This article originally appeared in “Chicago Tribune”
Ive never felt more invisible than when I became a new mom the second time around.
It started with a trip to Costco. Just a few weeks prior while I was pregnant and shopping at the same store, two employees had offered to help load my groceries into my car. Now, I was two weeks postpartum and attempting my first errand, with a 2-year-old and newborn baby. As I checked out, the clerk commented on my little guy, “How old?”
“15 days,” I said.
“Congratulations,” she said to me. I waited for her to ask if I’d like any help with my two giant boxes of food. She didn’t, so I figured I’d have better luck with the attendant at the door.
“Beautiful baby,” he said, while checking my receipt. Still no offer to help. Maybe I was expecting too much; how were Costco employees to know that I shouldn’t be lifting anything heavy? I didn’t want to act entitled, so I headed out to load my own car.
From this point on, I started paying attention – at the gym, in parking lots, at stores and restaurants. It was the same scenario everywhere. The attention that had once been on me, the pregnant lady, was now a simple, “He’s so cute,” directed at my baby. The more it happened, the more invisible I felt, but the more it confirmed that I should suck it up and be a big girl. He was so cute. I was just his empty-bellied mama. I didn’t dare say anything.
Looking back, I wish I had.
When I think about how we treat new moms in this country, my heart hurts. Maternity leave in some workplaces is almost non-existent. Our standard postpartum medical care is bare bones. It’s been six weeks and you’re not bleeding? You be on your way, Mama. Never mind that your body underwent nine months of transformation while growing a human and then participated in an extreme sport – you’ll be fine.
But that’s the big stuff – the stuff we can’t control. What saddens me is how this big stuff has trickled down into our communities. How it’s shaped the way we, as individuals, businesses, health care practitioners and local governments, treat new moms and reinforce the idea that they don’t matter.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We might not be able to change the big stuff, but we can enact change in our communities.
Doctors and midwives can educate patients about conditions such as diastasis recti, prolapse and incontinence, and can encourage new moms to see a women’s health physical therapist. In some countries, seeing a PT is a standard part of postnatal care. The least we can do is make women aware of these conditions and let them know where they can get help.
Fitness and wellness businesses can stop capitalizing on helping mamas “lose the baby weight.” When we see a new mom at the gym, we can help her move better and feel better, rather than selling her on a weight loss product. For starters, we can congratulate her just for being there.
Businesses can offer closer parking spots for new moms. I’ve seen these for expecting moms at some stores. It’s often just as, if not more, physically stressful for a new mom to lug a baby in a carseat, than it is for a pregnant woman to walk.
Restaurants can provide changing tables in restrooms and comfortable areas for moms to nurse. Recently, there was a discussion on an Oak Park moms Facebook page about which local restaurants have changing tables. Moms will support businesses that consider our needs.
We as individuals can ask the right questions and offer support. A few kind words can help moms who are struggling with emotions to realize they are not alone and that help is available.
We can reach out to our neighbors by bringing them food, babysitting older siblings, running errands and being generally helpful.
We might not like the current health care or legal system. But better care for new moms starts right here in our community. It takes a village to raise a mama.
Nicole Radziszewski is a freelance columnist. She lives in River Forest and is a certified personal trainer and mother of two. Check Nicole out on Facebook at Facebook.com/mamasgottamove.