"A mother is a single mother whether she is married or not," I recall Betty Friedan saying in the late 90s at a local community gathering when my two children were still toddlers, and I was simultaneously building my business. So, it comes as no surprise that Michelle Obama, only last month, mistakenly labeled herself a "single mother" during a television interview, only to later correct herself to be a "busy working mom." You see, it is actually quite easy to confuse the two, as I, along with too many other working moms, know all too well. So even after Mrs. Obama quickly attempted to justify her faux pas by describing how, prior to becoming First Lady, she was "working, driving kids to practice, not having enough time to shop or cook, not having the energy," it was her initial self-description that depicts a much larger societal problem, and question. Why is our country still not providing the necessary resources to help working mothers feel less alone in their child-care responsibilities?
The United States is, in fact, one of the few industrialized nations that doesn't provide paid family leave for new parents, even though 60.6 percent of women with children under 3-years-old, and 55.8 percent of women with children under one year old, were in the labor force as recently as 2011. Further, the Federal Government has yet to put any uniform standards or goals in place to provide much needed childcare services for working parents, the weight of which falls upon the working mother as primary caregiver.
Essentially, just as the "afterbirth" (or placenta) is immediately discarded after childbirth so, too, is our country's support of an infant and mother immediately "after-birth."
In fact, it is by using our country's arbitrary discarding of the physical 'afterbirth' as an analogy for our country's reckless disregard for supporting mothers and their children that forces us to become more keenly aware of the waste, and thus the many lost opportunities, in contrast to other countries and cultures that do just the opposite.
For example, while the placenta is a key player in the generation of new life (every baby needs a strong, healthy placenta in order to have the best chance at surviving the pregnancy and birth), it still very much remains a mystery to the majority of the U.S. population. As a result, the placenta tends to be treated indifferently, similarly reflecting the way the U.S. government ignores the needs of a newborn and mother.
But what if we did, just for a moment, view the physical afterbirth differently, as is being done in other cultural settings where it is given more appropriate consideration and reverence?
While the placenta fosters life in the womb from the time it is formed, its role and influence does not cease at birth. Instead, it has been perfectly created to nourish the mother and help her recover more quickly from the birth and pregnancy itself. By allowing her system to gradually balance itself, placenta capsules, for example, ease the physical and emotional transition to motherhood for many women.
This is why acupuncturists and practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) use placenta to help balance a woman's hormones during menopause, enabling her to have access to her own natural hormones in levels that are already perfectly suited to her system.
Concurrently, what if, after birth, paid-maternity leave and federally funded childcare were provided to mothers, instead of ignoring a mother and child's basic needs? Just think of how less alone that mother would feel, and how much more quickly her emotional and physical health would recover.
Republicans believe they have the answer, however. On the heels of losing women as a critical voting group during the 2011 presidential election, they are now attempting to support a mother's need for job flexibility, or so they say. The Working Families Flexibility Act, a bill House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) introduced in April, is described as a bill that would provide for flex-time, "so that a working mom could work overtime this month and use it as time off next month without having to worry about whether she'll be able to take home enough money to pay the rent." Too good to believe? Yes, unfortunately, it is. A more detailed look at this proposed legislation uncovers that it would instead deprive these employees of the longstanding right to be paid time-and-a-half for overtime by allowing employers to give hourly workers comp time in lieu of overtime, if the workers agree to it. But, even of the workers do not agree to it, they still would not have any power to decide when to use the comp time. The employers would decide that. Further, if the employers fail to allow the workers to use the accrued comp time, the company still has 30 days to provide payment. However, if the employer still does not provide the overtime compensation by the deadline, the workers are no longer allowed to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor, as they can do now.
But this underlying truth should come as no surprise to those of us who have witnessed the Republican Party's repeated history of false of promotion. Just as Republican George W. Bush ran on a presidential campaign theme of being "For The Family," during his first term, his Labor Department made use of FMLA benefits more difficult for families by proposing complex regulations concerning reporting, certification and medical requirements. Bush also vetoed an expansion of the FMLA, which would have provided up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave to workers who are caring for a wounded service member in active duty.
So, I don't know about you, but I am now feeling even more alone... long "after-birth."
Lori Sokol, Ph.D., is an Educational Psychologist and Founder & Publisher of Work Life Matters magazine.