Thursday, March 3, 2016

Can we stop glorifying the rice paddy, please?

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the perceptions we have of child birth in this country, and weirdly how it relates to being told to eat all of your vegetables because there are starving children in (insert country of choice).

Bear with me here.

We all heard this as kids- we needed to clean our plates because children in XYZ didn’t have food and would love to have what we have. In this case, we look to countries of those less fortunate with sympathy… we should relish what we have because others don’t have it.

Now, think about the stories you hear during pregnancy.

Like any woman who has had a baby, I have heard about how women in other countries squat in a rice paddy and give birth before going back to work. What has always struck me as being entirely weird is that this story is told with seeming reverence.  Why should I get a hospital birth and maternity leave? It is clearly unnecessary if women in Asia just pop out kids on their lunch break?

There is an interesting contradiction at work here. When it comes to food, we should eat all we can and take advantage of our plenty because others have none. When it comes to having a child, we should strive to have as little as people in impoverished nations because anything beyond that is excess.

In essence, in the United States we have come to see caring for pregnant women, new moms, and babies as a luxury,, complete with tales of how this is wanton excess. The problem is these tales just aren’t true. Most other cultures allow for more care and consideration of pregnancy and childbirth than we do. Other industrialized nations certainly allow for more in terms of leave to recover from childbirth. 


In China, new mothers “sit the month” and enjoy help as their community chips in to care for mom and baby. Check out this interesting article from NPR on the practice. Dominican mothers have a 40 day period where they rest while female family members help out. Slate outlines how many Latin American cultures offer similar traditions. 

In fact, compared with most of the world, the US is the proverbial nation of starving children in terms of the haves and have-nots of post partum care.  Just imagine women in Canada or the UK sitting around with a new mom saying "enjoy your time off. If you were in the US, you'd already be back at work!" 

As a working mom, I've heard our cultural attitudes come across frequently. A co-worker once lamented that her employee intended to take her full 12 weeks of maternity leave instead of coming back to work when medically cleared as though this woman was being irrational. We often talk about the career woman who pops back into work after 2 weeks off as though this woman is strong and driven when in fact, this is unhealthy for mom and baby. Whether driven by a fear of the consequences, or financial reasons, I would venture to say that most of these women are not driven by desire to go back to work before her stitches have healed.

So why do we celebrate this? Understanding that it is a personal decision for everyone when and if to return to work, our reverence for those that eschew the very minimal support we offer for working moms in favor of an early return helps build a culture that make getting things like paid leave so difficult. This perpetuates the story that caring for yourself after giving birth means you are needy, or difficult or spoiled. 

Why is the ideal squatting in a rice paddy? 

As a new mom, I have also been told by several other moms that I am lucky to have had a full 12 weeks off, and even gotten paid for some of it. Yes, I am more fortunate than others, but allow me to say with complete certainty that taking full advantage of an insufficient benefit was not luck, and we need to stop saying this to each other. We need to stop glorifying the bare minimum and demand something a little better. 

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