It’s the time of year in the United States when we celebrate the moms who helped raise us. For Mother’s Day, we give flowers, cards, and gifts, and we take them out to brunch. It’s a holiday that recognizes all moms and mom-figures for the work they put in on our behalf, acknowledging that, hey, being a mom is a pretty hard job.
But there’s something we acknowledge far less often when it comes to motherhood, and it’s our moms’ health. The sad fact is, in the U.S., mothers receive inadequate—and sometimes abysmal—support from the health care system. So this Mother’s Day, we decided to raise some awareness about the ways our society fails to look after the women we love most.
Here are five ways our mothers’ health isn’t being taken care of, because they deserve so much more than bouquets and mimosas.
1 Doctors often don’t listen to them
So many stages of a mother’s life—pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, raising children—come along with scary experiences and hundreds (if not thousands!) of questions. But studies indicate that female pain is not taken as seriously as male pain, making it difficult for moms to feel like they are being helped (or even heard.)
There’s a widely-quoted study called “The Girl Who Cried Pain.” In it, researchers found that women are “more likely to be treated less aggressively [than men] in their encounters with the health-care system.”
Maya Dusenbery, editorial executive director at Feministing, told ThinkProgress she believes this stems from the same deeply-rooted sexism we see in other elements of society, like sexual assault survivors not being believed.
HelloGiggles chatted with women’s health expert Dr. Jennifer Wider, who agrees. She suggests mothers be more assertive in speaking with their doctor about their concerns.
“Patients need to feel like their voice and needs are being heard and met,” Dr. Wider tells HG. “If you feel like your doctor is not listening or not taking your concerns seriously, it’s time to switch and find someone who will.”
2 Too many of them don’t survive pregnancy or birth
American women are more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than in any other developed country. What’s even scarier is that the rate is still rising, even though it’s falling in other similar countries.
A report published Friday by NPR and ProPublica revealed that there are murky protocols in place all over the U.S. that allow for treatable maternal complications to turn fatal. Just for context, the CDC says 60 percent of those complications are preventable.
“A woman is at her most vulnerable at the time of childbirth. If she dies, it’s a sign that our health system has failed to protect her,” Mary-Ann Etiebet, who runs Merck for Mothers, an effort to bring down the maternal death rate in the U.S., told NPR.
3They aren’t guaranteed maternity leave
A Harvard study firmly places America at the bottom of the barrel for maternal support. The study found that, out of 168 nations, 163 of them had some form of paid maternity leave. The U.S. is not among them, making them the only developed nation to not federally mandate paid leave for mothers, along with Swaziland, Papa New Guinea, and Lethoso.
Women (and men!) deserve to be able to spend time healing and bonding with their babies after birth without worrying about being unable to pay their bills. Every other industrialized nation in the world seems to understand this. Why don’t we?
4They don’t have enough resources to take care of themselves when pregnant
Maternity care is, unsurprisingly, one of the primary reasons for medical visits and hospitalization. Despite this, more money is spent (per average expenditure) on men’s health care than women’s health care, according to a 2007 Women’s Health USA report.
Perhaps even worse, ProPublica examined the federal funding designated for “maternal and child health” and found that only 6 percent of the funding goes to the health of mothers themselves. That means there are thousands of women all over the country who are going without the maternal health care they deserve when they’re about to bring new life into the world.
5Support for postpartum depression and anxiety
“The way that we’ve been trained, we do not give women enough information for them to manage their health postpartum. The focus had always been on babies and not on mothers,” said Elizabeth Howell, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
This includes proper treatment and support for mothers with postpartum depression, which the CDC says affects between 10 and 30 percent of women over time. Additionally, over 85 percent of mothers feel some degree of depression or instability during the postpartum period.
“In decades past, postpartum depression wasn’t discussed as much as it should have been and women suffered in silence. While the public discourse has improved, some women still suffer in silence and some doctors fail to recognize the warning signs,” Wider explains to HG.
Wider concludes that we need to continue to expand our conversation about postpartum depression, as well as the resources we offer mothers.
“More moms will suffer from PPD than men will be diagnosed with new cases of impotence (approx. 600,000) this year. Yet you wouldn’t know it, considering the overabundance of erectile dysfunction (ED) ads and people falling all over themselves to discuss ED openly,” wrote Katherine Stone for Postpartum Progress. “Why doesn’t PPD get the same attention from pharmaceutical companies?”
It’s clear to see that we have a long way to go as a country to help our mothers feel safe and supported. We wish all of the moms out there a happy (and healthy) Mother’s Day, and we encourage you to reach out to a reliable professional if you feel like your provider isn’t giving you the health care you deserve.