On Mother’s Day, we should let our love and appreciation for the women who bear children translate into advocacy for public policy that reflects our desire to see them — and their children — thrive. Or else this day of celebration is just paying lip service to the idea of motherhood without honoring the actual experiences of mothers (which is something too many mothers feel is going on in our country, day in and day out).
For instance, for those who choose to bring life into the world, their health risk levels increase the moment they are handed their newborns. In America, the maternal mortality rate is the highest in the developed world, more than double the highest rate for any Western country. For black women in the U.S., the numbers are even more horrifying: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), black women are 243 percent more likely to die from childbirth or pregnancy-related conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and preeclampsia than white women.
Further, a maternal mortality review commission, in conjunction with the CDC, compiled childbirth data from four states and determined that mental health conditions were a leading cause in pregnancy-related deaths in these states. It was also determined that suicide most commonly occurred between 6 weeks and 1 year after childbirth.
In America, the maternal mortality rate is the highest in the developed world, more than double the highest rate for any Western country.
When women do survive childbirth and postpartum depression, the average parent cannot afford to take the substantial time necessary to recover from childbirth, often returning to work within just under 3 weeks. Many are given 6 weeks to recover from childbirth before being expected to return to work but, for many, this is not paid time off. And, though the Family Medical Leave Act requires most companies to offer women 12 weeks of leave, it’s unpaid and, as most families in the United States are without adequate savings to survive 3 months without earnings, it’s likely that many families are unlikely to take the full 12.
When those women do return to work, the expense of day care is overwhelming: It costs, on average, over $16,000 per year in the most expensive states in the country — almost 20 percent of their median household income. Though that percentage shrinks to around 12 percent in the least expensive state, Mississippi, the less money a family earns, the harder it is to absorb additional costs like childcare. (It’s also worth considering that averages-by-state muddy the reality that cities are far more expensive than rural communities but, because earnings in rural households are lower, absorbing the cost of day care will still hurt.)
The kinds of stress created by a lack of a social safety net or limited access to necessary health care can have a negative impact on the entire family. The need for therapy if a mother is suffering from postpartum depression, the physical stress of dealing with the inherent unknowns of parenting another, more fragile human, the possibility of being fired from a job for exhaustion (or for no reason at all) and all the millions of unknown future events that require money, time and access to health care means that many of us parent under a persistent state of anxiety, and lack care for it.
It is important to celebrate those who do make the choice to bring children in this world with more than flowers, trinkets and pancakes in bed.
And because of this, it is important to celebrate those who do make the choice to bring children in this world with more than flowers, trinkets and pancakes in bed.
We must make it our business to alleviate the risks and anxieties that accompany the decision to have children. We should ensure that the health care system that mothers and children need is robust and accessible. We should expand access to mental health services and work to reduce the stigma associated with using them. We, among the wealthiest countries on the planet, should make sure that day care is accessible and affordable, and that parents have the ability to take the time they need to actually be parents without worrying that they’ll never be able to afford to care for their children if they take it.
Ask any mother whether she’d want flowers or affordable day care, and I know all too well which she’d choose. After all, those flowers will wilt next week.
Erika Nicole Kendall is the writer, certified personal trainer and certified nutritionist behind the popular weight loss blog A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss.