Why becoming a parent in the US is so traumatic and what companies can do about it.  

According to a New York Times piece today, postpartum depression is much more common than previously thought. “Although many parents happily take to their new role, millions every year respond with despair. According to a 2010 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, among new parents — three to six months postpartum — 42 percent of mothers and 26 percent of fathers exhibit signs of clinical depression”.

The implications of this are significant. Beyond the suffering of the parents, there must surely be a knock-on effect for the babies involved and how they then experience growing up and become parents themselves.

As a father of two and the co-founder/ ceo of a baby diaper company, gDiapers with a team made up of 75% Mums and interacting with thousands of Mums who use our product, I live close to the subject matter.

I agree with the author that we need to show kindness not ideology when dealing with the issue. I also offer an attempt at a response as the leader of a company.

Firstly, what is the root cause? I believe that our modern society entirely ignores the profound transformation that occurs from womanhood to motherhood and manhood to fatherhood. A part of you dies, never to return and an entirely new part emerges which is fantastic to behold. A “new” you almost.

Birthing classes are a great way to figure out the practical matters and the registry list from Babies R Us can be handy in getting the baby’s room all set but there is no preparation or space to mourn the loss and celebrate the new.

Pregnant Mums-to-be are lauded — “you are glowing” they are told. But the days, weeks and months after the single most incredible event imaginable — the creation of life (dwell on that for a moment. If I was a woman, that would blow my mind for a long, long time) — you are on your own.

The US offers capitalism on steroids. It is where entrepreneurialism is championed. It is why my wife & I moved to the US from Australia to launch our company. But because of this single-minded focus on such a severe form of capitalism there are consequences. The US is still the only OECD country with no maternity leave provisions. That is because maternity leave might impede the ability of a company to grow exponentially forever —the basic requirement for the system to work. The structure of modern capitalism is grounded in speed, efficiency and controlling inputs to meet and exceed business objectives. Employees need to be at their desks at 8am and leave at 6pm (at least — brownie points for overtime). How can a manager deal with a female employee who wants to leave to have a newborn and care for that child for the first 6 — 12 months of its life? More importantly how can a female manager reconcile the desire to do well at work and become a Mum? With all due respect to Sheryl Sandberg, it takes a lot more than “Leaning In” for the average female employee in the US today. Most new Mums must rush back to work if they want to keep their job, juggling breastfeeding, lack-of-sleeping, managing daycare and reflecting on the fact that they just brought life into this world! It is no wonder depression abounds for so many Mums.

So what of a solution? At our company, we have made an attempt on one level. We have offered 6 months paid maternity leave, onsite daycare and extremely flex-friendly work hours since we launched 10 years ago. We have essentially created time for new parents to be, well parents. Funnily enough when you make the effort to create a family-friendly work environment, productivity, efficiency and happiness go through the roof. I can attest to that.

But we have much more to do. We need to give new Mums and Dads the tools they need to manage the transformation they are going through. That is the next step for us starting internally and then extending to our broader audience.

In doing so, we hope to help Mums and Dads become the fantastic parents they were born to be.

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