by Arielle Coree
Imagine living in a place where pregnancy is treated as a minor medical condition and the sacredness, needs and complexity of postpartum are largely ignored. No, don’t just keep reading – close your eyes – I really want you to imagine it. I want you to put yourself in the shoes of a woman living in that place. Feel the excitement of discovering you are pregnant along with the coupled fear of telling your employer. Feel the physical, mental and emotional toll of not only carrying but growing your child for nine months while also working full-time right up until you give birth just to ensure you keep your paycheck and health benefits intact. Feel the complete exhaustion post birth. Your hormones fluctuate by the second, your body is running on the most severe sleep and nutrient deficit it has ever known, your nipples are raw and bleeding as you and your child try to figure out how to breastfeed. Tears stream down your face because you thought this would feel easier but instead you are scared, anxious and trying your best to simultaneously enjoy these newborn moments. You allow yourself to slip into a state of bliss as you look down at your healthy child but are suddenly overcome by the stress of how quickly time is moving. The clock of maternity leave is ticking loudly in your mind, as you recall your manager letting you know the countdown started the moment your child arrived, followed by his/her obligatory congratulations. You are three days postpartum and one day since you were discharged from the hospital and yet your mind is racing wondering how you will go back? Can you afford childcare? Where is everyone? You need support but aren’t exactly sure in what form.
Now, close your eyes again and envision that place with the addition of a global pandemic. Imagine the time leading up to the birth of your child also including the shortage of toilet paper, soap and other basic necessities. Imagine your birth plan being turned upside down. Imagine being told your partner can’t come to appointments with you and in some cases, is not allowed to attend the birth. Imagine flights being grounded, procedures being cancelled, states being locked down and isolation replacing the sense of community you need now more than ever. Imagine preparing for the birth of your child while bombarded daily by increasing death tolls and left to wonder what type of world will be on the other side. Feel the anxiety build as you realize the birth of your child is not something you can simply cancel or postpone just because the world has been turned upside down. Now imagine recovering from birth. No visitors are allowed, not even family or close friends. Grocery stores are out of diapers, wipes and toilet paper remains sparse. You are forced to navigate these uncharted waters with just your brand new baby and partner. Your postpartum visit is pushed beyond the 6 week mark and is held via video call because of Covid-19 restrictions. Support services are limited and taking your new baby for a walk to get fresh air is out of the question…the isolation continues. It continues during the time you need community the most. Postpartum is the most sacred season of a woman and child’s life. It is the season of deep healing, bonding and celebration. But, in this place I have described it is not viewed as sacred. It is viewed as an inconvenience. It is merely a short-term disability with a hard end date that follows the medical condition of ‘pregnancy’.
Well, this place I am referring to is our country, The United States of America. No, not many years ago – in 2020. While most other countries have nationwide maternity and paternity leave in place, The United States of America does not. Shame on the lawmakers of our country. You are only alive because of the very primal process of giving birth for which you deny proper coverage despite its essential role in society. Pregnancy and postpartum is not something that takes 6-12 weeks to heal from (paid or unpaid). It is not something women should be expected to quickly bounce back from. When a woman gives birth – she not only gives birth to her child, she gives birth to her new identity. Where is the recognition for this? Where is the support? Where is the grace?
Arielle…a first time mama, 8 weeks postpartum during a global pandemic.