This is my final post for Bringing Up Baby! I want to thank you wonderful readers for making this experience so enriching and enlightening. I'm grateful for the comments, examples, and leads, and I apologize for not having the time to follow up on everyone's recommendations. Thanks to Kelsey for being an amazing editor—and not like "I have to be polite," like she's actually an awesome, patient, available editor who fixed stuff that was bad. Thanks to everyone else at Bitch who proved to be as thoroughly awesome as I'd always imagined them to be during my years as a Bitch reader.
When I started this series, my intent was to focus more or less exclusively on representations of childbirth and infant care in television. But as I thought about what I was reading and watching, all roads kept leading to the same place: paid parental leave.
The provocateur behind problematic media coverage of breastfeeding, I concluded, was bad parental leave policy. The blame-game that surrounds prenatal health, I realized, is incited by bad parental leave policy. The debate about older parenthood, I discovered, should be recast as a debate about parental leave. The Mommy Wars themselves simply wouldn't exist—or wouldn't exist at such volume—if we had mandated paid parental leave in the United States.
A lot of folks opine on whether women "should" breastfeed, "should" have children in their forties, "should" follow health recommendations while pregnant, and so on. These mean-spirited debates miss the essential point: We should have the choice. The media's so busy telling women what they "should" be doing that it's easy to forget about the absence of reasonable, humane, and just options. The endless churning of articles about the health consequences of supermomhood or the health consequences of doing x, y, and z while pregnant makes motherhood seem like a fundamentally risky pursuit and casts moms as their own worst enemies. But what about corporate greed in refusing paid parental leave? What about access to care?
I cited this number already in a previous post, but here it is again: Women without children make 90 cents to a man's dollar, but mothers make just 73 cents, and single mothers make even less, about 60 cents to a man's dollar. Women as a group make 77 cents to a man's dollar.
To put it bluntly, single moms are bringing down the average. When it comes to economic justice, "equal pay" is a standard feminist rallying call. But equal pay and paid parental leave are two sides of the same coin. Statistics about economic gender disparities always include moms in the data, but they're not usually separated out as a statistical group, and so the effects of unjust economic and legal policies remain cloaked. The number one predictor of poverty in the United States is single motherhood.
Conservatives use this fact to make various arguments about family values. I think we're making a big mistake in failing to counter their arguments with our own about paid parental leave.
WOW, it felt good to get that out! Moving on. Childbirth. I've said my piece about onscreen depictions of childbirth here, here, here, and here, and you can view a video by Anita Sarkeesian on the subject here. To summarize: fear, pain, urgency, and lack of control are the recurring themes. According to a survey by Childbirth Connection, more women watch depictions of childbirth on television than attend childbirth classes, and expectations about childbirth are highly influenced by television. Is it any wonder we're so complacent in allowing medical professionals to treat even uncomplicated childbirths as urgent emergencies? Is it any wonder we're willing to relinquish our rights to informed consent?
But complacency comes from other quarters as well. The variety in quality of obstetrical care in this country is staggering, and for that reason many individuals—particularly white, affluent individuals in urban areas—tend to dismiss the childbirth care crisis as either an exaggeration or just another part of U.S. racial and socioeconomic healthcare disparities. It's not. While maternal and infant outcomes are worse for minority and rural populations, bad outcomes cross socioeconomic, racial, and geographical categories in a way that doesn't occur in other fields of medicine.
At one point, I thought maybe the news media's failure to expose issues in prenatal, childbirth and postpartum care was because the body count isn't high enough. But that's not it. I can't count how many exposés I've read about erectile dysfuction drugs. But nobody seems interested in probing the overuse of pitocin and other drugs.
Again, all roads keep leading to the same place: Concerns and complaints about childbirth and childcare aren't deemed as legitimate or important.
And …. I'm done! Phew. I'll be researching and reporting on prenatal, childbirth and postpartum care indefinitely, so if you want to contact me about anything or have any questions, email me here. I'm tweeting on these topics daily; follow me on Twitter here. If you want to read about books that change the world, check out my personal blog here.
And finally, here's a link where you can read birth stories of all kinds and colors, not just scary ones. Enjoy!