It’s been 16 years since I celebrated my first Mother’s Day as a mom. My daughter had been born — in our living room, across from the Pacific Ocean on the central Oregon coast — just two days prior.
I barely remember that first Mother’s Day, but I can recall the two thoughts going through my head days after giving birth: I have never loved anyone this much and there’s no way I can go back to work in eight weeks.
I loved my job as a newspaper reporter on the Oregon coast. It was one of the most important aspects of my life at that time. When my water broke and labor started, the first person I called was not my midwife or even my own mother, but my editor … who asked if this meant I wouldn’t make my deadline the next morning. I responded, “Not sure. I’ll let you know.” (Spoiler: I didn’t.)
You can imagine how much I wanted to keep my job. But I was nursing for 30 minutes almost every hour. Even if I’d been a superstar reporter, there was no way I could nurse a baby and cover shipwrecks and other assorted crazy coastal news at the same time.
I still think about those early days of being a mom. I remember doing without the things many other families took for granted, like a car and (during a particularly tough financial time) electricity. We washed our own cloth diapers, hung them on the line to dry, grew vegetables and made our own baby food. I went back to work when my daughter turned 2. Finances improved, but I can’t remember giant chunks of life during those years. I only know that I felt tired pretty much all the time.
It’s a common theme for too many new parents in this country — they’re exhausted, going through the motions, trying to enjoy those sweet baby and toddler days while still earning enough money to keep a roof over their heads and maybe eat something sometimes.
When I talked to family and friends raising children in other, more progressive, countries, I felt such envy. What would mothering have been like, if I didn’t have to worry every single morning about keeping the lights on, buying food, paying out of pocket for my daughter’s well-baby visits or eventually getting my career back?
Every time Mother’s Day rolls around, I can’t help thinking about how Americans claim to revere mothers while consistently voting for politicians who block policies that could drastically improve the lives of U.S. mothers and children.
According to the 2015 State of the World’s Mothers report, which ranks the best and worst places for mothers, the U.S. scored worse than other developed nations in nearly every category: we were No. 42 (out of 179 countries) on children’s well-being and dead last (No. 61) among developed nations for maternal health.
Despite the fact that the vast majority of mothers with children under 18 (70 percent) are wage-earners, with 75 percent of them working full-time jobs, the United States is one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t have paid maternal leave. One in four U.S. mothers return to work two weeks after giving birth. By that point, your body is just beginning to start healing.
We seem to have no problem pooling our resources for things like war and police and even new roads, but when it comes to taking care of our mothers and their new babies, we drop the ball or, worse, use scare tactics to convince people that caring for new parents and children is going to make things worse for our community.
Fortunately, some state leaders — mostly Democrats — are now pushing for statewide paid family leave acts that protect new parents, as well as people who have to take time off to care for aging parents or ill spouses.
Washington State is the fifth state to implement a paid family and medical leave policy. One of the nation’s most comprehensive and family-oriented policies, the state’s paid family and medical leave bill passed in 2017 with bipartisan approval — only 12 Republican senators voted against the measure. (Republican Sen. Ann Rivers voted yes and deserves praise for that.)
Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, our own Republican Rep. Liz Pike came out against it, saying the bill was “one step toward a socialist state government.”
Pike should feel very lucky that she’s never had to struggle as a new mother, never had to choose between her job and her newborn, between paying rent or taking four weeks off to care for a dying parent. Most Washingtonians, most Americans, are not quite so privileged.
Even though my baby-raising days are over, I’m happy to chip in 0.4 percent of my income to help other new parents and families in Washington.
My Mother’s Day dream this year is that, someday soon — hopefully before my own baby becomes a new mother — the U.S. will join the rest of the world in taking care of our families, and especially our new moms.
~ Kelly Moyer, managing editor