Before everybody gets their undies in a wad, we at The Federalist aren’t opposed to fathers, paternity leave, or helping the family unit postpartum. My colleagues and I have written in praise of dads extensively. But let’s make one thing clear during the recent debate over maternity leave benefits and what government should force employers to do: maternity leave is specifically and exclusively for mothers.
That’s because, as God and biology would have it, only moms incubate and birth babies. Thus, only moms physically recover from birth and (often) nurse that baby for nourishment, so maternity leave is for women. Paternity leave is an important but separate matter, you understand, because men don’t birth babies.
Somehow, this has been a point of confusion for some people who thought Donald Trump’s maternity leave plan was confusing or sexist because it didn’t include fathers. (I wasn’t a huge fan of it, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t accurate on this point at least.)
Giving birth is a dichotomy of feelings and emotions. It’s a wonderful and empowering, yet often grueling and painful, experience. I’ve given birth naturally four times, and each came with its own challenges and delights.
Just when I thought I couldn’t handle the pain, I held my baby in my arms and felt nothing but pure joy. But then, just when I thought the good times were coming, I experienced the joy of what many women refer to as the fourth trimester: the first month postpartum. Here’s a sampling of things women deal with and why many advocate for maternity leave.
1. There Will Be Blood
Men don’t have periods, so they have no idea what this is like, but after mom gives birth, she experiences a period on steroids—the tsunami of periods, as it were. Lochia means moms bleed for about six weeks after birth all day long. Part of maternity leave is figuring out how to wear disposable granny panties while bleeding (sexy!) and how to push anything smaller than a baby and larger than a quarter out of your bottom again.
Pushing an eight-pound baby out of that area makes it feel sore. If anything has torn down there or there was an episiotomy, it’s double sore. Get the point yet? Even walking can hurt those first few hours (and beyond). It’s about as fun as it sounds. Any takers, men?
2. Major Cramps
Ever had a muscle cramp during a run? This is like that times 1,000. After baby’s made his exit via mom’s vagina or stomach, her uterus starts to shrink back to normal size—quickly. Nurses often come by and check, offering a “massage” that feels like someone is taking a tennis racket, aiming for your stomach, and pummeling…but I digress.
While the uterus is shrinking, it feels like the most epic PMS cramps ever. Breastfeeding speeds this process up, but guess what? Even if baby latches on and all is well, the uterus cramps every single time that happens, too. Win-win. Crampety, crampety. We’re still within the first five hours postpartum, too.
3. A Shortage of Perfect Breasts
Speaking of breastfeeding: not all moms opt to nurse their babies, but the ones who do will pay for it dearly (alongside reaping the benefits). First-time moms especially will experience cracked, bleeding, and dry nipples anywhere from the first few days to months of breastfeeding. If you’re the kind of woman who’s proud of her milkers, especially when they’re plump and full of the good stuff for baby, you’ll want to mourn with a glass full of spiked milk as they bleed before your very eyes. (White Russian, anyone? I kid.)
Oh, and when you wean baby onto cow’s milk, guess what? Those knockers you and your guy loved will shrink back down to size and may even look smaller, as the skin can often seem thinner. Men, how’s that chest? Still think maternity leave is for you?
4. Tread Marks, Puffy Faces, and Extra Fat
Some women lose weight so fast after birth they can walk out of the hospital afterwards with their old jeans on. I want to punch these women out. Others, like myself, take some time to lose the 35 pounds we gained during pregnancy.
Case in point: At the Chick-fil-A near my house, the manager offers a free ice cream cone to pregnant women. With my newborn son in his car seat in the back of the restaurant, I walked up to the register to get a refill. An employee took one look at my postpartum pooch and, without blinking, handed me an ice cream cone. I couldn’t bear to face the humiliation (and embarrass her) by telling her I had just given birth, so I took the cone, gritted my teeth, and handed it to another son (who was delighted.).
I had to work very hard after each child to lose the weight I had gained. For many women it doesn’t disappear until after she’s done nursing—her body will hold the fat on purpose. As someone who was generally between a size 6 to 8, this felt tremendously difficult physically and mentally. Add to that the stretch marks that lie across my stomach like tire tread, and I have no problem admitting that I looked in the mirror and cried like a baby at least a few times postpartum.
5. Sleep, that Elusive Partner
Most babies aren’t great sleepers. Sure, every now and then you get a newborn who sleeps through the night the first week, but that’s rare. Most moms, especially if she’s nursing, are up at least once, if not twice or more, in the night for almost an entire year. That means she’s feeding a baby at 10 or 11 p.m. for a stretch, going to sleep, getting up again at 2 or 3 a.m., feeding the baby for a stretch, going to sleep, then getting up again at 6 a.m. to feed the baby again.
This amounts to five to six hours of interrupted sleep for 365 nights (or more!). If the baby is an only child, mommy can sleep when he does, but if there are siblings, there’s no catching up save for a rare nap. Father often experience this aspect of newborns, and it is one of the many reasons for paternity leave. After our first child, the rest of the babies and I usually slept separately from my husband so we would also not wake him. (What’s worse than one tired, crabby parent? Two.)
6. Behold: Hormones
A few days after mom gives birth, estrogen levels “plummet and are replaced by floods of the mothering hormone, prolactin. These hormonal changes can lead to emotional mood swings commonly known as the ‘baby blues.’” Many moms will feel emotional, weepy, irritable, confused, sad, resentful, tired, or disappointed—or some combination of these.
About 80 percent of women experience the baby blues. I did after every single baby, even though I knew what to expect. Many mothers experience these feelings into the second month, and it develops into full-blown postpartum depression. This is serious, and mom will need medical help and support to recover. Most women feel terrible and confused if they experience any one of these things, because they know they should feel happy and blessed, but their “feelings” and emotions are telling them otherwise.
A Parting Note to Dads
This isn’t to say all moms are supermoms and dads are stupid idiots who don’t help mom postpartum, don’t experience sleep deprivation, or help at all with a colicky newborn. My husband and dad were champs when my babies were born, and were amazingly helpful.
Some dads have a way with newborns. If they don’t, they’re often glad to do other things (like cook, run errands, or entertain siblings). When my children were newborns, my husband often took the other children out of the house for several hours so I could sleep when the baby did. This worked wonders for my sanity and healing.
Dads can easily make the case for paternity or family leave, just not maternity leave, because, just for starters, only women face cramps, bleeding, breastfeeding, and baby blues.