Working Options for New MomsDecember 18th, 2009
I always find it a a bit surreal when I see tv commercials with mothers looking very serene holding perfect little babies who are adoringly looking up at them. While this surely happens often enough, I think that it’s important to note that motherhood, especially in the early days is sometimes far from serene. I recall that after the birth of my son, my second, I was completely overwhelmed. He was a much more aggressive feeder than my daughter had been and nursed every hour and a half-from both breasts! Couple that with the fact that I had had a c-section and I had a 3 1/2 year old who was also vying for my attention and you can clearly see that I was quickly coming undone. My parents had come and stayed with me for 3 weeks following my son’s birth and their help was priceless. But they left one day after my husband set out on a business trip and 3 weeks post partum from a c-section I found myself on my own with two little ones. I was literally crying in the airport after my parents left.
According to a report titled, New Mothers Speak Out, National Survey Results Highlight Women’s Postpartum Experiences “new mothers in the United States struggle with chronic emotional and physical problems, often with little or no support from their husbands or partners, all the while trying to meet the needs of their newborns, and in some cases the pressure to return to work,” says Carol Sakala, Ph.D., director of programs for Childbirth Connection, a national not-for-profit organization. Sakala and her colleagues surveyed 903 new mothers ages 18 to 45 who gave birth in 2005. The researchers found that six months after giving birth, 43 percent of the women still felt stressed; 40 percent reported problems controlling their weight; 34 percent had trouble sleeping; 26 percent had no sexual desire; and 24 percent suffered from chronic backaches. Notably, 44 percent of the women said that their physical or emotional condition interfered with taking care of their baby in the first two months. The authors suggested that longer maternity leaves and more flexible return-to-work policies might help new mothers.
Maternity leave, or the lack there of, in the United States is a longstanding issue. Where many European countries offer new moms 6 months to a year off after delivery (with a guaranteed job to return to!), The United States offers a paltry 6 weeks, 8-12 weeks if delivery by c-section. Often times women return to work sooner out of fear of losing their positions. While many companies are beginning to entertain the option of flexible time or job sharing, many professional women avoid these options fearing they will be “mommy-tracked” and passed over for promotions and partnerships. The decision to return to work can be even more stressful for mothers who have had high risk pregnancies and were on prescribed bed rest prior to delivery. They may have used all of their maternity leave before they even had their baby (ies). Others may be reluctant to return to work-especially if their babies were born prematurely and/or have special needs
So what are women to do? Many women do as I did and simply leave the workforce while they have their children and raise their families. I was fortunate enough that my husband’s job and salary is able to support our family. Many other families are not so lucky. Today, often it is the woman who has the larger salary and/or the health care and other benefits to sustain the family. It just isn’t economically feasible for her to remain out of work for any appreciable amount of time.
Yet many women find that they just don’t want to stay home full time. Like me, they want to be available and present for their children, yet they want to do something that is intellectually stimulating as well as emotionally fulfilling. More and more, women are looking at work from home opportunities and starting their own businesses.
In the next several blog entries I will explore the options women have for creating work/life balance. We’ll look at options such as working from home, starting businesses, flexible and job sharing opportunities and in general, how women can take better care of themselves so that they can take better care of their families. I will include interviews with women who are experts in the field of work life balance as well as starting their own work from home enterprises. Stay tuned!
If you are a woman who has started a successful enterprise or successfully navigated working and having a family, please share your story with me. I’d love to feature you and I am sure other women would love to learn from your wisdom!