Speaking up for all moms
Today I’m thinking about what all moms — and their kids — deserve, not just the lucky ones.
“We used to have an infrastructure of care: it was called women at home. But with 60 percent of those women in the work-force, that infrastructure has crumbled and it’s not coming back. We need to build a new infrastructure of care for the twenty-first century.” — Anne-Marie Slaughter
Something I didn’t fully appreciate about pregnancy until I was living through it, was how much of a nail-biter the whole experience is. After my first couple of appointments, it became clear that I would be heading into my doctor’s office at least once a month and would also be making time to get my blood drawn just as regularly as well as scheduling special tests and ultrasounds at key milestones. They would be constantly monitoring me and my baby for any signs of trouble. I thought, “Damn, this is kinda scary. Also, this will be expensive. Hopefully my insurance pays for most of this.” It did.
As a healthy 33 year old woman, I (thankfully) barely ever had to go to the doctor until then. In fact, I didn’t even have a regular doctor at that point (when I suspected I was pregnant I searched Yelp for an OBGYN). I was also pretty busy professionally — working full time as a director on the Twitter communications team heading into the company’s IPO, a role that required me to manage other people and be on and available at all hours.
While a bit stressful, being pregnant and working full-time was doable for me. My husband and I could afford our medical bills because of good insurance from my employer and I could slip out of the office a couple of times a month regardless of whatever fire was burning at work and make my health and the health of my baby a priority no matter what. I did not worry about getting fired. I knew I was lucky.
Then I got a little unlucky: around seven months into my pregnancy at one of my regular visits, my doctor told me she was unhappy with my blood pressure and there was protein in my urine. I also told her I was getting really bad headaches. I had preeclampsia. She walked me through all the things I needed to know and what not to mess around with. She also signed me up immediately to start a program to closely monitor my pregnancy. What this entailed was heading into the center three times a week where they would hook me up to equipment to monitor the baby’s heartbeat and check my blood pressure. The main cure to preeclampsia is delivering the baby so the goal is to basically watch you and baby closely and keep the baby in there as long as possible.
I couldn’t then, and I can’t now, stop thinking about how lucky a woman has to be in this situation in this country: my pregnancy was getting more expensive and I was going to spend more time out of the office. Still, I didn’t have to choose between my health, my baby’s health, paying medical bills and keeping my job / wages. Because I had a good job and therefore good insurance, they caught this really serious condition with super subtle symptoms (I wouldn’t have gone to the ER for headaches) that is life threatening for mothers. What if I had skipped these appointments because I didn’t have the money or was too afraid to take time off of work?
I told the folks at Twitter what was going on and how I had to be out of the office three days a week. The time spent at these check-ins made commuting into work too hard, so we agreed I’d work from home those days. No one checked how many sick days I had left or docked me vacation days. I had a compassionate employer who worked with me and my schedule to make sure I could continue to put my health first, while continuing to work.
I delivered a healthy baby boy and recovered from the preeclampsia after giving birth. Over the past four years I’ve enjoyed two generous maternity leaves (I gave birth to my daughter 22 months after my son) that helped me properly recover and bond with my kids during the “fourth trimester.” I was able to return to work and ease in slowly thanks again to flexible employers and access to amazing mother’s rooms to fit in pumping between meetings. Since my husband and I both work full-time and we live far away from family, we’ve been able to re-configure our household budget to pay for high quality childcare for our pre-k toddlers that covers us from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
And another thing! Turns out, little kids get sick a lot and need to go to the doctor or stay home from preschool. Also, my husband and I have been sick a lot because toddlers introduce you to a whole new set of germs that you haven’t built immunity to. Again, I’m out of the office all the time, and while admittedly a little stressful balancing work with all these appointments, caring for sick little kids and being sick myself, we’re able to make it work because our employers are flexible, we can afford health care and prescriptions and we can also afford to hire help when we need it.
I share all of this not to brag about how great things have gone for me (things have been great, I am blessed), but to illustrate how women as fortunate as me who know first-hand what it takes to support a pregnancy and young family while working, must speak up and advocate on behalf of all mothers and their children. My own experience has been pretty straight forward and even still, I now have an intimate understanding of just how much support young families — especially working moms with young children — need. None of this should depend on luck. All mothers and their babies deserve high quality health care and child care. And mothers shouldn’t have to choose between their health or their baby’s health and wellbeing and their job. Full stop.
As a mom, what really bothers me about the heated political climate we’ve been living in since 2016, is that so much of the rhetoric related to the economy, jobs and healthcare glosses over the reality of what families in America go through today and what they need to not just survive, but thrive.
There is very little discussion of the specifics of what women go through when starting a family and raising a family with regard to their own reproductive health, finding high quality care for their very young children and continuing to earn a steady income through it all (since they are as important as men when it comes to paying the bills these days). That’s why it was so disheartening to learn that Republicans in the Senate have put together a special committee made up of only men to draft a new version of the health care bill. That’s the legislation the House just passed that will make insurance for maternal health care incredibly expensive and defund Planned Parenthood. We are making life harder for women who want to start families and choose to or frankly, have to, work. We’re making certain as a society that women and families better hope for a lot of luck (no pregnancy complications, stay employed, have good insurance, have an understanding employer or boss) if they want to have kids. And we’re making all of these bad decisions without any women in the room.
In Anne-Marie Slaughter’s book “Unfinished Business” she argues we, as a society, need to wake-up and deal with the reality of family life in the twenty-first century. She argues we need to think more broadly about an infrastructure that makes sense for America’s families and our economy, including elements like:
> High-quality affordable health care
> Paid family and medical leave for women and men
> A right to request part-time or flexible work
> Investment in early education comparable to our investment in elementary and secondary education
> Comprehensive job protection for pregnant workers
> Higher wages and training for paid caregivers
> Financial and social support for single parents
> Reform of elementary and secondary school schedules to meet the needs of a digital rather than agricultural economy and take advantage of what we now know about how children learn.
To me this is the real conversation I wish our leaders in Congress would have. We need leaders who “get it” and have a new vision for modern American families based on the new realities of our lives. We need more women and moms in the room where these decisions are happening. Seems to me the ideas listed above would take a whole lot of luck out of the equation for a lot of women and children and I’m thankful to Ms. Slaughter for using her influence to start this conversation. I’m also thankful to Senator Gillibrand for consistently giving voice to the common sense needs of today’s working families.
Since becoming a mom, I’ve become pretty outraged at how little support there is for pregnant women and young families in this country. What was once a general sympathy I had toward others is now full-blown empathy for all women and children. Professional women like myself have an obligation to move beyond feminst slogans and pep talks to use whatever influence we have to advocate for real change that benefits all working women and their families. This Mother’s Day, I’m more committed than ever to using my voice as a woman and a mom to help make sure all families are as lucky as mine.