Sunday, May 14, 2017

Birth and Mothering in America: Mothers Deserve More

Working as a public health nurse with low-income, high-risk families has opened my eyes to the world in so many ways. The person that I am today and the person that I was seven years ago(before embarking on this area of nursing) are so very different and for that I am so thankful.

In all(or nearly all) nursing jobs, nurses are privileged to work with people of all colors, cultures, languages and personalities. The uniqueness of my current job is that I work with my families in their own homes and, thus, am immersed in their cultures while we work. The majority of my clients are refugees or immigrants and it is not unusual for me in one work day to visit a myriad of homes-- all of which may speak a different language and have a completely different culture(many thanks to the amazing interpreters who help me in my work). I believe that I have grown more as a person in these past years than at any other time in my life.

As I learn from these new Americans about the cultures that they have come from, I've been shocked many times over to find the disservice of our U. S. culture, medicine and politics on mothers and families.

One of my first expecting clients was a woman from a small African village(I know that Africa is a continent and am being intentionally vague in order to protect my client's identity) and she, a brand new refugee in America, was ready to have her baby any day. I remember during our education about what to expect from a birth in an American hospital, looking at her and realizing that she looked terrified. When I asked her what she was feeling, she said that she was scared and asked me where all of the other mothers would be? She said that in her former home, all of the mothers in the village would come and support her during both the labor and the weeks after. Every need would be met and she was treated like a queen during labor. After the baby was born, the baby would be cared for while the mother rested. The entire village would celebrate the birth and the mother. New motherhood had previously been such a joyous time and now she feared that it would simply be lonely and exhausting. 

Here, she said, she'd never felt more alone. Pregnancy seemed to be treated like a contagious illness and the birth like a surgery to correct it. Everything seemed so clinical and cold. She wished that she were back in the refugee camp, she said.  I remember freezing in place at those words from a woman that was so proud to be a new American and had otherwise completely embraced our culture and traditions.

Another client of mine, who had birthed another child in another small village and now had a newborn in America was suffering from Postpartum Depression. She was struggling each day to simply keep her head above water. I asked her if she had experience Postpartum Depression with her last pregnancy. She looked at me,eyes heavy with sorrow, and replied, "There was no such thing as postpartum depression in my country." I assured her that there must have been, that mental illness permeates everywhere, but she was adamant. She said to me, "I was supported by my entire village every moment of my pregnancy and the baby's first months. I was never alone. Here I am always alone. No one asks to help me. My neighbors don't even reply to my hellos in the hallway and seem to not even have noticed that I now have a new child. This is the loneliest place that I have ever known. It surprises me that all women here don't suffer from depression."

Yet another beautiful client took me aback at her response when I asked her how her first American birth experience was.  She responded that the birth that she had in the refugee camp was a far better experience. She hoped to never experience an American hospital again in her life. Her response held the theme that many clients before her had shared-- the birthing experience here was cold, clinical and lonely. 

I can't help but wonder-- as a mother, a nurse and a human being-- if we are doing a grave disservice to our mothers here. For all of our focus on a medical-based, clinical birth, studies show that the U.S. has the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world and that 60% of the maternal deaths each year are preventable(Source here). The U. S. is one of only two countries that don't mandate any paid maternity leave(source here).

We are giving mothers a cold, clinical birth that may not even save them from death in preventable situations, providing little to no support after the birth and forcing many mothers back to work before healing their bodies or bonding well with their children.  Our communities don't rally around new mothers to offer assistance. Other mothers often offer only criticism of the new mother, even strangers in the grocery store feeling compelled to offer unneeded advice without compassion or real assistance. New motherhood is terribly lonely and exhausting here. I cannot help but know, with a sickening pit in my stomach, that we could do so much better here in America.

This Mother's Day I wish for a better future for the mothers in America and around the world. We celebrate our moms one day per year, but the truth is that babies are being born into the world by mothers each day and they deserve so much better than the current American experience of new motherhood.


  1. Oh how horrible that they struggle so much with the American system! :( Birth is a scary time, it really helps to be around something familiar. While I had both my babies in the hospital I had built up a good connection with the OB and was supported by my husband. When we cam home, it was to a clean house with meals cooked for a couple of days for us and lots of support from our families. That support is so important I think.

    1. I'm so glad that you have had a good support system, Mica!

  2. Wow...hearing about other experiences is such an eye opener!

  3. In this case she used to have a village...It is so wonderful that you get to learn so much about the lives of your patients. It highlights the best and worst about our system. Mothering is way too lonely here. The paid post partem doula (which veryfew new mothers can afford) show us how much that role is needed. And missed.

  4. The Mother that suffered from postpartum depression...oh her comment made my heart clench. Thank you for bringing some light into her world. <3

  5. So sad! Yes, mothers in America do suffer too much! But I see changes happening for some - my daughter joined a "mom's group on They support each other's struggles and joys and are in touch weekly, if not daily. It has been wonderful for her in raising her two little ones. What a difference it could've made to have that loving attention from other women during delivery and just after! You are doing great work! So proud of you! So glad some care is offered but obviously so much more is needed!

  6. It's embarrassing to me as an ESL teacher and the wife of a non-native American that so many other "less sophisticated or advanced" countries gasp in shock at moms here going back to work after six weeks--if they are fortunate enough to work somewhere that even gives them that much. you are barely healed physically, much less rested enough! It's just primitive and we need to do so much better.

  7. It is sad how soon mothers have to return to normal life after giving birth. We need so much more support.

  8. I say with a sarcastic wink: Best not let some corporation lose money because we have to birth the next set of new worker bees. All this talk of having time off from work is just an excuse to steal money from some multi billionaire.

  9. Yes, it's a very different environment in the west. The same is true of things like attachment parenting and co-sleeping, which are so controversial to us, but in many places babies and young children are never left alone or put down. They are held and responded to and slept with at all times. And they grow to be much more independent at a much younger age than our children do!

    Over here, even in the last 30 years, there has been so much change in how births are handled. 30 years ago, hospitals were much less keen to jump to interventions for births, but mothers routinely stayed in hospital for 1-2 weeks after birth, and hospitals would help them to learn to bathe, change, feed, etc the baby. Now there is a lot more intervention in births, and a lot more allowing women to choose interventions whether necessary or not, but you leave hospital within a few hours to one day in most cases, and are left to your own devices to care for the babies while there. It is also now expected that you will room in with the baby while at hospital, whereas there used to be much more of hospitals taking the baby to nurseries so that mothers could rest after birth. I actually would have chosen to room in regardless. But on the other issues, I think it would be a much better use of resources if we still focused on more support and aftercare, but women were not encouraged to have unnecessary interventions in the birth. Rather than spending a lot of money on very heavily assisted births that are probably not necessary in many cases, and may well cause problems often (as unnecessary inductions tend to, for example).

  10. It is my dearest with to become a mom. I have heard that this is difficult work. Most of people think that this is a job. I think that this is the most rewarding job in the world. I consider this blog to be a very revealing. Moms do deserve more because they give the future to the country. Mothers obtain most of the jobs there exists. Mothers are educators and carers, they are cleaners and managers. I hope to see more of posts like this.