I am a member of a lot of mum’s groups on Facebook. Some offer information, some support others a sense of community. And sadly, almost every day a mum, somewhere is posting, pleading for help/support/acknowledgement as she struggles, feeling overwhelmed and drowning in motherhood.
There tend to be 3 main camps of response.
Place some measure of separation between you and your baby. This plays out in numerous ways but what they all boil down to is this: the idea that a mother and her child as a dyad, is essentially a broken and imperfect organism.
Do nothing: Of course, this isn’t what is said. Instead what is offered is well-meaning commiseration, empathetic and caring replies. Usually, this camp tries to give a reasoned response why what is happening is biologically or developmentally normal. To their credit, a lot of this is usually true. And I have definitely spent my share of hours being the miserable know-it-all sadly “helping” another mum by explaining that unfortunately the exhaustion she is experiencing is normal, and yes she is isolated and overwhelmed, however, her baby is healthy, growing well and acting exactly as a baby of that age should.
Practical help. This is above all the best but unfortunately the least common, and most difficult to sustain. I have seen women drive hundreds of kilometres to help another mum they have only ever met on line, meal trans organised, breast milk drives, expressed, stored, rounded up and transported to women for any number of medical and social needs. Funds raised for hospital trips, lactation consultants, specialist appointments. I have seen women open their homes and hearts and they opt in to co-parent and cooperate to help other mums wherever they are.
So why am I confounded?
I am blown away that we, as women, mothers and maternity workers are not more enraged. That we have quietly and without too much fuss accepted that motherhood is clearly not valued.
I am blown away that we, as women, mothers and maternity workers are not more enraged
In Australia over 300,000 babies are born each year. That is a lot of mums and babies. Women as consumers are an incredible force. So why aren’t we demanding more?
Why is it a mum needs to crowdsource the fees to pay a lactation consultant?
Why is it that lactation consultants are not able to access Medicare rebates?
Why are there so few mental health services for women and babies? There are 12 private beds for women with private insurance in NSW that allow their baby to stay. Publicly there are 2 that I know of. (feel free to comment if you know more). These beds are usually for women experiencing severe depression and psychosis.
And for women who are struggling with the transition to motherhood, depressed, anxious and somehow managing to keep afloat. What help is there for them?
Forget about financial support.
18 weeks paid parental leave. But to be eligible for this there are working requirements. So get back to work quickly if you plan on having another child soon. But your income is mostly spent on daycare costs. So good luck feeling like it is worth your time.
And what is with this propaganda saying paid government leave and paid maternity leave from an employer is too damn much? Greedy women. If a woman is fortunate to work for someone who actually values paid maternity leave this plus government support is somehow taking advantage of a (shitty and broken) system. Who cares if it enables her a few more months to focus on her baby?
And can we talk about the gas lighting that is going on when we tell women that breastfeeding is optimal, for at least 6 months exclusively, but only affords them to take off about 4 months from work? So now she can feel inadequate when she is separated from her baby and predictably encounters breastfeeding issues (which again, a visit from a lactation consultant might help but who is paying for that?).
And partners get a whole 2 weeks paid leave (at minimal wage).
There are so many broken parts to our public health system, These examples are just a taste. It all starts around birth where women are overstuffed into large maternity hospitals and spat out into the world to navigate the world of GP’s, child and family health clinics, and if they can afford it, paediatricians.
“I have a sneaking suspicion we are not supposed to acknowledge that this is a fundamental shift in identity. That we are supposed to take a few months off to ‘recover’ and before we are ready, hide any sign of stretch marks with an expensive cream and get back to business as usual.”
But where is all the support, and information about you know, becoming a mother? (I have a sneaking suspicion we are not supposed to acknowledge that this is a fundamental shift in identity. That we are supposed to take a few months off to ‘recover’ and before we are ready, hide any sign of stretch marks with an expensive cream and get back to business as usual.)
If a mum is lucky she will receive a couple of home visits from her midwife in the first week. I promise you it is not enough. it is not nearly enough. And having spent time on the other side I promise your midwife wants to spend more time with you too. We know you deserve more and are so sorry this is all we can give you.
So why are we all sitting back and accepting this?
This is not enough.
Because motherhood is valuable.
Because a mum and her baby are supposed to be together. (as in it is biologically normal -not that there should be any societal pressure that a woman MUST be inseparable from her baby)
And babies are hard work. It can be tricky to adjust to life for them and us, They don’t sleep like adults (and this is normal and healthy).
And community support is commendable and beautiful but limited.
And we, women and mothers, are a powerful cohort of consumers that really need to speak up and say we have had enough of this absolute mockery of a maternity system.
Jen is a midwife and mum of five. She is really passionate about women having voices and choices in maternity care and absolutely loves working alongside women and their loved ones during this time.