When you’re a pregnant mom, you get a ton of a attention — maybe sometimes more than you even want. Everyone asks you how far along you are, if you know the baby’s sex yet (why does everyone think this is their business?), and every stinkin’ person you meet wants to touch your belly (hands off, as far as I’m concerned).
You also get a ton of medical attention. First monthly, then weekly visits at the OB or midwife’s office. Probably a childbirth class or two. And then, of course, a baby shower, with more gifts than can fit in the nursery.
But then you have the baby, and you’re kind of on your own. You get home from the hospital and you don’t hear from your doctor again until the six-week visit. You get tons of congratulatory texts or phone calls, and probably a few more gifts.
But everything is centered on how cute the baby is. Nothing really addresses you or your needs — and it’s very likely that you feel totally overwhelmed with the task of caring for your wiggly, sneezy, sometimes very cranky infant — all while you are more exhausted than you’ve ever been, and still recovering from giving birth to a freakin’ human.
It’s true that some moms come home to a fabulous support system, but more often than not, this is not the case.
Nev Schulman, an actor and photographer best known as the star of the documentary Catfish, and the host of MTV’s Catfish: The TV Show, is speaking out on the glaring disparities in how America treats its postpartum families. In fact, Schulman teamed up with the media company ATTN: to produce a video that puts it all in black and white — and it’s now going viral.
The video features Nev and his fiance, Laura Perlongo, who just welcomed their first baby, Cleo, a few weeks ago. Still in the thick of the postpartum period themselves, they get what it’s like to bring a new baby home for the first time, and they’re getting real about it.
“The first week after giving birth to Cleo, I was in tears,” says Laura. “I mean, imagine taking one of the most sensitive, delicate parts of your body, and shoving it into the gummy, little mouth of a milk monster.”
Perlongo is talking about breastfeeding, of course. And as many new moms will let you, it doesn’t always come as easily as your Breastfeeding 101 class might lead you to believe. It’s actually really normal for moms and babies to need a little help (sometimes a lot!) in those first few weeks.
But breastfeeding help is not always easy to find. New moms don’t always know how to find good, reliable lactation support, and while the Affordable Care Act mandates that lactation consultants be covered by insurance, many moms find that there are lots of loopholes in their coverage, and they end up having to pay out of pocket for the care.
And it’s not just breastfeeding help that is hard to come by, say Schulman and Perlongo. “Often in America, your only professional postpartum care is one doctor’s visit a month and a half after birth,” Schulman explains in the video.
Perlongo follows up with a serious claim — one that unfortunately jives with many mothers’ postpartum experiences: “The American system is setting moms up to fail,” she says.
But Schulman and Perlongo explain that it doesn’t have to be this way, pointing out that in other countries, postpartum care is way more extensive than it is in America — and moms don’t have to pay anything out-of-pocket to receive the coverage.
“In places like Iceland, Germany, and the Netherlands, every new mom has access to in-home care for one to eight weeks after birth as part of her basic healthcare,” says Perlongo, pointing out that in these countries the infant mortality rate is about half of what it is in America. She’s right.
Schulman goes on to explain that in Sweden, midwives come to a new mom’s home for four days following the birth of her baby (yes, you don’t have to go anywhere!), pointing out that postpartum depression in Sweden is 15%, compared to 30% in America.
It’s disparities such as these that make you realize how much work needs to be done to make the postpartum experience kindler, gentler, and more empowering for moms. In addition to the need for more accessible breastfeeding help, general baby care support, and counseling for postpartum mood disorders, another glaring issue is lack of paid leave in the U.S.
America is one of the only developed countries that doesn’t have paid leave, and this absolutely needs to change. (And don’t worry — Schulman and Perlongo have got that covered, too. They addressed American’s dire lack of both maternal and paternal paid leave in another awesome ATTN: video earlier this year.) Personally, I’ve known moms who have had no choice but to go back to work within a week or two after giving birth. These moms end up feeling heartbroken and helpless having to separate from their babies this early, even if they wanted to go back to work eventually.
I’m not sure what the path is toward real and lasting change on these issues, but one thing is for sure: We need to bring these issues to light — to talk about them till we’re blue in the face, and demand a better system for moms and babies. We’re talking about the next generation of children, and we ought to provide them (and their moms!) with the resources and care they deserve.