My new job: raising a healthy taxpayer.
Another reason why parental leave must be paid and supported by the government.
Its like extreme sports, a breast feeding mother of 7 months old twins told me, plus you have to drink 3 liters of water a day and eat tons of carbs. We sat on a bench outside a cafe on a rainy Berlin afternoon and chatted about the challenges of breastfeeding. Kind of a nice scene, if viewed from a distance, two twin moms bonding over coffee and a warm chocolate chip cookies. It’s how probably people with no kids envision parental leave: Having a nice chat with fellow moms, one hand on the stroller gently rocking your sleeping beauty and just enjoying the day without any of the worries of a 9–5 workday. Ha! Little does one know what transpired exactly 10 minutes prior to that scene: A frantic parent trying to quickly grab some clothes to wear, to literally run out of the house with two screaming babies, who will only sleep in a stroller that is in constant motion, all the while having had only 2–3 hours of sleep that night, hungry herself with aching breasts and a full on sweat, close to tears.
Three months ago, I became a mother of twins who I decided to breastfeed. Breastfeeding is one of the most natural things in life, but it is still a complex issue in westernized countries. It is hard for some women to stick to nursing especially when you have to go back to work soon after the baby is born. It seems to be a privilege to have the time, energy and patience to breastfeed which sounds like an oxymoron, especially for my friends and fellow mothers in Germany.
Fortunately we have options like pumping and formula. But none are as good as the fresh stuff. Simply put: Formula is like fast food. Breastfeeding like eating organically, locally slow food.
Disclaimer 1: I fully support and sympathize with people who decide against breastfeeding or who do not have the option to breastfeed because of many reasons out of their control. I am writing this because I am in this incredibly fortunate position that I have the choice to either breastfeed or bottle feed with formula, and want to share my dilemma and struggles.
After giving birth you are usually confronted with the immediate question: do you want to breastfeed? If you say yes hospitals, nurses or midwifes, help and push you towards it. I said yes I want to at least try. I did it with my first daughter and she grew into a healthy strong girl. I mostly enjoyed breastfeeding and it came naturally to me despite the initial loss of sleep (and negative feelings towards my husband who could not lend a hand in that department). But with premature twins this seemed daunting. You are advised to feed 8 times a day, that means 16 times for twins (unless you can figure out how to “tandem feed”). With the average duration of 20 minutes each, you can do the math, there isn’t much time for anything else. While in the hospital, the doctors primary goal is to get the babies weight back up, so they encourage you to feed as often as possible. If they don’t gain weight, like mine, they ask you to supplement with formula, which works like magic. 30 ml is jugged down in less than 5 minutes while it would take them probably 30 minutes to get that from a breast, which preemies are often to weak to suck on and keep falling asleep. Breastfeeding is not only exhausting for the mom but also for the baby. So bottle feeding gave me the temptation of speed, guaranteed success in terms of weight gain, reliability, sleep (because feeding can be outsourced) and peace of mind. So why bother breastfeeding?
Well we all know that there are proven short term and long term benefits, so I save you from stating the obvious. Beyond all the health benefits (for mother and child), I explained it to my husband recently like this: you can either have the very same meal every single time for 5 months, and eat it pretty fast. It’s reliable quality and factory made and it fills you up. Or you opt in for the local organic version, which may vary in taste depending what ingredients the supplier (mom) used (ate). That meal may not always come easy (at least in the beginning, when you are a weak preemie), and it sometimes drags out in terms of time, like a 5 course meal, with a few pauses in between. If you don’t eat the whole meal (breast) you only get the less nutritious appetizer (which makes you shit green and leaves you hungry). The chef works very hard to maintain the quality, as mentioned above, only uses the finest ingredients by eating healthy (which is pretty difficult given the little time you have as a new parent), abstain from alcohol or any other drugs, drinking lots of fluids and having positive thoughts. So which one do you choose? Naturally you decide for the latter, after all you want only the best for your child.
I made the decision to breastfeed (although I have to admit that I flirted, and sometimes still am, with the more selfish option to grab those bottles). This whole parenting thing is extremely hard work so why not make it easier for you with at least one part you have control over, other formula babies turned out just fine, so why bother?
Disclaimer number 2:
I am probably the most privileged person I know.
- I live in Germany where breastfeeding is encouraged and supported (a midwife, paid by the insurance, visits me every day to help me out with any of these issues). Also I have the option to take 3 years off if I want to, without loosing my job.
- I work for a company who continues to pay my salary in full for the first 6 months (thank you Etsy!!)
- I don’t have to worry about daycare expenses for my firstborn because it’s free in Germany.
- The government supports me with €190 a month per child until they leave the house (up to 26 years)
- My husband is a rockstar who is extremely involved with everything
- My parents live close by to help out with cooking and the household
- We have enough money to hire additional household help.
- My children are healthy!
There is absolutely nothing to worry about. I can fully concentrate on feeding my little twins into healthy human beings. That is now my one and only job, and still I think of throwing the towel at least 7 times a week.
Now imagine you are not as fortunate? You’re worried about work, you have to go back after 12 weeks, money supply is less because you are not working, you cannot take daytime naps because someone needs to do the housework…. Your milk supply starts to diminish because you are tired and stressed.
So getting to the point: raising a tiny human into a strong healthy future taxpayer is work, in fact, this is more consuming and way harder than your average 8 hours work day at the office, so why should you not be compensated for it? The investment a government would have to make is so minimal if you think of the 30 years of future earnings. Everyone benefits from these short term sacrifices. It’s our countries most secure insurance to invest in. If we want women to breastfeed, and develop healthy stress free human beings that get the best possible start in life, we need to set them up for it, keep their worries away, help them stay healthy by providing healthy food and help for the first few months, until they get a handle of the new situation. That said, it does get easier at one point, (so the word on the street among other nursing mothers of singletons) where breastfeeding will actually be more convenient than bottle feeding in terms of instant supply and costs. It’s just the first few weeks and months that are so important to build a good milk supply, to be patient enough and not give up too early.
I am in total awe of Mother Nature who made out of my two tiny bony pre mature beings two cute chubby babies, all that through the milk I produced myself! And thanks to all those hormones that stopped me from going insane with only 2–3 consecutive hours of sleep since they are born. It’s beautiful how the human body works. Let’s honor that and not take it for granted.
We live in a civilized society (or so we like to think). Let’s be smart about this and start with a healthy new generation. These first months and years do really matter in a humans life. Whether you have kids or not, you will inevitably become old one day and need the next generation to be strong.
Let’s respect new life and keep families together in the beginning. Grant them the space and time they need to get to know each other and set all of us up for success and into happy healthy people. At the end all they need is love and affection, and we all know too well that love doesn’t appear over night, real deep love that is unconditional takes time, energy and patience, and that’s exactly what you need to raise a human being.