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Our #MomStrong culture may look great on Instagram, but here’s the unsettling truth

I gave birth without medication. Afterwards, I refused the ibuprofen. A week after giving birth, with my husband at work, I threw my back waving our daughter and a 15 pound stroller down the steps of our fourth floor staircase to go to the pediatrician. Ask the neighbors? Forget it. I have that.

I was in pain, but I felt strong. Furthermore, I research feel strong. I hated feeling dependent on others, even though being cared for was heartwarming. I was not weak. Look what I just did when giving birth to my baby! My courage had always defined me – how could that be a problem?

Well, it was. And it’s. For millions of us.

We are in the grip of a toxic culture of power, which advocates strength and productivity over serenity and self-preservation. Being “strong as a mother” is the ultimate badge of honor. Today, as a postpartum doula and founder of a maternal health startup, I see it often. Here are some examples. (Names have been changed to protect individual privacy.):

  • Tessa beams as she says she can walk five miles a week after giving birth, even though it made her bleeding worse.

  • Sarah hosts a business four days after giving birth and feels compelled to vacuum the whole house with the baby strapped to her chest.

  • Eliza, unaware of what diastasis is, lives with it until her intestines fully push out, pressing against her skin and requiring surgery.

  • Constance, embarrassed by painful postpartum constipation, remains silent until the result is an anal fissure requiring medication.

  • Uniqua can’t sleep and has intrusive thoughts, but doesn’t ask for help because she thinks the postpartum period is supposed to be difficult and assumes it will resolve on its own.

Although it spends the most per person on health care in the world, the United States does not have a standard, integrated system of postpartum care. Here, private insurance, against the recommendation of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, still generally limits postpartum care coverage to one visit six weeks after birth – which, even before COVID-19, 40% of births missed due to cultural and systematic barriers.

This is compounded by alarming rates of postpartum depression and anxiety: before the pandemic, the figure hovered around 1 in 5 in the United States. Today there is some data to suggest the rate may have doubled due to the impacts of COVID-19, in addition to increased abuse of perinatal substances related to untreated mental health needs.

While our statistics cry out, our suffering is not. It often looks like this: “I’m fine. “It will be fine.” “I’ll figure it out.”

The vast majority of cultures and countries around the world recognize that the fourth trimester – defined as anything from the first 40 days to 90 days after birth – is a singular and special moment that is prepared and then punctuated by ritualized rest, healing practices and hands. -on postpartum support (sponsored by family and / or government). There is a fundamental recognition that the birth person needs to recover and be cared for after the overwhelming physical strain of pregnancy and childbirth and to facilitate the bond and transition from “me” to “mother. “. It is a normal, healthy and necessary process.

So many places as the United States we obsessively plan childbirth, monitor pregnancy daily, and (outside of a pandemic year) average 15 appointments over a nine-month period. But postpartum? Well, you are alone.

We fill our social media feeds with photos of happy babies, but we fall apart behind closed doors. Our truths are only revealed afterwards, when vulnerability can be used as a source of strength, presented as a telltale warning reflection.

Ultimately, our equality pie demands that we be strong at all costs. We must sacrifice our body and psyche to maintain our place in a male-led paradigm that grants us no one-sided paid entitlement or recuperation time. Baby is the first; we are last.

In the name of proving that we can do anything, we have allowed the most heroic, impressive and complex experience that the human body will go through (birth) to be played down for fear of being labeled fragile. The system is failing us, but, I would say, our belief in rebound culture is too.

It’s exhausting and inferior for all who give birth, but especially dangerous for people of color who face skewed care and greater barriers to preventive and direct services. There is no way to have this conversation without acknowledging the painful fact that inequalities and racial inequalities are inherent in birth and postpartum outcomes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, non-Hispanic black women die at a rate three to four times that of non-Hispanic white women. Beyond 30, it’s up to five times higher (for non-Hispanic / Alaskan Native American women as well). Even when socioeconomic status is taken into account, according to the same CDC report, “the pregnancy-related death rate for black women with at least a college degree was 5.2 times that of their white counterparts. “.

There are many factors that make up a reproductive experience, but a country’s maternal mortality rate (MMR) is a critical, albeit worst-case, factor. The United States has one of the highest developed countries and it keep increasing. In addition, according to the CDC, nearly 60% of these deaths were preventable and 44% occurred within 42 days of giving birth. After 42 days? The CDC reports that 23.6% of maternal deaths occur 43 to 365 days after birth, making it the second most dangerous period (with pregnancy # 1). We may think that birth is the most painful moment, but statistically it is the safest day of the whole perinatal trip.

We can do better. What if we plan for the postpartum the way we plan for childbirth? What if we were talking about what our bodies are actually going through – openly, in real time, and in mixed company?

No one, regardless of race, ethnicity, education, gender, orientation, identity or socio-economic status, should be surprised by what happens after childbirth. . They also shouldn’t have to be deeply hurt to be seen, supported and cared for.

We can do better. What if we plan for the postpartum the way we plan for childbirth? What if we were talking about what our bodies are actually going through – openly, in real time, and in mixed company? What if everyone was monitored by a doula, lactation expert and / or pelvic floor therapist as part of their routine postpartum care? What if we normalized the continuum of the postpartum experience: the good, the bad, and the in-between? The postpartum is amazing and powerful. It is also overwhelming, exhausting and physically demanding.

I say let’s loudly ask for more support and services, but only if we promise to push ourselves less. Who is with me?

Mandy Major is a PCD-certified postpartum doula (DONA), founder of maternal health startup Major Care and spokesperson for Philips Avent. She holds an MA from Columbia Journalism School and has written for Healthline, Motherly and Prevention, among other publications. You can follow her on Instagram at @doulamandy.

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