A number of things have changed since the frontier closed, but the female body is not one of them. This is Hillary Brenhouse’s pointed conclusion after chronicling (for the Daily Beast) the essential nonexistence of postpartum care in the United States since the late nineteenth century. Juxtaposed with just about every single other nation in the world– developed or not — a woman’s postpartum period in the United States is a bleak reality. Gone are the days in America when a woman was aided through the difficult recovery period by dedicated females, sometimes related and sometimes friends. Gone are the days when a woman who had just gone through the physical demands and trauma of labor and delivery could look forward to being cared for, and not just caring for her new infant.
Brenhouse points out that in most countries today, women who have just given birth are expected to spend a month or more recuperating with the assistance of others. That means she does not start cooking, cleaning, putting on makeup and going out with friends — until she has healed and regained her energy. On the other hand, she observes that in the US, expectations for postpartum women are much higher: they are expected to be camera-ready right after birth. They are expected to be chipper and energetic, now that the trials of pregnancy have passed. Overlooked are the demands of caring for a newborn, even by those who have themselves struggled through it without postpartum support.
We can’t underestimate the value of an attentive husband, but let’s face it: most husbands have to go back to work a few days after the birth, and mom is left to fend for herself from nine to five, with a new baby and possibly other little ones, all the while hoping that she doesn’t pop a stitch or start hemorrhaging in the process. To make matters for postpartum women in America worse, the United States is the only industrialized country that does not mandate paid maternity leave. (When my son was born, I was working for a pro-life organization, and even there — where new life is valued beyond measure — unpaid vacation days were the only resource that I could utilize in order to spend time having a baby. This is the state of the nation.)
America’s lack of concern for postpartum women could stem, in part, from the fact that our culture does not value human life. How can we expect a nation that aborts 3-4 thousand of its children every day to be friendly towards those who choose life? Brenhouse points out that pregnant women are doted-on much more than postpartum women, but despite the veracity of that observation, pregnant women in this country also face a uniquely-modern set of challenges.
For example, being questioned or ridiculed for choosing to have children when her socioeconomic status does not afford her the $7,000 nursery she is supposed to have, or for choosing children at a young age over a more lucrative career path and several more years of “fun and achievement.” The United States may offer cutting-edge technology when it comes to delivering babies and preserving maternal health, but following the labor and delivery process an American woman cannot expect above-standard care in comparison with less-developed countries. On the contrary.
As pro-lifers, perhaps we have an obligation to examine the phenomenon of non-existent postpartum care in the United States. Showing compassion to postpartum women is a way to live our pro-life values. What are some practical solutions that we can utilize to help ease the burden of postpartum recovery for women living in a country that is hostile towards life? Here are a few ways. Please add your own suggestions in the comments below.
- Just show up. Postpartum recovery is not a time to be texting the new mother saying “Hey, let me know if you need anything.” Go to the grocery store and pick up some fresh fruits and veggies (pre-sliced, if possible) as well as a high-fat soup or comfort food, and show up on her doorstep. If invited inside, ask how, not whether, you can help: laundry? Watching older kids so mom can take a nap? Chances are, the last thing she needs help with is sitting on the couch holding her cute little newborn, so let her do that while you pitch in with the more physically-demanding tasks, if she’s comfortable with it. Offer to make her coffee or tea, ask if she needs to take a shower, or a nap, and adjust accordingly.
- If you don’t live nearby, send her a gift, or at least a card (but please, not an e-card). Moms love getting cute little things for their new babies like bibs and toys. But it is also very touching to consider the new mom herself: how about a gift card to a coffee shop that has a drive-thru (because nothing is more wonderful than to be able to put your infant in the car seat and head out for drive-thru coffee and a pastry in your pajamas). Or a comfy new pair of pajamas and nail polish, to encourage her to take it easy but also to feel like she’s still a beautiful woman.
- Initiate a “dinner tree.” Don’t wait to get invited to the one that someone else is ‘surely’ going to start, because chances are, no one will. Email her friends, co-workers, and relatives, and ask them to choose a day in the two-three week period after her birth when they will volunteer to bring her a complete meal, packaged for freezer storage in case that is the most convenient place for it upon arrival. Waiting until she is in labor to choose the dates is a good way to guarantee that if she has the baby early or late, it doesn’t throw off the dates that everyone has signed up for.
- Call her to tell her that you’re thinking of her, and ask her what she needs, what you can do for her (again, not whether she needs anything). It may just be giving her company, in which case you could try to come by sooner than later.
New moms (and by “new,” I don’t mean first-time) have a lot of needs, and many of them are not apparent to others until they have been through it themselves. New moms are physically depleted from labor and delivery, producing milk, and whatever other challenges they or their newborns faced during the birth process. New moms also have crazy hormones as they transition from pregnant to not-pregnant, so their emotions may make them seem more needy than usual — don’t be surprised if your otherwise-introverted friend suddenly glows every time someone comes to spend time with her. Be OK with whatever she needs; that may just be sitting on the couch watching TV with her. And be assured that, after you have given a new mom the postpartum healing opportunities that she deserves, she will be more conscious of the same needs when they arise in others.