Tag Archives: motherhood

Birthplace Battles

Photo from Persephone's Birth by eyeliam on flickr.com

Photo from Persephone's Birth by eyeliam via flickr.com

The so-called “mommy wars” have apparently made it all the way to the delivery room, according to Jennifer Block, writing for Slate:

For a long time home birth was too fringe to get caught in this parenting no-fly zone, but lately it’s been fitting quite nicely into the mommy war media narrative: There are the stories about women giving birth at home because it’s fashionable, the idea that women are happy sacrificing their newborns for some “hedonistic” spa-like experience, or that moms-to-be (and their partners) are just dumb and gullible when it comes to risk management…

For many parents, home birth is a transcendent experience. …Yet as the number of such births grows, so does the number of tragedies—and those stories tend to be left out of soft-focus lifestyle features.

Debates about home birth have erupted in the media and the blogosphere in recent months, largely focused on the relative risks of home birth versus hospital birth. But at the heart of the issue is who, and what evidence, to trust.

I could list several recent large prospective studies… all comparing where and with whom healthy women gave birth, which found similar rates of baby loss—around 2 per 1,000—no matter the place or attendant. We could pick through those studies’ respective strengths and weaknesses, talk about why we’ll never have a “gold-standard” randomized controlled trial (because women will never participate in a study that makes birth choices for them), and I could quote a real epidemiologist on why determining the precise risk of home birth in the United States is nearly impossible. Actually, I will: “It’s all but impossible, certainly in the United States,” says Eugene Declercq, an epidemiologist and professor of public health at Boston University, and coauthor of the CDC study that found the number of U.S. home births has risen slightly, to still less than 1 percent of all births. One of the challenges is that “the outcomes tend to be pretty good,” Declercq says…But to really nail it down here in the U.S., he says, we’d need to study tens of thousands of home births, “to be able to find a difference in those rare outcomes.” With a mere 30,000 planned home births happening each year nationwide, “We don’t have enough cases.”

And, as sociologist Barbara Katz-Rothman notes, decisions about where to give birth are likely made more on the basis of perceived, rather than real, risk.

“What we’re talking about is felt risk rather than actual risk,” explains Barbara Katz-Rothman, professor of sociology at the City University of New York and author of much scholarship on birth, motherhood, and risk. Take our fear of flying. “Most people understand intellectually that on your standard vacation trip or business trip, the ride to and from the airport is more likely to result in your injury or death than the plane ride itself, but you never see anybody applaud when they reach the airport safely in the car.” The flight feels more risky. Similarly, we can look at data showing our risk of infection skyrockets the second we step in a hospital, “but there’s something about the sight of all those gloves and masks that makes you feel safe.”

Multitasking Moms Bearing the Brunt

Photo by Liz Throop via flickr.com

Multitasking is taking a bigger toll on working mothers than on working fathers, confirms a new study published in the American Sociological Review. The authors suggest the key to the difference in stress may lie in which tasks each group is juggling. As the Los Angeles Times reported, the parents all spent nearly equal hours doing paid work, but the women were spending about nine more hours each week multitasking. In addition, that maternal multitasking often involved juggling housework and childcare.

The story for dads was a bit different, the Times wrote:

Multitasking by fathers was far less likely to involve child care, the study found, and unlike moms, dads tended to report they were more focused when in charge of their kids. Researchers said this jibes with much research showing that fathers are more likely than mothers to engage with their children in “interactive activities” that are “more pleasurable than routine child care tasks.” When mothers had child care duties, they were more likely to take the kids along on errands, drive them to activities or supervise their homework, the study found.

“This helps explain why women feel more burdened than men,” lead author Shira Offer, an assistant professor of sociology at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, told Time. “It’s related not just to amount but to their experience when they multitask.”

Barbara Schneider, study co-author and a sociologist at Michigan State University in East Lansing, also told the Los Angeles Times article that the families studied were not necessarily “typical American families”:

Participants in the 500 Family Study may not be representative of American families economically, educationally or by ethnicity, Schneider acknowledged. But by focusing on some of the busiest parents, she said, the study underscores the disproportionate emotional toll that multitasking may be taking on women as they shoulder a wider range of responsibilities in the family.

The take-away from the study, according to Time‘s interview with study author Offer:

Dads, pitch in more (without being asked!). Employers and policy-makers, make that possible by understanding that it’s not only mom who should transport the kids to day care and school or stay home with a sick child.

*Photo by Liz Throop, populational.com

Paid Leave for Moms

More than half of new mothers now get paid leave from work, the U.S. Census Bureau announced last week. At face value the news might seem like cause for celebration, but some have dug deeper to expose exactly which mothers were getting paid leave.

The 22-page census report reported that a super-slim majority of women were getting paid leave: 51 percent of first-time mothers were able to take paid maternity, sick, or vacation time between 2006 and 2008. Hence the divide between which half of moms headlines highlighted:

“Majority of new moms are getting paid leave” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

“Paid-leave benefits lagging for working moms in U.S.” (Chicago Tribune)

“Census shows half of working women don’t get paid maternity benefits; wide gaps by education” (Associated Press)

The lack of access to paid leave among women who haven’t completed college is raising concern. According to the AP article, “Lower-educated mothers are nearly four times more likely than college graduates to be denied paid maternity benefits. That’s the widest gap over the past 50 years.” (The chart above illustrates the comparison.)

New York University sociologist Kathleen Gerson, author of The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in a New Era of Gender, Work, and Family, shared her opinion. “This isn’t good news for women at the bottom, and the irony is that the people with the most children are now the least likely to have the supports they need,” she told the Associated Press.

University of Minnesota sociologist Erin Kelly echoed Gerson’s sentiment when interviewed by the Star Tribune. “People who are already living paycheck to paycheck, if they don’t have access to paid leave they’re going to have to quit or they’re going to have to do something that is really unhealthy for themselves or their babies,” Kelly told the paper. “The lack of [federal] paid leave policy means in effect we are pushing those women to quit.”