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I'm so lucky to have this smiling face waiting for me when I get home from work

I’m so lucky to have this smiling face waiting for me when I get home from work

I’m hashtagBLESSED [/sarcastic You’re the Worst reference] in so many ways, but over the past month as I’ve been back at work I’ve thought a lot about how lucky I am to have such a fantastic support network.

I’m lucky to have an amazing helper who is kind, caring, and responsible, with whom the hubs and I feel safe entrusting our baby while we’re at work . 
 
I’m lucky to have a fantastic boss and co-workers who understand I have to duck out every few hours for a breast pumping session, and don’t make it weird or awkward. (Or at least if they are grossed out, they keep it to themselves.) 
 
I’m lucky to have an office with a conference room where I can comfortably pump in private while continuing to do my work. I have a lot of friends who have to pump in toilet stalls. 
 
I’m lucky to have a breast pump that was 100% covered by my insurance (and by mandate of the Affordable Care Act). 
 
I suppose I’m more aware of these things than I used to be, but I feel like there have been so many stories out lately that highlight how impossible it can be for women to both work and have kids.
 
I count my lucky stars I had paid maternity leave when it’s embarrassingly not a given in the United States. I feel lucky to be appreciated by my company when I read about the “Motherhood Penalty.” 
 
In July I read about the mother in South Carolina who was arrested for letting her 9 year-old daughter play alone in a park because she had to go to work . Quality childcare in the U.S. is prohibitively expensive, and this woman essentially had no other option. Isn’t it better for her daughter to play in a nearby park than to spend all day sitting in McDonalds?
 
Yesterday my friend posted this story on Facebook, about a mother working at the Dollar Store with a 1 month-old baby (because again, paid leave schmaid leave) needing government assistance to buy formula. It’s heartbreaking. The lack of education, the lack of support, the lack of financial assistance, the fact this woman had to go to work rather than be with her brand new tiny baby — all of it is heartbreaking.
 
In a rare bit of good news on this front, MIT recently held a hackathon to build a better breast pump. It’s about friggin’ time! As this fascinating New Yorker article by Jill Lepore points out, current models aren’t really so different from what they use on cows. On cows! This summer I was struck by this article in the New York Times, which pointed out “If men could breastfeed, surely the breast pump would be as elegant as an iPhone and quiet as a Prius by now.” Each time I schlep my cumbersome pump into the office, or hand-wash its various plastic parts after use, or listen to its laborious motor drone on, I roll my eyes and think of that quote, because it’s so true!

I think the term “War on Women” gained popularity during the 2012 elections (who could forget good old Todd Aiken or the guy who advocated that ultra-reliable form of birth control, putting aspiring between your knees?). And I feel like it hasn’t let up since then. All of the above are examples of the impossible situation so many women face. In June the Supreme Court’s staggering ruling in the Hobby Lobby case set a scary precedent for the control an employer can have over female employees’ reproductive choices. As of yesterday, the 5.4 million women in Texas now have just eight clinics where they can explore a full range of family planning options. WTF America?! 

This post started as an acknowledgement of how lucky I am to have so many advantages that enable our family to thrive and our baby to receive what we feel is best for her. I feel like it’s become a bit of a rant, because all women should have these advantages! In fact, they shouldn’t be advantages at all, but rather givens: paid family leave, affordable childcare, education and support for feeding your baby — how are any of these things bad or detrimental?
 
There are only the tiniest inklings of progress being made. As aforementioned, the Affordable Care Act covers breast pumps and is meant to provide lactation consultation (though of course many Americans remain uninsured). The Department of Labor  is conducting a feasibility study on mandatory paid leave. (A whole $500,000 to be spread across four testing areas! How generous!). But where is the outrage?!
 
I want to do more than feel lucky — I want to make a difference and help other women who aren’t as fortunate as me. Sure I was aware of these issues before I had a baby, but I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it took going through it to fully understand the plight of so many working women and to see how fucked up the system truly is. That’s the only way I can fathom why our male-dominated Congress has abjectly refused to act on this important issue, because they simply don’t get it. Other than calling my Congressperson though, what can I do? Please share thoughts and ideas in the comments, because I don’t want to be at such a loss. 

 

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