (and yet, somehow also the same) hand, many women feel guilty if they don't return to work quickly enough, or at all. And since mandatory paid family leave is not a thing in the United States (like it is in most developed countries) the fear of losing their jobs ends up forcing women to return to work sooner than they would like, and much sooner than recommended.
Calling Stay-At-Home Mothers Lazy
On the other side of the working mom coin, is stay-at-home mom judgement. Society treats SAHMs like lazy shut-ins who spend all day in their pajamas doing a job a monkey could do. Many SAHMs have to field condescending questions like, "What do you do all day?" and passive aggressive statements like, "Man, I wish my only job was taking care of my kid," which can leave a mother feeling unfulfilled and useless, despite the many things she does during the day that she rarely, if ever, receives credit for.
Demanding They Lose The Baby Weight Immediately
The completely unrealistic demand that women should walk out of the hospital in their pre-preggo pants is as ridiculous as it is detrimental. Rarely are postpartum women represented accurately in the media, which has fueled a misconception that the baby weight should just melt off new mothers and, if it doesn't, the new mom is lazy and unmotivated.
Furthermore, instead of marveling at women's bodies and the amazing and miraculous thing it can do (if a woman decides she wants her body to do it), society focuses on how those bodies look. We speak about women's postpartum bodies as "ruined" instead of "marvelous." But that is exactly what those bodies are: incredible vessels for life that did an unbelievably cool and powerful thing. It's heartbreaking that society shames a woman's postpartum body, instead of celebrating it.
Constantly Asking Them If They're Trying To "Have It All"
We've all become accustomed to the idea that a woman can either be a mother or a successful businesswoman/employee, but never both and never, ever, anything more. We've told women that they are one-dimensional entities, so whatever it is they want to become or accomplish during their lifetime, it must be one thing and one thing only, so that she can be easily identified and understood by society.
We don't ask men if they're trying to "have it all" when they return to work after becoming fathers. We don't question their ability to be partners, parents, and proven workers, simultaneously. It's time that we see women as complex human beings, who can be multiple things to multiple people. A woman can be more than just a mother, and being more than a mother doesn't make you a bad or failing parent.
Not Giving New Moms Time To Heal After Birth
It is considered "common knowledge" that a woman will be "back to normal" just six weeks after giving birth. The truth is, and according to a recent study by Dr. Julie Wray of Salford University, a woman's body needs an entire year to recover after having a baby. The same study also found that the psychological effects of having a baby can take, and often require, an even longer recovery time.
With the demands society puts on women, coupled with our government's inability to implement mandatory maternity leave, a new mom is simply refused the necessary time to heal. So, forget about having the individualized freedom to experience that healing on a personal, unique timeline. Pssh. Don't be insane.
If anything highlights the hypocrisy of society, it is the desexualization of mothers. As soon as a woman becomes a mother, she is suppose to shed her sexuality and present herself in a so-called "appropriate" manner, because, hey, she's someone's mom now. At the same time, society demands that every woman, mother or not, appear desirable and sexual to members of the opposite sex.
This hypocritical juxtaposition puts women in a mind-numbingly frustrating paradox, where — in order to adhere to society's image demands — she is shamed for being "too sexy" or "too vain" or "too [insert anything a woman does to express herself and her sexuality]."
Stigmatizing Single Mothers
Regardless of the changing family paradigm in the United States, society continues to judge women who don't fit the predetermined, traditional mold. According to Al Jazeera and the Pew Research Center, "fewer than half (46 percent) of children in the United States live in a home with two married heterosexual parents in their first marriage, and 41 percent of children are born outside marriage."
Still, single mothers — and particularly single mothers of color — experience an overload of stigma and judgement. We rarely see positive representations of single mothers in the media, and former Sen. Rick Santorum (a presidential candidate, mind you) claimed single mothers are “breeding more criminals” and are ruining the country. Many make the fallacious (and disgustingly offensive) assumption that single mothers choose to have children because they know they'll be financially supported by the government. The list of continued stigma, unfortunately, goes on and on.
The United States is a society that openly celebrates and supports married, predominantly heterosexual couples and their families, while shaming families who are not. There are over 7.3 million families headed and successfully ran by single mothers. It's time our view of single motherhood changes.
Convincing Mothers They Should Sacrifice Everything For Their Family
Recently, Jada Pinkett Smith answered the question, "How hard is it being a wife and a mother?" She answered, saying that it is "very challenging," and then went on to point out the lie society has been telling mothers since, well, ever.
And I think we've been taught that, taking care of yourself is a problem. And I'll tell you something about being a mother, and some of the messaging that we get in this country about being a mother: that you have to completely sacrifice everything. That you have to completely sacrifice every. Single. Thing.
Jada hit the nail on the head, and highlighted a lie that many women buy into and fall victim to. We're taught that we need to give up everything, sacrifice our happiness, our health, and our peace of mind, for our children and our families. And if we don't, we are terrible mothers. But the truth is, women are not bad mothers for doing what makes them happy. Actually, doing what makes you happy will make your family members happy, too. So hopefully, whether or not the pervasive messages in society uphold this thinking, we can all take a page from Jada Pinkett Smith's book: You have a right to be happy.
Images: Isla Murray/Romper; Giphy(8)