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← How America fails new parents -- and their babies | Jessica Shortall | TEDxSMU

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Showing Revision 6 created 01/13/2016 by Helene Batt.

  1. What does a working mother look like?
  2. If you ask the Internet,
    this is what you'll be told.
  3. Never mind that this is
    what you'll actually produce
  4. if you attempt to work at a computer
    with a baby on your lap.
  5. (Laughter)
  6. But no, this isn't a working mother.
  7. You'll notice a theme in these photos.
    We'll look at a lot of them.
  8. That theme is amazing natural lighting,
  9. which, as we all know,
  10. is the hallmark
    of every American workplace.
  11. There are thousands of images like these.
  12. Just put the term "working mother"
    into any Google image search engine,
  13. stock photo site.
  14. They're all over the Internet,
  15. they're topping
    blog posts and news pieces,
  16. and I've become kind of obsessed with them
    and the lie that they tell us
  17. and the comfort that they give us,
  18. that when it comes
    to new working motherhood in America,
  19. everything's fine.
  20. But it's not fine.
  21. As a country, we are sending
    millions of women back to work
  22. every year, incredibly
    and kind of horrifically soon
  23. after they give birth.
  24. That's a moral problem
  25. but today I'm also going to tell you
    why it's an economic problem.
  26. I got so annoyed and obsessed
    with the unreality of these images,
  27. which look nothing like my life,
  28. that I recently decided to shoot and star
    in a parody series of stock photos
  29. that I hoped the world would start to use
  30. just showing the really awkward reality
    of going back to work
  31. when your baby's food source
    is attached to your body.
  32. I'm just going to show you two of them.
  33. (Laughter)
  34. Nothing says "Give that girl a promotion"
    like leaking breast milk
  35. through your dress during a presentation.
  36. You'll notice that there's
    no baby in this photo,
  37. because that's not how this works,
  38. not for most working mothers.
  39. Did you know, and this will ruin your day,
  40. that every time a toilet is flushed,
    its contents are aerosolized
  41. and they'll stay airborne for hours?
  42. And yet, for many new working mothers,
  43. this is the only place during the day
    that they can find to make food
  44. for their newborn babies.
  45. I put these things,
    a whole dozen of them, into the world.
  46. I wanted to make a point.
  47. I didn't know what I was also doing
    was opening a door,
  48. because now, total strangers
    from all walks of life
  49. write to me all the time
  50. just to tell me what it's like
    for them to go back to work
  51. within days or weeks of having a baby.
  52. I'm going to share
    10 of their stories with you today.
  53. They are totally real,
    some of them are very raw,
  54. and not one of them
    looks anything like this.
  55. Here's the first.
  56. "I was an active duty
    service member at a federal prison.
  57. I returned to work after the maximum
    allowed eight weeks for my C-section.
  58. A male coworker was annoyed
    that I had been out on 'vacation,'
  59. so he intentionally opened the door on me
    while I was pumping breast milk
  60. and stood in the doorway
    with inmates in the hallway."
  61. Most of the stories that these women,
    total strangers, send to me now,
  62. are not actually even about breastfeeding.
  63. A woman wrote to me to say,
  64. "I gave birth to twins and went back
    to work after seven unpaid weeks.
  65. Emotionally, I was a wreck.
  66. Physically, I had a severe hemorrhage
    during labor, and major tearing,
  67. so I could barely get up, sit or walk.
  68. My employer told me I wasn't allowed
    to use my available vacation days
  69. because it was budget season."
  70. I've come to believe that we can't look
    situations like these in the eye
  71. because then we'd be horrified,
  72. and if we get horrified
    then we have to do something about it.
  73. So we choose to look at,
    and believe, this image.
  74. I don't really know
    what's going on in this picture,
  75. because I find it weird
    and slightly creepy.
  76. (Laughter)
  77. Like, what is she doing?
  78. But I know what it tells us.
  79. It tells us that everything's fine.
  80. This working mother, all working mothers
    and all of their babies, are fine.
  81. There's nothing to see here.
  82. And anyway, women have made a choice,
  83. so none of it's even our problem.
  84. I want to break this choice thing
    down into two parts.
  85. The first choice says
    that women have chosen to work.
  86. So, that's not true.
  87. Today in America, women make up
    47 percent of the workforce,
  88. and in 40 percent of American households
  89. a woman is the sole
    or primary breadwinner.
  90. Our paid work is a part, a huge part,
    of the engine of this economy,
  91. and it is essential
    for the engines of our families.
  92. On a national level,
    our paid work is not optional.
  93. Choice number two says that women
    are choosing to have babies,
  94. so women alone should bear
    the consequences of those choices.
  95. You know, that's one of those things
  96. that when you hear it in passing,
    can sound correct.
  97. I didn't make you have a baby.
  98. I certainly wasn't there
    when that happened.
