New motherhood is fraught with challenges. For approximately 16% of Canadian families who struggle with fertility, just conceiving is sometimes an expensive battle that takes years, time off work, and risks to the mother's health. Once motherhood happens, it's all supposed to be roses 24/7.
But for many, serious postpartum physical and mental health issues and the sheer number of new things to learn can feel overwhelming. Whether it's learning to breastfeed in a society that doesn't wholly embrace it, or regaining basic physical functions after birth or C-section, there are many hurdles.
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New moms are deluged with messages like, "Aren't you awash in love for your infant? Isn't motherhood the best thing you've done in your life?" People don't seem to want to hear the qualifier, "Well, I don't love the dirty diapers and the constant demands placed on me."
Unless you're thrilled about every aspect of your motherhood experience, nobody wants to hear it.
Due to a lack of childcare and serious health issues after my twins' birth, it took over two years to return to any semblance of even a part-time career. As a writer, I wanted to take on some of these challenging alternate narratives around motherhood. It was hard to get any critical aspect of the experience published … leaving me to wonder if I'd lost my skills and written poorly. Regardless of my work's quality, this is a much wider societal issue: unless you're thrilled about every aspect of your motherhood experience, nobody wants to hear it.
After a terrible death of a mom and her children in 2013, Manitoba's public health officials started openly discussing postpartum depression concerns. However, serious postpartum physical health issues remain poorly addressed. Our health system sends new moms back to their family doctors (if they have them) after a single postpartum check up with an ob-gyn. Family doctors don't often have the expertise to address many physical postpartum issues, including serious hemorrhaging or infection. I know more than one mother who told her doctor about damaged muscles or incontinence issues, only to be met with a shrug instead of much-needed physiotherapy. (If you're injured, it's hard to enjoy motherhood.)
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A company that sells products for new moms recently asked me to write about how I fed my babies — for their blog. Assuming it was a legitimate freelance opportunity because of a previous piece on breastfeeding, I responded. What were the deadlines, word count and compensation? Imagine my surprise when I was told that such an article would be "an amazing addition" to my personal blog and "a chance to connect" with other moms. If my post happened to be selected by their team, I would be rewarded with a repost on their company's blog.
Essentially, they would dictate to me what they thought I should write. If it was deemed good marketing, they would repost my work to their blog — without pay.
Many hope their (unpaid) efforts will somehow leapfrog them back into the professional world, where qualified individuals are paid for their work, rather than offered "exposure." (Winnipeggers know you can die of exposure.)
Many studies show that women who take work time off around childbirth never regain their former professional positions or their previous salaries. Childbirth and raising children significantly affect a woman's chance of equal pay for equal work. Yet, women are so eager to communicate their experiences to a wider audience that they write mommy blogs and post endless photos and notes. Many hope their (unpaid) efforts will somehow leapfrog them back into the professional world, where qualified individuals are paid for their work, rather than offered "exposure." (Winnipeggers know that you can die of exposure.)
The company suggested it was socially conscious. Their representative offered links to its charity campaigns, including a marketing tour where they donated their high-end disposable diapers to mothers in need. That's when I saw the bigger picture.
This company, worth billions, wanted to use writers' (mothers') work for free. These mom-writers blog to publicize their feeding struggles and reassure others. Then the company links any story about breastfeeding difficulties to one of their featured products: Formula.
The company takes financial advantage of writers' challenging health problems. It bases a marketing campaign on it. What's more, their patronizing tone indicated that no one would pay for this discussion. Moms should feel honoured if their lived experience and (unpaid) work were selected for use as marketing.
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The company says it's "giving back" through the diaper donations. Unfortunately, as long as women aren't offered fair and equal pay for their work, some moms will be left to rely on these occasional charity efforts to provide for their children.
Motherhood is very rewarding. It's hard work, too. Please pay women fairly for their work, so they can buy their own damn diapers. Women shouldn't be dependent on charity diaper donations or patronizing unpaid gigs to market formula to communicate new mothers' experiences. On Mother's Day and every day, we're worth much more than that.
Joanne Seiff is the mother of twins, a freelance writer and the author of a new book about being a newcomer to Winnipeg.