Parenting in the desert not the village

Navigating a world where there’s no room for parenthood.

When I moved to the U.S. I knew I was giving up many things for a better career. I would miss the food back home, my former lifestyle, and, most of all, my family. What I didn’t know was that this feeling would resurface years later, during my pregnancy. The sentence “it takes a village” highlighted the cruel truth that, in a postpartum world, women have been stripped of the support system to care for their children and themselves during a decisive moment for both or their lives.

Although pregnancy can be a moment of joy and satisfaction for many new moms, it can also be clouded by an aura of anxiety and uncertainty as we navigate the many obstacles moms encounter when bringing a new person into this world.

The so-called maternity leave

The U.S. is the only developed economy that does not offer paid parental leave. In fact, Oman, Papua New Guinea, and the U.S. are the only countries in the world that fail to offer paid leave to new mothers. Therefore, it is not surprising to see how employers across the states offer resistance when women mention the topic of maternal leave. In the best scenarios, women find themselves dragged into “flexible” arrangements in which they agree to work remotely after giving birth in order to get some telework “privileges” when the leave is up.

Not having the option to care for their child leaves mothers delegating some of their parenting and the care of their child to others, be it the other parent, a family member, or paid services. This decision is often accompanied with guilt and shame as well as countless headaches when it comes to making motherhood compatible with the rest of roles a woman take on today.

Childcare or not care

According to Child Care Aware of America, childcare in the U.S. now costs more than $10K a year. I smile ruefully at this number, knowing that childcare in the urban areas can go well beyond $30K a year. The experience of parents in urban settings is vastly different from the 7% of household income designated for childcare as recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Early age childcare is not guaranteed in the District of Columbia. Expectant mothers put themselves on childcare waitlists in their first trimester. This is an unthinkable solution in many cultures where beliefs linked to pregnancy and parenting are compassion and family centric.

The lost and found of former and new identities

One of the aspects that is overlooked when women become pregnant is the loss of their former life and, therefore, their previous identity. As women, we are constantly bombarded with images that dictate what a woman should look like. This does not stop during pregnancy, a time of great vulnerability for many women. It is common to see pictures of women caring for their newborns in impeccable nurseries with matching outfits and perfect hair. Some companies might be more culturally aware and try to reflect different ethnicities. But very few media sources portray women with bodies that reflect the enormous strain and change that comes with pregnancy.

That new body after pregnancy is paired with a reality in which the options for a social life compatible with parenthood are limited. In the U.S., few parents and children enjoy their free time without sacrifices. Child-friendly places are often not adult-friendly. Parents are left limiting their social interactions to people who can tolerate their new lifestyle of feeding schedules, hovering over a toddler, or being surrounded by screaming children. More adventurous parents might try to take their children along to social gatherings or restaurants. There may be a rude awakening that sit-down restaurant meals do not make for a quiet child.

The space between us (is covered in baby spit)

Couples are tested throughout pregnancy and parenthood. The passion that once fueled the relationship is slowly eroded by sleep deprivation and frantic googling for childrearing tips. Differences can become insurmountable when it comes to caring for a baby. Resentment and guilt increase as sleep deprivation jumps into the driver’s seat.

The physical and mental changes parents undergo in the months prior to their children’s birth can last for years, and both mothers and fathers may never fully recover from the transition to parenthood. Little is said about sexuality during pregnancy. The characterture portrayal of a sex-crazed pregnant woman who drives her partner crazy is just that. The truth is some partners may have mixed feelings about having sex while pregnant. Sex might push to a second place (if not a fourth) in the grand scheme of priorities. Couples may wonder whether they are still loveable if they do not receive the kind of attention they once had.

Where the $^%* is my village???

Postpartum depression may show its ugly face even before giving birth. It comes in the form of irritability, sadness, anxiety, and trouble sleeping. It can develop into more complicated symptoms such as suicidal ideation or psychosis. Given the world we are birthing into, it is not surprising that more women feel that weight seep in as their transition into the role of motherhood.

Anxiety induced by job instability or new expenses combined with the isolation of motherhood might lead mothers to question their decision to have a baby. It is unfair and unwise to expect moms and dads to bear the weight of raising our future generations on their own. Nevertheless, our current system does not grant them the space or compassion to carry out their roles as primary caregivers.

What can be done?

Compassion is key to ensure parents and babies get the support they deserve. Given the many challenges women face today, it is important to be mindful of the effects the transition might have. As a counselor, I turn toward my partner and the option for counseling. Counseling does not only offer the emotional support that might help with postpartum depression but might help parents explore unresolved issues or experiences helping new parents find their inner strength for self-healing and affirmation. Through group, individual or couple’s counseling, parents can carve out time. They can reflect on the changes they are experiencing and tend to their inner child.

Parents need validation, they were given the short end of the stick and that they deserve to be cared for. If individual or couples’ counseling is not an option now, there are many groups they can join to hear other’s experiences and build compassion towards themselves and their situation.