I stood there crying at the sink as I washed my dishes last night. “I can’t believe my sister has to return to work after just 2 months! IT’S NOT FAIR!” I said just like a five year old little girl stomping her foot in protest.

Society…I want to throat punch you. It is because of you that my sister has to leave her baby just 2 months after having him.

return to work, Breastfeeding, returning to work, pumping, feminism

Look at his little face!

She is still in those early stages of motherhood…remember those days? Or you may be in them right now…exhausted from sleep deprivation because babies just don’t sleep. They are not supposed to sleep. They are babies! Her breasts still heavy with milk, her house still a mess, barely finding time to shower or think… her mind still scattered trying to adjust. And now she has to return to work 5 days a week. Worry about child care…pumping…lack of sleep. Getting thrown back into the “working world”.

Just a few days ago she sent me a message, “Please call me as soon as you can!” She is all the way over in the USA (where I’m from) and I live in Australia. She described what has been going on; really gassy baby, on and off the boob, milk spraying EVERYWHERE. She described her supply as being so huge she could feed 3 orphan babies along with her baby! Yes, as you probably guessed she is dealing with massive over-supply. Things were going fine until she started pumping in preparation for returning to work. Yes, she is luck to have enough milk, however over-supply has it’s challenges too. Now she is dealing with fire-hose boobs, trying to fit pumping in while deep in the mental and physical cobwebs of motherhood and her baby is unsettled, gassy and struggling to deal with her flow. She is in such early stages of motherhood. She and her baby literally NEED to be together.

Some might argue, but yes she DOES have a choice. and yeah you are right. She and her husband could sell their house and most of their possessions so they could rent a small apartment. They could change everything that they have known for the past 5 years of how they have lived. She could quit her job and take time off work for the next few years as she raises this baby and maybe have another one. She could change careers and risk not being hired again back to her current position. She could change EVERYTHING. How have we put this choice on women? Choose changing everything you have been building to this point (career, future focus on financial security etc.) or stay at home with your child.

If you want to work outside the home after you have a child, I support you 100%! That is something that us feminists have worked for…having the same opportunities as men. But we are not men. We experience pregnancy. We birth. We lactate. We mother. We have careers. BUT what this has done is given us this false sense of “having it all” NO. We can’t have it all. We constantly juggle, battle and fight. We can’t be an attachment parent and work 5 days per week the same as we would if we were with our babies 24/7. It’s different. We are apart. My sister is sad. She can’t have it all…all at once. We can’t be arguing for an equal place in the workforce when we are growing, birthing and then feeding babies. We are supposed to be together. It’s how we are programmed as humans. We feel something when we leave our babies. Even if we are excited to return to our former work life we still FEEL something…many of us feel frustrated, sad, confused and scared. This pull bringing us constantly back to our babies. This maternal forcing pulling us away from everything we have known back to our babies.

I chose to stay at home. My husband and I struggled financially for over a decade. We put our finances and financial freedom on hold. Financially we have made HUGE sacrifices for me to be able to stay at home with my children. Do I regret that choice? No, I don’t. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to stay with them. However I know many women who chose to return to work to keep their financial affairs in order and they don’t regret that decision either. There is not one that is “right” or “wrong” but the agony that we go through to make these choices and the fact that many of us are forced to leave our babies before we (and our babies) are ready is SHIT.

We don’t understand how hard these choices will be. Before we have a baby we buy a house, get a good full time job, We just think, “Yes, when the baby is three months old I’ll return to work and it will be fine!” Then our baby arrives. The date of our return to work creeps up on us like some disease that we know is coming…the black hole that approaches. And we don’t know what to do. We feel stuck between motherhood, financial strain and keeping things like our house and car…our healthcare and financial security.

In the USA the financial situation for families is very different to Australia where I live today. I am from the USA. I had two babies there and our 3rd (and youngest) born here in Australia. In the USA you have a baby and you are on your own. Pull up your boot straps (or bra straps) and get on with it sister! In Australia it’s very different. You receive a “baby bonus” (money) after the birth and then weekly parenting payments. This allows the freedom for women to choose to stay home if they wish, for longer, so they can continue to be with their babies without the financial burden and worry about returning to work. I have done countless breastfeeding consultations with women from the USA who are returning to work when their babies are young. I have done NONE here in Australia. The women I do consultations with here in relation to work have been women who are returning when their babies are 9 months old…12 months old or 2 years old. Completely different scenario. I don’t want this to turn into a political piece but that’s exactly the issue here…Basically it comes down to politics. Our choices as mothers all boil down to what our politicians think is important. 

return to work

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Out of 178 nations, the U.S. is one of three that does not offer paid maternity leave benefits. Yes you saw that right. The U.S. has NO requirements for workplaces in regards to maternity leave. Some offer it, others do not. How have we let this happen? How has building our personal wealth become that important that the simple yet profoundly important act of keeping mothers and babies together has been forgotten and completely left out of the law? And we wonder why breastfeeding rates are so low. We have the research

[1, 2] to show us how returning to work places a huge barrier to breastfeeding. We know that this is one of the identified factors in why the rates are so incredibly low. There is a simple reason for this. Pumping SUCKS. *No pun intended. And it’s HARD. WORK. No pump is as effective as a baby. Pumping can also be incredibly exhausting. Not to mention time consuming when you are at work.

What’s the answer? Get political. Get vocal. Get mad like me! And then cry. And then get angry again! These things don’t change unless we speak out and jump right into the crux of the issues. Keeping mothers and babies together is important. It’s the future of our society. Breastfeeding matters. Mothers and babies matter. Families matter. As I stood there and cried into my dishes I was reminded WHY this matters so much. My little sister is leaving her baby…and being apart is simply just not the way human mothers and babies are meant to be. 

  1. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/117/4/e646.short
  2. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/112/1/108.short

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