Thoughts from Week Seven

Today marks my daughter’s seventh week of life and my first week of living the American double standard: the unsupported super mom. Don’t mistake me; I’m not claiming to be the dark knight of motherhood. Some days I see the bat signal and walk purposefully in the opposite direction. I’m talking about what every working new mother faces in this country. Unlike the majority of the world, the United States ensures no paid time off from work during maternity leave and only two states have elected to provide for working moms. This puts the US right down there with Swaziland and Liberia. I’m not asking for the 16 months (paid at 77% of salary) provided by Sweden or even the 26 weeks at 100% in Venezuela, but American moms are given nothing and asked for a hell of a lot in return.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months. That’s a time commitment of 4-6 hours a day for six months, and not in a nice working shift chunk. Right now my daughter is eating every two hours around the clock and it takes 20-30 minutes to feed and burp her. This means I haven’t slept for more than an hour and a half straight for the last seven weeks. Once I’m back at work all my break time will be devoted to hooking up to a breast pump and doing my best dairy farm impression.

Now let’s move on to the Back is Best SIDS campaign. My daughter hates sleeping on her back and she’s not afraid to let everyone in the house and all our neighbors know it. At the most–when she’s changed, wiped, swaddled, fed, cuddled, and completely, blissfully unconscious–she’ll sleep for an hour on her back before waking up and screaming. But I’m not supposed to put her on her stomach or hold her while she sleeps, unless I’m some horrible, death-risking mother. When she wakes up crying, I’m supposed to go through the whole ritual again at 3:00 a.m., 3:30 a.m., 4:15 a.m., etc. and eventually, according to all the doctors in this country, she’ll start sleeping for longer. (See: definition of insanity)

Finally, when she’s in her “quiet alert” state, I’m instructed to stimulate her with games, sights, sounds, and witty conversation to provide her with the maximum amount of learning opportunities for her brain development. And according to all the gazillion baby books, this doesn’t include putting her in her bouncer so I can shower, wash dishes, or peel the two-year-old off the dining room chandelier.

This is just a slice of what’s expected of new moms in today’s culture. I haven’t even mentioned organic, homemade baby food. The implication beneath all these recommendations, guidelines, and directives is that if you don’t do everything they say, you don’t love your baby. I adore my baby. Would I be zombie-walking the halls at 4:00 a.m. if I didn’t? Would I have set aside my novel, ignored my friends? You get the idea. But in the US, we are expected to do all this (and much, much more) without any financial support.

Of course, individual employers can elect to provide some pay for their new mother employees. At my job I qualified for six weeks of pay under the short term disability plan. According to the insurance company who handles these things, childbirth made me disabled and six weeks later I should be sufficiently “abled” again. All things considered, as an American new mother, I’m quite lucky. It’s only now, here in week seven, that I have to contemplate my superhero status and give a big superhero salute to every other mom in this country who’s living the double-standard.