  99. But that stance
    ignores a fundamental truth,
  100. which is that our procreation
    on a national scale is not optional.
  101. The babies that women, many of them
    working women, are having today,
  102. will one day fill our workforce,
    protect our shores,
  103. make up our tax base.
  104. Our procreation
    on a national scale is not optional.
  105. These aren't choices.
  106. We need women to work.
    We need working women to have babies.
  107. So we should make
    doing those things at the same time
  108. at least palatable, right?
  109. OK, this is pop quiz time:
  110. what percentage of working
    women in America do you think
  111. have no access to paid maternity leave?
  112. 88 percent.
  113. 88 percent of working mothers
    will not get one minute of paid leave
  114. after they have a baby.
  115. So now you're thinking about unpaid leave.
  116. It exists in America.
    It's called FMLA. It does not work.
  117. Because of the way it's structured,
    all kinds of exceptions,
  118. half of new mothers are ineligible for it.
  119. Here's what that looks like.
  120. "We adopted our son.
  121. When I got the call, the day he was born,
    I had to take off work.
  122. I had not been there long enough
    to qualify for FMLA,
  123. so I wasn't eligible for unpaid leave.
  124. When I took time off
    to meet my newborn son,
  125. I lost my job."
  126. These corporate stock photos
    hide another reality, another layer.
  127. Of those who do have access
    to just that unpaid leave,
  128. most women can't afford
    to take much of it at all.
  129. A nurse told me, "I didn't qualify
    for short-term disability
  130. because my pregnancy
    was considered a preexisting condition.
  131. We used up all of our tax returns
    and half of our savings
  132. during my six unpaid weeks.
  133. We just couldn't manage any longer.
  134. Physically it was hard,
    but emotionally it was worse.
  135. I struggled for months
    being away from my son."
  136. So this decision
    to go back to work so early,
  137. it's a rational economic decision
    driven by family finances,
  138. but it's often physically horrific
  139. because putting a human
    into the world is messy.
  140. A waitress told me,
  141. "With my first baby, I was back at work
    five weeks postpartum.
  142. With my second, I had to have
    major surgery after giving birth,
  143. so I waited until six weeks to go back.
  144. I had third degree tears."
  145. 23 percent of new
    working mothers in America
  146. will be back on the job
    within two weeks of giving birth.
  147. "I worked as a bartender and cook,
    average of 75 hours a week while pregnant.
  148. I had to return to work
    before my baby was a month old,
  149. working 60 hours a week.
  150. One of my coworkers was only able
    to afford 10 days off with her baby."
  151. Of course, this isn't just a scenario
    with economic and physical implications.
  152. Childbirth is, and always will be,
    an enormous psychological event.
  153. A teacher told me,
  154. "I returned to work
    eight weeks after my son was born.
  155. I already suffer from anxiety,
  156. but the panic attacks I had prior
    to returning to work were unbearable."
  157. Statistically speaking,
  158. the shorter a woman's leave
    after having a baby,
  159. the more likely she will be to suffer
    from postpartum mood disorders
  160. like depression and anxiety,
  161. and among many potential
    consequences of those disorders,
  162. suicide is the second
    most common cause of death
  163. in a woman's first year postpartum.
  164. Heads up that this next story --
  165. I've never met this woman,
    but I find it hard to get through.
  166. "I feel tremendous grief and rage
    that I lost an essential,
  167. irreplaceable and formative
    time with my son.
  168. Labor and delivery
    left me feeling absolutely broken.
  169. For months, all I remember
    is the screaming: colic, they said.
  170. On the inside, I was drowning.
  171. Every morning, I asked myself
    how much longer I could do it.
  172. I was allowed to bring my baby to work.
  173. I closed my office door
    while I rocked and shushed
  174. and begged him to stop screaming
    so I wouldn't get in trouble.
  175. I hid behind that office door
    every damn day
  176. and cried while he screamed.
  177. I cried in the bathroom
    while I washed out the pump equipment.
  178. Every day, I cried all the way to work
    and all the way home again.
  179. I promised my boss that the work
    I didn't get done during the day,
  180. I'd make up at night from home.
  181. I thought, there's just something
    wrong with me that I can't swing this."
  182. So those are the mothers.
  183. What of the babies?
  184. As a country, do we care
    about the millions of babies
  185. born every year to working mothers?
  186. I say we don't,
  187. not until they're of working
    and tax-paying and military-serving age.
  188. We tell them we'll see them in 18 years,
  189. and getting there is kind of on them.
  190. One of the reasons I know this
    is that babies whose mothers
  191. have 12 or more weeks at home with them
  192. are more likely to get their vaccinations
    and their well checks in their first year,
  193. so those babies are more protected
    from deadly and disabling diseases.
  194. But those things are hidden
    behind images like this.
  195. America has a message for new mothers
    who work and for their babies.
  196. Whatever time you get together,
    you should be grateful for it,
  197. and you're an inconvenience
  198. to the economy and to your employers.
  199. That narrative of gratitude
    runs through a lot of the stories I hear.
  200. A woman told me,
  201. "I went back at eight weeks
    after my C-section
  202. because my husband was out of work.
  203. Without me, my daughter
    had failure to thrive.
  204. She wouldn't take a bottle.
  205. She started losing weight.
  206. Thankfully, my manager
    was very understanding.
  207. He let my mom bring my baby,
  208. who was on oxygen and a monitor,
  209. four times a shift so I could nurse her."
  210. There's a little club
    of countries in the world
  211. that offer no national
    paid leave to new mothers.
  212. Care to guess who they are?
  213. The first eight make up eight million
    in total population.
  214. They are Papua New Guinea,
    Suriname and the tiny island nations
  215. of Micronesia, Marshall Islands,
    Nauru, Niue, Palau and Tonga.
  216. Number nine is the United
    States of America,
  217. with 320 million people.
  218. Oh, that's it.
  219. That's the end of the list.
  220. Every other economy on the planet
  221. has found a way to make some level
    of national paid leave work
  222. for the people doing the work
    of the future of those countries,
  223. but we say,
    "We couldn't possibly do that."
  224. We say that the market
    will solve this problem,
  225. and then we cheer when corporations
    offer even more paid leave to the women
  226. who are already the highest-educated
    and highest-paid among us.
  227. Remember that 88 percent?
  228. Those middle- and low-income women
    are not going to participate in that.
  229. We know that there are staggering
    economic, financial, physical
  230. and emotional costs to this approach.
  231. We have decided --
    decided, not an accident,
  232. to pass these costs directly
    on to working mothers and their babies.
  233. We know the price tag is higher
    for low-income women,
  234. therefore disproportionately
    for women of color.
  235. We pass them on anyway.
  236. All of this is to America's shame.
  237. But it's also to America's risk.
  238. Because what would happen
  239. if all of these individual
    so-called choices to have babies
  240. started to turn into individual choices
    not to have babies.
  241. One woman told me,
  242. "New motherhood is hard.
    It shouldn't be traumatic.
  243. When we talk about expanding
    our family now,
  244. we focus on how much time I would have
    to care for myself and a new baby.
  245. If we were to have to do it again
    the same way as with our first,
  246. we might stick with one kid."
  247. The birthrate needed in America
    to keep the population stable
  248. is 2.1 live births per woman.
  249. In America today, we are at 1.86.
  250. We need women to have babies,
  251. and we are actively disincentivizing
    working women from doing that.
  252. What would happen to work force,
    to innovation, to GDP,
  253. if one by one, the working mothers
    of this country were to decide
  254. that they can't bear
    to do this thing more than once?
  255. I'm here today with only
    one idea worth spreading,
  256. and you've guessed what it is.
  257. It is long since time
    for the most powerful country on Earth
  258. to offer national paid leave
  259. to the people doing the work
    of the future of this country
  260. and to the babies
    who represent that future.
  261. Childbirth is a public good.
  262. This leave should be state-subsidized.
  263. It should have no exceptions
    for small businesses,
  264. length of employment or entrepreneurs.
  265. It should be able
    to be shared between partners.
  266. I've talked today a lot about mothers,
  267. but co-parents matter on so many levels.
  268. Not one more woman
    should have to go back to work
  269. while she is hobbling and bleeding.
  270. Not one more family should have
    to drain their savings account
  271. to buy a few days
    of rest and recovery and bonding.
  272. Not one more fragile infant
  273. should have to go directly
    from the incubator to day care
  274. because his parents have used up
    all of their meager time
  275. sitting in the NICU.
  276. Not one more working family
    should be told that the collision
  277. of their work, their needed work
    and their needed parenthood,
  278. is their problem alone.
  279. The catch is that when this is happening
    to a new family, it is consuming,
  280. and a family with a new baby
    is more financially vulnerable
  281. than they've ever been before,
  282. so that new mother cannot afford
    to speak up on her own behalf.
  283. But all of us have voices.
  284. I am done, done having babies,
  285. and you might be pre-baby,
  286. you might be post-baby,
  287. you might be no baby.
  288. It should not matter.
  289. We have to stop framing this
    as a mother's issue,
  290. or even a women's issue.
  291. This is an American issue.
  292. We need to stop buying the lie
    that these images tell us.
  293. We need to stop being comforted by them.
  294. We need to question
    why we're told that this can't work
  295. when we see it work
    everywhere all over the world.
  296. We need to recognize
    that this American reality
  297. is to our dishonor and to our peril.
  298. Because this is not,
  299. this is not,
  300. and this is not
    what a working mother looks like.
  301. (Applause)